So Your Partner Betrayed You: Here's How NOT To Let It End Your Relationship

Linda on Betrayal
Betrayal can take many forms — from a garden-variety lapse in judgment to a genuine heartbreaker or marriage ender. Many of these moments could be avoided if we took the time to pay attention to what our partner’s world really feels like. What does your partner need to feel comfortable and safe? What he or she needs may be very different from what you need.

But, if not avoided, betrayal can be dealt with and resolved. It is possible. It just requires total honesty, vulnerability, and commitment from both partners. A betrayal doesn't have to be an end of your relationship. It can be a new beginning. Here are three of the most common types of betrayals and their sources:

1. Disregarding needs because they are different from your own.

George, who owns a restaurant, is a raconteur and an open book. He excels at sharing personal anecdotes and recounts whatever is going on in his life with everyone — friends, employees, gas station and parking lot attendants, the tellers at the local bank, even fellow riders in the elevator.

George’s wife, Sarah, is reserved and private. A poet, she is serious, contemplative, and needs of a great deal of solitude. These needs complement his own. After long, hard hours at the restaurant, George is glad to go home to Sarah’s tranquil oasis.

Sarah admires and relies on George’s zest and wit. George makes her laugh and allows her to take life less seriously. Still, Sarah wants him to respect her privacy. Countless times she’s told him, “Just leave me out of your stories.”

Recently, Sarah learned that she was a finalist for a prestigious national prize for poetry. Thrilled and excited, she called George at the restaurant as soon as she opened the envelope.

“That’s fantastic, Sarah. I’ll bring home Champagne.”

“Oh, don’t bother,” she demurred. “It’s not like I’ve won anything.”

“Sure it is. It’s a huge honor to be a finalist. We’ll celebrate!”

“All right,” Sarah relented. “You know I love Champagne.”

No sooner did George get off the phone than he shared the news with the staff in the kitchen and patrons out in the dining room. “Looks like my wife just won a big prize for poetry,” he crowed. “Well, she’s in the running, anyway.”

Late that night at home, George poured two flutes of Champagne. “Here’s to my clever wife, the poet.”

“Thank you, but I haven’t actually won anything,” Sarah reminded him again.

“Yes, you have! It’s the recognition you deserve. The kitchen staff is all excited. They’re going to bake you a congratulations cake.”

After a small silence, Sarah whispered, “You
told them?”

“Of course. Why not?”

“Because I asked you not to, that’s why.” Sarah was livid. “You’d think I’d know better by now! You’re the last person on earth I should tell anything. There’s no censor in your mind; you don’t think before you speak. You’re just thoughtless.”

George was bewildered. In his view, Sarah’s being a finalist for the prize was an honor. If she didn’t win, there was no shame in it. But that wasn’t how she saw it. She dreaded the thought that all these people would find out that she was an also-ran.

George just shook his head. How could his wife be angry with him about something he’d done out of love and pride? Clearly, he was the victim here.

In fact, George
was guilty of something. He saw the extent of his wife’s need for privacy as unreasonable, so he simply disregarded it. “Why aren’t you me?” That was the question at the heart of this conflict.

The simple yet incredibly difficult solution to this conflict is for each partner to recognize the other as equal and separate, and acknowledge their needs as such. Like anything, it takes practice. But the positive evolution of your relationship will inevitably be worth it.

2. Invasions of privacy or lies of omission that are "justified" by their intent.

Anything from financial deception to the invasion of privacy can fit into this category — whether it's snooping on a computer or reading a private journal. When the breach of faith is exposed, the betrayed person may come to question everything about his/her partner and the relationship itself. Beyond the inevitable shock, anger, and hurt, betrayal often leaves its victims with a grievous loss of self-worth.

Those who betray their partners tend to rely on “reasonable” explanations to justify themselves. The reason they were unfaithful? Not enough sex in their marriage. The reason they maxed out the credit cards? Simple generosity — they wanted to take their partner on a first-class vacation.

In truth, however, an act of betrayal is an act against the self, which harms a person’s sense of integrity and self-respect. After betrayers digest what they’ve done and the pain they’ve caused, their shame and guilt can be all-consuming.

Avoiding this kind of betrayal requires a deep faith in your partner's ability and willingness to forgive, and the strength to be truly vulnerable. Recovering from it requires the same commitment to truth, openness, and each other.

3. Sexual betrayal.

No matter the reason, without your partner's knowledge or consent, sexual betrayal is never justified. Because of its powerful reverberations for both partners, sexual betrayal is an especially difficult marital problem to cope with and resolve.

