Host Tara McCausland and guest expert Dr. Barbara Steffens define what betrayal trauma is, what it looks like and how to approach healing and recovery. Barbara shares advice for betrayed partners, therapists and faith leaders. The importance of having a community for healing is discussed.
Dr. Barbara Steffens specializes in helping women recover from sexual, relational betrayal and is a speaker and presenter on special issues related to partners of sexual addicts. She's a retired mental health counselor and a board certified coach. She was the founding President of the Association for Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists (APSATS) and co-author of Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, How Partners Can Cope and Heal. Learn more about APSATS at apsats.org.
Tara: [00:00:00] Dr. Barbara Steffens specializes in helping women recover from sexual, relational betrayal and is a speaker and presenter on special issues related to partners of sexual addicts. She's a retired mental health counselor and a board certified coach. She was the founding President of the Association for [00:01:00] Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists, an organization that provides training and certification of clinical partner specialists and partner trauma coaches.
Barbara is co-author of Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, How Partners Can Cope and Heal, which has dramatically affected change in the lives of those who are victims and the professionals who are trained to serve them. She's a pioneer in the field and calls herself the grandmother of those who have followed behind her to help partners heal.
Welcome to Pathway to Recovery, a podcast brought to you by SA Lifeline Foundation, and I am the executive director, Tara McCausland. I am thrilled to have Dr. Barbara Steffens here with us today. Thank you so much, Barbara, for being here with us. We appreciate your time today.
Barbara: Well, thank you for asking me and inviting me. I'm looking forward to our conversation.
Tara: Well, as you had mentioned in your bio, you are the grandmother of [00:02:00] this topic of betrayal trauma. I recognize that this is hard and messy work, so I'm always curious what brings people here. So how did you get into this work and how did you discover that partners experience trauma?
Barbara: Okay, well, I got into the work the way a lot of us do. This is something that I experienced in my life and my marriage, and I was already a trained mental health counselor doing good mental health counseling work, and happy in what I was doing. And then there was this major interruption. And like most of us, when something happens, we want to do a little reading and understanding of what just happened. And as I was reading the information that was out during this time, and this was way back in the nineties, the mid nineties, there was very little out there for someone like me who [00:03:00] all of a sudden found out about secrets that their loved one was keeping.
And so as I was reading, I was reading all these descriptions of people like me that made no sense to me because I know who I am and I know what my history is, but someone was making all these statements about what my past experience was and all of this, and it made no sense to me. And as I put on my mental health clinician hat, I said, “How do you start to diagnose or describe someone you've never met?” Because we're all unique and partners were being given this label of being co-addicted. And so between really wanting to know what was going on inside of me, I was recognizing my symptoms as a mental health person. But then also reading the information that was out there made no sense. So as I was healing, I was also learning and reading [00:04:00] and trying to understand.
And then one day, along the way, I went to a friend of mine who was leading recovery groups for men, and I said, “Where is the group for me?” And he said, “Barb, when are you going to start it?” So that's how I really got started working with other betrayed women.
And then I asked them a simple question, “What was it like for you, the moment that you found out about these secrets?” And they described all of these violent, assaulted kind of experiences. So it was, “Things were crashing around me,” “Someone came into my home and robbed everything,” and “Everything was in a mess, and I didn't know what to do.” So there were really, really vibrant, painful, traumatic kinds of pictures as they described what it was like for them.
[00:05:00] So again, my mental health hat went on and then said, “I have worked with traumatized people for a long time. I recognize this. And I recognize some of that in me.” So anyways, that's a long story in terms of how it got started. It came out of my own need. But then also this curiosity and confusion around what was out there that was not helpful for me.
So eventually, as I was healing, my husband was healing. We're getting ready to have our 50th wedding anniversary this year, so, you know, we made it. We've made it. But as we were in the healing process, I was also in this journey of trying to understand, and I decided at that point it was time for me to go back and get my doctorate so that I could be a specialist working with partners and so that I could do research.
I was seeing trauma in the women that I was helping and supporting. So my research was, [00:06:00] you know, basically, “Is this trauma in terms of how partners respond and if it is, how many of these women experience that?” And in my study it was 69.1% and they all had the criteria for post traumatic stress.
In subsequent studies that other people have done, it's even higher. They come more to 70, 72%, 73%. So a large percentage of women have some kind of trauma response. Then I started reading about this concept called betrayal trauma that someone else was researching - Jennifer Fried. And it seemed to make sense. That seems to be the term that most of our organizations use and in the work that we're doing with partners now, that seems to make sense.
