Coping with affairs and betrayals
An affair or betrayal can severely strain, damage or in some cases end a relationship. The bond of trust held between two people is broken, which will often bring about a complex and wide variety of feelings for the person who has been betrayed. Due to the nature of betrayal, whether it regards financial secrets, infidelity due to cheating or the admission of a problem with either alcohol or drugs, there will no doubt be a great deal of pain involved which will impact hugely on the lives of the person who has been betrayed, as well as the lives of those involved within the betrayal. This article aims to consider what happens when we discover an infidelity, why do affairs and betrayals occur and can we move on from an affair or betrayal.
What happens when we discover an infidelity?
A betrayal or affair will leave us with a mixed bag of emotions, such as resentment, shame, guilt, anger, hurt, hate or disbelief. These widely varying emotions can lead to impulsive reactions, such as moving out of the home shared together, taking the children and going somewhere else without saying where you are going, or filing for divorce and finding a lawyer.
The discovery of an affair can be life changing, devastating and incredibly painful. The intense feelings experienced in the aftermath of discovering an affair or a betrayal can be akin to those experienced in the wake of the death of a loved one. At first there is shock, feeling as if the experience is not real, as if it is happening to someone else. Next comes grief, for the loss of the relationship which was there previously, grief for the loss of trust, closeness and maybe even love. Next comes the questioning, and the need for unanswered aspects of our partner’s behaviour to be explained. Questions such as:
Why did they do this to me?
How could they do this, I thought they loved me?
How long has this been going on?
What else have they been lying to me about?
Will I ever be able to trust them again?
Can our relationship survive or should I walk away from it now?
What did I do wrong?
Why do I feel so stupid for letting this happen?
Why do affairs and betrayals occur
This is a highly complicated question with no easy answer. The truth behind this question can be difficult to hear, and our anger and blame can be a distraction from the deep sense of vulnerability that we feel when we are betrayed. Our anger defends us from the much more difficult feeling of feeling powerless, which can be overwhelming.
Affairs and betrayals can happen for any number of reasons. It could happen due to not addressing an underlying difficulty within the relationship itself, or a lack of feeling valued, heard or understood by your partner, or due to feeling sexually or emotionally dissatisfied.
The truth is, that people seek to blame the cheating partner totally for any affair or infidelity, and of course the partner is culpable for the infidelity and must take an appropriate level of responsibility for their actions, however no affair happens in a vacuum, and this is maybe the more painful aspect that is often left unexplored due to being hidden behind anger and hurt. Admitting the relationship to be less than perfect as you’d imagined is an enormous task fraught with pain.
Another key part of the process of affairs and betrayal is collusion, meaning a secret level of cooperation between the couple, which is either underhanded or undesirable. People, if they are honest with themselves, may find that they colluded with their partner in the betrayal or infidelity in some way even if they did not know it. This means that on some level, there was a level of cooperation which was happening under the surface within an unconscious context. This secret collusion may mean that the betrayed partner is doing something within the relationship to collude with the behaviours of their partner. An example of this could be a partner encouraging time to be spent with the other person within the betrayal triangle. Someone such as a lonely neighbour or family friend in need of solace. In some way the betrayed individual unconsciously pushes their partner into the arms of another, and therefore colludes with the affair without realising it.
Moving forward after an affair or betrayal
One of the first things you will need to do in order to heal from a betrayal or affair, is to explore the question of why the infidelity happened in the first place. It can be hard to move away from feeling angry at your partner for their behaviour and focus on the reasons behind why it happened in the first place, but for a relationship to have a chance of survival, it is crucial that this question is explored heard and understood. The truth behind the reasons for the affair or betrayal, no matter how painful to hear or difficult to say, must be brought forward in order for some crucial questions to be asked. Such as, do we both want to try and work at this relationship again? And, do we have faith that this is at least in principle a possibility? One of the main things which happens to us after we experience an affair or a betrayal, is that we find ourselves losing our sense of self as well as the idealised image of the other. How can we ever see them as a good person when they have so devalued our trust and our relationship, and what it meant to me?
Being able to find it within yourself to re-imagine your partner, and redefine the ways in which you view them after their infidelity is crucial to being able to again have trust for your partner, and with others in the future.
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About Joshua Miles
Joshua is an experienced Integrative Therapist who has worked with clients to understand their thoughts and feelings after experiencing a betrayal or affair and assisted them in moving on with their lives. He also works with a wide range of issues such as loneliness, bereavement, depression, stress and anxiety. He's based in Shoreditch, East London