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Defining Betrayal and Steps to Start Healing

a married couple in therapy

Without mutual trust, a healthy relationship can be challenging to maintain. At the same time, without trust, betrayal cannot happen. Throughout life, we sometimes have conflicts and disappointments with many different people. However, to feel genuinely betrayed, trust must have been present. That is true for all relationships. But, for the topic of this post, we’ll primarily focus on romantic partners. Rest assured, most of the same principles exist across all types of connections (friendships, family, etc.).

The key is identifying when a betrayal has occurred and then learning how to start healing. That can often be easier said than done. 

Defining Betrayal and How It Can Make You Feel

When someone close to you — someone with whom you’ve developed mutual trust — violates that trust, it’s a betrayal. The first reaction usually involves shock. From there, it can morph into grief, depression, or even rage. You’ve suffered a loss, emotions are raw, and you may desire some revenge. What happened was unexpected and unfair and now your reality has been upended. 

Of course, there’s tough work ahead and major decisions eventually need to be made. At the same time, with patience and self-love, you can grieve the loss and emerge on the other side. You can develop strength and growth you never knew was possible. Indeed, the healing process is complex.

2 Big Steps to Start Healing

1. Acceptance

As with any traumatic loss, it may be tempting to choose denial. But healing arrives when you acknowledge what happened to you and how you feel about it. Feel what you need to feel. Process and resolve your anger (and thoughts of revenge) and get help to pull yourself out of any negative patterns that you may have embraced.

Lean on your support system and do not hesitate to contact an experienced counselor. Isolation is not your ally. 

2. Keeping it Real

After the jolt of relationship betrayal, it may feel overwhelming to consider taking a break. How much can you possibly handle? But you must figure out — on your own first — if you can salvage the relationship. Stepping away for a while will offer you the space to find clarity. 

Use that time to gain a realistic perspective on your relationship. Were there signs? Were you ignoring issues in the name of “keeping the peace?” Can you see the two of you repairing the damage, or does it feel like there’s no turning back? Again, a therapist can be indispensable when undergoing such contemplation. 

A View From the Other Side

There is, of course, a chance that you’re the one who has engaged in a betrayal. If so, what important work can you do moving forward? A few suggestions are:

  • Set aside your self-image and assess your actual behavior. It’s hard to resist framing situations in our favor, but that will not serve you well.
  • Allow for the possibility that you are in the wrong. Instead of seeking rationalizations or justifications, take stock of yourself and take ownership of your actions.
  • Don’t minimize your partner’s feelings or utter the word “overreaction.” Allocate more time to introspection than to “proving” your partner wrong. 
  • Recognize your partner’s grief — and your grief. Accept that the next move may not be up to you, but you always have the option to apologize, show remorse, and ask for another chance. 

Don’t Go Through This Alone

The last thing either partner needs right now is to withdraw. Therapy, individually or as a couple, is a proven path for dealing with the pain of betrayal. Having the benefit of an unbiased guide can be what it takes to make sense of such a scenario. Learn more about how affair recovery can help or reach out soon and schedule some time to talk through the hurt and start healing.