So I helped us understand this was trauma, not that they had their own addiction, you know? Partners don't have any [00:07:00] responsibility for what their loved one chooses to do. Or any addiction that they have. So trauma and then this concept of betrayal trauma really made sense.
Tara: Well, I love that you took your own pain, and then you learned, and you grew personally, and you brought this into the field of therapy. That is what changemakers do. I'm a grateful recipient of your work. Your work has blessed my family's life, so thank you, for not being crushed by your pain, but buoyed up by it in the end. But for someone who is just discovering this, it can feel crushing.
Barbara: Absolutely. Crushing and exhausting. It can produce shame. Yes, even though there's nothing you did wrong, that sense of shame that comes with trauma is pronounced. Also this isn't something we talk about very much.
Tara: So they're ashamed to even bring it up and to reach for help. So I'm [00:08:00] just glad we can use these words now. We can talk about it. And bringing things out into the light is part of the solution, right? So we're absolutely grateful to be talking openly about this.
Now, I know that we all experience trauma to some degree in our lives, but can you tell us what the difference between trauma and betrayal trauma is?
Barbara: Well, I think the main thing that makes it different is betrayal trauma puts it within the context of a relationship where there's an expectation or a necessity for dependence or interdependence.
So if you think about a child who perhaps is abused in their family, their caregivers betray them - where there's an expectation that this is a safe place. These are safe people, and now this is an unsafe place. But the same thing happens in [00:09:00] committed relationships - marriages, boyfriend, girlfriend, but predominantly these committed long-term relationships or where there's an expectation of a long-term relationship.
And then you'll find out that there's something that they've been hiding or have been doing that can put you at risk. The nature of the relationship is what makes it betrayal trauma. So there's an expectation of safety, security, or a level of, “This is someone I need in my life. We work together, we parent together, we are planning a life together, and yet this person kept something from me that now has put me and the relationship at risk.”
So that's what betrayal trauma is. It's really the betrayal that occurs, and it's so hard, especially for partners as we're talking about them. It wasn't something that they knew [00:10:00] before they made a commitment to the relationship. Or if they knew, they knew, you know, just the tiniest amount: “I had a problem with this, but I don't struggle with it anymore.” Oh, okay.
And so they make a choice and move forward. Then the relationship is kind of based on this lie, this not being honest, not being truthful about a major part of this other person's life. And so that when you find out that someone is not all that you thought they were or that there was a big piece that they were hiding, then that's really destructive and traumatic.
So it's the nature of the relationship and the nature of the kinds of things that come up that put the individual in the relationship in harm's way, at risk.
Tara: And in a marriage relationship, a committed relationship, it's especially challenging when here you are living with this person. There's no [00:11:00] escape essentially. And you continue to be in a space of being wounded by this individual. And as you said, very often it takes years for a spouse or a partner to understand what's really happening. And they often look at themselves and think, “what's wrong with me?”
And that's the irony of this situation is, and that was certainly the case in my family, for my parents, Steven and Rhyll Croshaw. There are many voices out there that will point betrayed partners one direction or another. From your research and your experience as a coach, as a therapist, (you have so much experience in this field), what really helps the betrayed partner to heal and recover?
Barbara: There are a lot of different things, but the first thing would be to understand that this isn't something you did or didn't do that [00:12:00] brought this about. So it's not your responsibility to heal it because you didn't make it happen. Some partners will automatically think, “Well, I must not be enough,” or perhaps they're told, “Well, if you had just this, this, and this, then I would not have done this.”
Or perhaps a faith leader will say, “Well, if you had just done this, this, and this, your spouse would not have strayed.” Understand that this is not your fault. You didn't cause this. And it's not your responsibility to fix it. It is your responsibility to take really good care of yourself, because you've probably just experienced the trauma of your life.
But their recovery is their recovery. You can support them, you can encourage them, you can love them through it if they're going through a good recovery process. But it's not your fault.
So many partners when they first reach out for help, if they reach out for help, they're so full of shame. You know, if, [00:13:00] if I had done or not done something, maybe this wouldn't have happened. And we do that with any trauma anyway. If the trauma is someone, you know, attacks me on the street, well if I had not gone on that street, that bad thing would not have happened to me.
