This topic hits hard for one reason. I watched someone I love dearly go through the trauma of betrayal in a relationship. My brother had to learn about his wife’s infidelity through the whispers of neighbors. Apparently, she was and had been involved with his best friend for a very long time. Statistically speaking, more men than women cheat in relationships. 20% for men and 13% for women, according to a study. So, it’s easy to imagine the devastation and emotional turmoil my sibling had to go through. That got me thinking about relationship betrayal, why it happens, the impact, and how to deal with it.
To get some answers, I spoke with psychologist Nandita Rambhia (MSc, Psychology), who specializes in CBT, REBT, and couples counseling. Counseling psychologist Kavita Panyam (Masters in Psychology and international affiliate with the American Psychological Association), who has been helping couples work through their relationship issues for over two decades, also gave valuable insight into dealing with betrayal and overcoming the pain and hurt.
What Is Betrayal In A Relationship?
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Betrayal in a relationship is that feeling of deception, hurt, or abandonment by someone you care about. Feeling betrayed in a relationship is the outcome of shattered trust and vulnerability you entrusted an intimate partner with. For my brother, this was the woman of his dreams. It would have never crossed his mind that she would betray him, worst of all, with his best friend. The effects of betrayal in marriage really took a toll on him.
Nandita says, “Rules of society have dictated monogamy as the morally correct choice to promote a false sense of ‘civilization’. But we’re all genetically predisposed to non-monogamy. Our DNA resists monogamy in varying degrees. But that’s still no excuse for cheating on and hurting your partner. Betrayal of trust in a relationship is devastating nonetheless, no matter how one tries to rationalize it. ”
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Types Of Betrayal In A Relationship That Cause Trauma
It’s hard to define betrayal in a relationship because there are so many forms of it. Also, what one partner would view as betrayal due to subjective interpretation may not be viewed by another as a betrayal. So, let’s explore the different types of relationship betrayal that be traumatic to the person at the receiving end:
- Infidelity: Like in my brother’s case, infidelity involves physical or emotional intimacy with someone outside the relationship. This type of betrayal hurts so much because it is an undeniable violation of the trust that is so critical in romantic relationships. Whether it is physical or emotional infidelity, a one-time event, or an ongoing affair, trust and boundaries are violated. Kavita explains, “Infidelity isn’t just sleeping with someone other than your partner. It could also be when you are caught sexting, this can have an impact on the mind, body, and soul. Romantic partner betrayal makes you feel helpless, unstable, and insecure. I have seen the discovery of betrayal resulting in anger, silent treatment, and resentment.”
- Broken promises: When one partner constantly breaks commitments, it becomes hard to trust them. The resulting feelings are insecurity, disappointment, and an impending feeling of future betrayal.
- Lies and deception: Every time my brother’s wife went to meet her lover, she would be lying and deceiving her husband. That dishonesty shatters trust and brings in an atmosphere of suspicion
- Lack of respect: The philandering lady resorted to being rather critical and neglectful of my brother, which amounts to emotional betrayal in a relationship. The continuous hurt did some major damage to their already fragile relationship.
- Financial betrayal: A partner will feel betrayed if there’s financial infidelity, resulting in stress, resentment, and insecurity in a romantic relationship
- Emotional distance: My brother shared that his wife started withdrawing affection and intimacy — another classic form of emotional betrayal. That should have been a red flag since she was someone who had a high sex drive. Well, she was getting her needs met, not just by my brother though
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Signs of betrayal in a relationship
Recognizing the signs of betrayal in a relationship is not easy. “Betrayal in a relationship could be of subtler kinds. Lying or withholding information comes under the ambit of betrayal just like other forms such as sexual or emotional infidelity as well as financial betrayal. If there’s any chance for the relationship to heal, then the partner who has caused the hurt must be completely honest about why they betrayed their partner. They must show genuine remorse and the will to make amends consistently,” says Nandita.
Listen to your gut and watch out for the following signs of betrayal in a relationship.
- Changes in communication, such as secretiveness and withdrawal
- Behavioral changes like late nights and unexplained absences
- Financial changes such as hidden expenses, which can be a sign of financial infidelity
- Sexual changes such as loss of intimacy or interest in sex
- Physical changes such as sudden interest in weight loss or how they dress, etc
- Emotional changes such as irritability, mood swings, loss of interest, etc
Psychological reasons for betrayal
When a spouse betrays your trust, it is so hurtful. So, why would one partner willingly hurt the other? What is the trigger behind the betrayal of trust in a relationship? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer, as betrayal is a complex issue. Some underlying psychological reasons include:
- Need for control through sexual or emotional infidelity, emotional abuse, or financial infidelity
- Insecurity and low self-esteem, thus the need for external validation
- Fear of intimacy or attachment issues, thus self-sabotaging behavior
- The excitement of risky, secretive behavior
- When one partner has unmet needs in a romantic relationship
- Mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression resulting in reckless or impulsive behavior
Understanding the underlying reason behind the betrayal of trust in a relationship can be a crucial step toward finding a solution to prevent a recurrence.
