The Damage of Betrayal in Marital Relationships

The damage of betrayal in marital relationships

Trust and respect are cornerstones of all human relationships, particularly marriage.  Can your spouse count on your word consistently without doubts?  Marriage relationships cannot be healthy or last without both partners having integrity in both actions and words.  Some failure is inevitable in every marriage.  Therefore, trust is not built on the absence of failure as much as on the genuine attempts by both partners to take responsibility for and try to repair those failures.  In healthy relationships, the failures can actually lead to greater trust when they are handled with honesty and love.

We all experience betrayal in relationships.  Betrayal may come in the form of being talked into an unwise purchase or being lied to by a friend.  The damage being described here is the kind that comes from something very severe like infidelity.  

The damage of deceit

I have seen the damage of deceit in many marriages.  It turns relationships from caring and considerate into a struggle for power.  If the foundation of trust is broken, the wronged partner becomes almost exclusively focused on attempting to control and minimize the pain of that betrayal.  Something deep inside us is touched when we have been deceived and betrayed.  It destroys the belief in our partner, in ourselves and causes us to begin questioning all that we believed about our marriage.

The spouse who has been betrayed often wonders how he/she could have been so stupid or naïve to have trusted their spouse.  The shame of being taken advantage of deepens the wound.  Often the injured partner believes that he/she could have prevented the betrayal if they had been smarter, more alert or less vulnerable.  

The damage done to the betrayed partner is usually the same whether he/she decides to end the relationship or not.  A spouse who has been betrayed begins shutting down the desire for relationship.  The one betrayed feels that no one can really be trusted and it would be foolish to ever trust someone to that extent again.  He or she begins to experience a deep feeling of deadness inside because that is safer than risking further betrayal.  It is much safer to expect very little from any relationship.  

Betrayed spouses often become amateur detectives.  

They become hyper-vigilant in monitoring and questioning everything related to their partner.  They become very suspicious of the motives of their partner.  Typically, in all their other relationships they often wonder what the other person really wants.  They also become highly sensitive in any interaction where they feel pressure to make the other person happy, particularly if they feel it requires some sacrifice on their part.

The ultimate damage of this type of betrayal is the belief that authentic relationships are unsafe and a loss of hope for real intimacy.  This loss of hope often leads to experiencing all relationships from a safe distance.  Intimacy has come to represent something very dangerous.  The spouse who has been seriously betrayed begins pushing the desire for deep connection with others way down inside.  Those in relationship with the betrayed partner may not recognize this defensive stance because he/she may appear to be the same on the surface.  The way of relating may seem the same but the heart is no longer engaged.  

Possibly the most damaging aspect of serious betrayal is the self-hatred that may develop.  This comes from the belief that the betrayal could have been prevented.  It also is a result of coming to believe that they are undesirable.  The fact that the partner they trusted could so easily devalue and discard the trust in the marriage is proof of this.  

The good news is that whether the marriage continues or not the betrayed spouse can experience healing and find hope for real intimacy again.  It requires a real investment of time, effort and help.  Letting go of the self-contempt through forgiveness is the starting point.

Sean R Sears
Counselor, MS, OMC
Sean is a member of the team of counselors at New Leaf Counseling Center in Kansas City, MO. Sean has been working with couples and families for over 20 years. He received his B.S. in Administration of Justice with an emphasis on juveniles/families from Wichita State University. He has a Master’s in Guidance and Counseling from Missouri State University. In addition, Sean has been an ordained minister for 13 years and is a certified Prepare/Enrich marital facilitator. He has worked with adolescents, couples and families while serving as the Director of a Residential Treatment Program, Director of a Leadership Training Program and as the head of Pastoral Care at a large church. He has provided pre-marital counseling and married a number of couples over the last several years. His greatest passion lies in helping couples and families experience restored relationships and healing.

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