So we try to think of ways of undoing trauma that happens to us. But especially when there's this kind of betrayal in the trauma, it's really common for the partner to think, “Well, if only I had, or if only I had not,” or, “What's wrong with me that I picked someone that would lie to me this way?” So they take on responsibility that way.
So the first and foremost is this is not your fault. It's not about you. It's about something that they learned to do probably early on to deal with uncomfortable emotions or difficult situations and it became a crutch for them. Perhaps its an addiction, but it was something they were choosing to do that then [00:14:00] got out of control. It's not something you did. So that's the first thing.
The next thing is, don't keep it a secret. It is really, really hard to heal from anything if you're trying to heal all by yourself. I believe we were created to be in community. And to be in relationships. And if you can't get the support that you need and want from your primary person, because right now they're not very safe, you need to find a community of safe people.
So that would be the second thing. Don't keep it to yourself, but be wise in who you tell. So know who are the safe people in your life. “Do I have safe people in my life? If I don't, the good thing is now we have lots of resources.” When partners find out, when they have their discovery of their loved one's secrets, there are a lot of people that now you can talk [00:15:00] to, reach out to who understand, who know how to guide you.
But don't try to do this by yourself and to keep the secret, because that will just eat you alive and doesn't give you access to all the healing resources that are available to you. So it's not your fault and don't try to walk through it by yourself.
Tara: I love those two pieces. To your second point, I think it was Adam Moore who said this, something to the effect of, “His secret...” (and granted, we know this is not a gender specific issue) but we'll say, “His secret doesn't have to be your prison.” And I just think, “How often do we make ourselves prisoners to other people's secrets and problems?”
And so I just wanted to second that. When we bring these challenges out into the light and seek help, we heal in a community. And there is more help available than there certainly was when my parents were initially [00:16:00] seeking help. But community, we heal in a community.
Barbara: When we're traumatized, we feel cut off from the world. You know, something happened and the rest of the world goes on. And here I am stuck in this painful thing that just occurred to me and now I feel so alone.
So the opposite of being in trauma is being in community, so it's essential. It's essential for healing.
Tara: So this concept of being unsafe in this relationship - I know that seeking safety is one of the first steps in healing. What would you suggest if you had a woman or a man coming to you who has, for the first time, experienced betrayal trauma? What are a few things that they could do to find safety for themselves?
Barbara: Well beyond understanding that you didn't cause it and that it's important for you to take good care of you, then it's helping them identify what would they need to start to feel safe.
So that can [00:17:00] be specific to the individual. If I'm working with someone, I will say, “What's going to help you feel safer today? What’s one small thing that you might do?” Sometimes it's space. Sometimes it's talking to someone. Sometimes we could do a whole two hours talking about just boundaries and what in the world are boundaries.
A boundary is basically just saying, “I'm not doing that,” or “This is not okay with me.” So a boundary is a way of taking care of yourself and stating what you need. Or if it's not safe to state what you need, to take action to do what you need.
So let's say the safe thing for a partner right after discovery is, “I just can't talk to him right now. I just can't see his face because every time I see his face, it's a reminder of what happened.”
Okay, so what is a space that you can go to where [00:18:00] you don't have to see his face and you can just maybe journal or listen to music or whatever it is you need to do to start to bring a sense of calm and a place to breathe. But having that space of not having to see his face right now.
And they'll go, “Oh, well how will that work? He'll be really mad if I don't want to hang around with him now.” Well, it makes sense right now that seeing his face is difficult for you. And maybe just saying, “I need a break. I'm gonna take an hour break, and I'm gonna go into this room and close the door, and I need to be alone.”
And so it's stating, if it's safe enough to do that, stating what you need and then do it for yourself. But for some partners, it's very difficult for them to even know what they need. Perhaps even before discovery, things have gotten really kind of wonky in the relationship [00:19:00] and things have been kind of crazy, maybe there was a lot of intensity.
Some partners will have a sense of, “I don't even know what I need.” So helping them identify what's just one simple thing they can do right now to take good care of themself. So time is one of those things. Being away from something that's really triggering or upsetting can be helpful. Being able to take breaks or to say no to some conversations. But determine for yourself, “I am going to care for me.”
It's his job, or hers, to find what they need to care for. It's their job to take good care, to cease the behaviors, to learn, to be a person of integrity and to be honest. And it's the wounded partner's position now [00:20:00] to take care of their wounds. And then to find safe people to help them as they are taking care of their wounds.
