- “Perception is reality”
- “Appearances can be deceiving”
- “My brain has a mind of it’s own”
- “There are two sides to every story”
- “Life is not always as it appears to be”
1. Want trust so eagerly that you’re willing to grant it. Trust feels cozy, safe, and bulletproof against upset. Trust flourishes when everyone follows the rules that govern the relationship. Trust feels relaxed, content, and confident that the other person is really there for you. It is what babies feel in their mother’s arms, it’s what young lovers feel in each other’s arms. It’s not an exaggeration to say trust equals bliss.
2. Dislike mistrust so eagerly you’re willing to renounce it. Not trusting feels safe but it’s lonely. The person who erects walls will never be vulnerable. The person who never lowers the drawbridge is protected from all possible betrayal. Refusing to let others into your world means you’ll never be hurt again. But it’s also impossible to connect with another person when there’s a giant emotional wall between you.
3. Like overcoming any fear, go slow. Stick your toe into the trust stream and see what happens. Go for twenty minutes without checking your betrayer’s phone, credit card expenditures, or internet history. Let your partner go places without having to report back to you. If while they’re gone you feel like climbing the walls, call a friend and do something fun yourself. Get your mind off the worry and insecurity. Extend the time longer and longer until you no longer play “probation officer.”
4. Tell yourself, “People are generally trustworthy and I’m not going to let one betrayer spoil my life.”
5. Ask yourself, “How would I want my partner to treat me if I’d betrayed them? Would I want another chance?”
6. Consider forgiving. It’s a process. Do not forgive too fast. But do consider the possibility of clearing their record and starting over. If the offense is too egregious and forgiveness isn’t an option, and you still want to stay with this person let’s hope they don’t mind living with an unforgiving mate.
7. Do not use your partner as your anti-anxiety drug. This is unhealthy on so many levels. Learn how to self soothe and differentiate. It’s not their job to reassure you; it’s yours.
8. Overcome ambivalence. Alice jumped into the rabbit hole—she didn’t cling to the edges. She jumped and experienced the wonderful, terrifying, interesting Wonderland. Quit waffling, take the plunge, and experience the wonderful, terrifying, and interesting world of emotional intimacy!
When terrorists blew up the offices of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo the world, like me, was understandably outraged. This was a wanton act of insanity and brutality. Cartoonists from around the world got revenge by wielding their pens to mock, expose, and ridicule terrorism.
But nobody (to my knowledge) called attention to the fact that these satirists lobed the first grenade. They mocked others’ religion and sacred values. They poked the bear and they got mauled. The terrorists’ reaction was of course extreme, violent, and totally uncalled for. But are not satirical artists responsible for their risky provocations?
This is a tough topic; I do not want to blame victims. At the same time, victims are often responsible for contributing to (not causing) other’s reactions.
This can be the case in betrayal. While betrayers’ acts are insane, brutal, extreme, violent, and totally uncalled for, they may in fact be reactions to their partner’s provocations. I do not blame the betrayed for the betrayer’s actions, but I do hope the betrayed has a clear conscious and did not poke the bear.
“How might I have contributed to (not caused) my partner’s betrayal?”
The list of possible provocations is endless: anger, neglect, selfishness, fear, anxiety, blame, pushing a partner away, moodiness, reactivity, withholding affection, being emotionally unavailable, putting up walls, being aloof, controlling, nagging, lying, criticism, making false accusations, on and on.
The person who reserves the right to act like this and expect their partner to like it has a dilemma: they can’t have it both ways!
To win back the betrayer (if that’s your goal):
- Ask forgiveness for your role in provocation.
- Do your best to meet your partner’s needs.
- Be generous, transparent, and vulnerable.
- Be the kind of person you were when they first fell in love with you.
- Deal with your own fear of abandonment, insecurity, and mistrust which feeds your actions that contributed to (not caused) your beloved’s reactions.
One connects with their partner better with kindness, mercy, grace, forgiveness, fun, humor, gentleness, tact, and love than chronic accusations, scolding, interrogations, third degree, or unhappiness. Try a little tenderness and see what happens.
Do not “wound” from a hurt position. Being betrayed doesn’t give you a license to abuse anyone.
Remember, just as their betrayal had a negative effect on you, you might be having a negative effect on them. Look carefully for negative feedback loops, vicious cycles, and “co-created chaos.”
Next: How to Trust Again
If a restaurant gives you food poisoning, you won’t eat there anymore. They broke your trust; you move on.
If a stranger does shoddy work painting your house, you fire them. You’re not obligated to do business with them again.
If a guy sells you a lemon your trust will be shattered but who cares? You don’t live with the guy.
