This week I have the immense privilege of attending APSATS* training with Barb Steffens — founder of the partner trauma model. I thought I'd share the blessing (of Barb's wisdom) this week with the whole of the community, as she answers another community question.
My husband projects almost everything he does onto me. Everything I can think of, save for actually sexually acting out. For instance, he mentioned a deliverance class he wanted us to do at church. For various reasons, I declined. Because I declined a church class, I was told (in front of our children) that I'm the one throwing our marriage covenant out the window. He also wants me to take at least half the blame for our separation. He is still acting out weekly, if not multiple times a week. If I tell him how I feel about something, he either tells me he feels the same or that it's not all about me. He scheduled a beach trip that I was triggered by because I knew what a trigger that was for him. I told him how it made me feel. He just told me in a condescending tone that it's not about me. I told him once that I was sorry, but I couldn't be the perfect, pixelated, enabling "wife" he desires to use. That I'm worth more. His response was, "I know the feeling.”
How common is it for SA's to project their issues onto their wives? Is there a way to respond appropriately to someone when they do that or is it best to just keep silent?
Ouch. It hurts just reading these experiences of this spouse, doesn’t it? On top of the betrayal experienced by ongoing acting out, this partner continues to be blamed or have things projected onto her. Unfortunately, the answer is “very” to the question, “How common is it for SA’s to project their issues onto their wives?” There are many communication and psychological tactics or defenses used by SA’s to take the heat off of them and place it on the spouse. These tactics are forms of emotional or psychological abuse and projection. Another term for what seems to happening hear is Gas lighting.
Gas lighting is a process used by one person to confuse or point out flaws in another person (flaws that may not be there at all or not to the degree it is being communicated) for the purpose of taking the focus off of the gas lighter and onto the gas lightee (in this case the spouse).
We see gas lighting occur frequently with SA’s, especially those not in recovery or very early recovery. They use this tactic to take the focus off of their behaviors and to leave the one attacked spending energy on defending themselves rather than confronting the SA’s behavior. It works. It’s a smoke screen or diversion. It is crazy-making, especially as the spouse tries to explain or defend with no change in the opinion of the gas lighter.
The best response is to not respond and to know in your self that the things that are being said are attempts to defend and protect the SA and his behaviors. Gas lighting is a form of verbal or psychological abuse when used repeatedly and for the purposes I highlighted earlier. You can also state something like “That is not me and I’m not going to listen to this any longer” and then end the conversation. Recognizing the pattern and its purpose can give you power to “opt out” of the conversation and the abuse. Of course, you are likely to be accused of “running away” or being “unwilling to communicate” but those too are lies and distortions meant to undermine your strength and sense of self. Don’t “take the bait.”
*Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists