Magic Words

They aren’t the same for all wives and partners, but they have a lot in common.

Magic Words are the words you try to imagine your compulsive-abusive sexual-relational disordered man saying that would “change everything.” They are the words that would tell you he was different now—but not just different because some of his secrets were exposed and he has to do massive damage control. The magic words would tell you he was no longer cruel, that he was trustworthy, that he was who you thought he was instead of who he turned out to be, that he wouldn’t lie again or play Russian roulette with your heart, soul, body and mind.

Magic Words.

It’s hard to abandon hope that there are magic words and that if we can just figure out what they are, they will work for us. In preparing to write this blog I spent some time trying to imagine the magic words my CASRD (compulsive-abusive sexual-relational disordered—C.A.S.R.D.—rhymes with “hazard”) man might have said that would have made the difference for me in revealing his comprehension of culpability, believability in remorse, positive transformation, loveability, and real capacity for commitment. As I tried words out, I realized he had to cover an awful lot. In his late fifties, and after three decades of marriage, he had to demonstrate that:

  • he knew he had never honored our marriage vows

  • he could and would identify all his survival techniques developed because of his emotionally incestuous mother

  • he recognized he had been his mother’s psychological slave for most of his life

  • he could and would identify all the ways he abused me

  • he regretted every abusive thing he did to me

  • he affirmed that I was not responsible in any way for his choice to abuse me

  • he was rejecting both his survival techniques and his abuse ways, which overlapped

  • he was no longer his mother’s psychological slave

  • he had the psychological capacity to reject these things truthfully

  • he had the psychological capacity to reject these things and change his behavior

  • his core values were no longer in conflict with mine

  • his core values would not jeopardize my safety

I had to stop here. It was just crazy to see that these were mostly impossible tasks for him. He wasn’t a stupid man, just so deeply deformed first by his abuser and then by his own survival strategies. And I’ll bet that when you read my list, many of the things on it needed to be on yours! These guys are tediously unoriginal. My story is your story is her story. And even though my list isn’t complete, the emerging picture of the person is not someone to whom I would make any of the marriage vows I did. The truth of who he is revealed to be now represents multiple reasons “why these two people cannot be lawfully joined together as husband and wife”. He was incompetent to make the vows, but only he knew that.

Every CASRD man needs qualified therapeutic help beginning with a competent assessment of his personality disorders—whether they were full blown, demonstrating traits or characteristics, or not a factor, and a prognosis for improvement. And we deserve to know whether he is an ongoing danger to us.

Without that information and qualified care options available, these men cannot succeed. And they don’t. As clearly as I have established my priority for protecting and supporting the female victims of domestic violence perpetrated by CASRD men, these men are also human beings who deserve competent care, as well as evidence-based expectations for their recovery. They don’t get what they need any more than we do. But they do get all the attention, and the clinical priority for protection from accountability and consequences that a model developed by a CASRD man would choose, as well as the culture and practice of contempt for women. All these things feed their self-centered, self-entitled, and self-justifying arrogance. Their choice to abuse is thus emboldened.

So, what would the magic words be to undo this cruelty and make him believable in his promises not to do that again (unless he thinks it’s needed, of course). Sigh. You see my point? Not really? Well, let me share this little gem of an illustration: 

We were sitting at the kitchen table of my little townhouse where I had lived alone since we separated. He was supposedly still in recovery and working with a therapist and 12-step group for about 1.5 years now. We were meeting off and on to try and find a way forward after three decades and two children. I was becoming more detached from the progress updates because of the incapacity of the treatment model to address what I had experienced from him—which was heinous and remained unnamed and unacknowledged. This visit he began telling me about reaching Step 4—Truth, which was about “making a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself”. I listened quietly, at first with hope and then with disbelief, as he explained that he had “of course done a rigorous moral inventory of you, first.”

