• Couples in Crisis – Moving forward together or apart?

    After a betrayal, how does the betrayed partner decide to stay or go? 

    Sometimes relationships are hard. As a relationship therapist, one of the most difficult situations to help couples through is a betrayal. The stages of betrayal recovery require a commitment from both parties to risk being vulnerable – open and honest – and to sift through the debris left behind to see if anything can be salvaged. Couples eventually come to one of three decisions:

    • Stay together and rebuild the relationship into a Marriage #2
    • Realize that the devastation of betrayal is just too great to rebuild and they decide to move forward apart, or
    • Or continue to live in the ruins of the old relationship stuck in the devastation.

    How do you know which choice to make? And how do you avoid staying stuck in the decision? It’s harder than you may think. And here’s why.

    How therapy works

    As a relationship therapist for over 10 years, and following the principles of the Gottman Method for Trauma and Affairs, there are stages of therapy we help couples work through as they decide whether to move forward together or apart. 

    Sometimes, over time and with a lot of work, the betraying partner atones for the betrayal, the couple discover ways to help each other resolve the emotions that arise, and eventually learn to reach for each other for understanding. When the betraying partner takes personal responsibility for the betrayal and the hurt partner begins to consider if forgivness is possible and is willing to set high consequences for any future betrayal, they are on their way to create a new relationship with more openness and honesty and a new emotional intimacy can be created. When this connection is possible for both partners, the relationship heals and grows stronger.

    In some couples, the wounds are too deep and the questions of why are left unresolved. Then the couple decides to separate and move forward individually. 

    The third option some couples choose is for the hurt partner to stay but continue to suffer. The fear of the loss of the relationship and the shame of being the hurt partner who was betrayed, can fuel a sense of  powerlessness and the inability to find the strength to break free. 

    Fear of loss, shame and powerlessness

    In `Michelle Mays book “Betrayal Bind”, she talks more about the three emotions – the fear of loss, shame and powerlessness – that can keep hurt partners stuck in the healing process. Subconcious reactions based in these emotions can include setting boundaries and going back on them, seeking connection when the betraying partner pulls away in frustration or anger, and raging for control to overcome feelings of powerlessness. 

    The hurt partner continues to focus on the betraying partner instead of their own needs, and stays stuck hoping, wishing and waiting for the betraying partner to make things right. A sense of powerlessness and the belief that the hurt partner won’t make it in life alone, fuels resentment and a sense of shame at not being willing to leave the relationship. Mays states that the hurt partner begins to heal when they are willing to leave the relationship if things don’t improve and, it is in this willingness, that the hurt partner can ever decide to stay in a healthy way. 

    How to get unstuck

    After a betrayal, both parties have a decision to make – whether to stay or to go. Drs. John & Julie Gottman lay out the Atonement, Atunement, and Attachment phases of betrayal recovery. In this process, everyone has choices to make.

    The betraying partner has to decide to take ownership of the betrayal and make amends.  

    The hurt partner has to determine what atonement is – what is required of the betraying to rebuild trust and recommit to the fidelity of the relationship. Consequences for noncompliance are set, and clear actions decided if nothing changes. 

    It’s a difficult process to work through on your own. Need help? That’s what we’re here for. Give us a call today at 850.450.7223 or make an appointment here https://believehopeinspire.securepatientarea.com/portal/

    Want more insight on relationships? Find more in my blog here https://believehopeinspire.com/blog/ Whatever decision you make, be compassionate to yourself and don’t go through it alone.

    P. Dianne Presley, LCSW

    Owner/Founder Believe, Hope, Inspire Wellness Services LLC