Why Does Betrayal Hurt So Much?
When a spouse betrays your trust, it can feel like someone has stuck and knife in your gut and is slowly turning it. The effects of betrayal in marriage can be gutting and it takes time to forgive a cheating partner. That’s because betrayal hits at the very core of what we need in relationships, whether romantic or not. Humans crave intimacy, security, and trust. Anything that interferes with that will trigger betrayal trauma in a relationship, bringing up emotions like:
- Pain and anger, which are natural responses to betrayal in an intimate relationship
- Confusion and doubt can impact one’s self-esteem
- Insecurity and fear due to worries about future betrayal
- Sadness and grief for the loss of trust
A Reddit user sums up the answer to “why does betrayal hurt so much” and explains the impact of betrayal trauma in a relationship rather well. “It hurts to have people treat you like trash. It hurts that they can treat you like trash, and you bear the pain while they move on because they never cared about you, and you cared about them. The best you can do is feel your feelings, tell yourself “Yup, this sucks”, not do anything about it, and distract yourself by doing good things for yourself. Living well is really the best revenge. And time really does heal,” they say.
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Betrayal In A Relationship: Ways It Impacts Relationships
It is hard to define betrayal in a relationship because of the emotional aspect. Being betrayed by someone you love, especially in intimate relationships, is a hard pill to swallow. The effects of betrayal in marriage or a relationship include:
- Erosion of trust: The basis of any healthy relationship is trust. Once you damage this foundation, it will be difficult to rebuild intimacy and vulnerability
- Communication breakdown: Without trust, open and honest communication is not possible with the betrayed person
- Loss of intimacy: When you are feeling betrayed in a relationship, intimacy, and emotional connection fly out of the proverbial window
- Resentment and anger: Like a slow burning fire, hurt and anger simmer below the surface. Eventually, it will consume any intimacy or love that existed in the relationship
A Reddit user shares her experience of betrayal, “I have developed major trust issues, insecurities, and resentment towards him, and I often get really triggered by things romantic or seeing other couples in love and things like that, as I feel I can’t have that with him due to the blocks I have formed towards him.”
The aftermath of betrayal is very painful, and you may struggle to figure out what to say to your husband who betrayed you, how to communicate with a wife who betrayed your trust, or how to forgive a partner for betraying you. Unfortunately, there’s no script.
Nandita says, “Whatever you say will be emotional. But the rational statements would be those that are straightforward and express what you want to know. If you want to learn how to deal with betrayal, ask questions that will let you know whether you can ever trust your partner again, and based on that, make your decision.”
Try something like, “I am deeply hurt by your betrayal and would like to know why it had to happen.” It’s about getting clarity without resorting to anger. But is it all doom and gloom? No, there’s hope of overcoming the betrayal trauma in a relationship. Let’s see what the experts have to say about how to deal with betrayal.
How To Deal With Betrayal In A Relationship
A reader wrote to Bonobology’s panel of experts, asking, “I just discovered my husband grossly betrayed me, how do I cope with that?” When you’re dealing with betrayal from an intimate partner, such confusion is not uncommon. Finding out that your partner/wife/husband is cheating will bring in a whole range of emotions.
It’s important to take the right steps to deal with it, including couples therapy, individual therapy, or even ending the relationship. But the good news is that one day, the betrayal in the relationship will be nothing but a bad experience you got over. Let’s look at how to deal with betrayal from your partner:
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1. Give freedom to your emotions
You are hurt, betrayed, angry, and experiencing a whole range of emotions. At this stage, don’t even think about how to forgive someone who betrayed you or how to get over betrayal in a relationship without making things messy. Emotion regulation, while important, can be a bad thing if you stifle your emotions.
Let it all out, keeping the pain of emotional betrayal inside will only hurt you more and fill you with self-doubt over your own worth. Also, there’s no timeline you must adhere to, so never feel pressured to move on until it makes sense for you to do so.
2. Give yourself time to heal
Can you heal after being cheated on and stay together? Can you learn how to forgive someone who betrayed you? Nandita says, “Healing will not be an instant or easy job. There are no shortcuts or magic solutions to figuring out how to get over betrayal in a relationship. It’ll require constant efforts from the partner who broke the trust. A few things that help are respect for each other through the healing process. There must also be clear communication that you both want the relationship to heal and get back to a committed one. You must also support each other with compassion and understanding that it was a human mistake.”