But if someone you love, someone you’ve spent years with, and someone you want to grow old with betrays you the issue of trust becomes super important. They broke promises, broke vows, they threw you under the bus. Things you hoped a loved one would never do happened. And the things you thought a loved one would do did not happen.
Dumping them like a bad restaurant, lousy house painter, or unscrupulous salesman sometimes isn’t an option.
To trust again means risking again. One of the sad realities of living in an unpredictable universe is that the universe is unpredictable. This includes unpredictable spouses. There are no guarantees your spouse will not betray again. There are also no guarantees that they will betray again. (If they promise to betray again, um, why are you in this relationship?)
There are no guarantees so it’s up to you to decide how to live in an unpredictable marriage (not to mention unpredictable economy, body, family, business, church, school, club, team, or neighborhood).
To quit worrying about the future trust yourself to handle whatever comes. Betrayal likely shattered your beliefs but it didn’t shatter you. Here are some new beliefs to embrace.
- It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
- My ability to trust is a virtue not a liability.
- I refuse to pay the price of mistrust.
- If I don’t have the ability to give trust it’s unlikely my partner will trust me.
- I’ll quit asking, “When is it safe to trust?” and start asking, “When is it unsafe not to trust?”
- I’ll quit waiting for a sign from heaven that it’s okay to trust again. God doesn’t deliver “Time to Trust” permission slips.
- I will set limits on how much betrayal I can endure and have an exit plan in case of an emergency.
- Uncertainty is the human condition. Trust means, “learning to live at peace with uncertainty.”
- I’ll quit waiting for trust to return. Trust is a decision.
- By keeping my partner on a short leash I’m not learning how to trust; I’m avoiding risk and trying to control the universe.
- The spiritually minded tell themselves, “I abandon myself to divine providence,” or, “Jesus was betrayed and he identifies with me,” or, “God is in control.”
Next: Betrayal and Victimhood
What does rumination look like?
- Like a cow chewing its cud; you chew the memory of betrayal over and over.
- Like a song that gets stuck in your head you replay the pain of betrayal over and over.
- Your brain won’t shut off and you ask your betrayer “Why?” a million times.
- You want to put the past behind you but fear of getting hurt again prevents you.
- Your brain gets stuck suspecting another betrayal, “What if, what if, what if?”
- You become hyper-vigilant least you get hurt again.
- Every day you check web history, phone records, and credit card expenditures.
- Your suspicious brain won’t shut off.
- When the evidence you find of betrayal turns out to be a false alarm you’re still suspicious.
How do you turn off a suspicious brain? How do you stop ruminating?
1. Focus on the areas where you do trust your partner. Do you trust them to:
- Pay bills
- Go to work like they say they are
- Be there for you
- Be faithful sexually
- Be faithful emotionally
- Tell the truth
- Raise your kids
- Own a credit card
- Get within 10 feet of a computer
- Go to a casino with self-control
- Own a smart phone
Lack of trust usually centers on one or two specific betrayals–cheating, gambling, drugging, drinking, etc. Be cautious in the areas where you don’t trust your betrayer; celebrate the areas where you do trust your betrayer. If you do not trust your spouse in any area, um….why are you with them?
2. What strengths does your relationship already possess?
- Have you successfully weathered other storms–financial, economic, employment, extended family, health, parenting, etc.?
- What would you miss if you and your partner split up–kids with two parents under the same roof, having someone to talk to, being connected to your web of extended family members, shared interests?
- Look for evidence of trustworthiness. A suspicious mind often overlooks legitimate “trust building” behaviors.
- Be wary of evidence of betrayal. Stick to the facts. Don’t judge a person based on feelings, suspicions, exaggerations, imaginations, insecurities, or jealousies.
3. Get tough with your wandering imagination. Every time you begin to ruminate:
- Snap a rubber band on your wrist.
- Make a donation to a political candidate you hate. There may be one or two out there who fit this description during this contentious political season!
- Distract yourself with more rewarding projects: work, mission, service, volunteering, hobbies.
- Write the Golden Rule on note cards and post them all over the place–car visor, bathroom mirror, wallet/purse: “I will treat my betrayer the way I’d want to be treated.” Or, “I will recall all the times I was shown grace by people I let down.” Or, “I will stop treating my betrayer in ways that I wouldn’t want to be treated.”
- Consider forgiveness. Bitterness binds you to your betrayer; forgiveness disconnects you from your betrayer. The great religious traditions of the world, especially the one I am most familiar with–Christianity–extol the virtues of forgiveness. They promote the virtue of mental self discipline. They foster mindful serenity even in the midst of dififcult circumstances. None of them, to my knowledge, require trusting the one who betrayed you. Trust and forgiveness are two different things.
