The Marriage Podcast for Smart People

Working Through Betrayal Trauma

Dec. 12, 2018

Discovering that your spouse has had an affair or has in some way been sexually unfaithful is often an extremely traumatic event. You’ll feel like the boundaries of your marriage have been violated, your trust in your spouse has been destroyed, and even your own identity has been shaken. Betrayal As Trauma The first thing we want to do is just confirm that a betrayal can represent trauma. Trauma has been happening since the dawn of time, but as a psychological concept, I think the Vietnam war really put it on the map as veterans came back and many of them with the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And for a long time trauma was considered something that happened mainly to war veterans, often police officers and other first responders. Not to make light of any of what those men and women go through in service for our freedom and safety, but we have also come to realize that trauma is actually an even more widespread experience. Think, for example, of the core elements of trauma from war: near-death experiences (or having witnessed others die suddenly), feelings of overwhelm and helplessness, or when too much happens too fast and too soon. Well, in a relational context if you consider your marriage a safe zone — and you should, if your marriage is healthy — and then all of a sudden you find out that what you thought was safe is actually very unsafe and threatening through the disclosure of an affair, as an example, then you have trauma. You have too much happening too fast and too soon. Your world implodes, you may even feel that your safety is incredibly threatened — do I have an STD now? There is often overwhelm as your world crumbles and a feeling of helplessness because you cannot undo what has already happened. The disclosure of betrayal then quickly shakes the foundation of your life and marriage, leading to symptoms of trauma similar to what veterans experience[i]. Betrayal Trauma Symptoms and Effects Viewing betrayal as a trauma event can prepare you to make sense of the effects. It helps you understand what you are feeling and why. So let’s look at four of the major feelings and effects. Grief The betrayed spouse can feel an intense sense of loss following an affair. They feel that their marriage and their life as it was is now gone, and go through a grieving process. These spouses may also feel a loss of innocence, loss of safety, loss of purpose and loss of self-respect following an affair[ii]. Confusion The betrayed spouse has to deal with the "unnerving experience of feeling as though one has not the foggiest idea who this person is to whom one had pledged oneself in a committed relationship[iii]". Since marriage is such a core part of a person's identity, they may also be so shaken that they start to be unsure who they really are. This can lead to a state of emotional turmoil due to the rapid experience of all kinds of emotions (anger, sadness, hopelessness, fear, vulnerability etc) Reactivity Going through traumatic events such as betrayal often leads to high levels of emotional reactivity[iv]. Individuals who have gone through trauma often react very strongly to any trigger or situation that reminds them of the trauma. They can also have trouble regulating their emotions generally, leading to emotional outbursts, mood-swings or over-reactions to minor problems[v]. This is not meant as criticism but just to normalize that these kinds of behaviors are really just cascading effects of having gone through the profoundly difficult experience of betrayal trauma. Trust Betrayal can destroy all sense of trust between spouses so that trusting each other on little things becomes difficult. This means that conflict over little things is also much more likely, as the betrayed spouse can no longer trust that their husband/wife is being honest and has their best interests at heart[vi]. Often the lies and secrecy that surround an affair can be just as damaging as the act itself (if not more so), neither hosts nor alters podcast files. All content © its respective owners.