‘Loving Wife’ Asked:
How do you get past a betrayal in your marriage?
Dr. Zoe Answered:
You didn’t specify what type of betrayal this is, so I’m going to guess that it’s probably one of the big ones—otherwise, you wouldn’t have asked the question.
When the trust in your marriage has been destroyed, when the marriage covenant has been broken, you have two choices—stay and deal or leave and heal. Staying also requires a significant amount of healing if you’re going to do it in a healthy way. In staying, you have an amazing opportunity to heal together. The betrayed isn’t the only one hurt and damaged, so is the betrayer.
Many people stay in a marriage after a big betrayal, but instead of working on the relationship, they just make each other’s lives miserable with bitterness, blame, anger, and hurt. Don’t do that. It’s not pretty, it shortens your life, it’s unhealthy for you and the kids, and you’re not doing anyone any favors, okay?
The end goal is always healing.
You get past a betrayal in your marriage by making a conscious decision that healing is your end goal and working towards that. It’s healthy and necessary to grieve the loss of the relationship that you thought you had, but you need to make some clear decisions about how you are going to move forward as well. Most of us, when faced with a huge betrayal, become frozen in time, which is the best soil for bitterness to grow. We don’t do much moving on. If you’re going to stay, don’t even consider a third option of staying in a hurt-filled situation. Work like crazy to make it better by healing and growing stronger together.
Most of us, when faced with a huge betrayal, become frozen in time, which is the best soil for bitterness to grow.
But, in order to stay and start to build trust again, there have to be some basic foundational things in place:
1. He has to recognize the extent of his betrayal (basically, he needs to take responsibility for it).
2. He needs to figure out a way to make you recognize that he is truly heartbroken and sorry about the pain that he has caused you. He needs to be grieved. (Caveat: you need to figure out what he can do to communicate this to you, and you need to ask that he do it.)
3. He needs to be non-defensive and willing to go wherever you need to go with relation to asking questions and being reassured.
If your husband exhibits all of these things, then you can absolutely get over the betrayal, and your marriage can survive this. Now, it’s up to you and how willing you are to work through this process and let it heal you instead of destroy you.
This is where you have to get over yourself. This might sound harsh, but it’s true. It’s easy to stay in a self-righteous, angry, self-protective place when you’ve been hurt. We humans hurt each other; it’s what we do when we aren’t doing nicer, more loving behaviors. Usually, it’s not purposeful. Sometimes it is. I can guarantee that you have hurt and betrayed those you loved at some point too. This is where you need to set aside ego, anger, and fear and work on replacing it with understanding, grace, and forgiveness.
It’s a journey, not a presto chango. It starts by:
1. Recognizing your self-talk and identifying your feelings. Your self-talk drives the whole trajectory of your healing process or lack of. Name your feelings so that you know what you are dealing with. [Not sure how to feel your feelings? Listen to this episode where I joined Darlene and Julie on This Grit and Grace Life: How to Feel Your Emotions in a Healthy Way With Dr. Zoe Shaw – 075.]
2. Make a practice of speaking positive, true thoughts to yourself about your husband, your marriage, and your future.
3. Don’t blame yourself. You are not the cause of anyone else’s behavior. Everyone makes their own choices. Even though you contributed to the state of the marriage, you did not contribute to his decision that led to the betrayal.
Now, it’s up to you and how willing you are to work through this process and let it heal you instead of destroy you.
4. Evaluate the intention behind the act. Did he mean to betray you? Was he trying to protect you, himself, or the relationship? Was it a slippery slope of bad choices or did he purposefully set out to hurt you? Understanding the intention allows you to face the situation head-on.
5. Talk to someone—a therapist, a pastor, a coach. Don’t walk this road alone.
6. Leave the past where it belongs. If you’ve chosen to move forward, and I hope you have, you have to regularly bring yourself back to the present by focusing on the positive aspects of your partner and the work you are both putting into the relationship, not allowing your thoughts to drift to the past.
Please note that if those traits I mentioned before are
not in place, the betrayal is ongoing, you are still being hurt and that’s why you can’t get past it. Deep down, you know this. There is nothing you can do to move forward in the relationship.
You can’t force healing when you are still being injured. The healing process starts when the injury is over.
If you realize that it’s more than an instance of betrayal, but rather an ongoing pattern of unreconciled behaviors, then you need to consider separating until he is willing to stop the continued betraying behavior. Forgiveness is a necessary part of your healing whether you choose to stay or leave, but it is almost impossible if you are continuing to live in a state of betrayal.
Whichever route you need to take, healing can and should be a part of this process. You’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace. You may also want to read a similar question I answered here: Ask Dr. Zoe – How Do I Recover From My Spouse’s Affair?
Looking for more like this? We recommend:
Ask Dr. Zoe – How Do I Recover From My Spouse’s Affair?
How My Husband and I Survived My Affair
5 Fresh Ways to Work on Your Marriage (When He Isn’t)
I Cheated: How Grace Changed My Marriage for Better
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You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: Marriage Matters: Here’s How to Invest in Yours – 062