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COUPLE THERAPY: AFFAIRS AND BETRAYAL

What is betrayal?

There are different kinds of betrayal in relationship. The most obvious is when a partner has an affair - either a full on sexual affair, a sexting affair or an emotional affair. Other forms of betrayal are gambling addiction, porn addiction, credit card debt, etc. What they all have in common are secrecy and lies and when discovered they generally completely shatter the trust and belief that intimate relationships are founded on.

What is it like to discover that your partner has betrayed you?

Someone once said that discovering that a partner has been keeping secrets and lying is like experiencing an earthquake for the first time … until that moment you had believed that the ground is solid and then suddenly it starts behaving like a liquid … and now your sense of reality and what you can rely on is turned upside down - you feel traumatised, afraid and vulnerable all at the same time.

Can relationships ever recover from betrayal?

The answer to this question is yes. It is tough for both partners to commit to working through the shock of the discovery (surprisingly, it is often a big shock for the partner who was the betrayer to be discovered, although not as big as the shock for the person who discovers they have been lied to). Initially partners have a mismatch in their desires to move on. The partner who has been discovered in deception wants to move on quickly and put things behind them, they are feeling a lot of shame and guilt and it is painful. The partner who has been deceived wants to know everything about the deception, often in very precise detail and isn’t ready at all for starting the work of repair because they don’t know what they can believe and are fearful of their partner continuing to deceive. If a couple can navigate these difficulties in the aftermath of discovery and differing agendas, then there is a good foundation for moving forward.

How can a couple work through the aftermath of betrayal?

The first stage of recovery involves a couple exploring the who, what, where, when of things. This is not just of benefit to the person trying to get over the mind-boggling effects of being betrayed. The partner who has been deceptive starts to learn more about themselves in this part of the recovery – how was it that they could keep secrets and lie? How does their behaviour fit with the sense of themselves as a person, etc., how did they justify things to themselves? How did they betray themselves as well their partner?

The second stage of recovery is about repair and re-establishing a sense of connection. This is the beginning of rebuilding trust and mutual understanding.

The third stage is about consciously creating a new relationship – the old one is obsolete. What kind of future will we create? How do I know myself and how do we know each other, what are our differences and how do we encourage each other in being our best and unique selves? Trust is still under reconstruction in this stage too, but by now hope for a future together has started to grow and coalesce.

Coming Next: What’s involved in couple therapy?

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