Can You Really Love Me If You Betrayed Me?

By Ken Wells - 01/06/2023


Series Three: Blog Eighty-Eight

Holding you is difficult today—

“You feel sharp and jagged—

All shoulder blades and elbows.

How I would love to round your edges—

To make you smooth in my rock tumbler heart.”


It doesn’t matter what the relational experience is, betrayal sabotages everyone involved. The betrayer abandons heart integrity. The betrayed loses trust and forfeits dignity. It is an awful awareness to know that you have been “had” by someone you love and have deeply trusted.  Being a victim of someone else’s selfish destructive scheme destroys confidence. It has a ripple effect that undermines safety and cripples the possibility of potential healing and reconciliation.

Partners of betrayal and infidelity are traumatized. So are the betrayers. Without therapeutic healing, partners stay stuck in their trauma. Most remain stuck for much of their lives if they do not get help to heal from the betrayal crisis.

It is common for a partner who has discovered the lies and deceit of infidelity to resist treatment. Often, their focus is getting the betrayer help. Some believe that if their betrayer is treated so that h/she will stop the hurtful behavior, then they will heal and the problem will be fixed. It is likened to someone being run over by a big mac truck and the paramedics are called.  They arrive and immediately transport the truck driver to a hospital while leaving the victim on the side of the road with tire tracks down their back!

Of course infidelity traumatizes the betrayer. This issue might be minimized in the midst of condemnation of the ugly selfish action of relationship betrayal. For many guilty of betrayal, fear, shame, disgust, guilt, and worry dominate their experience. Their only focus is ending the destructive behavior.  They tend to obsess about re-establishing proof of worthiness for trust.

On the other side of the coin, it can also be true that when betrayal behavior with a new partner is strong and powerful, the adrenaline rush of something new and exciting becomes an escape. Unwanted feelings that trigger betrayal are minimized and ignored.  The titillation of sex and emotional intensity blocks awareness of historical needs. Betrayers are blinded to reality, mistaking emotional intensity for relational intimacy. Some betrayers have described that the intensity as wanting to crawl inside their mistress’ skin.  Addressing the triggers of unmet needs, both historical and current, that ignited the illicit relationship is detoured and forgotten. The intensity contaminates perspective. The trauma created to a committed partner and their own self-inflicted trauma that occurs in the breach of trust is avoided and oppressed. Trauma is more likely to be re-enacted in the future through betrayal re-enactment. This is a reason so many relationships formed from affairs fail.

Self-inflicted trauma is always present when someone betrays another. Even, serial offenders who appear calloused and without true remorse suffer unrecognized, untreated trauma from their destructive behavior. As a therapist I have never met a betrayer who was not traumatized by h/her own deceitful acts.

Like a nurse in the emergency room, treating infidelity requires triaging to create a healing environment for relational healing. Here are some considerations about couples healing from betrayal and the pointed question “could the betrayer have ever loved me”?

  • For a betrayed partner, it is crucial to establish in your heart and mind that your partner’s selfish action is not about you. Now this doesn’t mean that you are an angel, and I have never heard a doctor say that throwing up in somebody’s lap offers healing. But, you are human and your heart is broken. You might have contributed to triggering your partner’s destructive actions but, don’t forget that your partner is an adult. H/she is responsible to address their needs with mature adult actions. Relational recovery requires that you understand that the betrayer’s behavior is not about you.Learn to practice not personalizing your partner’s hurtful behavior. Your painful feelings of reality are yours to heal. That said, the betrayer’s behavior is h/hers alone. Your partner may or may not have loved you. For sure, the betrayal behavior is not an act of love toward you.

    If it is not about you, then what is it about? It is about unresolved past trauma. It is about a lack of emotional maturity to address present issues without re-enacting old behaviors that sabotage healthy relational intimacy. You may be the very best or the very worst partner that anyone could ever have. Even so, you cannot make your partner or prevent h/her from act out in addiction. Addiction is always the responsibility of the addict to address. Even if your partner is not an addict, they are responsible for their actions. You don’t have to put up with it. Your healing from infidelity begins and deepens as you recognize that the responsibility for betrayal is not about you.
  • Triaging treatment of betrayal is important. It is important to get the runaway train going down the track (acting out behavior) stopped! It is critical to treat the trauma experienced by the partner. Family members are also traumatized and sometimes forgotten in the carnage and crisis at hand. Treatment is seldom ideal. There are sensible protocols for treating each entity impacted by the trauma of betrayal. Whatever the protocols your therapist follows, application is seldom ideal. The protocols are dynamic and must be flexible. At the scene of betrayal, immediate assessment must be made in order to best triage where to begin treatment. I prefer that couples look at recovery like the metaphor of a 3-legged stool. Each leg must be strong and firm for the stool (the marriage) to be solid. The betrayer must be assessed in order to receive appropriate therapeutic intervention. Also, the betrayed partner must be evaluated and treated as well. Further, the damaged coupleship must be treated, too. I prefer that they all be addressed concomitantly with a preference that each entity have a separate therapist when possible. It is important that each of the three therapists consult with one another with information to provide the best treatment possible. Triaging and developing recovery requires professional help from someone trained to treat relationship betrayal.
  • In relational healing, no single person can be the “identified patient”. Couples only heal when both take responsibility for their contribution to intimacy disability. This process is triaged and timed in context to individual healing. It requires professional sensitivity to know when to address the betrayer and the betrayed partner regarding contributions to relational distance. The betrayer is not the identified problem. H/she must own and treat their destructive behavior. Nor is the partner the identified problem—no matter how glaring their weakness may be. Their fragility is the result of trauma, not personality weakness. Each partner must own their part in the destructive and dysfunctional dance. Always make the relational dance the identified problem that both parties work together to address and heal.

Certainly, the act of betrayal is not an act of love. It is understood when betrayed partners conclude that the betrayer never loved them. This is particularly true when betrayal is chronic.

Sometimes it is true that the betrayer never loved the partner with whom they vowed fidelity.  It has been my experience that many addicts want to escape unwanted feelings. They become powerless to stop their acting out in betrayal alone. This doesn’t mean they are not responsible nor does this give them an excuse in any way. It does not suggest a rationale for tolerance towards promiscuity. Yet, it can help a betrayed partner begin their own healing by knowing that serial infidelity is not necessarily about hating or not loving you as a partner. You will need time to sift and sort where you land on the issue of did h/she ever love me? It is about selfish immaturity and it could be a line of no return that has been crossed that you cannot live with because of the impact and pockmarks of dishonesty and abuse. You will need to take time to weigh your thoughts and feelings with a therapist and a community of support.

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