Partner Betrayal Trauma: Part I
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
On the journey to find love and intimacy, it's not unusual to hear advice similar to what is written on a Hallmark card. In our society when it comes to partnership, we often hear things like: “Don't settle until you meet your soulmate”, or “Search long and hard until you find the right person, your person.” But what does all of that even mean? For many, finding your person means having a connection of the minds, mutual respect, and your consistent giggle buddy or shoulder to cry on. What we don't hear from family, friends, loved ones, and hallmark cards is that even when you find your person they can suddenly become a stranger overnight. This is the devastating reality of intimate partner betrayal trauma. You uncover that your partner has been keeping secrets from you and has broken your sense of reality. The life you thought you had is no longer and the person you thought you knew has violated your trust.
Professor Jennifer Freyd describes that the betrayal trauma from a parent to a child occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that person’ s trust or well-being. Partner betrayal is similar because we look to find a secure attachment to our partners, which is the closest attachment we have had since the attachment with our earliest caregivers. The significance of partner betrayal is directly connected to the depth of the attachment wound. The comfort and closeness that co-regulation with a partner brings is the very thing which becomes a nightmare of a wound through betrayal.
Finding out about infidelity can feel like your life just got turned upside down and you've become unhinged from reality. Uncovering your partner's emotional, sexual, and/or financial infidelity is known as “Discovery”. This is the moment where secret sexual or romantic behaviors are discovered. Discovery can cause devastating impacts to your mind, body and soul. It can cause you to question internalized beliefs about yourself and life as you know it. You learn about secrets that have been kept from you months, years, or even decades into your relationship. An alternative life was being led by the person who you depended on. You are shaken to your core by the person you once saw as your safe haven and secure base. As a result, your ability to remain open and emotionally safe in your partnership as well as with others has been shattered. After discovering your partner has betrayed your trust it is very common to experience a sequence and range of emotions flooding in. These emotions may leave you unable to know how to react or respond in ways that feel confusing and unnatural to you. Life post discovery can remove you from how you normally perceive reality, lower your self esteem and impact your day to day functioning and ability to move onward. Some common reactions to discovery by partners in the early stages post discovery are:
Shock and disbelief
Difficulty trusting yourself and others
Second guessing and self doubting yourself
Desire for revenge
Triggers from external sources such as (sex scenes on tv, cheating portrayals in media, etc)
Pulling away from your partner and then wanting to get close
The reactions above can last for weeks and even months and can be exacerbated by further discoveries about your partner's infidelity. Usually, during this time, more lies and denial are brought to light which can lead to further discoveries. As a result you continue experiencing triggers and your body and mind are responding to the turmoil. The betrayal by your partner cuts deep and will leave you with many questions about the betrayal and what to do or where to go next. These feelings also create tremendous isolation for you. One of the most difficult parts of the betrayal is that it can often lead to self blame and shame. Healing is possible and finding support from others who understand what you are going through is crucial- you do not have to go through this alone.
In Part 2 of this blog post series on Partner Betrayal Trauma you will learn why this type of betrayal is considered a trauma and how the effects of betrayal trauma mimic the effects of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
If you are seeking immediate support as a betrayed partner you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-607-7922 to speak with a therapist who specializes in partner betrayal. ***Seen Therapy is starting a new 12 week therapy group for Betrayed partners. To learn more about the group or get support from a therapist or Certified Partner Trauma Therapist at Seen Therapy, contact us today****