The Unfolding Nature of Betrayal Trauma

Betrayal trauma’s not a one–time event. Life-shattering though it is, discovering the truth that your partner has betrayed you, is merely the beginning.

Why do I say that?

1. In almost all cases, that initial revelation is just the start of the discovery process. There are very few partners who are completely up front, and tell you everything, right off the bat. Instead it’s a slow and painful process of getting to the truth – often question after question, or discovery after discovery.

2. This dismantles our sense of reality, and we feel we don’t know who we are any more. The past, and our relationship, now feel like a lie. This is disorienting and traumatic.

3. However, when we think about the present, it’s traumatic as well. There are decisions to be made – but we can’t make them yet. We don’t have all the facts, and we can’t think straight. We can’t focus, concentrate, analyse, think logically … and there are so many things that we now need to consider.  

4. For some, there are serious consequences in the present. For example, there may be legal issues or financial concerns. You may have cervical cancer or an STD. These can’t be put on hold; they must be dealt with right away. 

In addition, there may be public scrutiny, and family and community issues to deal with (related to judgment, shaming, being shunned and isolated, effects on the children, and so on).

5. As if the past and the present weren’t hard enough to cope with, the future’s terrifying when you’ve been betrayed, or your partner or your spouse is addicted to sex. If it’s happened in the past, then it could happen again. Hence, you’re constantly haunted by questions like:

What if he relapses, or he cheats again?

How do I know if he’s really changed?

What if he lies or he hides things again (and he’s so good at lying that I likely couldn’t tell)?

What if he can’t change – no matter how hard he tries?

What if I end up with another STD?  

Layer on layer of questions. Layer on layer of fear. Layer on layer of worry and prolonged anxiety. The alarm bell’s always ringing. The trauma never ends. The trauma can feel chronic when the risks and stakes are high.    

Betrayal is so emotionally charged because it violates a couple’s core agreement – the promise to care for each other, and keep each other safe.”  Dr Carla M. Greco

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