Mechanics of Betrayal— Understanding the Basics of Healing Betrayal Behavior

By Ken Wells - 09/06/2022


Series Three: Blog Fifty-Nine

I have spent my professional career listening to stories of men and women who have broken the hearts of loved ones with offensive sexual behavior. I have watched loved ones strike back as a trauma response. I have sit with partners as they unearth their own dysfunctional patterns that contributed to intimacy disability. Healing broken trust is complicated. Offensive sexual behavior breaches the faith and hope in a partnership like nothing else. There are numerous examples of relationships that have blown up and have been destroyed. Likewise, there are many who have courageously fought to repair the broken trust and rebuild from the ashes of betrayal.

The journey to heal and repair infidelity is long and harrowing. It doesn’t always make sense. Many partners rightfully decided to end the relationship and move on. They created a new relationship with another partner and have steadied their lives with predictability, love and cherish. A few who divorced their unfaithful partner chose to live life without a committed romantic relationship.

There are many steps toward healing infidelity. There is the disclosure process. The betrayer must share the necessary details of infidelity. Sex addicts have numerous sexual acting out behaviors. Coming clean with a partner is critical to healing. The necessary detail is evaluated and determined by the partner, addict and therapist. One size does not fit all. A full disclosure is most likely necessary to set the groundwork of relationship healing and relapse prevention. This takes preparation for both betrayer and partner.

A question that often haunts a betrayed partner after disclosure is where did this behavior come from? The shock of disclosure is overwhelming. A confused partner cries out “I don’t know this person who has done these awful behaviors. Who is this person I committed to?”

It is helpful for a betrayer to identify h/her cycle of sexual offending behavior. It begins with an environment that triggers mistaken beliefs that block intimacy.  Marinating in these distorted beliefs about self and the world triggers thoughts of anticipating rejection from loved ones. “Why would I tell my loved one what I am thinking, h/she will only reject me if they know what’s going on inside.”

They then wallow with victim posture. “Woe is me, I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I will never get my needs met.”  Not wanting to address these intimacy disabling thoughts, a betrayer creates a mask to hide behind like “I got it together”, “great parent”, “consummate professional” etc. Masks promote emotional isolation like work projects, internet surfing, watching Netflix series, kids sports and activities, etc in order to avoid facing the build-up of intimacy disabling thoughts.

This triggers non-sexual and sexual fantasies. To avoid reeling in emotional pain, fantasizing about being anywhere other than facing the emotional discomfort is preferred. It might be a work project, a cross country vacation and/or ultimately a sexual fantasy that has not been fulfilled. The lack of fulfillment triggers a necessary urge toward a specific sexual behavior.

With the focus zeroed in, a betrayer moves to create reality to the fantasy that h/she has camped on in thought. It includes who, when and where the pursuit will occur. In order to proceed, the betrayer grooms h/herself with entitled thoughts like “I deserve some kind of reward for all that I am putting up with in life” or “if no one finds out, no one gets hurt”. They then groom loved ones by pretending normal and groom the acting out partner with words and behavior that will insure getting what they wanted.

Once the betrayer has acted out, there is often, but not always, feelings of remorse and fear of getting caught. There is always a rationale to displace the responsibility like “if I wasn’t under so much pressure” or “if my partner wasn’t so difficult or so different” etc, I wouldn’t be doing this behavior.

Almost immediately a betrayer reconstitutes with non-betrayal behavior after acting out. It might be trying to catch up from neglected work so that no one suspects anything unusual. There is usually a lot of guilt mixed in as motivation to be nice and responsible with a partner around domestic duties and responsibility with the children, etc. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being responsible and nice. It is simply that the motivation is to distance themselves from the shmuck-like behavior and avoid thinking of themselves as a betrayer.

Once well oiled with repetition, the cycle happens like the snap of a finger. To end the cycle, a betrayer must slow down h/her thought process to realize the build up of each phase of their offending cycle. Only then can healing intervention be effectively employed.

When a betrayer embraces and understands h/her cycle of sexually offensive behavior, h/she can then explain to their betrayed partner where the destructive behavior came from and what interventions are necessary to avoid relapse. Betrayed partners, if they choose, deserve this explanation for their own healing whether they remain in the partnership or not.

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