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Picking up the Pieces After the Betrayal of CheatingIt must be cellular: Men and women automatically feel humiliated when their partner cheats, even though they themselves have done nothing to be ashamed of.

Too often, people feel embarrassed for their partner’s behavior, whether it’s domestic violence, emotional abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, gambling, or sex addiction. Too often, those addicts and abusers shift the blame onto their wives and husbands. It’s called “blaming the victim.”

But the truth is that we are only responsible for our own behavior and others are responsible for theirs.

Betrayal is a devastating assault upon our ability to trust — to trust in ourselves, other people, our sense of justice, even God. It can affect our self-esteem, if we let it. For some people, the worst part of adultery is the dishonesty — sharing our life with someone whom we discover has been living a lie day in and day out. We start to doubt our own senses, let alone our own attractiveness. Who was he or she, really?

We go over in our mind past intimate moments and wonder what he or she was thinking. We recall clues and doubt that we dismissed, and wonder what we were thinking. When the truth finally comes out, along with the pain is a sense of relief, because it validates what we intuitively suspected. But then we wonder if he or she loved me all those years — was it all fake? Was I in love with a fraud? We can begin to distrust our judgment in the future. Can I trust or “love” again? Can I trust another man or woman?

When our partner was unfaithful with someone we know, care for and trust, we suffer betrayal by two people. Sadly, it happens that spouses betray one another with their mate’s housekeeper, best friend, or sibling. The pain of the double betrayal is horrendous.

Rebuilding trust can be a long process. Building bridges of empathy with each other can only begin when the betrayer takes responsibility. Sometimes, adultery is a symptom of problems in the marriage — a lack of open communication, sex, or emotional intimacy. Other times, it’s an act of anger or a way to stake out some freedom or independence in lieu of setting boundaries or expressing anger directly with one’s spouse. It can be viewed as an act of defiance.

That doesn’t mean it’s the other person’s fault. It means that the relationship itself and both partners need help in changing their communication patterns and developing a healthier intimate connection.

Addiction is rampant in America — our codependent country — and sex addiction is rarely talked about. An addict’s family life is built upon shame and secrecy that eats away at everyone’s self-esteem. We are never responsible for someone else’s behavior, nor does it reflect upon our worth. Only our actions reflect on us. If you’ve been betrayed, stop every self-doubt that creeps into your mind. Your value, and your self-respect, aren’t tarnished one iota.

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How to Survive Betrayal

Forgive yourself for the blindness that put you in the path of those who betrayed you. Sometimes a good heart doesn’t see the bad. 

Betrayal is one of the most painful human experiences. Discovering that someone we trusted has deeply hurt us pulls the reality rug from under us.

When we see the word “betrayal” we may immediately think “affair.” But betrayal comes in many forms. Abandonment, vicious gossip, and spreading lies also may be experienced as betrayal.

A damaging aspect of betrayal is that our sense of reality is undermined. What felt like solid trust suddenly crumbles. Our innocence is shattered. We’re left wondering: What happened? How could this happen? Who is this person?

Some betrayals leave us with little choice but to heal and move on with our lives, such as when we’re suddenly abandoned.

Affairs are more complex. Should we gather our dignity and end the relationship? Or, is there a way to maintain our dignity while attempting to heal and rebuild trust?

A serious betrayal puts us in a situation where we need to discern what’s best for us. It’s complicated.

Perhaps love is still alive and our partner admits his or her mistake and expresses remorse. Would it be a courageous risk to give our partner another chance or a foolish mistake to trust again? Rather than act impulsively, we may serve ourselves by taking time to sort out our feelings and find some clarity about what’s best for us.

Repeated expressions of heartfelt sorrow and regret by the betrayer may offer some hope for healing. Couples therapy may offer a safe place to hear each other’s feelings and uncover longstanding issues that may have created a climate for betrayal. Perhaps with helpful support, the betrayed person can take a risk to reveal vulnerable feelings that lie beneath the initial anger and outrage.

As Janis Abrahms Spring puts it in her excellent book, After the Affair, “If you’re feeling indignant, try to risk showing the soft underbelly of your anger — the fear, the hurt, the humiliation that lie beneath it.”

In some situations, we may not have contributed to the betrayal (except perhaps by making an unfortunate choice for a partner). We’re suddenly hit by something that comes out of the blue.

In other instances, when we’re reeling from a devastating loss, it’s easy to succumb to the role of a victim — and refuse to explore whether we had some part in creating a climate ripe for betrayal.

It takes courage to consider whether we might have played some unknowing role in a betrayal. Maybe we neglected our partner in some subtle way. Maybe we didn’t listen well when she tried to express her feelings. Or, we repeatedly overrode his concerns and desires with our own pressing needs.

We may not have noticed how our lack of attentiveness created a growing resentment that led our partner to find someone who offered kindness, listening or affection not present in the partnership.

Of course, such possible lapses of mindful awareness do not excuse the betrayer for their behavior; perhaps they couldn’t find the courage to face potential conflict by expressing their needs and wants more assertively. But we might find greater compassion if it’s true that we played some role in the matter.

The possibility that we co-created a climate for betrayal can be an empowering realization. It offers a basis for hope that we might find some resolution by facing the issues that were being ignored in the relationship. In this case, betrayal can be a wakeup call. And just as a broken bone can become stronger after it heals, the relationship might grow stronger as we share our hurt, feel heard and respected, and communicate in a more authentic way.

Betrayal is a complex topic to write about. Circumstances vary greatly. And our personal tolerances for uncertainty and emotional pain differ.

Yet betrayal is an unavoidable human experience — one that may help us move toward deeper wisdom and maturity. Growth and transformation rarely come without pain.

As expressed in my book, Love & Betrayal:

“By courageously confronting the inevitable abandonments, rejections, and betrayals that life brings us, we can heal the hurts of our heart, discover new aspects of ourselves, and find a greater degree of safety in relationships and in life. Betrayal in its many forms can become, in effect, the unwelcome rite of passage that ushers us toward a brighter understanding of what love is and what love isn’t — what helps love grow, and what destroys it.”

Experiencing betrayal invites us to be kind and gentle toward our pain, allowing ourselves time to heal and understand ourselves — and perhaps our partner — more deeply.