But there are things ultimately he may or she may be able to do to help you in the process. But the primary responsibility is unfortunately on the wounded party to say, “I need to take care of myself. I need to love myself enough, or care for myself enough to take good care of me.” If you're a young parent, young mom, and you have little kids all around, that is really hard to do.
So that's where talking to someone will help you get creative on “How can I start to meet my needs, as well as continuing to meet the needs of my children. But how can I put that into my life?”
One of the most important things I think partners can do beyond the boundaries around, “This is not okay with me,” is being [00:21:00] able to say, “This is not okay with me, and I'm going to have to take time to think about what I need and what I need to do.”
So don’t pressure yourself to make decisions quickly but also, as soon as you can, connect with someone who can walk with you through that process. Again, because we don't want to do this alone. I don't think you can fully heal in this process all by yourself. So finding someone safe that you can cry to, ask questions to, be angry in front of, and not worry about judgment and just have them be there for you with you. I think those are the most important things.
Tara: Wonderful. When we gather in community, and SA Lifeline provides free 12 step groups for betrayed individuals and addicted individuals, we find individuals who are farther down the path. And they [00:22:00] they can be a sounding board. They can also give insight and share experiences that might be very valuable as you're navigating your own path. I can't speak enough to this principle of finding community, finding those safe people to walk this path with you. It's so critical.
Barbara: Yeah. And you may find that your best friend is not that person right now. Because the best friend doesn't have that experience or doesn't know what to say and just really wants you to feel better. So finding someone else who understands this issue, this topic, you don't have to explain it to them, it's like you have your own language. And betrayed partners, we know betrayal speech. We know what it feels like, maybe not exactly what your experience is, but we know what betrayal is and you don't have to explain it. They just get it.
So that's a load off in terms [00:23:00] of feeling that pressure of, “They won't understand.” Well, they do understand. We're all unique in our experiences, but our similarities are greater, I believe, after betrayal than our differences.
So finding that safe place. And it is so fortunate that SA Lifeline's been there for quite a while and is doing wonderful work. And now we have so many other wonderful groups available for betrayed partners. So many more resources now so you don't have to do this alone. You may choose to. But we are saying don't choose to do it alone. You may choose to do that, but you don't have to because there's so many resources now.
Tara: And I do think it was Kevin Skinner, last year in our conference, that said, “If you choose to walk this path alone, healing will take much longer.” We don’t want to put out the myth that this is a quick process.
Recovery from betrayal trauma takes time and we need to allow for that journey to [00:24:00] unfold naturally. But yes, healing, and community, and finding a qualified therapist. We talk about that a lot as well in SA Lifeline - that good help, people who get this, are worth looking for and they can be found.
Barbara: Yes, they can be found.
Tara: I know that there are different outcomes for partners and for marriages with this issue. And some marriages are able to navigate this issue and heal and recover, but others don't. What can a partner do if their loved one, their betrayer doesn't choose recovery.
Barbara: Hmm. That's always so sad. It's sad for the partner, but it's sad for the person who is not choosing recovery because that's just going to get worse for them. They're going to be more isolated.
But if you know your loved one says, [00:25:00] “I don't have a problem and you need to just stop talking about this,” and “It's no big deal, you're still in the place of, what do you need and what do you need to do for you?
So I'm not going to talk about long-term decisions. Some relationships do not survive. But sometimes it's difficult for a partner, especially in the first six months, the first year, to make any of those kinds of decisions.
So start to think about, “What boundaries do I need to have in place to protect me?” “How can I start to move in a direction where I feel safer in the relationship?”
I'll just share one thing I did. One thing I did early on, because I didn't know what my loved one was going to do, was I said, “I need to have my own bank account that is just in my name and it's a [00:26:00] safety thing.” And fortunately my spouse said, “Okay, I get that.”
But if your spouse says, no, that's not allowed, yes, you can. You can do that for yourself. So setting up systems or putting things in place that help you feel safe enough to move forward in your healing, regardless of what they choose to do. And that's going to look different for different relationships, for different partners.
So again, here’s a plug for getting support and help as you're trying to make those decisions. But it really is focusing on, “Who am I? Who do I want to be? “What are my values, and how can I stay consistent to who I am, regardless of what they choose to do?”