Tomorrow: Trust and Risk
A person who’s been betrayed has a terrible dilemma. The thought of leaving the betrayer makes their anxiety go up; and the thought of staying and being betrayed again makes their anxiety spike even higher.
What do you do with these fears?
- Jot down your tormenting questions: “Will the person I love leave me? Will they give their time and affection to another? Will I fall from favor and be abandoned?”
- Jot down all the actions your partner can do to reassure you, make you feel safe, and reduce your anxiety.
- Be brutally honest and ask yourself, “If my partner actually did jump through all these trust-building hoops would I finally relax?”
- Realize whether or not you trust again is up to you, not your partner. If your partner is objectively untrustworthy your decision isn’t whether or not to trust him/her, but whether or not to stay with him/her.
- Learn to hate mistrust. This is one of the strategies alcoholics use to fight addiction. When the desire for sobriety becomes stronger than the pull of inebriation they change their behaviors. In the same way, when the desire for trust outweighs the fear of mistrust then they exercise trust.
- Catch yourself ruminating about the betrayal.
Tomorrow: Betrayal and Rumination
- “How could I be so stupid to not see this coming?”
- “How could I be so gullible?”
- “If only I had been more alert this never would have happened. I will never trust again and therefore never be tricked again.”
Here’s how some people deal with self-anger.
1. “How could I be so stupid to not see this coming?”
Answer: “Because I’m not God. I can’t read minds. I am not stupid; my betrayer simply was a good liar.”
2. “How could I be so gullible?”
Answer: “Store clerks who unwittingly accept counterfeit money are not gullible; they’ve been tricked. When my partner betrayed me I got tricked. If I was naive and ignored the warning signs I will forgive myself, learn a valuable lesson, and move forward.”
3. “If only I had been more alert this never would have happened. I will never trust again and therefore never be tricked again.”
Answer: “My partner didn’t cheat because I wasn’t alert. My partner cheated because they’re a cheater. My decision to choose to ever trust anyone again will be based on my desire to be close to anyone again, based on my risk tolerance, and based on my capacity to love.”
Tomorrow: Betrayal and Fear
Jealousy is the fear of being replaced. When religious people hear that God is a jealous God, they understand that to mean God does not want to be replaced. God wants to be number one. So if you feel jealous you are exercising a Godly emotion.
But it’s not Godly when jealousy turns to paranoia, control, panic, thoughts of murder, suicide, or rage.
If you idolize your partner or imagine him or her to be your ultimate source of energy, life, and purpose, you will of course become jealous even if all they do is look at another person. If you consider your partner to be the only one to satisfy your attachment hunger you will of course lose it if they betray you.
Some people manage jealousy by embracing the following beliefs.
- My partner is my lover but not my oxygen.
- I can live without their undying devotion to me.
- Others have survived the loss of trust and lived to tell about it; I can, too.
- I am attached to this person because they fit my definition of perfection: physical attributes, personality characteristics, and the way they are with me.
- Being replaced will be devastating but not utterly devastating. I will survive.
- My reaction to this betrayal is influenced by earlier betrayals in life.
- If my partner no longer loves me it does not mean I am unlovable, unloved, or unlovely.
- If my partner wants someone else it does not mean that someone else is better than me.
Tomorrow: Betrayal and Self-Anger
But when the betrayal is catastrophic and our pain is off the charts we simply can’t and sometimes shouldn’t trust again. Choosing never to trust again is one option. Do a cost/benefit analysis to help you decide if you want to trust again. Here’s a sample chart; add your own ideas.
After doing this calculation some people choose not to trust. They gamble that the benefits of mistrust will outweigh the risks of trust. Others get so fed up with the costs of not trusting that they take the terrifying leap and begin trusting again. In future posts we’ll discuss how to do that.
Tomorrow: Betrayal and Jealousy
The humiliation of being replaced by another is excruciating. “What’s wrong with me? What did I do to fall out of favor with my loved one? Why am I no longer desired by my lover?”
These questions are normal. Ruminating on them for a day, a week, or even a month isn’t unusual. But if you are tormented for years by these questions it’s time to take action. Here are some affirmations to repeat to yourself often.
- My betrayer broke their promise, not me.
- I am a keeper; my betrayer is the fool.
- Falling in love is risky; I gambled and lost and as painful as that is it’s not the end of the world.
- My rival has traits I don’t have–being a shameless thief (stealing my partner’s love).
- I have traits that they don’t have–integrity.
- I will not degrade myself, violate personal convictions, jump through unpleasant hoops, or make personal sacrifices that betray who I am in order to hang on to my betrayer.
- I am good enough…just not to my betrayer.
- I didn’t see this coming not because I’m stupid but because I’m only human.