Betrayal in a marriage or a committed relationship can blow a hole in your relationship, maybe even an irreparable one. That it comes with a vicious betrayed spouse cycle doesn’t help because this means your spouse falls back into the pattern of being unable to trust you over and over again. A betrayed husband or wife won’t forgive easily and this could make for an exhausting marital relationship.
Helping your spouse heal from your betrayal may seem like an impossible task, but it doesn’t have to be, as long as both parties genuinely want to work on the marriage and heal themselves and the relationship. But take note, it’s definitely not going to be quick, easy, or linear.
Understanding the betrayed spouse cycle itself is tough, but is integral to the process before you try and break this cycle and repair your marriage. To make your journey a little easier, we spoke to psychologist Nandita Rambhia (MSc., Psychology), who specializes in CBT, REBT, and couple’s counseling, for more insights into the vicious betrayed spouse cycle and the ways to deal with it in a healthy, intentional manner. Read on to find out more.
Understanding The Betrayed Spouse Cycle
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“The betrayed spouse cycle usually has 3 or 4 stages,” says Nandita. She outlined each of the stages to offer more clarity on how to deal with spouse betrayal and to also recognize these stages in a spouse you have betrayed.
This is the first stage in the betrayed spouse cycle and it comes with a whole range of difficult emotions. Nandita explains, “There will be shock, disbelief, desperate attempts to try and figure things out, and gather information about the discovery of the infidelity and whether to walk away after infidelity. The betrayed spouse will keep turning questions, no matter how irrational, over and over in their minds to make sense of the distress and sense of betrayal.”
The emotions that rose to the surface in the previous stage will strengthen here and manifest in physical and/or mental reaction. It is prudent to remember here, Nandita warns, that these emotions could run their gamut and still remain in the betrayed spouse’s mind and heart.
Related Reading: Confessing Cheating To Your Partner: 11 Expert Tips
“Behavioral reactions will occur in this stage. There could be shouting, fighting, walking out, wanting space, wanting to deal with it on their own, etc. There will again be endless questioning – why, what, how etc. It is beneficial if they receive honest answers to these questions rather than being dismissed. Without answers, they will remain stuck at this stage. So, answers need to be reached if they are to move on,” Nandita says.
Once the reaction, or at least the initial phase of reactions, is done, the betrayed spouse will start trying to figure out what comes next. They will try and figure out whether or not to forgive and find ways of moving on and surviving betrayal in a relationship. “Sometimes, it is difficult to forgive, but there is a sense of acceptance, which is also a way of moving on,” says Nandita. “They could also simply shut down, especially if the answers they were seeking in the previous stages were not satisfactory.”
4. Moving on
In the final stage of the betrayed spouse cycle, the betrayed spouse works on moving on, either from the betrayal or from the marriage. “This stage depends entirely on the relationship the partners have. Talking, taking action, emotional behavior, and building trust are integral here for both parties,” Nandita says.
How To Break The Vicious Betrayed Spouse Cycle – 9 Expert Tips
Understanding the betrayed spouse cycle is certainly a step closer to helping your spouse heal from your betrayal, but it’s only the first step. There are things that both spouses need to practice in the long term before healing their relationship whether it’s a breakup healing process, or figuring out how to stay together. You might assume things are better but it could just be a pretend normal after infidelity blows your relationship apart. Here are things to do to break the vicious betrayed spouse cycle.
1. Show remorse
Your spouse has discovered your infidelity, and it feels like you’re constantly walking on eggshells in your marriage. You have no idea how to fix this, or even if it can be fixed. Your spouse is, in turn, melancholic, furious, confused, and so on. There’s either an uncomfortable silence or screaming matches.
Start with showing that you’re genuinely sorry. Note that we’re saying “showing”, not “saying”. Saying sorry, no matter how much you mean it, means nothing if not followed up with action. Don’t make vague statements like, “I’m sorry for what I did.” Be specific and show them that you know what you’re apologizing for.
Related Reading: Why A Cheating Person Shows No Remorse: 17 Astonishing Reasons
Make sure you’re not acting only out of guilt. If you’re actually sorry, you need to make changes in your everyday behavior. Take responsibility for your actions, even if there was something missing from your marriage. Hold yourself accountable every step of the way because you made the choice to be a cheating spouse. That one’s on you, no matter how unhappy you were.
Mind you, this is no guarantee that your spouse will forgive you for sure. But it’s a step in the right direction if they are convinced that you do, in fact, deeply regret your actions and are willing to work on yourself and the marriage.
