The Path to Feeling Safe Again: Overcoming Betrayal and Rebuilding Trust

It is no small task to overcome betrayal trauma and rebuild trust within a relationship, but it is possible to start again and have the close partnership you’re both seeking. Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT explains that betrayal can be a kind of “soul-murder.” In order to heal after a betrayal the participating partner (the one who did the betraying) needs to understand the trauma caused by the betrayal. In this blog, we’ll explore what betrayal trauma is, as well as the steps involved in potentially rebuilding trust for both the participating partner, and the injured partner, as well as for the couple as a whole.

What is Betrayal Trauma? 

Betrayal trauma is a theory proposed by Jennifer Freyd. Freyd states, “Betrayal trauma occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that person’s trust or well-being” (2008). Betrayal trauma in romantic relationships stems from the rupture of trust, and trust serves as the foundation of relationships. In Episode 27 of the podcast ‘Helping Couples Heal,’ they discuss that, “In certain kinds of betrayal, the brain is injured because the victim doesn’t actually know what’s true anymore—their world has been flipped upside down.” This trauma often results in PTSD.

How to Start Rebuilding Trust 

For the Participating Partner

  • First and foremost, DO NOT try to build trust if the affair or betraying behaviors are still ongoing, this can cause detrimental harm to your partner and further trauma. 
  • Be honest and practice full disclosure about the affair to prevent your partner from discovering additional information later, which could retraumatize them and further erode trust.
  • Demonstrate patience and readiness to answer questions and provide reassurance. Understand that this process likely won’t be resolved in a few conversations. Your partner may need to revisit the topic, even if things feel better or you think enough time has passed. 
  • Explore the root cause of the betrayal. Often the betrayer isn’t only hurting their partner but hurting themselves in the process by sabotaging the connection. As you delve into this, you may encounter feelings of shame and/or guilt stemming from your actions. It’s important to extend compassion to yourself as you navigate this process.

For the Injured Partner 

  • Self-care is essential. How can you nourish yourself and attune to your own needs during this time? Engage in self-soothing activities and pursue things that bring you happiness and comfort. 
  • Communicate your emotions to your partner using “I” statements to express your feelings without resorting to accusations (Gaspard, 2021). For example, you might say, “I feel so sad and hurt”. This can be hard to do especially early on into the healing process.
  • Once your partner offers full disclosure about the affair/ betrayal try to steer clear of rehashing every detail of the affair, as doing so could activate additional emotional distress and deepen the pain.

For the Couple 

  • Collaborate on creating a plan that outlines clear steps and expectations. What do you need and expect from each other right now? Following through on plans can help start rebuilding that trust. For example, if committing to dedicating 30 minutes daily to a workbook is agreed upon, it’s essential to honor that commitment.
  • Invest in meaningful moments together and establish new rituals of connection. Consider activities like taking daily walks, sharing a meal together and asking each other questions from the Gottman’s Card Decks, engaging in art or craft projects, or implementing nightly check-ins. 
  • Nurture your emotional intimacy.
  • Seeking support from therapists specializing in relationship issues can offer an environment to delve into feelings of betrayal, facilitating the healing process and rebuilding trust. Counseling options include individual or couples therapy.

Resources for Healing: Infidelity Journal: For The Partner Who Has Betrayed, The Self-Esteem Workbook, Helping couples heal podcast (Episode 27).

References

Gaspard, T. (2021, October). How to build trust with your partner after infidelity. The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-to-build-trust-with-your-partner-after-infidelity/ 

Freyd, J. (2008). What is a betrayal trauma? What is betrayal trauma theory? https://dynamic.uoregon.edu/jjf/defineBT.html 

Duane, M. (2021, March 5). PACT therapy, attachment and betrayal trauma with Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT. Helping Couples Heal. https://helpingcouplesheal.com/pact-therapy-attachment-and-betrayal-trauma-with-stan-tatkin-psyd-mft/#

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