So for some it's again, being with friends more often.[00:27:00] Some people will, if they've not been working outside of the home, choose to get a job. But it is just different kinds of things so that they feel strong and safer for what they need to do as this is playing itself out. Again, community is really, really important if you're in that space. It's so important to have other safe people who can listen, encourage you as you are taking care of you,
But think about what your values are and as you're making decisions, have them be grounded in who you want to be and what your values are. Not what other people might think your values should be. But who are you? Who do you want to be and what's behaving in ways that are consistent for you?
So every once in a while I'll talk to someone and they’ll say, “Well, my husband isn't going to get any better, and he's not choosing recovery, so I'm just going to [00:28:00] go out and have an affair.” And I go, “Well, yeah, you could do that. But how is that helping you and how is that consistent with who you want to be?”
So just draw back to what grounds you and what drives you in terms of who you want to be, who you were created to be. And if you're behaving in those ways, that's going to help you heal. Because you are going to be integrity. You are going to be in reality. That's another really important piece is being in reality, not that wishful, “well, maybe someday he'll get better and I'll just keep plugging along.”
No, what's going to help you to stay in reality and be consistent with who you are? And then you focus on doing those things. That again, takes a community to continue and to work in that direction. There are people whose loved ones don't [00:29:00] get into recovery and they stay in the relationship and they find ways to be as whole as they can be.
Other people will find that they cannot do that because it just bleeds over too much. It doesn't feel real. It doesn't feel like it has integrity, and then they need to work through, what does that process look like if they decide they need to separate? These are longer term decisions in terms of ultimately what happens in the relationship, but in the short term, it's “How do I be me, the best me that I can be, and what support do I need to do that?” That's going to help you heal.
Tara: I think we need to bring into that questioning, “What are my values?” and seeking that spiritual connection with the God of your understanding. Having that connection be the space where you seek guidance and direction and clarity. Because there will be [00:30:00] so many voices that will tell you to go one way or the other.
And some of them, some of them are good and informed and others, not so much. So it might look from the outside like you're not choosing the right way. I speak to this from a daughter's perspective because I know that with my parents, others questioned why my mom stayed in a relationship where she had been betrayed. Over and over. And I know that everyone's circumstances and situation is unique.
So I'm grateful that she, rather than leaving, which she would've been very justified in doing, she listened to God's voice inside of her. She let that voice be her guide, rather than friends or even faith leaders, who may have not understood why she was choosing what she was choosing. So be patient in that process, again, seeking community, seeking connection with the god of your understanding.
Barbara: Yeah. [00:31:00] And if you are hearing voices that are telling you what you should do, then those are probably not voices that are helpful right now. The voices in a good healthy community are going to say, “Wow, I am with you through this and I will pray with you and for you as you are making these decisions. How can I help you? How can I support you?” They aren't the ones that are going, “Well, you shouldn't, or you can't. Or God wouldn't want you to.”
Your good, safe people are going to trust that you can make that connection with the God of your understanding and come to decisions that make sense to you and to what you are being guided to do. So the caution is, avoid the people who say should or can't because that's not the God of your understanding. That's not what it's going to sound like. [00:32:00]
Tara: That's a great point.
Barbara: That's not what it's going to sound like. Those are advice givers, and they're doing it out of their love for you and their care for you, but you have to be sure in the decisions you make for you.
Tara: Now we've been speaking primarily to the betrayed partner thus far.
I know that there are support people that are coming into this picture; we want to acknowledge them. I'm grateful for support individuals, therapists, and faith leaders and friends. So I wanted to speak specifically to two groups: the therapists and the faith leaders.
And as I was saying to Barbara before we started, we could spend a full, probably two hours or more, talking about each of these groups. But for the sake of time, acknowledging these individuals, what word of advice would you give to the therapists who are working with betrayed partners?
Barbara: This is really important.[00:33:00] I just want to start by saying that I have worked with partners for over 25 years, and the betrayal from their loved one is horrific. But additional betrayal is when they go to seek help and they're given bad information or wrong advice. That's another betrayal. So to a therapist: get advanced training so that you can specialize in helping these individuals.
Don't just read a book because that's not going to give you the experience as well as the information that you need to really know how to be with and attend to someone who's traumatized. Someone who is traumatized within a primary relationship. It is different. So get specialized care. When I'm doing training, I have trained hundreds of [00:34:00] people on how to assist the betrayed partners, I always just praise them for taking advanced training because it says they want to do better and they want to be ethical providers.
