MARRIAGE MISDIAGNOSIS: It Takes Two to Tango–But Only One to Torture

by | Sep 15, 2022 | Abuse, Pornography | 18 comments

It Doesn't Take Two to Tango with Abuse

We’re in the middle of our Marriage Misdiagnosis series, talking about how often the church misdiagnoses the problems in marriage–and so offers the wrong solutions.

Last week we looked at how often people are pressured to reconcile before trust has been rebuilt.

Today I want to tackle the idea that “it takes two to tango,” so that if there’s a marriage problem, you should each work on yourselves since you each are responsible.

To do that, I’ve invited my friend and abuse advocate Sarah McDugal to share with us. Sarah’s the founder of Wilderness to WILD and the Trauma Mamas app for women leaving destructive marriages.

And I love following Sarah on Facebook!

Here’s Sarah!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Most days, she felt like she could barely breathe.

The knowledge that her husband spent hours browsing porn sites, and had consistently, if intermittently, binged on sexually explicit material since long before they’d even started dating, shifted the axis of her world.

Her chest felt tight, as if carrying this betrayal might squeeze the life from her lungs.

She’d read stacks of dating books to make sure she “did things right”, then all the marriage books over the years. She’d internalized the popular messages well.

In conflict, defer.
In betrayal, smile.
In disagreement, submit.

It didn’t seem to fix things, no matter how much she surrendered her personhood and gaslighted herself into compliance.

She’d reached out for clarity in all the ways she knew — other than telling people outright. She was a clergy spouse, after all, and as a clergy spouse she was acutely aware that it was her job to smooth things over, to make him shine, to be the gracious one who never complained.

Now… the secrets and lies had come to a head. Life exploded in slow motion with discovery after discovery of his deceptive sexual behaviors, financial infidelity, and integrity abuse. Then, trickling disclosures followed in no discernible pattern, leaving her anxious, vulnerable. Always hyper vigilant and braced for the next bombshell, never able to relax and heal.

Clergy friends called her sometimes, with dubious attempts at encouragement. More often it felt like covert shaming and sometimes they even fished for embarrassing information. Like the time one pastor laughed at the preposterous idea that any man in his right mind would cheat on her. “What are you, frigid or something? It takes two to tango!” She recoiled at his unwelcome familiarity, the sense of being stripped naked in his imagination.

Another time, a different pastor stopped her on the street outside her workplace. “Hey I heard he went to rehab. How’d it go when he told you that you were his addiction trigger?” The man chuckled as though it was a great joke, perhaps not realizing the shiver of shame he’d caused by callously revealing that her husband was quite obviously blaming her for his compulsive sexual deception to all his friends.

“I asked him how that was possible since he was living in lies about his sex life for ten years before we met,” she looked the pastor dead in the eye and his chuckles faded to silence.

“Well, it takes two to tango,” he mumbled, and the conversation died away.


Eventually, she thought about dating again. “Tell me,” one guy asked after they’d become good friends, “how you’ve taken responsibility for your part in the destruction of your marriage back when you were a pastor’s wife? I mean, it takes two to tango, right?”

She waited a moment to reply. “I’ve wrestled with this for years, trying to come to peace with that burden. The answer is — I stayed too long. I kept sins silent out of shame. I covered up evil, thinking that doing so was an act of love. I will never choose that again.” He didn’t stick around.

Can you relate? There are thousands of betrayed partners who might share similar anecdotes. These three though, are part of my own story.

She was me.

I remember the first time I watched a tango.

It was some spy movie, and I was probably a freshman in college. The exotic music, the swishing of her dress, the elegance — it was exhilarating.

Tango is a sexy, beautiful, powerful dance that cannot be performed alone. Tango requires an intense amount of skill, focus, and precision on the part of both dancers. If one partner is sloppy, distracted, or stomping on the other’s feet… it’s no longer beautiful and entrancing. It takes two to tango, but if both partners aren’t working together, it’s no longer a tango, it’s a tragedy.

It took a long time to untangle the core message that I must naturally have been an equal partner in the life-destroying dance that resulted from a marriage crippled by deceptive sexual behaviors.

