When he or his therapist says you are abusive…

About eight years ago, on a public forum, I named how men called sex addicts treated their wives or partners as abuse. No one else was using that word. But that’s exactly what women were describing; physical, mental or emotional, and spiritual abuse that was sometimes both covert and overt. I realized that if any other woman had come into my office and described what they were describing, my first instinct would have been that she was in abusive relationship. Later I will give an example from each of those categories for how men called sex addicts abuse their wives and partners.

Once I began to use the correct name for what we endured, there was pushback. It mainly came from the abuser group (especially from those abusers who were now working in the sex addiction treatment industry) and from programs with religious frameworks that historically have protected male abusers at the expense of their female and non-adult victims. All this pushback came even though the workbooks of the prevailing treatment model itself used abuse language to describe what men were doing to women. In fact, one of the exercises asked the men to describe their abusive behaviours in full. So why didn’t they like it when we started using the language?

I suspect one reason was that the abuse language was a part of the new secret life they were cultivating therapeutically and in the 12-step support group. We weren’t supposed to know what was in the workbooks or the white “bible”. As well as denying critical information to wives and partners, shared secrets also deepened bonds of abusive men to other abusive men, and granted power to therapists who kept the secret and sanitized the language for wives and partners. Covert abusers need to set up another covert platform for their operations once they are found out.

Except there’s even more going on. Part of the same recovery program includes the requirement that wives and partners also name their abusive behaviours.


Yes. Women began reporting to me how if they questioned or disagreed with their men called sex addicts, he would start calling them abusive. Sometimes they would say it was like their husband or boyfriend would bait them into an argument and be just waiting to throw this label on them. This was happening even if she had never discussed his behaviour that way at all. The men then would go on to report that the therapist had declared his wife or partner was abusive to him. Other women told me how they were instructed to write down their abusive behaviours and then meet with their husband or boyfriend with his therapist and confess their abuse.

What’s going on here?

The treatment model uses this pre-emptive strike to defuse their client’s explosive status as an abuser by also labelling the wife or partner as abusive. Part of the work with wives and partners must then include the same requirement to self-identify that way along with the men. Unfortunately, a few women desperate to save their marriage more than their lives, go along. They call themselves anything they are told to call themselves—co-sex addict, abusive, enablers—whatever it takes to save the marriage and make the problem go away. Except it doesn’t.

I decided to write about this for two reasons:

1.     I see an emerging tendency in the proponents of the prevailing treatment model to define the trauma that women endure at the hands of men called sex addicts in a specific and limited way—such as betrayal trauma. This containment strategy is to separate our experience from the abuse categories outlined in my first paragraph, softening it down so that abuse is more “abuse-ish” than abuse.

2.     Also, by avoiding the word “abuse” and choosing “abusive behaviour” instead, they conflate what men called sex addicts do to their wives and girlfriends into the same category as angry outbursts women unleash when the sex addict refuses to tell them why (for example) he’s three hours late getting home.

In order to deconstruct this house of cards, let’s start by reviewing some definitions: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/abusive

In the above link you can see three definition categories for the word “abusive”. The first category is about being “extremely offensive and insulting”. Swearing could be involved. And this is the category that may apply to some women who respond to the antagonism, abuse or baiting by their man called a sex addict. But it is also true that many women do not cross that line. They are simply asking legitimate questions in a serious but calm way.

The second category, however, is about something else altogether. This definition is about habitual abusive behaviour, including violence and cruelty. This is the kind of abusive behaviour that most women experience from men called sex addicts. Whether covert or overt, it characterizes the nature of the relationship he establishes and maintains through his secret life. His abuse of her is systemic, not episodic. It is strategic, planned, and the woman has no opportunity to protect or defend herself from it. It is cruel, and its violence is often perpetrated covertly.When a wife or partner indulges in abusive behaviour such as yelling, swearing, name-calling, in response to his goading, lying, secret-keeping, or deliberately antagonistic actions, there is a critical difference between her abusive behaviour and his. His is systemic—foundational to how he interacts with her in their relationship. A purpose of the relationship is to be the arena for his abuse. Her abusive behaviour is episodic (if it exists at all) and usually triggered by his abuse. For her, no purpose of the relationship is about abuse.

So, now I’m going to give you some examples of the systemic abuse women endure from men called sex addicts:

1.     Physical:  By the time our son was born, my husband had genital herpes and never told me. During the months my son was breastfeeding, my husband placed his penis between my breasts and ejaculated all over my chest. Thirty years later I now know why I get shingles there, and have been correctly diagnosed with long term genital herpes. But he didn’t just take that risk with my life, he took it with my breast-feeding son, for whom the consequences could have been even more serious.

2.     Spiritual:  Since going into a recovery program at my insistence, my husband believes he is spiritually superior to me. He tells me I can’t forgive him because I’m not right with God. He goes to our pastor and complains about me. The pastor said I had to resign my leadership role in our women’s group until I forgave my husband and submitted to him again as head of the household. My husband is still lying about what he did and what he’s doing. But he mimics the religious talk, fooling our church into bullying and isolating me, too.

3.     Mental or Emotional:  My spouse gaslights me all the time—telling me I’m crazy or I’m imagining things when I pick up threads of what he said that contradict each other, and ask him to explain which is true. I doubt myself and lose confidence. But the main problem is that I've lost my frame for reality. Discovering his secret life makes me doubt everything. I have no idea who he is. I'm unsure of my own past and can barely engage the present. I've lost the future entirely. All those years together were fake. Decades of not knowing who he was and how he was using me. If I died right now it would be a relief.

The next time he or his therapist tells you that you are abusive, try this response: My husband/boyfriend’s abuses me as a fundamental aspect of how he interacts with me. It is systemic in his relationship with me, whether it’s covert or overt abuse. Any abusive behaviour I may have shown toward him verbally is not fundamental in my interaction with him. It is episodic, and a negative survival strategy birthed in an abusive relationship so traumatizing that my core values are now in danger.

I know this subject isn’t easy. But don’t think for a minute that if you don’t use the word “abuse” about him, that it’s not in play. Sooner or later you will be called abusive. It’s the only way for them to avoid dealing with him as an abuser and you as his traumatized victim.

If this blog felt too close for comfort, please contact me. Your story is safe here.

With you


Diane Strickland