Betrayal is such a ground-shaking event. Probably because it so deeply challenges your beliefs about someone incredibly significant in your life, and that, in turn, challenges your beliefs about yourself. So: what does the road forward, after betrayal, look like?
Unfortunately, betrayal is a journey that every couple goes through at one time or another. It is sometimes something as severe as an affair but other times, it can just be that we’ve let our spouse down in the every-day-living of life. If you’re in this place as either the betrayer or betrayed, you’ll definitely benefit from this article today.
If the betrayal in your life is a recent event, the pain you’re experiencing may be so fresh and raw that this information will be difficult for you to process. If that’s the case, after you read this, bookmark this page and come back to it in a little while. Give yourself permission to grieve and hurt and heal.
The Three Stages of Recovery from a Marital Betrayal
Betrayal is defined as “the perceived violation of an implicit or explicit relationship-relevant norm.”[i] It may not be that you, as a couple, have ever spoken about this “norm”, but the fact is you perceive it to be in place, and when your spouse violates it or crosses that line, you feel violated.
When a spouse “knowingly departs from the norms of decency and fairness that are assumed to govern a relationship, thereby causing harm,”[ii] betrayal has taken place. This can be something as simple as secrecy. Sometimes we think that there is no harm if our spouse doesn’t know what we’re doing, but in fact, secrecy is more damaging than most things.
I have heard wives of porn-addicts say over and over that the porn use hurt, but it was the secrecy and lies that were the most damaging. “If he lied/hid this, how do I know if I can ever trust him again?” is a question I hear a lot of.
The definitions of betrayal (above) may sound rather technical, but don’t let that take away from the severity of the experience. I know, for example, that over half of the spouses who find out their spouse has had a secret porn addiction develop most of the symptoms of PTSD. Betrayal can be a very, very traumatic experience.
What makes is even more difficult is that betrayal is something we don’t want to disclose to our support network – really, it would be a betrayal for them too – and so we carry it alone.
How can a marriage recover from something like this?
Recovery from a marital betrayal is a process that goes through three stages.[iii]
In the First Stage couples must grapple with the effects of the betrayal on themselves and the relationship. This is the Impact Stage of Recovery, and it is characterized by the following responses:
The betrayed spouse realizes that important assumptions about their marriage have been disrupted.[iv]
The betrayed spouse must process various violated assumptions including: (1) “beliefs that one’s spouse can be trusted, (2) that the relationship is safe, (3) that one can predict how one’s spouse will behave, (4) that one has reasonable control over one’s own relationship, and so on”[v]
Injured spouses no longer can trust their assumptions to guide their daily interactions or to predict future events.[vi]
During the impact stage, the injured spouse often withdraws from the relationship to protect themselves. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it may help the betrayer seek proper help and recovery as they grasp the significance of what they have done.
Betrayal has a huge impact on a relationship, and the betrayed spouse’s ability to think about their marriage as well as their personal life. Everything they thought was truth, has been turned upside down. The effect is traumatic.
To move forward, both partners must move through the next two stages of recovery. Stage Two is called the Meaning Stage of Recovery in which the injured spouse seeks to “discover why the betrayal occurred in order to make the partner’s behavior more understand...