That’s right. His rigorous moral inventory began with doing one about me. It was ludicrous, but I said nothing. I didn’t bite. I knew in that moment that there would be no “magic words” from this man. I had to be punished for him having to face any truth at all. He intended for me to go down with him. So, he was doing his best to slime my good character, my fidelity to marriage vows, my true self, with his moral deficiencies. In his arrogance (his favorite tool of abuse) he would not own his rigorous moral inventory without first blameshifting its content onto me. Of course, in meeting later with the priest about his inventory, he would not be confessing that he done one about me. So much for “the searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.” I did not ask any questions at all. There was nothing to say. This was the roadmap of everything ahead for me in our “recovered” life. Eventually he left.

Afterward, I was angry. But mostly I was grieving that he had buried all hope, and he had enjoyed that moment just as he had enjoyed every porn ejaculation, every emotional affair, every act of exposing himself to unsuspecting women, every barely contained gesture of contempt for me, every other lie he had ever told about me. He was never going to stop abusing me because he believed he had a moral entitlement to do so.

Of course, he passed Step 4—Truth, with flying colors.  

That was a difficult time. It’s hard not to defend yourself, but there is no point to it. This is who you are to him. But when it happens it feels like the first moment when you detected his contempt and sensed how deeply and completely he disrespects you. You go back, back, back again into the abuse and cruelty of being so used and humiliated for years and years and years. You defended him against his critics and his doubters the whole time. You supported his work and his dreams. And he took it all without once thinking you deserved anything more than what you got. And then, even now when his morally bankrupt self is laid bare and he’s supposedly recovering from his deficits, he takes a celebratory dump on you before the priest pronounces him “all clear.” Finding magic words from these men is not a quest for the holy grail. What you find is that you’ve come full circle and the next chapter of abuse has begun. 

The presumption that any of these men take responsibility for the truth of their lives, the truth of their domestic violence and how they played Russian Roulette with your heart, mind, body, and soul without ever giving you a choice about it—has no basis in reality. Our experiences show otherwise. There are no magic words.

The treatment industry likes to take the “word” focus off him. They edit what he tells you, when he can tell it to you, where he can tell it to you, and generally control the flow of “words” to you. Their work goes along swimmingly if they can move the focus to your words instead, or the way you say your words.  And this is where the treatment industry and their misogynist alignment with conservative religious groups like to turn the tables and say “What about the magic words YOU could say? Maybe if you said, ‘you forgive him’ then everything would change!”

See how they do that?

Quick like a flash—his inability to provide meaningful language of truth, remorse, repentance, and transformation turns into your responsibility to forgive him without it. It is no longer about his character and moral deficits, it is about yours. You’re the obstacle.

At the least, this tactic is disingenuous. They know very little changes regardless of your forgiveness. But the industry isn’t about change outcomes. It’s about restoring the balance of power in the relationship to him, so that once again, your submission makes his recovery more believable and you spend the rest of your life walking on eggshells. So, it’s important to understand that your forgiveness does not make his recovery more or less likely. It’s nothing. Like every other great gift you offer, it’s just something else to use to hand him back control and infantilize his responsibility to truly repent and change. And as so many women insist “I forgave him for my own sake,” any good that has given you is undone when that forgiveness means you enroll for the next chapter of hell.

Forgiveness is its own huge topic and I am creating a resource about it in between the rest of my work. So, hold on for more on that one!

But for now—the magic words that transform this situation are not going to be his. On that much I agree with the treatment industry and religious groups, but not for the same purpose. Take control of this situation with magic words you give yourself—words like self-respect, honoring your sacred worth, trusting yourself, having compassion for the suffering of others, recognizing truth and lies, protecting your children’s formation into adulthood, modeling behaviors you want them to choose in their lives in situations of abuse, hoping in your life, knowing that if a miracle happens you can respond appropriately when it happens, not taking all the risks all the time, being courageous in the face of traumatizing practitioners, standing up for yourself, insisting people treat you as a whole person and not an ancillary product line, enjoying life’s simple gifts, etc.

These are the only magic words that will create a future shaped by your core values and held together with integrity. Give them to yourself every single day. Share them with your children. Live into them together. Watch for who has the capacity to join you there. Do not compromise on your core values. Magic words, for your life.

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With you,


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