Most of the time, the only way to reconcile is for both partners to clean their respective psychological closets of all baggage and to reach down into the depths of those emotional storage vaults to find the courage, honesty, and love to repair and forgive. I recommend you do this only with the help of a SEASONED therapist. It’s extremely hard work and it does not happen quickly. I have seen it take 1 year for some; 2 to 3 years for others.

Most of the reasons for the betrayal must be understood, especially by the person who had an affair. Perhaps the length and depth of this process explains why some of the strongest marriages I know have arisen from extremely serious betrayals.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

3 Dangerous Myths About Infidelity

love cycles affairs

Affairs can be very, very devastating. Yet so much of what we think of as “truths” about infidelity are anything but helpful. Some of what is held up to be true and wise can do us more harm than good when it comes to the experience of affairs, so that dealing with them is even more difficult for us, both as individuals and as couples. 

As a writer, a marriage therapist, and a couple's coach, I'd like to dispel three particularly destructive and commonly held myths about infidelity. 

1. An affair is a sign that something is wrong with the marriage.
This myth ignores the fact that every marriage has something wrong with it. There is no such thing as the perfect marriage, and every marriage 
has its own unique set of tensions and issues. Human beings don't lead flawless lives or have perfect relationships. Great marriages proceed over rough terrain, just as good people face recurring problems in their individual lives. 

The most common excuses that people use to rationalize an affair are “You never want sex,” “You don't even notice me,” and “You're always critical.” These complaints may be genuine. Yet not one of them is likely to be the real reason your partner had sex outside your relationship. 

In fact, many people rank their marriages as happy while they're in the midst of an affair, and most say they don't want out of the marriage after they've been discovered. Substantial research has been performed over many years to study the causal connection between marital problems and infidelity. The findings point to the following conclusion: there is NO consistent 
causal connection. 

As revealed in a review by Dr. Jay Lebow, psychologist and clinical professor at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, multiple studies indicate that couples in marital therapy dealing with affairs were just as successful as couples dealing with other issues. (This review of couples-therapy research was published in the January 2012 issue of the 
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.)

Common reasons for infidelity are cravings for variety, something extra on the side, the intensity of new experiences. We seek out novelty elsewhere in our lives, too, of course. 

Sometimes trying new things in life can enhance our daily experience. Sometimes they subtract and, as in the case of infidelity, make a mess. The intricacies of the human psyche remain complex and mysterious. The motivations that prompt a person to engage in an affair are myriad. Yet, at their core, affairs happen for only one reason: an individual has made 
the choice to have one. 

2. An affair is sought out: one partner goes looking for it.
Serial cheaters may actively look for a partner outside the marriage. Most affairs, however, occur more passively. They happen because of proximity, availability, and as a consequence of self-deception. 

Many seemingly innocent steps can lead us closer to crossing a line and, if we move gradually enough, we can convince ourselves that we're not straying until after the line has been crossed: you have lunch, say, with a colleague that you find very attractive. You Google your college girlfriend. You “friend” your first boyfriend on Facebook. 

All these acts may seem innocent. And they may indeed be innocent. But watch for the danger signs. If you choose to keep these activities a secret from your partner, if you begin to think about how to go to the next “harmless” step (e.g., another meeting, a phone call), if you find yourself having fantasies about this person, be forewarned: you may be entering into dangerous territory. 

We're all vulnerable to the desire or need for novelty, the excitement of the forbidden, and although illicit sex is condemned, it's also glamorized in our culture and in some cases even condoned. (There exist websites for married people in search of sexual partners that advise things like, “Life is short, have an affair.”). 

We can each rationalize the seemingly harmless steps we're taking as we march steadily toward the edge of the cliff. One of the dangers, in fact, is to believe that we're impervious to such temptations. An affair may be the last thing on your mind, and then, there you are, on the brink, teetering between conning yourself into taking the plunge or catching yourself just in the nick of time. 

3. An affair always spells the end of a marriage.
Many of us have said, “Well, the one thing I'd never accept is if my partner had an affair.” The truth is, we never known what we'd do in a given situation (particularly emotionally intense situations) until after they happen. 

Over 50% of the couples I work with have gotten stronger as a couple after an affair, but of course they are the people who reach out for help and are motivated to change. 

The reasons for staying together are many: 
deep attachment and love, mutual commitment to family and community, and the seriousness with which we value the promise we made. This half of marriages that endures isn't talked about very often, because most people don't publicize the marital trauma they've managed to survive. The terrible destruction, embittered breakups, and permanently damaged families we hear about instead can appear to be the norm, unfortunately. 

In fact, some of the best marriages I know have arisen from the ashes of an affair, probably because it isn't possible to muddle along in a marriage that is just “sort of okay” after such a major event. 
Each person has to reach down into the depth of their psychological closets and find a way to understand, make amends, forgive and rebuild.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.