It took even longer to recognize that while a beautiful, safe, successful marriage is made up of two partners working in rhythm — it only takes one to ruin it.

It only takes one to torture.
It only takes one to torpedo.

It only takes one to lie, to cheat, to abandon, neglect, or abuse. Deception does not require team effort.

The Deceptive Sexuality and Trauma (DST) Model recognizes that partners who flirt, sext, have affairs, use pornography, or cheat in other ways — are not acting out because their partner doesn’t offer enough sex, or hasn’t complimented them often enough lately. Rather, unfaithful partners act in patterns of Compulsive Entitled Sexuality (CES) because they innately believe they have the right to do so.

In addition, they exhibit patterns of Integrity Abuse Disorder (IAD). “ IAD is a type of conduct disorder that is defined by a significant lack of integrity and a covert relational abuse system.” (The Secret Sexual Basement – Whitepaper, by Dr. Omar Minwalla)

This means unfaithful, entitled partners tend to carry a callous attitude toward those they have betrayed, they manipulate the truth to avoid consequences, and they show a significant lack of integrity.

When one partner acts out of Integrity Abuse and Compulsive Entitled Sexuality — you don’t have a tango. You have emotional and psychological torture taking place. You have one partner’s “deficits in conscience, lack of remorse, and covert domination and control,” (same citation) creating profound trauma for the betrayed partner.

Infidelity, including the use of pornography, is not something that a couple needs to work on together.

It is not a marriage issue, but rather an abuse and entitlement issue and must be treated as such.

Deceptive sexual behavior indicates an integrity deficit in the unfaithful spouse, not a loyalty or submission deficit in the betrayed spouse. In fact, when spiritual leaders urge a couple to attend counseling together when any form of integrity abuse or deceptive sexual behavior is a factor — it is tantamount to abuse in itself.

If this mirrors any part of your story, if you’ve been told you need to sort through your level of responsibility in causing your partner to cheat, to use pornography, to molest a minor, to flirt or sext or watch webcams or any other form of breaking their vows to you — you are not alone. Also, unfaithful behavior is not in any way a result of your inadequacy, no matter what your pastor or bible study leader or other spiritual influencers have said.

You cannot respect, submit, or sexualize your partner into a being a truthful, faithful, loyal spouse — because you are not responsible for their moral or immoral choices. The decisions, words, and actions to break their vows, to betray your trust, to destroy your marriage — are theirs alone. The choice to engage in the hard, messy, humbling process of rebuilding their integrity and becoming a safe, honest, trustworthy human — is work that they can only do for themselves.

Before authentic healing can even remotely begin, they must come to accept the profound impact their entitlement and integrity deficit has caused. You cannot do it for them. Quite often, you cannot even do it with them. They must choose to journey this path on their own, in order to rewire the worldview that enabled them to exist with fractured integrity in the first place.

Yes, it takes two to tango – but it only takes one to torture.
And you have every right to seek safety.

Sarah’s featured in a new book–He Chose Porn Over Me

He Chose Porn Over Me

Shattering the popular myth that porn is harmless, the personal accounts of 25 brave women in “He Chose Porn over Me” reveal the real-life trauma experienced by women at the hands of their porn-consuming partners—men who were supposed to care for them. This confronting but necessary book dares to tell the truth about pornography’s destructive impact—about the men who habitually use it and the women and children who are mistreated and discarded as a result.

The women in this book were collateral damage in their partner’s insatiable greed for porn. Their stories tell of the crushing of intimacy, respect, connection, love. Porn colonized their families, leaving women rejected and scarred. They were subjected to sexual terrorism in their own homes. The men, turbo-charged by pornography, were intoxicated by sexualized power. They didn’t care if they lost everything including their partners.

In this haunting exposé, pornography is rightfully situated as an insidious tool of violence against women.

Sarah McDugal

Featured in a book edited by Melinda Tankard Reist, He Chose Porn Over Me

Does it Take Two to Tango with Abuse?

