Linda: It takes years to put trust together. In just in a very brief amount of time, through unconsciousness, the trust that’s been built painstakingly over time can be torn down. It’s a painful experience because the special tie of being the only one, the precious one, gets violated. It takes time, truth telling, conversation-by-conversation, touch-by-touch, act of generosity by act of generosity, to build that trust back over the months. And we must be willing to be vulnerable and embarrassed.
Establish a Policy of Full Disclosure: The repair work is more possible and easier to do if the transgression is of a shorter duration. It’s not impossible to repair a betrayal that has gone on for years, but it is more difficult. If you establish at the beginning of your relationship, a policy of full disclosure, you are in a better position to put corrections in immediately before the situation gets out of hand. This way, if one of you makes a mistake, you can bring it immediately to the other’s attention before it gets full blown.
Multiple Small Betrayals Are Damaging Too: People think of betrayal as those dramatic incidents where something happens like infidelity, a major lie, and stealing, all obvious breaches of trust. Saying a lot of hurtful things to each other damages the relationship.
Open Up: There is a strong tendency to keep trouble covered up. The impulse is often overpowering to keep the truth from the other and ourselves. When betrayal erodes the trust in the relationship due to the hurt, we feel, how humiliating it can be, how it erodes our self-esteem, our feelings are rampaging. Sometimes the impulse to lash out is so strong that we behave unskillfully, and we must begin the healing process again.
Identify Old Betrayals: Some of the wounds go back a long time. It may take us back to our parents broken promises, and the ways that they were not there for us. The betrayal opens us up to other feelings of betrayal, from this present person, our parents, and every other person in between that has let us down.
To the degree that we haven’t dealt with feelings of being betrayed by previous important relationships, old unfinished business will surely be activated. There is psychic wounding that’s deep and sore, and when those get trod on it takes a while to even figure out the pieces, and to tease them out one piece at a time. It takes as long as it takes.
Rebuild Our Self-trust: The real betrayals, the most damaging ones, are those that aren’t seen as betrayals, and so aren’t addressed. The real trust that’s been violated is our trust in ourselves when we don’t trust the validity of our own feelings.
Don’t Lash Out: It is human nature to want to kick back when we feel hurt. There is an impulse for revenge and vindictiveness. We may want to get back at them because we think that in some way, that’s going to end our pain. The desire for revenge keeps the negative cycle going. Not getting caught in revenge allows us to move on to what’s underneath the rage and defensiveness.
Contact and Express the Vulnerable Feelings: One of the reasons that so many people have trouble getting out of the cycle is because it’s so difficult to express pain. If our first attempts to dive beneath the anger to contact the more vulnerable, tender feelings of suffering and fear aren’t successful; we fear being stuck with the pain. When our partner does not meet our openness with similar vulnerability, we are rendered momentarily helpless. Numerous attempts may be needed to get to the vulnerability under the anger. “Share the pain, not the blame,” says John Amodeo in his wonderful book about betrayal. It’s powerful to have such a distilled phrase to hang onto like a lifeline.
Take Responsibility: In order to break the cycle of betrayal, it requires both partners to tell the truth and to acknowledge their part in the breakdown. It’s hard to tell the truth because the last thing we want to do is to be hurt more. When we take responsibility, we don’t offer any justification, stories, or excuses. We are sincerely contrite and ask for forgiveness.
Lean into the Challenge: Running away from difficulties is a natural impulse. Betrayal is something that forces us to deal with difficulties rather than run. One of the things a marriage does is provide a container that’s sealed with a commitment to grapple with issues that come up. Without some kind of a seal, there’s no way we would stay when it gets overheated. The commitment is an enormous opportunity to learn to live a richer life.
Feel It All: The only possible way of surviving the betrayal is to feel its gore, anger, impulse toward vindictiveness, and sadness around the dream that we fear has been lost. There are only two choices available. If the intention is to be right and to shame them into surrendering more of their power, then it’s a setup for more guilt and betrayal. If the intention is to bring about a deeper connection, understanding, learning, and meaning out of the suffering, we can accomplish that.
Dedicating Our Life to Becoming More Conscious: The best way that we can minimize betrayal is by becoming more conscious. We become more sensitized is by stepping on their toes and they say “Ouch,” and we say, “I guess I was stepping on your toes.” We don’t like to hear them say, “ouch” because when we hear them say, “that hurts,” what we hear is, “You screwed up again. You’re a bad person. You blew it. I don’t like you.”
That’s not what they are saying, but that’s what we hear. When we hear them say, “That hurts,” without taking it as indictment of our worth as a human being, we begin to listen. It takes longer than either of us thinks it should to heal after betrayal. You might find yourself thinking: “For god’s sake, when aren’t you going to get over this thing anyway?” Or your partner may say: “Why are you still holding on to this?” The truth is that it just takes a while to get over it.
Believe That A Full Recovery Is Possible: If we suggest to ourselves that recovery is impossible, that belief will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we open our mind to the possibility that with work on both sides, forgiveness, learning and growth from the betrayal can press us forward to enjoy a relationship that is stronger and even more fulfilling than before.