When He Announces His Recovery
I am listening to a new client list off the abuse she is currently enduring from the hand of her husband or boyfriend. When she stops I ask if he has made any effort to get therapeutic help. She drops the other shoe and says, “Oh, he’s all better. He told me he’s recovered and any problems that remain are mine. Can you believe it?”
While it’s hard to fathom the contradiction of his claims and his behaviour, this is one of the most common experiences wives and partners have. Yes, I can believe it.
Sometimes it only take a few weeks for him to “cure” himself. Sometimes it takes six figure stays at posh ranches for a lot of intensive equine therapy. Some guys go to programs for a whole year before they declare themselves “cured” of all kinds of secret penis activities they’ve been doing for decades (most of their entire lives) and usually long before you were in the story at all. But just put all that behind you and move forward. Because he’s all better!
But here’s what his “all better” treatment of you includes: he is gaslighting, insulting, criticizing, and maybe even threatening you! He is ignoring your ongoing trauma symptoms, denying facts, demanding sex, accusing you of various spiritual deficiencies including unforgiveness, telling you you’re abusive, deliberately refusing to explain where he’s going or when he’s coming back, suggesting you’re unstable to friends and family, blameshifting and sometimes playing the children against you. (I hope I didn’t miss any of these remarkable signs of recovery these men inflict upon their wives and partners!)
If this life with a man called a recovered sex addict—who needs it?
Women speaking to me about their self-proclaimed “recovered” husbands are desperate for help. They were just beginning to accept the discovery of his secret life and didn’t see this second ambush coming. After learning the horrible things he was doing to her in his secret life, wives and partners cannot imagine that he would adopt any recovery posture except humility and concern for what she needs to heal. And women are always wrong about that.
Men who decide they have done enough recovery program work and announce they are all better now are just men who no longer want their lives inconvenienced by being found out. They are abusers who need to re-establish control of the relationship. When their therapists and recovery groups have heard all the correct recovery scripts from this man, they also may support his self-diagnosis and gladly divert therapeutic focus by co-operating in scapegoating his wife or partner. This will provide an ongoing reason for him to remain a client and keep the payments processing.
In such situations, the “recovered” sex addict may start bringing home work directed at the wife or partner from his therapist or program team. She will be expected to read various books, participate in sex plans, have regular appointments with his therapist or go to special group meetings, etc. None of these initiatives are about trauma care for her. They are about getting her to buy into his recovery and start behaving the way he wants her to.
At times like these it’s good to remember that abuse is ALWAYS about control. That means that the whole idea of recovery will be serving that goal as well. His recovery isn’t about whether he is now the man she thought she married. It’s about him regaining control of the relationship.
As you speak incredulously of his demands and recognize his arrogant assumption that his recovery is the only one that matters, you start sliding back into the same relationship. His life remains secret from you but now it’s because his program and therapists assure him he doesn’t have to tell you anything. Nothing really is any better at all. You have unintentionally signed on for more of this. It’s like an automatic software renewal, but it’s an automatic relationship renewal. You have no assurances that next year at this time you won’t be knee deep in new disclosures and requirements that you “work through” his “slips” in order to keep the relationship “moving forward.” Let’s be clear about what is going on:
You are still taking all the risks.
You are still facing post-traumatic stress symptoms.
You are still being triggered by the same abusive person.
How is this happening?
The prevailing recovery model, its programs and treatment practitioners, operate from the premise that his recovery is the priority, and yours is derivative of that. You are being pathologized by his disordered behaviours even if they don’t say so, because your recovery is controlled by his as an expected outcome. If he gets better, then you get better.
This is why your trauma symptoms aren’t really of interest to these practitioners. They are not taken seriously as signs of trauma, and they do not use the basic structure for trauma recovery that is the hallmark of genuine trauma care: Safety, Remembering and Grieving, and Reconnection (as indicated by Dr. Judith Herman in her ground-breaking tome on trauma and recovery in 1992.) If they followed through with those trauma care protocols, they would have to treat you as if you were a real person, not a recovery prop player. That would take effort, not to mention skill and commitment. They don’t have those things to offer you.
When the purpose of recovery is to ignore the abuse the man called a sex addict is heaping on his wife or partner, the end result is that the abuser’s control is returned to him in a new way. Abusers are good at adapting to new abuse contexts. If they have avoided most negative consequences of the abuse undertaken so far, they will appreciate the new opportunity to get right back into setting up the relationship for their maximum abusing benefit. They like the challenge and they are often impatient and irritated by the hoops they have had to jump through in order to hit the “reset button”. In addition, some will have curtailed their penis activities and someone has to pay for that. Guess who? Make no mistake. You are not in a relationship of positive mutuality. If you were, he would be someone else. And he’s not.
So many women go through the hell of discovery and ongoing dribble disclosures with almost no real help for the toll his abuse has taken on her already and no protection from it continuing. Wives and partners are told they must expect “slips” in his recovery. The prevailing treatment model sells that risk as “normal” without doing any risk assessment based on her actual needs as a traumatized and abused woman, or putting a safety process in place for her when it does happen. That’s not normal. That’s an abusive relationship. She’s on her own. She’s still on her own. She’s always been on her own.
This is exactly why I developed the resource “Stop Taking All the Risks”, a risk assessment process adapted for women in our situation. You can see the promo and purchase it here if you are interested: https://still-learning.teachable.com/p/stop-taking-all-the-risks-ten-steps-to-make-good-decisions-in-a-bad-situation/ I had to find some way for women to put the brakes on and do the rational work of figuring out what was at stake every time they were swooped up by his “recovery” agenda. It’s a ten step process. I go through it with painstaking details, but once you see the shape of it, you will find it’s not that hard to do and won’t take as much time as it takes the first time. It’s Video and Print Materials. $59. If you feel like you just got hit with an “automatic renewal”, it might be what you need to navigate safely.
The thing about his recovery is that, even now, I want that for him. I still offer prayers about it and hold my ex-husband in the Light. I just won’t pretend he’s recovered when he still protects the one who abused him as a child, a teenager, an adult, and now even as a senior citizen, and also while he still protects his pride. People who are recovered are no longer afraid of their truth. They transform its power for good. They learn how to stand in it, live in it, and share it so that it becomes the story of their heroism in saving themselves, not their unaccountable and continuing abuse of their wife or partner.
So when he announces his recovery and starts right back in on treating you with arrogance, disdain, disrespect and contempt—remember you heard it here first: recovery is not a weapon. Recovery may challenge a thousand misperceptions, injustices and mistakes, but it is not a green light for abusing your victims again. When he (with or without his treatment group) starts in on you again, start doing risk assessment. Because you are taking all of the risks.
If you want to talk more about your personal situation, your story is safe here. Use the discounted trial session for one hour one-on-one with me. Questions first? Contact me: email@example.com Also, have a look at the promo video for “Stop Taking All The Risks” in the link above. It might be your best investment for now. And thank you again for your feedback on the blog. This is sacred work, because you are sacred.