Betrayal is a common topic of conversation in therapy because it is a deeply personal and often hurtful experience. Betrayal strips us from our power; yet, betrayal is part of most people’s lives. We both betray and are betrayed by others. The worst betrayals are the double ones–those that involve not only secrecy and lies but also break our attachment to a loved one. Infidelity is one of these types.
People often have a sense of order, of stability, of ownership of their lives. When faced with infidelity, this sense of life stability disappears. Betrayed people question how their loved one perceives them. They feel powerless about what has happened, and powerless about the future. Where “before” they felt safe and loved, in the “after” they are unsure whether their previous reality was accurate. They question their ability to see things clearly, and to influence the world around them.
So how does one start to heal from the betrayal of infidelity?
- Look at your choices. Realize that you are making a choice in anything that you do. People often say, “I have no choice,” when really what they have are two bad options. Two bad options still create a choice. We do have the power to choose even if we are unhappy with the choices. I typically recommend that betrayed partners don’t make major decisions within the first six months. You need time to adjust to what happened. A betrayal is like being hit by a car that you didn’t see coming. Your body would need time to heal and your brain time to understand what happened.
- Realize that even though we have the power of choice, we don’t always have the ability to have what we want in life. Let go of control. We cannot control the past, or others, and sometimes even the future. Embrace the freedom of accepting that some things are beyond our control, and let this relieve you of the pressure and responsibility of doing so.
- Remember what is important in your life, count the positives and celebrate them. Slow down. Do not rush the healing process. A car hit you now you have broken bones. No one expects you to move out of your house or make major life decisions. Get treatment to heal your injuries then decide in what way this injury will affect your life and future.
- Ask for specific things from your partner. If they are willing to do them, this is a good sign. If they reject your requests then consider what this means for the relationship and for you. It may feel like your partner was driving the car that hit you, other times it will feel like they got hit by the car with you. This is normal. The partners willing to work on understanding your pain and their role in creating it may deserve a second chance.
- Betrayed spouses are unsure what to believe. Ask and clarify assumptions related to the betrayal. Work on being okay not knowing something 100%. Human beings like certainty. It is comfortable, safe and encouraging. When faced with a betrayal, recognize that for a while uncertainty is part of the healing process. It is completely understandable that you struggle with trust. Yet, assuming that everything your partner says is a lie is inaccurate and dangerous. Take time to find out what happened and to what extent you want and can build trust with your partner.
- Work on making meaning. What does this betrayal means to you as a human being? What does it mean as a partner? What does it mean for your relationship? What narrative feels accurate to you?
- Know the facts! Research can shed light on your situation. Affairs happen in at least 1/4 of married relationships. Many factors contribute to affairs including marriage dissatisfaction. Yet, people who love their spouses can still engage in affairs. A betrayal means many things but it is important to figure out what it means for your relationship. This takes hard emotional work, but it is worth it.
After a significant relationship betrayal, you will need to take time to ask questions, find ways to create feelings of reassurance and connection, and create an understanding of what happened. This requires gathering facts, being vulnerable, and processing emotions. But when couples can do this, healing, recovery, and even growth are possible.
Sabrina Bowen, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda, MD office. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Sabrina.