Trust After Betrayal: Moving Forward
Are you stuck in the trauma of betrayal? Are you unable to move forward in your love relationship? You are not alone! It can feel hopeless to trust again when we have been betrayed by the person we love.
Betrayal: Where does it begin?
- Emotional or sexual affairs
- Not being present for the delivery of a child
- Being lied to repeatedly
- Hiding an addiction
Trust: When the foundation cracks
Trust is the foundation that love relationships are built upon. Without trust, intimacy is impossible. We simply cannot be open with our emotional needs unless we deeply trust.
When we are betrayed by the person we love, trauma creates a crack in the foundation of trust. This causes us to have mild to severe feelings of anxiety every time we are reminded of the betrayal.
Trauma: How is it triggered?
The relevancy or legitimacy of a trauma trigger may be hard to understand unless you are the one living in the trauma moment. Triggers come in all sizes and often catch the traumatized, as well as the betrayer, very off-guard.
- Driving through the city that our spouse betrayed us in
- An anniversary date of the betrayal
- The smell of a certain kind of perfume
- A movie about an affair or other betrayal
- An activity where the betrayal started, like golfing or hiking
- Going to work where an affair happened
The person who has been traumatized by betrayal can feel and look crazy. They feel out of control. Their reactions look irrational, especially to the betrayer. They vacillate from being ashamed of feeling weak and emotional to being extremely angry and attacking of the person who hurt them.
Moving from Trauma to Trust:
The memory of a trauma must be healed before trust can be restored. We can sincerely forgive in our heads but continue to be emotionally damaged by betrayal. Until the emotional memory of the betrayal is healed we will continue to be triggered by any reminder of the past.
The healing of emotional memory requires expression of the hurt and compassion and remorse by the person who did the wounding.
Regaining trust with your partner after a betrayal is not simply a decision.
This can be so frustrating by the person who said, “I’m sorry” a hundred times. The words are not enough. Unless we feel that the person who hurt us feels our hurt and is emotionally sad about what has been done, we will not be able to let go of the emotional hurt.
The person who has done the wounding must understand that the intense anger and questioning is an involuntary attempt to try to rescue the relationship. For the one in the middle of a trauma reaction, it feels like the once-trusted person is unsafe. The intense pain and anxiety feel unbearable. The person in a trauma reaction feels like a drowning person grasping for a life preserver to save their relationship. They thrash and grasp for immediate answers that will reassure them that they are safe.
If the person who has done the betraying looks angry or defensive they will send even more signals that they are unsafe. The betrayed will drill down even harder for answers, to fill in all the blanks. They will again ask questions that have already been answered. They will sound like a prosecuting attorney trying to get the witness to crack and tell the truth.
The betrayer needs to see this behavior as an attempt to save the relationship and heal the broken trust. Only then will he/she have the capacity to actually ask more about the hurt in a non-defensive way. Then the betrayer will be able to express love, sadness and compassion for the pain that they caused.
Removing the Emotional Memory: Moving forward
An emotionally transforming experience of trust will be created once the betrayer is able to express their feelings of love and sadness and true compassion. When the wounded partner feels that the betrayer understands the pain caused, the emotional memory of the betrayal will be replaced by the new feeling of being understood. The injured person will believe that their lover will never do the same thing again because of their emotional understanding of the damage that was done.
At this point, forgiveness will move from the head to the heart and trust will be restored.
I’m Michael W. Regier, Ph.D. and I help couples understand and heal from betrayals and form new emotional bonds. Give me a call to learn how I can help get your relationship back on track and learn more from our book Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love.