Betrayal Violence Institute is an interdisciplinary network dedicated to the study of betrayal violence (BV). Our mission is to provide research and terminology that supports global recognition of BV amongst mental health, medical, and legal professionals as well as faith-based and community organizations.
POWER AND CONTROL
In BV, power and control is achieved by deception, persuasion, and exploitation, known collectively as abusive behavior and communication (ABC). The byproduct of ABC is the detrimental impact sustained by the significant other from whom the secrets have been strategically concealed in this way.
ABC unfurls in multiple acts of subterfuge geared toward a singular end: to avoid anticipated consequences of the secret fidelity violations. As BV unfolds, the fidelity violator's acuity for ABC increases, as does alertness to threats of being caught. The traumatic impact to the significant other’s wellbeing and safety also increases whether or not the endangerment is yet obvious.
Those who have experienced endangerment are recognized as victims-survivors of betrayal violence.
Endangerment: the affliction to the wellness and safety of a person in a committed relationship resulting from the other partner's a) secret fidelity violations and b) use of abusive behavior and communication (ABC).
The degree of perception a victim of betrayal violence has about their own state of endangerment is called endangerment awareness, which forms on an event-based continuum ranging from completely unknown to fully known.
Threatened or actual misuse of power can stem from a variety of motivating factors, but not always does violence get used with the intention to cause harm. The intention that matters is in the use of power against another person that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.
Yes, a person can act in violence even if they weren’t “trying” to.
Betrayal violence hinges on the use of power and control that restrains the significant other from knowing essential information about her safety and wellbeing related to fidelity violations that occur outside of her awareness and consent. While cheating can be egregious behavior, infidelity in and of itself is not betrayal violence.
BV does not include physical or verbal acts of aggression such as one might experience in IPV. For more information on IPV please visit www.NCADV.org.
COMPARING THE USE OF POWER AND CONTROL IN BETRAYAL VIOLENCE (BV) AND COERCIVE CONTROL (CC)
All forms of domestic violence include the use of power and control against the victim. However, not all forms of domestic violence include the motive to dominate and demoralize the victim.
When secret infidelity creates an inaugural power differential in an otherwise egalitarian coupleship, the victim-survivor’s response and resistance are correlated with their freedom to express autonomy, access resources, and redress equity. Victims of ingrained betrayal violence (1) do not have the same liberties in these areas and face significant barriers to safety along with additional risks and trauma.
When a coercive controller cheats and lies about it, their betrayal violence is embedded into the larger choreography of their ongoing abusive regime. This abuser has a history of using tactics of deception, persuasion, exploitation and more, all purposed around constructing a matrix of entrapment for their partner. The cheating occurs within an abusive structure that is already fixed, and the violations of fidelity create additional trauma and risk factors for the victim.
The aim to dominate one's partner is not characteristic of betrayal violence conduct. Highlighting this significant nuance is important because, while a person’s motivation for choosing to abuse doesn’t make the abuse any more benign, it helps us recognize a prevalent form of abuse that does not necessarily fit the description of traditional models.
(1) Ingrained betrayal violence: betrayal violence conduct that is anchored to an established system of coercive control. A victim-survivor of ingrained betrayal violence experiences endangerment inside the confines of entrapment from the abuser’s domination, which creates additional risks, barriers, and trauma for the victim-survivor. The abuser has a history of using deception, persuasion, and exploitation (along with other methods) to construct a matrix of entrapment for their partner. The abusive structure is already fixed, and fidelity violations create additional trauma and risk factors for the victim.
When betrayal violence occurs without coercive control
Betrayal violence prevalently occurs on its own, meaning that the generation of infidelity secrets can unfold into the first significant power differential in an otherwise equity-based relationship. When betrayal violence occurs outside of a coercive control context, the fidelity violator (and often their treatment providers) can be prone to dismissing their deceptive, persuasive, and exploitative conduct as an extension of addiction, trauma, or shame, rather than regarding it as abuse. In other words, since many fidelity violators do not seek to dominate and demoralize their partner, their abuse can get mislabeled or overlooked entirely.
And while shame, trauma, and addiction may correspond with the fidelity violator’s patterns, these diagnostic assessments should not form the main lens through which we evaluate their abusive behavior and communication (ABC) (2). Mental health diagnoses do inform the treatment needs of the fidelity violator, but they do not somehow render more permissible their conduct. ABC requires specific and targeted rehabilitation. The Betrayal Violence Institute offers interdisciplinary training for professionals in ABC identification and rehabilitation. However, additional specialized treatment is necessary when betrayal violence is ingrained into a broader context of abuse (3). A cheating person who rudimentarily operates from a position of power and control with coercion, intimidation, verbal, physical, or sexual abuse is perpetrating coercive control, which must be the lens through which treatment is provided. In addition, the victim-survivor entrapped in coercive control with ingrained betrayal violence needs highly specialized support that addresses the numerous complexities of intimate partner abuse.
In contexts where betrayal violence is not ingrained into a broader system of coercive control, the desire to subjugate one’s intimate partner is absent, and the motives for using abusive behavior and communication (ABC) against the partner are geared around avoiding consequences of one’s own secret sexual behavior. Fidelity violators who do not hold intentions for harm toward their partners are prone to insufficient realization (4). They fail to recognize their own conduct as abusive simply because it does not include physical assault, verbal aggression, or the desire to subjugate and cause harm. In fact, they are motivated to conceal their actions all the more when they do not want to cause harm, even despite any sense of entitlement they may feel to violate fidelity.
