Repairing a Betrayal

Many people come to marriage therapists because of a betrayal or an infidelity. The recent admission by U.S. President Bill Clinton that he has been unfaithful to his wife is a scene similar to those played out in marriage therapist’s offices everywhere.

But how do you repair a betrayal? How does a woman in the position of Hillary Clinton grow to trust and respect her husband again?

It is difficult to have a long-term, vital love relationship with someone that you don’t think is operating with integrity, honor, respect or honesty.

Although sex is involved, an affair isn’t normally about sex. It’s about an individual or couple not dealing with issues, avoiding conflicts, ignoring emotions and thus growing more distant from each other.

Thus, adultery is a form of communication. It’s a way for one person to say to their mate: “The relationship isn’t working for me. I am feeling profoundly dissatisfied, disappointed or uncomfortable.”

At the point of betrayal, you have a choice. One is venomous anger with a closed-off heart and closed-off mind, leading to cynicism, bitterness, distance and withdrawal.. The other choice is to learn whatever lessons you can, and to use the experience to build a different level of intimacy, closeness, sharing and trust.

When it is discovered, infidelity hits with tremendous force. It decimates the betrayed partner’s self esteem, ruptures trust, destabilizes the relationship and throws the future into question. It is like a death. It is the death of the relationship’s innocence, for it will be a long time before the two of you will have the same level of respect and trust for each other again.

Once it is admitted or discovered, the betrayed partner is likely to feel hurt, anger, resentment, rage, depression and fear that the relationship may be ending.

The betrayed person frequently obsesses about what happened, unable to get haunting images and thoughts out of his/her head. Doubts about one’s attractiveness and desirability may also plague the betrayed partner. When talking about the affair, the hurt partner thus needs to decide what it is he or she really desires to know. The problem with insisting on being told every excruciating detail is that it’s likely to torment you. Therefore, I recommend that you write down your questions and then ask yourself “Will answers to these questions help me recover? Will they help us recover? What do I want these questions to achieve?”

That being said, complete and honest disclosure is essential in order to reestablish trust. The betrayer needs to be willing to reveal everything if so requested. Otherwise it will appear as if he/she is still being secretive or deceptive.

For the betrayed partner, here are some questions to reflect upon: Do you know why your spouse’s infidelity occurred? How confident are you that it won’t happen again? What does this infidelity mean to you? Do you still feel attractive and desirable? How badly has trust been ruptured between the two of you? What have you lost? What ideals did you have that you no longer trust or believe? What do you think this says about you? About your marriage? About your spouse? How is he/she attempting to make amends and win you back?

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