2. Manage triggers
“The biggest trigger is the discovery of the affair itself, whether it happens by chance or whether the unfaithful spouse makes the choice to come clean. The best way to manage this trigger is to allow the entire betrayed spouse cycle to take place and let the spouse gather all the details of what has happened. The more information they have, the more in control they feel of the situation. Otherwise, they’re clutching at straws and this exacerbates the trauma,” Nandita says.
Coming face to face with a spouse’s infidelity brings severe emotional trauma and the betrayed spouse could be triggered by the smallest of things for a long time afterward. This trauma could manifest in anything – from watching a movie about infidelity to watching you text someone while assuming it’s someone you’re having an affair with.
Be sensitive about this. You can’t predict every trigger, of course, nor can you tiptoe around your spouse’s feelings forever. But be aware that they are hurting and that things they wouldn’t have given a second thought to earlier can suddenly become major factors and cause for suspicion. Anger management in relationships won’t be the first thing on their minds. They’re trying to deal with spouse betrayal here, and like we said, it’s not going to be easy.
3. Focus on rebuilding trust
Mutual trust is the hallmark of any healthy, loving relationship and it’s the first thing to shatter when someone is attempting to deal with spouse betrayal. Unless you had agreed to an open relationship, the understanding in a marriage is that both of you are going to be faithful to each other forever. It’s what you signed up for.
Rebuilding trust is perhaps the hardest part when trying to break the vicious betrayed spouse cycle. You could be dealing with the messy aftermath of infidelity in your own way, while also trying to prove to your spouse that you can still be trusted. The worst of it is that this inability to trust spills over into other areas of life as well.
“I had an affair with my boss a few years ago. It didn’t last long, but when my husband found out, he started questioning everything about me. If I couldn’t remain faithful in a marriage, he was convinced I couldn’t be trusted to be a good mom, or take care of my parents and in-laws, or do a good job at work. He couldn’t trust me at all for the longest time,” says Callie.
Trust doesn’t come easy but can unfortunately be lost very easily. And rebuilding trust is incredibly difficult with a betrayed husband or wife. But when helping your spouse heal from your betrayal, this needs to be your focus, no matter what.
4. Seek professional help
“No matter what you ultimately decide to do, healing and moving on is important,” says Nandita. “Third party intervention could help here. It could be a friend or family member – someone you trust and look up to. And of course, seeking professional help could be enormously beneficial.”
Acknowledging that you need help and reaching out is the highest form of self-love. A marriage, in most cases, is between two people. But when it’s breaking down, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help – whether it’s a personal contact or a professional therapist.
You could opt for individual counseling to start with and then couple’s therapy as and when needed. Therapy for a betrayed spouse will help since they need to feel heard. It’s good for them to get their confusion and vitriol out of their system. Hopefully, they will remember the difference between venting and emotional dumping if they’re discussing this with a friend or family member.
As a spouse who’s betrayed their partner, you will also have your side to talk about, and a therapist will lend you a calm, impartial ear with no blame or judgment attached. If you do opt for therapy, Bonobology’s panel of experienced counselors are just a click away.
5. Understand that your relationship will not be the same
Breaking the betrayed spouse cycle needs high levels of understanding and acceptance. While the betrayed spouse will be battling with the acceptance of infidelity, the betrayer will also have to understand that even if the marriage ultimately heals and perseveres, the relationship will never return to what it was pre-infidelity.
Mind you, no relationship, no matter how stable, stays the same. Age, circumstances, feelings, they are all dynamic and changeable. A marriage, despite its assurances of stability, is also susceptible to change. But there’s a difference between natural change and the painful change that comes to a relationship when it’s been touched by betrayal.
Related Reading: How To Leave A Marriage Peacefully: 9 Expert Tips To Help
Hopefully, it’s not a ‘pretend normal after infidelity’ kind of situation, but even if you’ve worked really hard to establish trust and healthy boundaries and it feels like you’re in a good place, the scars will remain. Your spouse won’t trust you the same way, the bedrock of your marriage could forever feel a little more fragile, and it’s something you’ll have to learn to navigate anew.
Infidelity is a devastating recognition that maybe you didn’t really know the person you married at all. A betrayed spouse will need to get to know their partner all over again, that is, if they want the marriage to continue. Dealing with spouse betrayal will change them, and change the marriage.
6. Give your spouse time to grieve
We’ve already established that healing and moving on from betrayal can take varied forms and also, that it’s not going to be linear. Infidelity spells the death of your marriage and relationship as it once was. The way your spouse sees you and the way they view the marriage and the commitment is gone. And that’s why grieving is important, whether to feel better after a breakup, or just take time to reassess your marriage.
Grieving is a major part of therapy for a betrayed spouse and they need the time and space needed to do it their way. Don’t expect this to be a time-bound thing – everyone grieves differently and has to deal with spouse betrayal in their own time. So, don’t keep going at them with things like, “Why does this still bother you?” or “Can’t we get past this?”