Descriptions of coercive control often do not “resonate” with fidelity violators, whose abuse is grounded in manipulating outcomes of their cheating rather than dismantling their partner’s autonomy or restricting their liberties. In helping a person identify their own BV conduct as abuse, we must be able to accept and acknowledge that causing pain, harm, and trauma to their partner may not have been the intent. Betrayal violence language pinpoints the conduct that helps them overcome insufficient realization. Otherwise, we are holding their abusive behavior up to an intimate partner violence (IPV) mirror that does not accurately reflect back to them the motivations that undergird their use of power and control. Failure to identify the specific choices made to deceive, persuade, and exploit enables the fidelity violator to persist in eschewing responsibility for their abusive conduct.
(2) Abusive behavior and communication: Any stratagem of deceptive, persuasive, or exploitive words and actions that betraying partners use to deliberately restrain their significant other from awareness of the fidelity violations that have occurred or are occurring. ABC is used to avoid anticipated consequences of secret behavior and to promote typical functioning in the committed relationship that circumvents the endangerment they have subjected their partner to.
(3) Please see the Resources page.
(4) Insufficient realization: Inadequate conscientiousness on the part of a person engaging in betrayal violence conduct related to accepting responsibility for and responding appropriately to the harm caused by their betrayal violence conduct. Often the person fails to correctly ascertain they are enacting abuse against their significant other due to the absence of physical assault or malice toward their partner.
How secrets can result in a power imbalance
When one partner withholds essential information from the other partner, a power differential can develop that affects the agency, safety, and wellbeing of the partner who is not privy to the information. Prevalently, the secret life is the first extension of systemic benefits or privileges into abusive power and control within the relationship. In other words, the genesis of the secret life motivates the fidelity violator to use deception, persuasion, and exploitation to maintain secrecy. This accentuates the power imbalance while resulting in the abuse of the betrayed partner. Where the fidelity violator is using power and control to avoid consequences rather than to achieve dominion, the victim’s experience is best explained as endangerment (5).
In summary, it is important to understand that betrayal violence is often not preceded by coercive control in the relationship; many betrayed partners are not entrapped in a preexisting pattern of domestic abuse. These victim-survivors of abuse struggle to find their experience articulated in domestic violence literature, and thus have a difficult time locating targeted resources and support. Lack of representation for their experience often causes victims to doubt the validity of the abuse they’ve suffered. If we fail to understand that a person can choose abusive patterns without the intent of eroding the personhood of their partner, then we fail to validate the abuse victims are suffering without the broader experience of coercive control.
This chart helps us clarify the use of power and control in betrayal violence by comparing it to coercive control. Because abusive tactics can look similar between betrayal violence and coercive control, and because BV can be ingrained into CC, we must be able to identify the context in order to provide the right support. The way mental health, medical, pastoral, and legal professionals synthesize the context in each case shapes the path forward for the fidelity violator, the betrayed partner, and the coupleship in either productive or harmful ways.
(5) Endangerment: The affliction to the wellness and safety of a person in a committed relationship resulting from the other partner’s a) secret fidelity violations and b) use of abusive behavior and communication (ABC). Endangerment is the first phase of complex partner trauma (CPT).
When a coercive controller gets cheated on
You may be wondering about cases where a victim of coercive control is the one violating fidelity. This does occur and when it does, it should not be considered betrayal violence. The reason is simple but can be hard to suss out in clinical and legal practice; the victim of coercive control does not hold power and control in their relationship; they are in the one-down position of the power differential.
Actual power and control are necessary for betrayal violence to occur, otherwise, despite any presence of deception, persuasion, and even exploitation, the infidelity is woven into the complex matrix of ongoing subjugation (which may even serve as a prompt to find relief outside the relationship). This is not to say that infidelity is excusable or shameless, neither does this dismiss that a coercive controller who has been betrayed by infidelity can suffer deep pain. However, as the predominant aggressor, the weight of power and control does not shift out of their hands by way of the victim cheating and entrapment does not dissolve instantaneously because of it either.
An entrapped victim who violates fidelity will use methods to hide this information from their abuser. They may lie, manipulate, and take advantage of the abuser’s trust or resources to hide their infidelity. Whatever “duping delight” a victim may experience in the manner of their secrets, they maintain secrecy for survival-driven reasons which hold virtually no transitional leverage to equalize their power within the relationship. The power differential can only be dissolved by the one who controls it. In most cases, when a coercive controller discovers their partner’s sexual secrets, the violations become incorporated as new fodder in the abuser’s arsenal. Furthermore, it is not uncommon, especially in post-separation coercive control, for an abuser to wager false or inflated accusations of infidelity against the victim-survivor.
This is what
Betrayal violence is a form of domestic violence, meaning it occurs between intimate partners. To get more specific about the nature of violence, it’s helpful to see how it is sorted into four typologies: physical, sexual, psychological, and deprivation or neglect.
Betrayal violence victims may experience all of the above, and it’s important to acknowledge that. Due to the enormous toll that lies and omissions take on betrayed partners, their experience is often labeled as gaslighting. But there is more to it. The nature of betrayal violence exceeds psychological and emotional harm and often extends into a realm of exploitation involving the deprivation of rights to provide consent.
It is important to understand the gravity and complexity of the mistreatment some partners face. Some have been deprived of their right to consent regarding their own physical bodies, such as in cases where they were exposed to the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or even treated for STIs without knowing. Perhaps the fidelity violator crushed a pill into the partner's protein shake – this is an example of being deprived of the right to know essential information and make decisions with full agency.
Deception, persuasion, and exploitation can assemble in any combination, all of which can lead to injury, psychological harm, and deprivation of rights and information required to function with informed autonomy.
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BVI is an educational hub dedicated to the study of betrayal violence (BV). Our mission is to provide research and terminology that supports global recognition of BV amongst mental health, medical, and legal professionals as well as faith-based and community organizations.