3. Prioritize self-care
Dealing with betrayal of trust in a relationship is not very different from going through post-breakup depression. Your physical and mental health will take a beating during the healing process. Betrayal trauma is real and causes tons of emotional pain. Prioritize your well-being by eating well, getting enough sleep, and putting yourself first. You can worry about how to forgive someone who betrayed you later.
4. Lean on your support community
Talk to someone you trust to help during these tough times. It feels good to have emotional support when dealing with romantic betrayal. It’s important that you feel supported as you work to overcome betrayal. If you’re wondering how to get over betrayal in a relationship, leaning on a loved one for support and comfort can give you the strength to take the first step toward healing.
Taking responsibility for the betrayal and acknowledging a romantic partner’s hurt is a critical step in forgiveness in relationships. On how to forgive someone who betrayed you, Nandita says, “Forgiveness is possible. You can still build a successful relationship after cheating. It depends on the mindsets, personalities, commitment, and maturity levels of the partners.
“If the person seeking amends can empathize with this new aspect of their partner and realize that people are vulnerable, can make mistakes, and are willing to forgive and move on, then this new relationship has a chance of survival.” Remember, forgiving does not equal condoning the act. But it becomes easier to free yourself of the anger and resentment.
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6. Get professional help
The resulting betrayal trauma is overwhelming and may impact your physical and mental health. Consider counseling instead of suffering in silence. Couples therapy or individual therapy can assist with betrayal trauma.
Kavita says, “Betrayal can have a deep impact on a couple’s emotional connection. Many people want to apologize for the consequences of betrayal. But, the partner who feels insulted and humiliated may not be in a frame of mind to be receptive to these apologies. That’s why I do acceptance therapy after the impact of the shock has worn off and the betrayed partner can think logically and calmly. After accepting the situation, some betrayed partners want to take a break and go through therapy.
“Some people want to heal together and work through the sorrow of losing the primary connection. They start again as friends, then go on to being lovers, and then parents. We can see that trajectory sometimes when there’s betrayal in love relationships.” If you’re looking for help, Bonobology’s counseling service is only a click away.
7. Get ready for a new relationship dynamic
If you’re wondering how to get over betrayal in a relationship, know that you can’t just go back to the status quo once the betrayal has come to light. Expect plenty of changes to the relationship dynamic. Nandita says, “It’s not possible to get back into the same relationship if you decide to forgive and move on. You’ll be starting from scratch and entering a new relationship altogether. You now view the relationship and your partner in a new way. If you’ve made the journey of healing so far, then it’s a matter of time to see if the relationship works out or not.
“When working with such clients, I’ve seen that their relationship doesn’t heal completely. It just continues in a different form. It takes a long time, more than 6 months, for them to get back on track. It remains a work in progress for a long time to come, sometimes for as long as they are together.”
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8. Rebuilding trust
An important — and perhaps the hardest — component of how to deal with betrayal and heal is rebuilding trust. So, what is the process of rebuilding trust? Some simple yet effective tips include the following.
- Taking responsibility for the act and what could have led to the betrayal. Both partners need to do this. In retrospect, my brother admitted to neglecting his wife because of his career demands. While that is no justification for his wife’s infidelity, different people respond to difficult life situations differently
- Gradually rebuilding intimacy to create that physical and emotional connection in the intimate relationship
- What is betrayal in a relationship? It’s the feeling of deception or hurt by someone you care for
- Why does betrayal hurt so much? Because it hits at the core of what makes relationships strong: trust
- Why does betrayal hurt so much? Because it hits at the core of what makes relationships strong: trust
- Getting professional help to deal with betrayal trauma is an effective solution to how to get over betrayal in a romantic relationship
- There are numerous psychological reasons for betrayal, including the need for control, low self-esteem, fear of intimacy, unmet needs, etc
Being betrayed by someone you love proved to be the breaking point in my brother’s marriage. Unfortunately, even counseling did not help since he could not overcome the fact that his best friend was involved. However, not every relationship meets that fate. It is possible to overcome betrayal in a relationship and rebuild trust once again. But don’t feel pressured to adhere to a particular timeline. Take all the time you need to truly forgive and move on.
There are numerous reasons why people betray others. It could be love, lust, greed, revenge, or jealousy. But in intimate relationships, betrayal happens when a person cheats, messes up with finances, gets into nefarious activities, or is even battling drug addiction.
Betrayal of any kind is painful, and it is very hard to heal from the betrayal trauma. Though it’s difficult to say which the ultimate betrayal is, it seems cheating, plotting a partner’s death, and financial infidelity are the worst kinds of betrayals.
Betrayal is extremely painful because your trust in your intimate partner is completely shattered. Trust helps build all relationships. Playing with trust is like breaking down the foundation pillars of a building.