Couples often come to therapy after an affair or betrayal has come to light. They seek to repair the hurt, to rebuild trust, and to explore if there is any hope of moving forward together. Although this can be a time of heavy heartbreaks it can also be an opportunity for a couple to heal, to create deeper understanding and connection, and to build a new relationship.
Betrayal can happen in monogamous relationships, poly relationships, and open relationships — and it can take different forms. Betrayal can mean forming an emotional attachment with someone outside the primary relationship, breaking faith with agreed upon behavior, or infidelity. What is common to every situation is a break in trust.
When trust is broken in this way, the person that has been betrayed might feel out of control, thinking constantly about their partner’s behavior even if they don’t want to. They can feel sad one moment and full of rage the next. They might have trouble sleeping. And they might experience shame, fear, and hopelessness.
The person who did the betraying might feel guilt, shame, and grief. They might get scared they are going to lose their partner or they can become defensive and blame their actions on problems in the relationship. They also might avoid talking about the betrayal and wonder “How long is it going to take for them to get over it?” Or “How am I ever going to get them to trust me again?”
These thoughts and ruminations on both sides can easily take a downward spiral in terms of the couple’s ability to connect with each other. In these instances, here are two helpful tools for the one who has betrayed to use with their partner:
- Stop avoiding the betrayal and check in regularly with your partner. Ask them how they are doing and really listen to what they are experiencing and what they need from you. Doing so lets the hurt partner know that you understand that you have really hurt them and that you get how deeply your behavior has impacted the relationship.
- Don’t ask your partner when they are going to get over it. It is normal to become impatient, even frustrated, with your partner for not “moving on” after you feel you have done all that you can to regain trust. That said, know that your partner may repeatedly ask questions about what happened to try and make sense of it – and that it will take as long as it takes for your partner to trust you and move forward.
Of course implementing these tools is far easier said than done, especially with so much hurt and uncertainty and potential loss present. That is why therapy can be helpful during this time as it provides a container and a process for couples to be heard and understood so that forgiveness and healing can begin. When that happens, a relationship that did not seem possible can start to take hold.