As a loyal spouse, have you ever wondered at the painful, destructive, abusive things your disloyal spouse says or does to you during their affair yet somehow they turn it all around and blame YOU, so that they become the victim and they are justified in their adultery?
Have you ever wondered how disloyal spouses convince their friends, their family,and sometimes even church leaders and their parents, that they are the innocent one but you are a BEAST?
Has your disloyal spouse screamed at you for HOURS and blamed their actions on “a tone in your voice” but never stopped to consider that if a tone justifies how they act…what must hours of screaming justify?
As coaches involved in marriage and recovery after infidelity, David and I come across this phenomenon fairly regularly and the loyal spouse rarely understands how it is possible to do that. How could anyone look at the situation and spin it so that the one committing adultery is the victim? Clearly the one who has been cheated on is the casualty, right? Not on the one did the cheating? So how do they do it?
It’s a concept that was first “named” D.A.R.V.O. in the 1990’s by Dr. Jennifer Freyd–so note: this is not a concept taken directly from the Bible, but rather a way of giving a name to the method guilty parties use to spin reality so that they are victim. D.A.R.V.O stands for “Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim Order”…so you can see that in just one acronym it identifies exactly the procedure a disloyal spouse uses. D.A.R.V.O. is not UN-biblical; it’s just a way of labeling or naming the technique that the disloyal spouses use, and thus it’s a way of identifying it for loyal spouses. Our hope in sharing this is so that when D.A.R.V.O. is practiced on you, you’ll recognize it and have the tools to deal with it.
So let’s go into what each letter of D.A.R.V.O. means.
DENY–by definition, denial is “the statement or the action of declaring something to be untrue.” Denial in psychological circles is a defense mechanism in which facing reality is avoided by denying the existence of the reality. In the instance of D.A.R.V.O., the denial kicks in when the guilty party (the disloyal spouse) is confronted with the truth of what they’ve done (committed adultery) and held responsible and accountable for their choices and actions.
Some different examples of denial:
- Outright denial or gaslighting. “That never happened.”
- Minimization. “It wasn’t that bad.”
- Amnesia. “I don’t remember doing that.”
- Redefinition. “I have a bad temper, so you shouldn’t upset me.”
- Projection. “You’re abusive and controlling. You hurt me.”
- Conversion. “I did wrong, but I’m a changed person and won’t do it again.”
“How does denial work?” you ask? Well let me give you an example. Everyone has various values and emotions that affect the way we view reality: shame, greed, desire, revenge, ego, pride, public image, stubbornness, inertia, impulsiveness are all things that change the way we might interpret facts in a given instance. So if you were at work and someone who’s younger and attractive invited you to lunch, but you knew that your credit card was near the max and your spouse would see it–because of desire, ego and public image, you might go off the lunch anyway and even offer to buy lunch…and all the while you’d be in denial of the financial and marital consequences. You can see how infidelity and denial go hand-in-hand!
“What makes this denial different than a falsely accused innocent party who says it didn’t happen?” you ask? When someone is actually innocent and they’ve been accused falsely, they might say “That’s not true!” and then do something like give a list of facts to prove their innocence. But when someone is guilty and engaging in D.A.R.V.O. the reaction is a combination of projection, denial, lying, blameshifting and gaslighting (see above examples). In other words, the disloyal spouse might respond with an act of righteous indignation, claim YOU are the horrible one because you “invaded their privacy” or “how DARE you accuse me.” In the example above, a D.A.R.V.O. denial response to the loyal spouse who holds them accountable for the lunch charges might be: “HOW DARE YOU question my financial judgment! I’m not the irresponsible one here, why just yesterday you spent $125 just on groceries!”
This leads straight into the next step of D.A.R.V.O.–
ATTACK–An attack by definition is “an aggressive and violent action against a person or place.” In this instance it’s the disloyal spouse being aggressive or violent against the loyal spouse who is holding them personally responsible. Sometimes the aggression is physical–sometimes it is verbal/emotional/mental violence. Usually there is manipulation, threats, or bullying and the intent is to scare the loyal spouse into ending the consequences or “backing off” the insistence that the affair end!
Attacks typically include almost anything including accusations, legal threats, intimidation, warnings of physical attacks (such as destruction of property or harming a pet), warnings such as “watch your back because when you don’t expect it, you’ll get it!” threats to ruin your credibility or reputation, ridiculing you for trying to hold them accountable, and pretty much any other abusive tactic the disloyal spouse has ever used before. Women often use crocodile tears as an attack, because they know they can get their spouse to stop if they just cry. Plus, they can always say: “I can’t believe you’d hurt me by saying that!”
…which this leads right into the final step of D.A.R.V.O.–
REVERSE VICTIM ORDER–There really is no dictionary definition of this phrase, but we should discuss what a victim is. A victim is “the person harmed or injured as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action,” and as it relates to infidelity, the loyal spouse may have been a jerk prior to the affair, but once the disloyal spouse chose to deal with it by committing adultery, the loyal spouse, the marriage and the family became the injured parties. The person who made the choice and followed through by committing adultery is not the “victim”…just so we are clear. The marriage was torpedoed…and unless the disloyal quickly repents and is completely remorseful, the family is also in danger of being destroyed.
Now that we are clear, in order to reverse the victim order, disloyal spouses often use a technique called Persuasive Blaming. They convince the loyal spouse that their internal, personal issues are external–or in other words, caused by someone or something else. I VERY typical example of this is “I had an affair because you….” It’s the same method that abusers use to convince their victims that “I got mad because you burned supper” or “I hit you because you deserved it.” Once the loyal spouse is persuaded to view the issue backwards like that, then the disloyal can keep the focus off the real problem (themselves) and try to force the focus and blame onto the loyal. AND once the blame is on the loyal, then they can portrait themselves as the victim!
So in summary, D.A.R.V.O. would be when the disloyal spouse first DENIES the infidelity, ATTACKS the loyal spouse (putting the loyal on the defensive), and then , once the loyal is off balance, acts as if or claims that THEY are the actual injured party! Here is what an example of D.A.R.V.O. might sound like:
LS = loyal spouse
DS = disloyal spouse
LS: “I have the phone bill, a printout of our credit card statement, and a printout of the text messages between you and XXX at work. I know you have spent 5000 minutes on the cell phone this month; you’ve bought her gifts on our credit card, and you sexted her. I will not tolerate adultery in our marriage. Please pack your things and be out of this house by sunset.”
DS: (screaming) “What are you talking about? I didn’t do any of that! Of course we went to lunch once or twice, but it not like it’s an affair! You just trying to control me! I can’t believe you’d invade my privacy because you have trust issues. Who do you think you are?”
LS: “I told you, I have the phone bill and credit card statement right here..”
DS: “I swear if you try to tell everyone I had an affair, I’ll tear you to shreds in court. You’ll lose the house AND the kids and be out on the street with NOTHING! Give me those stupid papers…look at you holding those papers like they were some kind of shield? Don’t you know better than to threaten ME!? “
LS: “I’m not the one who threatened you. You are the one who chose to have an affair….”
DS: “It’s not an affair for crying out loud! We’re just friends, and plus I wouldn’t even be friends with her if you’d ever shut up and listen to me. You know how much I love to talk but do you ever listen to me? NO! You think you know better and sneak around behind my back lying to everyone about me when I’M the one who has had to put up with you and your constant b.s. for all these years!”