So please don't say that you know how to help someone with this unless you have specialized training. Too many partners get hurt again by ill-informed, untrained therapists or coaches. So that's the first thing - get training. The good news is that there's good training out there. You know, I was part of founding an organization that provides training on how to help betrayed partners, APSATS. It's the Association for Partners of Sex Addicts, Trauma Specialists, APSATS.
But now we're training people on how to help the family, the children, not just the partner, and how working together can also help the relationship. So [00:35:00] the specialized training is out there. Please take advantage. And get that training. And know that in the olden days, one of the first things a partner was asked when she came in after being betrayed was, what kind of abuse have you had in your childhood?
So they were totally skipping over the fact that this person's walking in to talk to you or seeing you virtually, and they're bleeding out, you know? And so now you're wanting to ask them about history. Don't ask them about history. Ask them about what's going on for them now. What do they need right now? So stay in the here and now and don't jump to history.
APSATS has developed a model for recovery or healing from this kind of trauma. And we start with the here and now. We start with being safe and finding a sense of stabilization and then grief and doing the [00:36:00] trauma work and then moving forward and growing. And then if there are historical abuses that this person hasn't attended to, then you do that. Don't start there. That's why a lot of partners have not gotten the support they need because they go in for support and they feel like, “Oh, here's another person blaming me. There's something wrong with me or I wouldn't have picked this person who did this to me.” That's blaming the victim. Don't do that.
So that's my word to the therapists. Don't do that. And for faith leaders, it's very similar. Don't give advice or tell people what to do when you don't have a clue what a betrayed partner might be feeling and experiencing. Understand, faith leader, that this is not a marriage issue, it's something that's happened within the marriage.
If these people are married, it's [00:37:00] happened within the relationship, and it happened to the partner. It's not because the marriage wasn't healthy or strong; it's because someone has out of control sexual behaviors, and that has brought itself into the relationship. So don't assume and don't recommend marriage counseling, traditional marriage counseling right away.
That's not helpful. So it's probably individual support for a while and then sooner rather than later, having them come together with others, understanding each other's experience and what recovery is going to look like. But this is not marriage counseling. This is crisis intervention for a relationship early on.
So don't make that mistake and don't tell the partner to just have more sex, because this is not about having enough sex. This is an addiction that shows itself in sexual [00:38:00] behavior, but it's not about lack of sex. Most partners, or many partners feel sexually abandoned or neglected in their relationship because that's been going elsewhere.
So don't assume this is not a sex issue. This is something that has happened and there's a sexual betrayal piece of it for the partner. And if you communicate about just having sex more often, being more sexual, that totally misses the sexual trauma that this partner is probably experiencing.
So faith leaders, get some education. Work with good therapists who understand and know how to help and release your person, your parishioner, your person in your [00:39:00] congregation, to trained providers to help them. And then you are there to pray with them, for them, encourage them, love them, to be there for them as part of their support. But, don't hang on to them as you are.
They're now their therapist because you're not, that's not your role. So that may sound stern, but again, I'm saying that because I've heard so many partners who want to go to their faith community, their faith leader for that kind of support, and they leave feeling wounded and blamed and alone.
And we don't want to do that. So for both, get more information. There are lots of people I know. My organization, APSATS, has done some trainings for faith organizations on how to be more trauma informed and how to give support. So find people that can do that for you [00:40:00] to help you. We don't expect you to take care of this. We have specialists now that can do this.
Tara: And hallelujah, right?
Barbara: Absolutely. Hallelujah. It's a wonderful thing. It's a wonderful thing. Yes. I think not just in the United States, by the way, we have people across the globe.
Tara: Yes. And I'm so grateful that we are expanding the community of supportive people that can help in this arena.
I think it's interesting how sometimes we think, “oh, somebody suggested this therapist. So I've been to them a couple times and I feel like even though I don't know if it's a great fit, I'm kind of committed.” No! Shop around.
Find a qualified therapist who understands well, that jives with you personally, and that understands this issue. Not all therapists are created equal. I don't say that to be unkind, but as you had discussed, specialized training in this area is so critical. So if you're [00:41:00] interested in what questions to ask a therapist, we do have a download on salifeline.org of questions that you can ask a therapist to kind of weed out those who may not be best equipped to help you with this.
Barbara: Very good. Very good.
Tara: And your words to the faith leaders - I'm so grateful, again, for great faith leaders who helped and assisted my parents through their challenges.
