Anger and Intimacy: Part 2- Betrayal

marital betrayal

Few things shake the foundation of a marriage more than perceived betrayal of one partner by the other. It seems that lately, in my practice at least, the betrayal is more in the direction of husband not being able to accept what they see as betrayal by their wife, but it certainly works both ways!

Betrayal, of course, is a matter of definition and expectations to begin with. The range of behaviors that may be classified as “betrayal” may include

  • innocent things like talking with your parents about your marital issues
  • revealing marital frustrations to an opposite-sex  co-worker over frequent lunches or text messages,
  • kissing someone else at a party after 3 martinis, while basically ignoring your partner
  • actually having a physical affair with someone.

Do People who Betray See Themselves as Cheating?
Some people who engage in these and other similar activities feel like they are indeed betraying their partners while others do not feel that way at all until “caught” by their partner.  Regardless of their own perception of their behavior, their partners are often devastated when they find out, even though they my have been poor marriage partners to begin with.  This is often because many married people expect loyalty and faithfulness from their partners regardless of the lack of emotional connection between them, regardless of how badly one of both act in the marriage, or regardless of their own contributions to marital misery.

What Happens when Betrayal Is Discovered?

For the non-cheating partner, discovery of betrayal often leads to complete lack of trust, emotional hurt, anger and strong feelings of retribution or emotional punishment of the other. To preserve the relationship, forgiveness is a skill that is most often needed, but often beyond reach. In our anger management classes we teach the benefit of forgiveness as well as the skills to forgive, but many people cannot forgive or trust again after perceived betrayal. Statistically, only a small percentages of marriage survive physical betrayal of one partner by the other.

For the accused, discovery of betrayal often leads to intense feelings of guilt and/or shame. The accused also often becomes very defensive and justifies what they did by listing all the problems in the marriage or in their partner which lead them to the betrayal in the first place.

Should the Betraying Partner Be Forgiven?

Of course, every person has to answer that question for themselves. Some people are incapable of getting past it, while others could if they tried harder and had stronger commitment to do it. Here are some things that you can do that many couples find helpful:

  • Try putting it in a broader context. Ask yourself why your and your partner lost emotional connection with each other. You don’t have to see the betrayal as a character flaw in either yourself or your partner; if you wish, you can elect to see it as an indicator of a deeper problem in the relationship.
  • Ask yourself how strongly motivated you are to repair the marriage. There are many skills you can acquire to get to forgiveness and improve your marriage, , but none of them will work for you if you don’t want to forgive your partner or you don’t really want to improve your marriage. Ask yourself honestly if there are more advantages to NOT forgiving than to actually forgiving. On the other hand, if you see more benefit in forgiving and improving your marriage than in remaining angry, resentful and bitter, you will forgive and work on improving things.

What Can the Accused Partner Do?
The accused partner can also do many things to repair the marriage, but again, you have to want to and you have to  be willing to do some hard work to pull things back together. Following are just some examples of what it may take to recover from being seen as a betraying partner by your wounded spouse:

  • If you did betray your partner, start by asking for forgiveness and commit to not doing it again.
  • If in your eyes you did not betray your partner, discuss with your partner what your expectations are of each other and what each of you consider  appropriate behavior for a married person in different situations.  Try to agree on these expectations of each other. Many times a therapist is needed to help you sort-out these issues.
  • Start a program of trust-building behaviors so your partner can start trusting you again (e. g. let them know where you are at all times, take offending phone numbers off your cell phone, etc).
  • Find ways to improve your sexual  life with each other so that you both feel more secure and more bonded with each other in this important aspect of your marriage.