So you have been betrayed: Seven steps to survive betrayal

Betrayal happens to everyone at some point in their lives and can occur between spouses, with a family member, a best friend or a co-worker.

by Dr. Eileen R. Borris — 

You have met the person who makes you feel incredibly special. It’s wonderful to be in love, and now you are married, hoping that this relationship will last a lifetime. Years go by, and the marriage has been good — or so you thought.

You begin to notice some different behaviors from your spouse, which at first you ignore. For a while you begin to wonder if something is going on, but then you brush it off. After all, the last thing you could ever imagine is that your spouse is having an affair. You don’t even want to think such things. But you begin to piece some things together and, though your spouse denies everything, the day comes when the lies become all too apparent.

Betrayal happens to everyone at some point in their lives and can occur between spouses, with a family member, a best friend or a co-worker. Most people who experience betrayal saw the signs but continued to give that person the benefit of the doubt.

The reality is that people will fail you. Only 25 percent of all betrayal occurs with absolutely no forewarning. This is by far the most difficult type of betrayal because it leaves you shell-shocked and devastated.

So how do we heal from a betrayal? The steps below will show you how.

Step 1: Face your feelings — While every situation is unique, there are certain steps we can take to lessen the pain. Once the betrayal is revealed, an emotional roller coaster ride begins. You more than likely will get swept up in an emotional whirlwind of anger and fear, and you could experience a profound sense of loss. Realize that you are not going crazy. This is where a counselor can really help.

Step 2: Gain control of your emotions — As you try to unscramble what has happened to you, both your thoughts and actions may spin out of control. You’re likely to become more obsessive, dwelling on your partner’s lies, the details of the betrayal and the events that led up to it.

Instead of hanging on to the story of your betrayal, give yourself permission to heal. Look beneath your emotional reactions and ask yourself, What are my emotions really telling me? What needs to change? You cannot change what has happened to you, but you do need to take responsibility for how you are handling the situation now.

Step 3: Ask yourself, Should I stay or leave? — Once the betrayal is out in the open, you will need to decide whether to work on rebuilding the relationship or end it. You will need to confront your ambivalence about whether to stay or leave the relationship. Whichever route you take, choose it deliberately and do not act on your feelings alone.

Step 4: Learn from the affair — So often we blame our partner for what goes wrong, and we fail to see the link between our personal, lifelong conflicts and the conflicts in our relationship — between the damage we carry within ourselves and the damage we experience as a couple.

It is also helpful to understand the origins of the betrayal. Most people who cheat and/or betray in some other way suffer from low self-esteem. They may have a high need for acceptance and approval. If your partner fits this description, you need to decide if you can deal with and heal from the betrayal or if you need to leave your partner in order to recover.

Step 5: Restore trust — One of the most devastating aspects of betrayal is the breakdown of trust. Once trust is broken, it can be very difficult to rebuild; it must be earned back. To restore trust, actions speak louder than words.

The process of restoring trust can take a lifetime, but this does not mean you will have to struggle with trust issues on a daily basis. Your relationship is likely to feel fragile and tentative for several years after the affair is revealed, but during that time you can expect to experience many reassuring, joyous moments as well.

Step 6: Find forgiveness — Forgiveness is considered the highest form of love that we are capable of giving. If this is true, it is no wonder that we have such a hard time forgiving someone who has betrayed us and even in forgiving ourselves. It takes a generous spirit to understand that people do not always hurt us because they choose to. Oftentimes, they have no more control over their actions than we, their victims, do. Only from our wisdom and compassion can we recognize that when people harm us, it is their weaknesses that compel them to act.

Step 7: Hope and renewal — Sometimes you need to take something apart to rebuild it in a stronger, more lasting way. Erik Erikson, the well-known psychologist, said, “A crisis can be a turning point; by making you vulnerable, it can heighten your potential for positive change.” Sometimes it takes the threat of losing something to make you realize its value. Until you feel compelled to leave, you may not realize that you are happy where you are and want to stay. Carl Jung, the famous psychoanalyst, also commented, “Seldom or never does a marriage develop smoothly and without crisis. There is no birth of consciousness without pain.”

We often enter into relationships blindly swept up with passion and an idealized perception of who our partner is. Most of us are totally unprepared for what lies ahead and ignorant of what is required of us to stay the course. We may think that we know what it takes, but the truth is that most of us are clueless. The affair shocks us into reality. It also gives us the opportunity to try again.


Dr. Eileen Borris is a licensed psychologist in private practice for 25 years specializing in marriage and relationship issues., or 480-951-0544.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number  3, Jun/July 2009.

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