Try the following to work through the devastation of partner betrayal.
- Explore your own reactions with curiosity and compassion.
- Seek out adaptive ways to communicate with your partner.
If your goal is to heal and move forward together, you wlll need to adopt certain steps and avoid others in order to resolve the issue.
- Avoid interrogation. When a rift occurs in a relationship through a lie, secret or some sort of acting out, you naturally want answers. Making sense of the story is crucial to healing. However, the drive to interrogate, asking the same questions, repeatedly seeking reassurance, or digging for details without reason can be a tool for torturing yourself and your partner. It also fails to get you closer to the truth or a common understanding of events. Interrogation just leads to defensiveness and outright lies. Anyone who is pushed to the edge may say anything to just stop the torment. If you’re going around in circles, spiralling over an event, and unconsoled by any information offered, then you are going down the wrong path. In fact, this path is so damaging to both parities that it can annihilate any hope of repairing the relationship.
- Invite honesty. Setting the stage for honesty is best done by being open and vulnerable about how you feel. When you feel wronged, your may instinctively explode, blame or stonewall your partner. While taking the time you need to feel more calm and centred is wise, when you do decide to communicate, your goal should be to be honest, direct, and open about your reactions without tearing the other down.Avoid statements that tell the other’s story for them or totally define them, such as, “You did XYZ. You ruined everything. You don’t care about me. You never do this. You always do that. You are selfish, immature and/or stupid.” Instead, focus on conveying your own experience. “You know, I feel really hurt. I don’t trust like I did before. I really don’t understand why you did this. It pains me when you say XYZ. I felt lonely, sad, anxious after you acted that way.” Your vulnerability invites your partner to empathize with your experience and be more open about sharing theirs. If you are less guarded and truthful about how you feel but not on the attack, you can expect a more honest, authentic response from your partner. At this point, seek out a better understanding of what occurred. Ask the questions you must in order to uncover the roots of what hurt you. This shared understanding of each other’s unique experience can lead to a deeper knowing of each other so as to help avoid future ruptures.
- Recognize your partner’s unique perspective. Two people will always hold two different perspectives on an issue. This doesn’t mean one’s actions are always justified. However, those actions may not mean the same thing to the one that they mean to the other. Think of the famous line “we were on a break” from the show Friends, where one character’s idea of sleeping with someone during a perceived time out in the relationship was another character’s idea of cheating.At times, one’s actions can seem cut and dry, especially those involving deception. Yet, it’s unclear other times why one’s actions were so hurtful to the other. In such cases, exercise patience, listen to the other’s perspective and accept that it may differ from yours.This isn’t about devaluing your own experience. Indeed, it’s just the opposite. Your willingness to be open and vulnerable in expressing what hurt you can create space for your partner to do the same. Yet, once the other shares their experience, consider where their perspective and intentions may differ from your ideas and expectations. The goal is not to see the events that occurred between you in the same way but to reach a level of empathy for each other’s distinct experience. Put yourself in the other’s shoes and feel for them as a separate person. When you do that, you can find much more common ground, which also offers you both a path forward .
- Explore your own reaction. When you’ve exhausted an issue with your partner, and nothing is making you feel better, explore why you still feel stuck in your pain. Often, these feelings have to do with your ownpast. When your sense of security is threatened, the specific emotions that surface can pertain to your personal history. The same actions from a partner might lead one to feel embarrassment and shame and another to feel outrage and abandonment. No matter what your partner did, your reactions are worthy of your own independent exploration. They provide lessons about how you see and treat yourself, plus what you expect from relationships. For instance, one female client felt dejected by her husband’s desire to take a job where he would have to travel more over one where he could stay home. She was convinced his interest in the job meant he wanted to escape from her. She’d often feel personally rejected when he’d leave on a business trip, even suspecting he was unfaithful to her while he was away. No matter how much he reassured her that being away from her was actually a major downside of his new job, she had trouble feeling settled. Eventually, unable to feel reassured by her husband, the woman sought counselling with me. We discovered that she had many fears related to being abandoned that sourced from her early life. Her insecurities toward her husband were exacerbated by the old, painful feelings they were triggering in her. Once she accepted this, she was freed of much of the crippling anxiety she had about her husband’s travel and gave her more inner security.
- Think about your ultimate goal. When trying to resolve a conflict, many couples end up going around and around in circles. If one is always blaming and unwilling to forgive the other, it leaves no hope for returning to an equal, loving way of relating. In these times, know that you have total control over 50% of the dynamic. You can always choose how to act even when you’ve been hurt. If you opt to stay in the relationship and get back to feeling close to your partner, then you must keep that goal in mind even when you really want to punish. It may feel hard to let go of grudges, especially when they’ve triggered something deep within that resonates with old, painful feelings from the past. If your partner, however, is willing to grow and change, then you can do the same by taking ownership of your own actions. As you move forward together, keep doing the inner work of having compassion and curiosity about your internal world. What reactions are being aroused in you and why? At the same time, be open and truthful with your partner. Don’t resort to old defences and punitive behaviors but let them know how you feel, what you want, and what you need to feel secure. Finally, match your actions with your goals by treating your partner with a level of respect and affection to get the relationship back on track. By taking such steps, you can overcome the hard times, enhance intimacy and get to know each other better.