Betrayal can take many forms — from a garden-variety lapse in judgment to a genuine heartbreaker or marriage ender. Many of these moments could be avoided if we took the time to pay attention to what our partner’s world really feels like. What does your partner need to feel comfortable and safe? What he or she needs may be very different from what you need.
But, if not avoided, betrayal can be dealt with and resolved. It is possible. It just requires total honesty, vulnerability, and commitment from both partners. A betrayal doesn't have to be an end of your relationship. It can be a new beginning. Here are three of the most common types of betrayals and their sources:
1. Disregarding needs because they are different from your own.
George, who owns a restaurant, is a raconteur and an open book. He excels at sharing personal anecdotes and recounts whatever is going on in his life with everyone — friends, employees, gas station and parking lot attendants, the tellers at the local bank, even fellow riders in the elevator.
George’s wife, Sarah, is reserved and private. A poet, she is serious, contemplative, and needs of a great deal of solitude. These needs complement his own. After long, hard hours at the restaurant, George is glad to go home to Sarah’s tranquil oasis.
Sarah admires and relies on George’s zest and wit. George makes her laugh and allows her to take life less seriously. Still, Sarah wants him to respect her privacy. Countless times she’s told him, “Just leave me out of your stories.”
Recently, Sarah learned that she was a finalist for a prestigious national prize for poetry. Thrilled and excited, she called George at the restaurant as soon as she opened the envelope.
“That’s fantastic, Sarah. I’ll bring home Champagne.”
“Oh, don’t bother,” she demurred. “It’s not like I’ve won anything.”
“Sure it is. It’s a huge honor to be a finalist. We’ll celebrate!”
“All right,” Sarah relented. “You know I love Champagne.”
No sooner did George get off the phone than he shared the news with the staff in the kitchen and patrons out in the dining room. “Looks like my wife just won a big prize for poetry,” he crowed. “Well, she’s in the running, anyway.”
Late that night at home, George poured two flutes of Champagne. “Here’s to my clever wife, the poet.”
“Thank you, but I haven’t actually won anything,” Sarah reminded him again.
“Yes, you have! It’s the recognition you deserve. The kitchen staff is all excited. They’re going to bake you a congratulations cake.”
After a small silence, Sarah whispered, “You told them?”
“Of course. Why not?”
“Because I asked you not to, that’s why.” Sarah was livid. “You’d think I’d know better by now! You’re the last person on earth I should tell anything. There’s no censor in your mind; you don’t think before you speak. You’re just thoughtless.”
George was bewildered. In his view, Sarah’s being a finalist for the prize was an honor. If she didn’t win, there was no shame in it. But that wasn’t how she saw it. She dreaded the thought that all these people would find out that she was an also-ran.
George just shook his head. How could his wife be angry with him about something he’d done out of love and pride? Clearly, he was the victim here.
In fact, George was guilty of something. He saw the extent of his wife’s need for privacy as unreasonable, so he simply disregarded it. “Why aren’t you me?” That was the question at the heart of this conflict.
The simple, yet incredibly difficult solution to this conflict is for each partner to recognize the other as equal and separate, and acknowledge their needs as such. Like anything, it takes practice. But the positive evolution of your relationship will inevitably be worth it.
2. Invasions of privacy or lies of omission that are "justified" by their intent.
Anything from financial deception to the invasion of privacy can fit into this category — whether it's snooping on a computer or reading a private journal. When the breach of faith is exposed, the betrayed person may come to question everything about his/her partner and the relationship itself. Beyond the inevitable shock, anger, and hurt, betrayal often leaves its victims with a grievous loss of self-worth.
Those who betray their partners tend to rely on “reasonable” explanations to justify themselves. The reason they were unfaithful? Not enough sex in their marriage. The reason they maxed out the credit cards? Simple generosity — they wanted to take their partner on a first-class vacation.
In truth, however, an act of betrayal is an act against the self, which harms a person’s sense of integrity and self-respect. After betrayers digest what they’ve done and the pain they’ve caused, their shame and guilt can be all-consuming.
Avoiding this kind of betrayal requires a deep faith in your partner's ability and willingness to forgive, and the strength to be truly vulnerable. Recovering from it requires the same commitment to truth, openness, and each other.
3. Sexual betrayal.
No matter the reason, without your partner's knowledge or consent, sexual betrayal is never justified. Because of its powerful reverberations for both partners, sexual betrayal is an especially difficult marital problem to cope with and resolve.
Most of the time, the only way to reconcile is for both partners to clean their respective psychological closets of all baggage and to reach down into the depths of those emotional storage vaults to find the courage, honesty, and love to repair and forgive. I recommend you do this only with the help of a SEASONED therapist. It’s extremely hard work and it does not happen quickly. I have seen it take 1 year for some; 2 to 3 years for others. Most of the reasons for the betrayal must be understood, especially by the person who had an affair. Perhaps the length and depth of this process explains why some of the strongest marriages I know have arisen from extremely serious betrayals.
For more on how to heal your relationship, start here: