Linda: Betrayal has to do with a violation of a promise that causes a breakdown in the level of integrity in the relationship. Betrayal is defined as disloyal, treachery, bad faith, faithlessness, falseness, duplicity, deception double-dealing, breach of faith, breach of trust, stab in the back, double cross, and sell out. These are strong words that indicate a serious violation, and many believe that with a violation of such magnitude, the betrayal cannot be rectified. When we hear the word betrayal, in the context of marriage, we generally think of sexual infidelity. While infidelity is undoubtedly one of the most painful types of betrayal, it is not the most frequent manifestation of a violation of marital trust.
There is no one size fits all policy when it comes to the decision to disclose a violation of trust. So, each individual has to look deeply into the decision whether to reveal or conceal because they are going to suffer the consequences one way of the other. For some couples, to disclose the transgression would cause so much harm that the decision to conceal could be the wisest choice. Some partners are unforgiving, and the disclosure would be the end of the partnership, at times breaking up families. And there is also the possibility that the couple would remain together with contempt and bitterness contaminating their relationship because the difficult work of learning from the breakdown did not take place.
If forgiveness does not occur, healing cannot take place to transform the relationship. It is tempting to latch on to the choice of concealment, but it is a trick of the mind that attempts to convince us that we can get away with repressing the truth. That which is being concealed is silently, insidiously eroding the substrate of trust and love. Secrets and lies always do so. There are times when we have to risk it all to have it all. No one can tell us which choice to make. It is a decision that requires a deep assessment to make the best possible choice.
Since we are advocates of going for the gold, we lean in the direction of truth telling and entering into the massive clean-up process that follows the disclosure. In the work that we’ve done over the years with couples, more often than not we’ve found that the most serious damage that a marriage sustains when a betrayal occurs is a result of the dishonesty that is an attempted cover up the offensive act. This is not to suggest that the betrayal itself is not a very serious matter, or that admitting to it is the end of the process of reconciliation. On the contrary, it is just the beginning. If the process begins before the lies have begun to accumulate, then the degree of damage is minimized, so the odds in favor are increased.
Until there is an honest acknowledgment of the truth of one’s actions, the healing process can’t begin. With every passing day without this disclosure, the possibility of a successful recovery from the betrayal diminishes. In terms of betrayal, time does matter a lot. Voluntarily acknowledging a violation of a trust soon after the fact predisposes a couple towards a more favorable outcome than begrudgingly admitting when presented with evidence that one is guilty.
All betrayals are harmful to the integrity of a relationship. Betrayals or the perception of betrayal is not only likely, but also inevitable. Betrayals are closely related to disappointments, disillusionments, unrealistic expectations, and human frailty. We come into relationship hoping that our partner will not disappoint us or ever fail to keep their word, only to discover that on occasion, they do.
Even when both partners hold that same standard, under stress, or a variety of other circumstances, we slip-slide away from our most noble intentions. This is not to excuse a lapse in integrity, but merely to underscore the inevitability of our “humanness”. We are likely to experience occasional breakdowns. Whether a breakdown becomes a breakthrough or ends with a break-up depends more upon the way that we respond to the crisis than on the nature of the betrayal itself.
Expecting others or ourselves to never have these lapses is a formula for disaster. It leads to having unrealizable expectations that can’t be met. It sets us up to lie, cover up, justify and deny our actions. This sets up disappointment that can be difficult or even impossible to resolve. How then to we deal with this? If a crisis of trust occurs and is not adequately addressed by both partners, it becomes unfinished business. Failing to get to the bottom of things leaves us highly reactive to situations that are similar in nature to the original circumstance. This vulnerability increases the likelihood that we will find ourselves in similar situations that mirror the earlier incident. We continue recreating these situations not because we enjoy suffering, but rather out of a natural tendency towards resolution. We are required to revisit the “scene of the crime” until we have come to terms with it in a way that leaves us feeling at peace with ourselves and in our relationship.
The longer the betrayal has gone on for and been concealed, the longer it takes for the repair and the more difficulty the repair process becomes. Some situations may be irreparable depending upon the depth of the damage to trust. Most, however, are not. Every violation of trust in a relationship ultimately involves a diminishment of trust in ourselves. We will experience a loss of some degree of self-trust since we have failed to adequately protect ourselves from the consequences of this breakdown, through our lack of awareness, or recognition of a condition that we were either ignorant of or willing to tolerate. This is not to suggest that both parties are equally responsible in the event of a betrayal, but rather that we each played a role in the establishment of conditions that give rise to the crisis.
Our failure to adequately address the underlying causes and contribution that both sides have made to a betrayal is due to an unwillingness to risk exposing ourselves to shame. We fear punishment if we are found to be guilty of being part of the problem. We also lack understanding as to how to engage in the process of doing the repair work. Once we learn about what the process involves, identifying the qualities that we need to strengthen, and engaging in practices that will strengthen those qualities, healing begins. We will have transformed what appeared to be a hopeless situation into one that can leave us in a relationship with a far more trusting, resilient, respectful and loving foundation than we had prior to the breakdown. This is what it means to be “stronger at the broken places.”
Stay tuned for Part 2 to have details of the reconciliation process.