What do you think? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sarah McDugal


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Sarah McDugal

Author at Bare Marriage

Sarah McDugal is an author, speaker, abuse recovery coach, and co-founder of Wilderness to WILD & the TraumaMAMAs mobile app. She provides courses, community, and coaching for women recovering from deceptive sexual trauma, coercive control, and intimate terrorism. Her passion is: helping mamas heal, rebuild healthy solo-parent families, while they protect their children from further harm, as they navigate the family court system after escaping abuse. Her books on abuse include: Myths We Believe: Predators We Trust; One Face: Shed the Mask, Own Your Values, and Lead Wisely; He Chose Porn Over Me: Women Harmed by Men Who Use Porn, ed. Melinda Tankard Reist.

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  1. Sarah O

    Thank you Sarah, for your vulnerability in sharing your story. This is a much needed message. Whether internal or external, victims of marriage sabotage can’t help but ask “where did I go wrong?”, even to berate themselves for choosing that person in the first place.

    I’d be very interested to hear more about how you grappled with this theologically. It’s hard to hold space for “in HIM we are more than victors” and “I was totally helpless to this situation”. I’ve seen this be a breaking point for some people’s faith an a real catalyst for growth in others.

    Congratulations on being featured in the new book.

    • Purplecandy

      “even to berate themselves for choosing that person in the first place”.
      Exactly where I am. I feel like I’ve let myself down and worst of all, let God down because I chose such a bad spouse.

      • Sarah O

        Oh, Purplecandy. I am sorry. It’s a terrible feeling.

        I don’t know if Scripture is helpful to you right now, but this one has helped me in trouble. “I would have despaired had I not believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of living. Wait for the Lord, be strong, let your heart take courage, and wait for the Lord.” Psalms 27: 13-14

      • Sarah McDugal

        “ I feel like I’ve let myself down and worst of all, let God down because I chose such a bad spouse.”

        Sweet friend — you cannot blame yourself for what you did not know. If you extended honesty, trust, and kindness, believing the gestures that appeared to be authentic in return… that speaks to your good character. Not your bad choosing.

        If the abusive patterns were blatant to you as a trusting and innocent young girlfriend — would you have knowingly chosen a liar? Cheater? Deceiver? Of course not!

        • Christine

          “ If the abusive patterns were blatant to you as a trusting and innocent young girlfriend — would you have knowingly chosen…?”

          The key word in this encouragement is ‘blatant’ …

          Skilled abusers hide their selfishness until you are firmly in their control.

          Because the abuse pattern feeds self doubt and rewards acceptance of the abuse/abuser, sometimes a victim will chose to marry an abuser (even when they ‘know’ something is amiss). It seems harder to name abuse for what it is than to pretend it away. This is the power of coercive patterns.

          So, even if you knew something wasn’t right before you married, please forgive yourself and continue in healing. The abuse is designed to control you. Being able to step out of it now is a blessing to hold onto firmly.

          • Christine

            Please edit…
            After “ The key word in this encouragement is ‘blatant’ … “

            Please add, “What might seem blatant in hindsight or to others isn’t so clear to the one being abused.”

    • Sarah McDugal

      “ I’d be very interested to hear more about how you grappled with this theologically. It’s hard to hold space for “in HIM we are more than victors” and “I was totally helpless to this situation”. I’ve seen this be a breaking point for some people’s faith an a real catalyst for growth in others.”

      This is such an excellent question. I did write a blog along these lines called Happily Never After, but perhaps I should tackle it more deeply. 🙂

  2. Mara R

    Another good one in this series!

    This whole series is much needed in the Body of Christ. We should have had something like this long ago. Not blaming Bare Marriage for this. Others should have been saying this far earlier than now.

    But, better late than never.

    And whatever it takes to get Evangelicals to stop with the trite, cliched, powerless, and unbiblical answers they habitually give.

  3. Annie

    My story holds a lot of similarities – porn use, infidelity, financial lies, so many lies – except my husband was deceased before I uncovered his indiscretions and I was left feeling like I’d lost my marriage and him all over again. By not being honest, I also feel like I was robbed of any choices I should have had.

