by Kristen C. Dew, LMFT
Many relationships experience a breach of trust at one point or another. It’s not just affairs that cause a loss of trust, it can be any secret-keeping, gossip, hidden spending, or what one partner thinks is a white lie. We may believe in theory that one type of betrayal (like an affair) may be worse than another, but our reactions tell us that any type of betrayal can harm the relationship and our sense of safety in all of our relationships. Our triggers are often reminders of past hurts or confirmations of our fears.
In my work with helping individuals and relationships rebuild trust after hurts, these themes always emerge:
- Expect that this will take time and hard work. Recovering from betrayal is a difficult process and requires lots of work. Time helps! In the case of affairs, it typically takes 18 months from the time the affair is discovered to start really feeling better.
- Begin healing as soon as you can. Lashing out or being defensive is normal, but largely unhelpful in moving forward. All people involved should begin taking steps to repair the relationship.
- Take a step back and decide how you want to show up in your relationships- including this one. Most people I talk to do not enjoy being angry and resentful. If you take time every day to nurture your relationship, seeking reassurance, and seeing the positive then you are well on your way to recovery. Choose to let go of negative feelings and anything that holds you back from happiness. A great relationship can prevail. It is possible and highly rewarding!
- Take responsibility for your contribution to the betrayal. Although there is sometimes a “victim” in the case of betrayal, there are often dynamics of the relationship that contribute to betrayal existing. For example, are you difficult to talk to? Have you flown off the handle when someone was honest with you and you didn’t want to hear it? Have you been neglectful in your relationship? Betrayal is never “okay” but it helps to make sense of how it was allowed to happen.
- Own your emotions and feel them. You can feel anger, jealousy, blindsided, embarrassed, and grief. It will feel like a rollercoaster sometimes. Here are some ways to deal with feelings when they come up:
- Know your triggers. Some will be internal (your own thoughts, worries, and feelings) and some will be external (places, conversations, situations, sights, smells, sounds, etc.) Remind yourself that the trigger is just that- a trigger. It is not the actual situation happening again.
- Try to minimize triggers to the best of your ability. For example, driving a different way home, communicating and asking the person you are feeling betrayed with to share who they are texting with, or take a break from social media. Also know that you can’t control all of your surroundings.
- Try reading this template to yourself for validating your feelings: “I am feeling anger, I feel it in my chest and stomach (or wherever you are feeling it in your body), it is ok for me to feel this way.”
- Use deep breathing
- Take 30 seconds as you breathe in say the word “let” and as you breathe out say the word “go”
- Use visualization to imagine the situation going differently
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Write it down- instead of lashing out, write when you are angry. When you are feeling calm, decide if it’s worth sharing or not.
- My favorite coping skill for betrayal- depersonalize. You will be okay regardless of how this relationship works out or doesn’t. It doesn’t mean anything about you as a person or your worthiness for good things.
- Don’t do this alone. Seek supportive support (reading books or blogs, support groups, therapists). Sometimes friends and family members mean well, but they can influence how you feel about the relationship and make it more complicated to heal. Use your judgement and check in with how you feel to decide who is a true support to you.
You may not be able to prevent feeling betrayed, but you can decide how to respond to it. Seeing your response as a bigger picture for how you want to respond to events in your life can help you to deal with the feelings that will inevitably come up, and choosing where to focus your energy can help you regain a sense of control.