Recovering from betrayal in your relationship is a lot like recovering from a physical trauma. It’s shocking at first. It’s painful. It’s sloooooowww, and you’ll never be quite the same.
As a relationship coach, I’ve heard different versions of the story but events unfold the same way:
One person has a secret.
The other person finds out and they feel betrayed.
It can be an affair, running up a credit card, watching porn, or whatever else you’re hiding from your partner. Secrecy is a pretty good indicator the other person is gonna be hurt when you tell them.
When I was in high school, I tore my ACL in a soccer game and had surgery to repair it. Then, when I was 40, I injured it wakeboarding. Another surgery. My knee and I have been through a lot but we’re still together, still thriving, and I credit that to three mindsets. The same mindsets are necessary to be successful together after a betrayal.
There will be setbacks.
Just when you’re feeling pretty good about the whole process, you can turn a corner wrong and have an unexpected jolt of pain. That’s what happens in betrayal recovery, too. Everything is humming along smoothly and then, BAM! You remember something or have a moment of doubt and it feels like taking fifty steps backward. That’s normal and it’s okay. The important thing is that you don’t ignore it. Pain is information telling you what not to do. Pay attention to it.
If you don’t handle the matter with care, listen to what you need, shift expectations, and change behaviors permanently, you will not only delay recovery but probably end up further damaging the relationship.
You will never be the same.
One of the toughest parts of betrayal is how it changes you as a couple forever. There is no going back to how it was before. Just like me and my knee. I was never as fast as I’d been. I wasn’t as fearlessly aggressive. I had to protect my knee in ways I hadn’t before. I had to adjust my expectations of what it could do. I couldn’t treat it with my previous disregard for its fragility.
My last surgeon told me I should never do another burpee if I want my knee to last. I know it’s weird, but I love burpees. They make me feel good. They give me a pleasurable rush. They boost my self-esteem. In the moment, it feels like the greatest thing ever. But it’s not worth the cost. It’s still a great knee and supports me well in many things I love to do, but there are activities that are off the table for us. It has to be that way so I can protect us in the long run.
Professional support is a must.
After the second surgery, I tried to do my own physical therapy. I figured I’d just wing it. I mean, I’d already done it once and I have plenty of exercise-y knowledge. No problem! But as I hobbled into a follow-up appointment with my surgeon, he demanded I get professional help. Apparently, there’s a timeline for getting full range back and if you don’t get on it, you may never get it back. Yikes! That scared me enough to make an appointment and once I showed up, I found out he was right. I didn’t know the correct things to do. I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough. I didn’t have a trained professional and the support I needed to make real progress and recover as fully as possible.
It may feel like you can work things out on your own after betrayal but when you ask yourself honestly, can you really? Do you know what to do? Are you doing the hard healing things? Do you have the support you need to make real progress?
Too often, people want to push the betrayal into the background and move on quickly. They can’t handle the shame. That’s like tearing your ACL and pretending like nothing happened. You won’t be able to do the things you did before. You will keep injuring it. Those injuries will get worse and worse and in the end, it will be unrecoverably broken.
Here’s another option. Both people commit to recovery. Both people get professional help as individuals. They get couples support. They get honest. They stumble and pick each other back up. They say yes to this new life together and all the safeguards that go with it. Partners who choose this option are the ones I’ve seen succeed. It’s messy, but they’re able to navigate their way through recovery and come out stronger on the other side.
If you’re working through a betrayal, reach out. You deserve support every step in that journey. I can help you regain the confidence to commit yourself fully in your relationships. firstname.lastname@example.org