    I don’t talk super openly about this part of my story… It’s complex. I’m so grateful that the people I have chosen to trust have been primarily loving and supportive of me without the “well, what was your part in this?” rhetoric. Unfortunately, I had already internalized a lot of the messages and still have had to fight my way through it.

  4. EOF

    This, like every other post in this series, is spot on. I’m having a hard time putting my thoughts into words for this series, but I definitely agree and hope people are listening!

  5. Joy

    If this hasn’t been done before (links appreciated if so!) could you come up with some materials on how to talk to our pastors about the views they uphold in their churches? I’m new to my area and pretty scared about finding a new church since the tradition I grew up in is pretty messed up right now. For me I would need to know as a new person, but then there are people who are long standing members of their churches that may just now be wanting to ask these questions, too. Maybe a pastor you trust could give a perspective or someone who has done it can write what they did and what happened. Something like that.

  6. Hannah

    Somewhere the phrase ‘it takes 2 to tango’ has morphed. When I first heard it 20+ years ago, it referred to both parties in an affair (ie people, often but not always husbands, shouldn’t claim they were unable to resist the person they were unfaithful with). It had no reference to the wronged spouse. I guess now I’m much more aware of the possibility of abuse so I still think it’s a terrible phrase, because one individual can sexually abuse someone other than their spouse. But just really shocked it was ever used to blame people whose spouses were unfaithful.

  7. Nessie

    It does take two to (actual) tango, and it can be a beautiful dance when two partners work together, communicating fluidly, imperceptibly, because they are so in tune with one another. The “tango” these fools speak of is not at all accurate. Somehow, with all the great wisdom available to us in the Bible on how to treat others, churched people really insert a massively huge foot in their mouths too often. So many instances recorded in the Bible of mourning with those who mourn yet we so often fail miserably. It’s disheartening at best.

    I bought a book written by a women shortly after I learned about my husband’s porn use and thought it would bring healing (especially because it was written by a women)… it was laid out for a 6 chapter approach which was to be at your own pace. When I got to the *second* chapter and it started talking about how his porn use was not my fault BUT I needed to take a hard look at how I contributed badly to the marriage (nagging, not looking my best, not being the happy person I should be in Christ, etc.), I regressed so hard… It was retraumatizing to me honestly, like I had just been hit freshly with the news of my husband cheating on me with porn. It took me several months to get out of the depression that book’s effect took on me much less get back around to trying to heal from the original situation. Any positive that might have come from that book was completely overshadowed by that horrible bit.

    We can- we HAVE to- do better!

    • Laura


      Some of these “Christian” books are harmful in that imply that the victim played a part in the demise of their marriage regardless of how much their spouse engaged in toxic behaviors. Once you hear those negatives, the positives in that book just don’t come to the light.

      Whenever I’ve talked about the abuse (frequent sexual assaults, porn use, verbal abuse, controlling behavior) I experienced in my former marriage, several “well-meaning” Christians will say, “You know, you’re not perfect either.” Um, excuse me? I just informed these people the abuse I went through and this was how they responded to me. Really distressing and obviously these people did not know what abuse is.

      • Nessie

        Yes, I agree, that message shows up often in these “resources.” I also read through an Arterburn book (before I knew better) geared towards men (about winning back her trust after porn/affairs) to see if it could help my husband, and it disgusted me how many times I noticed him putting the onus on the woman needing to do her own healing, etc. It was as if he felt he was calling the man to do so much already that he needed to make sure the men knew there was an expectation on the women, too. Because a man can’t give up porn without a women to fix him, right? *eyeroll*

        That “You’re not perfect either,” foolishness is a tactic many use to distract away from their bad behavior, feelings of guilt, or have been misused by those same words.

  8. Jo R

    Everybody needs to go to Sarah’s FB page right now and read the entire text under the picture with this overlay:

    “if you would just open your wallet more, she wouldn’t have developed a shopping addiction in the first place.”

    😱 😱 😱

    • Angharad


  9. Lisa M

    And I’ll just spell it out for those in the back–


    And Evangelical authors who still teach this are telling us about themselves and their fitness to be telling people how to live their lives. They are unfit to teach and give advice.


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