Almost daily I get asked “If I stay am I an idiot?”, “What will others think if I stay?”, “I have heard from my family that I’m a martyr if I stay, is that true?” . . . “Is staying the new shame?”
My answer is typically the same . . One needs to assess each situation independent of someone else’s; not all relationships and the betrayals that accompany them are created equal.
Betrayal Trauma and it’s Resolutes
Every day there is some form of betrayal of intimacy. An emotional affair by the water cooler, a secret life on an app, a happy ending or full on sex worker, or repetitive interludes in secret hideaways and more. And everyday there are partners who experience discovery marked by chaos and broken bonds and everyday there are those asking . . “should I stay or should I go?’
Betrayal bonds are fragile, so fracturable that when boundaries are crossed by their partner they often can’t repair. There are moments, multiple moments in fact, of severe trauma. Not just the moment of discovery, which often entails images, sometimes vivid, that are impossible to shake, but the trauma of disclosure, often staggered disclosure that occurs over and over and almost daily for some. There is the trauma to the body, often experienced in sexually transmitted disease or simply testing for such, family and community trauma, the relational trauma and attachment injuries and more to threaten the safety that the prior attachment bond secured. With multiple breaches on a multitude of levels, healing requires navigation through a multiplex of wounds, often leaving scars even with the repair.
Navigating the waters of deception with a cheating spouse, often a dumping ground of muck is a challenge and having worked with these couples and individuals, on both sides-the betrayer and the betrayed, is humbling. I honor them all to look into their own reflection and face their pain and shame. Most of all I post tribute to those who go the distance and make changes in their lives. For the crisis is a mere warning sign, an emphatic announcement that something has gone awry and a screaming message that something equivalent to a revolution is in order.
Within this journey is the aspect of commitment . . . That is, am I going to continue the way I am or am I going to be different, and are we going to remain as we were or are we going to create a new relationship.
Recovery from Betrayal Trauma . . the First Step
All of this takes work. A lot of work. It demands immeasurable effort to navigate the initial crisis, and it takes endurance to maneuver and steer through the entanglement of emotions that accompany the experience(s). It’s a big job. But mostly it takes courage to face your partner and plot out a course that involves repair, reconciliation, and commitment. It requires the ability to rebuild those bonds of trust and security.
So here’s what I tell my partners. If you and your cheating spouse/partner are willing to do the work, then do it. That requires a mutual establishment of the boundaries and a recovery plan for each individual, the couple and the family. If a perpetrator does not say “I’ll do whatever I need to do to work through all of this and repair” then perhaps that’s not good enough to stay. If the infidel doesn’t commit and follow through with their ever-changing program, then that may not be good enough either. If your cheating spouse is not willing to do what it takes to examine themselves then staying can be the shame but if they are willing to step forward, no matter how mucky those waters, then jump into the trench and work it out. That said, divorce isn’t always an immediate solution; sometimes a therapeutic separation is in order.
A Few Betrayed Spouses
When Jan attended my group for betrayed partners, her husband was on his third affair. And for each one she ‘took him back’ as is. And for each one there was little work and hence insignificant change. For him to recognize that the risk was high it was Jan who needed to change the dance. It was Jan who needed to make a shift because, without her detachment from his chaos, there was no incentive for him to do anything differently. She chose a 6-month therapeutic separation, which for him was more chaos but began the path to healing.
For Gwen, there was even greater chaos. His name on the infamous Ashley Madison roster for all to see (who could, in fact, navigate the access) and a list that read like a calling card. Public shame and humiliation were enough to get Gwen, who was passive in her former life, to get strong, step forward and create boundaries within the context of a path to repair. Although non-linear, the change was significant for both of them and turning back towards allowed for the creation of new healthy bonds.
Mike was less fortunate since with Jim there was not the only termination of the acting out but recognition by Jim that the relationship, without the transgressions, was unappealing. Once Jim turned back to Mike, he recognized failings that, unfortunately, Mike was unwilling to repair such as Mike’s capacity for respect, growth, healthy boundaries and honor to Jim. It’s not just the perpetrator that has to do the work but the partner as well.
Help is Available
To learn more about betrayal trauma and its effect, click here.
To learn more about my group for betrayed partners, click here.
This article was repurposed at sexandrelationshiphealing.com.