the pain of betrayal

The worst hurt is betrayal because someone you cared about was willing to hurt you.

The worst hurt is betrayal because someone you cared about was willing to hurt you.

Nothing can prepare you for the moment you discover that the person closest to you, the person you count on the most, the person you think cares for you more than all others, has betrayed you.  There is no relationship event more painful than the discovery of infidelity and unless it has happened to you, the psychological impact is impossible to understand.   

The aftereffects of betrayal have been likened to the psychic disorientation and confusion that we see in victims of natural disasters.  And like the victims of disasters, those who discover betrayal experience symptoms of acute and post traumatic stress. The betrayed spouse replays over in their minds the previously assumed events which occurred during the weeks, months, or years that an affair existed. The deceived partner begins to question their reality and everything that was said and done over the relationship, as trust is obliterated.     Was he really on the golf course when he phoned to say he would be home late?  Was her plane really delayed so she had to stay overnight?

Individuals come to counselling so deeply traumatised by the discovery of an affair that they are barely able to get through a day.  A whirlwind of anger, shock, confusion, shame, anxiety, depression, grief and loss are felt and the experience can be overwhelming.   These feelings are normal reactions.    In the midst of such emotional torment, it is hard to think clearly let alone decide whether the relationship should be repaired or end.

In the past, marital separation was a shameful outcome but now, many betrayed partners describe feeling shame for staying.  Pop culture asserts that we deserve to be ‘treated right’ and if we have any self respect we wouldn’t stay with a cheater.   Such judgements add to the confusion and emotional pain.  The truth is, relationships are complex and there is no one-size-fits-all.    What is really needed is support, love and compassion.

It is absolutely essential that the old relationship that included an affair must end and sometimes, this means that a couple will part ways.   For these, the pain of betrayal can be the death nail for the relationship, particularly when there have been multiple betrayals or the cheating spouse refuses to discontinue the affair.   But for other couples, a new and different relationship with the old partner is possible, by forging new ways of communicating, relating and meeting needs.   

If an attempt at relationship repair is preferred, then there are 4  things that the spouse who cheated can do to help their partner heal.  1.  Gently answer all the betrayed partner’s questions; 2. express repeated, sincere remorse; 3.  accept full responsibility for the breach in trust; and 4.  make demonstrable effort to rebuild trust.   If you have experienced betrayal, then help is available to navigate the emotional devastation that follows, either as a couple or on your own.  Working with a clinical psychologist can help you through the storm of betrayal including understanding how the relationship came to be vulnerable to an affair and how to repair after damage has been done.

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by Lydia Rigano

This article was in DUOMagazine July 2018