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”?
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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