Words of Wisdom, Email Newsletter
WoW 090: On Trust and the devastation of betrayal. Recovery, part 7
This is Part 7 in a series on Recovery.
On Recovery, Part 1
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Trust is the sacred foundation of a relationship. Trust requires consistent and integrous words, attitudes, and actions over time.
A trusted relationship cannot be purchased, but it can be earned over time. You can invest your time and energy into improving your relationships.
Every trustworthy act, every kind word, and every gentle response is a deposit into the wealth and trust of the relationship.
But a betraying act, or an ongoing betraying behavior, and keeping that betrayal a secret can drive the relationship into a devastating crisis.
In my work with couples experiencing sexual or substance addiction, almost without fail, I hear from the betrayed partner that the most painful thing about the betrayal is not the specific betrayal behaviors, traumatic as they may be. It's the secrets and the lies.
Lying and keeping secrets can cause deep attachment trauma. Healing is most often measured in years, not months, and definitely not days.
Betrayal is crazy-making for the betrayed. Here are some of the things I hear from the betrayed:
"I felt like my world was ending. Everything I knew was a lie." "I couldn't stop thinking about it. I was obsessed with every detail and asked a thousand questions. I couldn't shut my brain off." "I could hardly function. I had to try to hold it all together while my life fell apart." "I felt like I had to be fake in front of everyone. He kept a secret, and now that I knew I felt like I had to keep that secret." "When I first discovered the betrayal, I was terrified. I was concerned about my partner's well-being. I was enraged at being fooled. I felt like an idiot for not knowing. I blamed myself." "I felt like I couldn't tell anyone because I couldn't trust people to not minimize it, over-spiritualize it, or define my spouse by it."
What's worse, often, with betrayal and keeping secrets comes gaslighting and manipulating.
Before recovery, the addict is so committed to keeping the mask on, so terrified of being exposed, so committed to keeping the secret that when asked about a betraying behavior, they selfishly turn it back on their partner and blame, shame, and further lie.
A suspicious text is discovered.
"I didn't do anything wrong. Why are you so paranoid? I would never! Maybe it's you that has the cheating problem!"
Betrayal, above all, is isolating and shame-inducing for both the betrayer and the betrayed, each in their own way.
For the betrayer, isolation comes before discovery. The betrayer believes they can never truly be loved because if they are discovered, they will most certainly be rejected. But when discovery occurs, their burden is lifted. Their worst fears almost never come to pass. Finally, if they choose the courageous path to talk about it, they are able to grieve, repent, and heal from their selfishness, shame, pain, and dishonesty. It can be freeing and radically life-transforming. Even if their honesty leads to the end of the relationship, they can know they have learned from their mistakes, are now living with integrity, and that the actual problem was the betrayal and the lies, not choosing honesty.
However, at the same time, once the betrayed partner discovers the betrayal, they feel literally torn apart: they are ashamed and broken by the betrayal from the person they love and trust the most. The person who was most supposed to protect them has made a mockery of that protection. Every good thing done for them might be questioned. The more the betrayed partner trusted their partner, the more confusing and devastating the betrayal. Yet because of this love, they often don't want others to know about the betrayal and want to protect the reputation of their partner, so they tell no one, driving them into isolation. They may choose isolation even at the expense of their sanity.
No one thinks this will happen to them. But it could happen to each of us if we compromise.
Betrayal typically starts small. Little compromises. Tiny breaches of integrity. But if it is not dealt with, it grows. And the deeper you get into a lie, the harder it is to come clean. The longer the lie, the greater the consequences.
"Just as an alcoholic's partner frequently feels guilty for the behavior of the alcoholic—that if he or she was a better partner and could just do the right thing, the alcoholic wouldn't drink so much—partners of men who are acting out sexually nearly always believe that his behavior is a statement about themselves. They believe they must not be pretty enough, sexy enough, smart enough, thin enough, alluring enough, ample-breasted enough, or long-legged enough. The list is never-ending. You are full of "shoulds:" I should have taken more time for him. I should have been less focused on the kids or work. I should not have let my appearance go. I should have kept my weight down. Again, it's a never-ending list. You probably operate from the following belief: I need to do or be something different and that will make him stop. First and foremost you need to understand that you are not the cause of your partner's acting-out behavior. It isn't about you needing to be different. He engages in his activity because of his own emotional wounding, which now manifests in a pathological relationship with a mood-altering behavior—in his case—sex."
Claudia Black, Deceived
"Power simply means the ability to do or act. It means to have impact. It is, in fact, something all of us have to one degree or another. It is a dangerous thing to have power and carry it about in one's life unthinkingly, something I fear many of us do. When was the last time you thought about the power you hold and how you are exercising it? Power is a universal trait....The other side of power is vulnerability...To be vulnerable is to be susceptible to injury or attack. The word comes from the Latin word "to wound."...Whenever power is used in a way that wounds the vulnerable—that exploits trust—abuse has occurred. The word abuse simply means to use wrongly. When a person in power uses another who has come for help for his or her own ends, abuse has taken place."
Dian Langberg, In Our Lives First
Are you keeping a secret? If so, write it down. Pray over it. And tell someone safe. This great act of courage is the only way to freedom and healing.
In what ways, no matter how small, are you tempted to betray your partner? Who can you talk to about this?
(Use these questions as a journal prompt this week)
It's part of my life's work to help couples overcome devastating betrayal. If you know someone who has experienced betrayal like this, send them here.
Did someone send this to you? Do you want to cultivate more of the good, true, courageous, and beautiful in your life?
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