“When I cheated on my wife, I knew it was a big deal, but I confess I didn’t understand just how much it affected her,” says Danny. “To me, it wasn’t the death knell of our marriage, it seemed like something we could move past with time and survive the marriage crisis. But I realized later that it had to be on her time, and not mine. So, instead of trying to hand her a schedule or an ultimatum, I would ask her every few weeks if we could revisit the conversation.”
7. Don’t give into temptation for further infidelity
As the definition and conversations around love and relationships expand, marriage and monogamy are no longer seen as unquestionably bound to each other. Open marriages and open relationships are spoken of and practiced, albeit surrounded by a fair amount of unease and suspicion. But if you’re trying to break the betrayed spouse cycle, you either need to stick to y%our commitment, or have an honest conversation about opening up the marriage, or then going your separate ways.
Understand that your spouse is already reeling from your betrayal. Their mind is full of bitter thoughts and imagined scenarios of you with someone else. Can you imagine how much worse it would make things if you do it again, while you’re ostensibly trying to heal your marriage? A betrayed husband or wife can only take so much. So if you’re planning to hang on to them, further infidelity is not the way to go.
If you feel you cannot commit to this marriage, be honest with them about it. Don’t get into a pretend normal after infidelity, only to repeat the whole miserable experience all over again. Maybe you’re a commitment-phobe, maybe you want to explore other relationship styles, or you just don’t want to be married to your spouse anymore. Nothing wrong with any of it, as long as you’re honest with yourself and your spouse.
8. Define and discuss the future
“Both parties need to stop looking at the past and look ahead instead. While the betrayed spouse has a lot to cope with already, they also need to understand why the infidelity happened in the first place and work on the issues at hand,” Nandita says.
This is a tough, tough one with some inevitable questions involved. Do you have a future together? Do you have a future apart? How will it be different from the future you originally envisioned together? Do you take a relationship break? A divorce? What do you tell people?
“We have two kids and we decided on a trial separation after I ended up having an affair,” says Colleen. “It was a lot to figure out, but I think we decided to settle on basic courtesy and good manners whenever we spoke or met. None of it was easy, since my spouse was and remains cautious and suspicious of me. I don’t know what the future is, but whatever we have now is better than the constant focus on what I did. In a way, we’re moving on.”
Related Reading: 7 Fundamentals Of Commitment In A Marriage
9. Know when to walk away
“Healing from betrayal has to happen on its own. Having faith in yourself, that you can handle this and move on – it goes a long way in the healing process. But there are times when a spouse cannot recover from betrayal because the distress is so intense. They cannot make peace with the trauma and want to end the relationship,” says Nandita.
She points out that this choice is also a way to move on, even if not together. It is better to walk away in a healthy manner rather than forcing a marriage that is not working out and could turn into a deeply toxic relationship.
It’s never easy to walk away from something you’ve invested time, effort, and emotion in. You had dreams of this marriage and what it would be like, how much it would change and nurture your life. And then this happened. Maybe, along the way, you were unhappy somewhere and it led to infidelity. You may think it’s better to do a pretend normal after infidelity than giving up altogether. Unfortunately, forced relationships do not work.
If your spouse has already decided that they cannot be in this marriage any longer, pressing them to stay is not doing you any favors. They will be unhappy and bitter in a marriage they no longer want to be in. And you will be unhappy, stuck with a partner who doesn’t love you the way you need. They might not even want you anymore. Harsh, but true. Far better that you part and work on yourself and maybe find new love.
To break the betrayed spouse cycle might sound like a myth, especially if the aftermath of the infidelity has been ugly and acrimonious. Please remember that even if you are the betrayer and undoubtedly at fault, you do not deserve to be emotionally or physically abused for it. Make room for your spouse’s emotional reactions, but know where to draw the line and establish healthy relationship boundaries.
Therapy for a betrayed spouse goes a long way toward healing them, even if the marriage doesn’t survive. Giving them time and space, showing deep and real remorse, and taking responsibility for what you’ve done, are all very important, and could help you recover from the betrayal. Even if the marriage falters, we hope you and your spouse get to heal from this crisis as healthy, if somewhat battered, individuals. Good luck.
A betrayed spouse experiences varied emotions – shock, disbelief, denial, grief, anger, and so on. It is important to let the betrayed spouse go through all their feelings and not hurry them to make a decision about what to do next. Forgiveness and healing cannot be rushed, especially when recovering from betrayal.
This depends wholly on the relationship the spouses have. If there has always been deep trust and friendship, it could be somewhat easier for the marriage to recover. But there are no guarantees here, as betrayal and infidelity can be a blow that even the most devoted of marriages cannot recover from.