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If You Are Experiencing the Pain of Betrayal

Updated: May 6

If your spouse has broken trust in the relationship, you most likely are experiencing a whirlwind of emotions and pain. You never thought you would be in this place and the reality of what has happened is disorienting and can be all consuming.

So, how do you win your spouse back when they are the one who has broken trust?

First, it is important to acknowledge, just how unfair it is that you are in this position. It is not fair that you are having to focus on saving the marriage while experiencing the pain of what happened to you at the same time. However, there is hope. Marriages can heal from the pain of betrayal.

The first thing to keep in mind is that broken trust takes time to heal. You have undergone a trauma. It typically takes 1-2 years to fully heal from betrayal when actively working on it with a therapist. That doesn’t mean that you will feel the same pain you do today for 1-2 years. You will be healing along the way. But, it does mean that progress often takes the form of “three steps forward and two steps back”. There will be good days and bad. But, you can come through this on the other side with a stronger marriage than you had before this happened.

The Need for Information

If you are experiencing the pain of betrayal, It is normal to want information. You are entitled to information. However, it is recommended to work with a therapist to help with this process. They can help you process what information is going to truly be helpful and what information will make it more difficult to heal. Once you know something, you can’t unknow it. You can’t get images out of your brain. They can also help you to get to the full measure of the truth. What you do know is bad enough, but how do you know that there is not more information out there that can hurt you? It is hard to heal, when you don’t know what you don’t know.

Spouses who have broken trust will frequently do what is called “trickle disclosure”. They will give a little bit of information to see how it is received. And later they will give a little more, and later still more. This also makes it very difficult to heal. With each disclosure, your foundation is shaken and you feel the weight of all the deception all over again. Working with a therapist through a disclosure process helps healing because it gets all of the facts on the table so you can fully know and appreciate what you are dealing with.

It can also be very tempting in the aftermath of betrayal to slip into hyper-vigilance mode.  Hyper-vigilance is when you get obsessed with trying to catch your partner doing something or keep them from doing something. It comes from a place of trying to protect yourself from getting hurt or to prove that there is good reason for what you are feeling. It is understandable, but it is also crazy making.

Aggressive or Passive?

In a very broad sense, you typically will have one of two responses when you have been betrayed and (at least a part of you) still wants to make the marriage work. You will likely tend to either be more aggressive with your pain and reactions or you will become more passive, afraid that your pain will further push your partner away. Sometimes you vacillate between both. It is important to find a balance in your pain.

I Want Them To Hurt

An aggressive response is normal. It is quite natural to have intense emotions resulting from betrayal. Anger is a reasonable reaction to betrayal. In fact, the absence of anger can be a warning sign. However, it is when the anger starts to take over your life and leads to bitterness and resentment that it becomes bad for your health and your relationship.

When anger turns into bitterness and resentment, it is easy to get into a mode where you give yourself permission to hurt your spouse because they hurt you. You tell yourself that they deserve to suffer. After all, it pales in comparison to what you are experiencing. However, the problem is that acting on resentment and bitterness will keep you in this state and and make it more difficult to create a healthy marriage.

Anger is a protective emotion.  Many of us do not like to feel the more vulnerable emotions under the anger. To allow yourself to feel emotions like sadness, loneliness, and abandonment can be scary. It is common to feel like, “If I let go of the anger, I would just cry all day and lose myself in the sadness. At least anger makes me feel powerful and in control.” Another common sentiment is, “if I let go of my anger, then they won’t try to work on the marriage and things will go back to the way they were.  It’s like I am letting them off the hook. However, over time staying lodged in anger short circuits your healing. Working with a therapist through those more difficult emotions is a necessary step in your personal healing and the healing of your marriage.

As a matter of personal integrity, resolve yourself not to repeatedly blast your spouse with your anger.  It turns you into a person that you don’t want to be, it makes it harder for you to personally heal, and it makes it more difficult to create a healthy marriage moving forward.

Also, keep in mind that apart from the betrayal, there are likely structural components to your marriage that need to be improved. Rebuilding a healthy marriage, requires you to work on the healing aspect of your relationship and also to work on the other dynamics in your relationship at the same time.

What If My Pain Pushes Them Away?

The other reality that you may be experiencing is a fear that if you give voice to your pain that you might push your partner away. This is a very difficult position to be in because it functionally puts your feelings on hold. Often times in this scenario, your partner is expressing things or doing things that demonstrate a general lack of commitment to the relationship. They may even be continuing in the behavior that caused much of the pain in the first place.

If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to determine what you are and are not willing to accept. Setting boundaries is not intended to be punitive towards your spouse. Rather, it is intended to create safety for you. Determining your boundaries also creates a sense of control because it acknowledges the reality that you cannot control what your spouse does, but you can control what you do. It is important to determine what your boundaries are, how you will communicate them, and what you will do if those boundaries are violated.

What makes setting boundaries scary is that your spouse could use your boundaries as an excuse for leaving. But passively putting up with unacceptable behavior does not create the kind of change that you need. It is helpful to have a therapist help you process through how to do this and to get input on how to respond if your boundaries continue to be violated.



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