Betrayal is one of the most devastating and distressing things that can occur in a relationship. Deception by those we love and trust the most is often one of the most painful human experiences one can endure. Discovering that someone we trusted, believed in, has deeply hurt or deceived us pulls the rug right from underneath us, forcing us to see the betrayer and our world differently. Unfortunately, Betrayals are an unavoidable aspect of almost every close relationship we experience throughout our lifetime. Often, when we are betrayed by those we love and care about we experience intense feelings of distress. Distress is the most immediate response to the betrayal of trust, negatively impacting our emotional well-being, and attacking our sense of security. Interestingly, the more trust we have in a person the greater the degree of pain we will most likely experience should they betray us. Betrayal unlike a lot of other acts can create mixed emotions ranging from intense sadness, anger, fear, shame, confusion, outrage, etc. Although, forgiveness can occur after a betrayal, re-establishing and building trust can become an issue should both the betrayer that the person betrayed maintain a relationship. Trust is fragile and can be lost instantly, leading to the breakdown or end of a once valued relationship.
Betrayal has many faces; it can look differently to different people at different times in a relationship. Betrayal can include telling something someone told to you in confidence to someone else without their permission, flirting, criticism, emotional/physical abuse, infidelity, abuse committed by someone that has been entrusted to ensure your safety and well-being (caretaker, parent, guardian, teacher, etc.). Persons that have been cheated on, lied to, abused by someone they trusted, etc. understand what it feels like to struggle with trust issues and confusion. It is difficult to establish and build trust if we are betrayed by those closest to us because if we cannot trust those closest ( a spouse, romantic partner, parent, etc.), then who can we trust.
Abuse that occurs in childhood can lead to both immediate and long-term feelings of distrust for others, difficulty engaging and bonding with others, adjustment challenges, feelings of being “stuck”. Too often, people that are abused and betrayed in childhood can become “fixed” in a state of not knowing how and if they can move beyond the pain. The closer the person is to the person he or she betrays has a significant impact on the degree of stress, how he or she manages the betrayal, processes the betrayal, as well as the impact the betrayal can have on the long-term mental health of persons betrayed. Persons that reported abuse at the hands of someone they loved and was close to were most likely to report symptoms of depression, dissociation, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Betrayal that occurs within the context of a romantic relationship involves a breach of trust, a violation of marital vows, or to the commitment to remain faithful to one’s romantic partner. Unlike, abuse or betrayal that occurs in a familial relationship, abuse that occurs within a romantic relationship can lead to further exploration and identification of existing problems within the relationship that led to betrayal. However, in contrast to abuse by a parent or other close relative, betrayal in romantic relationships comes with the option to break with the partner.
As difficult as it may be to comprehend, betrayal incidents can even lead to improved communication and better relationships. Improved relationships can occur when both partners are willing to put in the work to re-establish the trust in the relationship, the betrayer acknowledges that he/she has betrayed their partner, and makes a conscious effort to maintain openness and honesty throughout the relationship. When the betrayer issues a sincere apology, vows never to engage in the betrayal again, and repay the debt to the victim, both partners now emerge with a better understanding of what’s important in their relationship. If the perpetrator does not do so, the person betrayed has learned something important and now has, if not a better, at least a more realistic view of the partner.
Tips To Overcome Betrayal Include:
- Acknowledge you have broken the trust in the relationship (betrayer)
- Make a commitment to rebuilding the trust in the relationship (betrayer)
- Recognize as well as acknowledge the pain you have caused to your partner (betrayer)
- Say you are sorry and mean it (betrayer)
- Move forward with transparency using honesty and openness (both partners)
- Avoid blaming yourself for your partners betrayal (betrayed)
- Learn and practice forgiveness (both partners)
Being able to forgive your partner for betraying you will both help rebuild and strengthen the relationship but relieve distress and anguish. Persons that have betrayed a partner must also learn to forgive, they must learn how to forgive themselves for hurting the person they love so that he/she can move forward. Through forgiveness you learn both about yourself but the relationship as well.