But I have also heard horror stories - of things being told to betrayed partners. And they come out of the office with secondary trauma because of things that they had been told and for being blamed for behavior. You can't really shop around for a faith leader in the same way that you can a therapist.
Barbara: No, but hopefully you've been able to observe how they have been in other situations. So, “Is this a safe person for me to go to right now?” And sometimes I will coach someone to go to their faith community or their faith leader and just say, “I'm just letting you [00:42:00] know that this is going on because you know, you're my leader. You're my pastor, you're my clergy member. I want you to know, but I also want you to know I'm getting help.”
Tara: Right. I like that approach. We may not have a relationship like that. And maybe in time that individual, that faith leader will learn more if they're just aware that their members of their congregation are struggling.
Great counsel there. As we're wrapping up, I wanted to ask you two final questions. I know that we're going to have a varied audience listening to this episode, so I wanted to speak to people who are in the beginning of this experience of just learning about the betrayal and also to those who have been walking this path for a while.
So first, to those who are new to this world, what council would you give to the newcomer?
Barbara: Hmm.[00:43:00] Well, first I would say that I am so sorry that this has happened to you, that this is your experience. But I'm also kind of grateful that this has happened to you now, because we're here. There are so many of us who have had this experience and know how to provide support. Or there are a lot of clinicians, therapists, coaches who have heard about this and got extra training.
And so you do have resources that can be there for you, who will understand, who will not shame you or blame you, and just want to be that hand that can help lead you forward. So you do have that. Understand that again, you didn't cause this. This isn't anything about anything you did or didn't do. It's something that happened to you.
And so [00:44:00] pay attention to the pain. The pain is telling you something - something happened that shouldn't have happened. And so if you're in pain and something happened that shouldn't have happened, you deserve support and help. So work to find that. And if you just reach out to one person who can help connect you to another person, start building that community.
But we weren't created to do these kinds of things all by ourselves. We are created to be in relationships and community, and there is community available for you. So that's the first thing for someone that's just starting this.
For someone who's along the road, it's been going on for a while, is again - you need cheerleaders to keep cheering you on as you are learning about yourself. You're learning about what helps you and what doesn't help you, [00:45:00] and who can support you as you're making decisions. It's a hard journey. So get the equipment that you need - that's community, that's good, solid information, that's taking really good care of yourself. That's using your voice as much as you can to say, this is what I want, this is what I need.
If you are on this journey and you don't see things getting better, or if the relationship is getting worse, if you don't feel safe in a relationship emotionally, sexually, financially, physically, then please don't neglect that. But get more support for yourself so that you can find more safety.
You don't deserve to be wounded and to be mistreated. So if in this journey, you continue to feel mistreated, then please [00:46:00] go to someone who can help you find more safety for yourself.
If your loved one is doing all the hard work and you're seeing glimmers of hope, then hallelujah, that's a really good sign. Maybe it would be time to work together as a couple around, “How do we now form a relationship based on honesty and integrity?” So it can be a wonderful experience if you're down the road and your loved one is in recovery to start creating a vision for, “What do I want this relationship to look like?”
So it's a kind of a time of potential rebirth. I tell partners, whatever was in the relationship is probably gone. You know, it's kind of like an earthquake happened and everything's gone. Maybe you'll find a little piece over here and a little piece over there, but you're kind of starting over and there's some beauty in being able to start over because now you have more [00:47:00] information and you can build something that's going to stand and that is consistent with who you want to be and what you want your relationship to look like. So, it's an opportunity. We'll grab onto that. Stay in a community as long as you can because I'm going to use your term - that's your lifeline.
Tara: Thank you so much, Barbara. I can testify to the fact that there can be beauty for ashes. And experience that we can be transformed through this hard work.
Barbara: Oh yeah. And I can testify that to that too, because I know who I was before and that didn't make this happen. I just know that okay, I kind of went along with some things. But now, I am a different person and I may have gotten to this place, I don't know, but it certainly hurried me along and it helped me take [00:48:00] a stand for what my values were.
And for me, it turned into ministry. It turned into my purpose. It turned into something that my God redeemed and is still redeeming. So there's lots of beauty for ashes. That's our promise.
Tara: Well, thank you so much Dr. Stephans. It's been a true privilege to have you here with me today.
I've learned so much from you, and I know that so many others have, as you have shared your wisdom and your experience all these past years. Thanks so much.
Barbara: Yeah, thank you. Thanks so much. [00:49:00]