Marriage is a publicly committed relationship that comes with deep connection, great joys, and, at times, challenges. Betrayal in marriage happens when one spouse is disloyal to their commitment and severs trust in the partnership. Repairing the effects of betrayal on a marriage is a difficult process that takes time, patience, and recommitment from both partners.
Healing from a betrayal in your marriage is a process that can involve three phases and fifteen steps. Phase one focuses on the realization of the betrayal, phase two is on effectively acknowledging the situation, and phase three is on recovering and repairing your relationship. Read on to get over betrayal in a marriage.
Can a Relationship Survive Betrayal?
Betrayal in a marriage is any situation where one spouse is disloyal to their commitment to the other spouse. The deepest and most painful betrayal that exists is infidelity. Infidelity causes a great deal of heartbreak and grief through its undermining of the marriage’s foundation.
Affairs look differently depending on the couple in question. For some, infidelity might include an emotional affair or an online relationship. For others, the affair may exist as a physical relationship and connection with someone outside of the marriage, which wasn’t previously agreed upon (as it might be with polyamous couples). Whatever the affair looks like, it doesn’t negate the pain and hurt that results from the betrayer’s actions.
Though betrayals cause severed trust, it doesn’t have to mean the end of the relationship. There are steps that can be taken to help you and your spouse mend the marriage and begin healing. But, you have to realize healing is not a linear process. Instead, it is full of ups and downs, and sometimes the end result may be different than what you initially set out to achieve.
Due to the complicated nature of this healing process, you may want to consider reaching out for professional support. The best resource for support in a marital betrayal is a counselor who specializes in relationships. I know finding a counselor can be challenging, so maybe consider an online resource that helps support you through the process. Regain.us is an online platform where you can find licensed counselors who specialize in marital problems and is a simple place to start.
15 Steps to Get Over Betrayal In A Marriage
These fifteen steps to help heal from betrayal are broken into three phases. The first five steps focus on finding out about the affair, sitting with your emotions, and finding sources of support.
The next steps focus on the direct acknowledgment of the betrayal with your spouse. It requires direct communication and painful decisions and is best done with the support of a professional.
The last five focuses on healing your trust with yourself and with others around you. Deep betrayal in your marriage can start to affect how you interact with others. You may start distrusting others or isolating yourself. This is why taking time to focus on your own needs and healing is an important final phase.
Phase 1 – Realization Phase
Step #1 – Take a step away
The first step in healing from a betrayal is to take a step away from the situation. After hearing about a spouse’s affair, you may have a hard time processing all the information. By taking some time away from the situation you will have space to regain clarity of the details as well as your emotions regarding the affair.
When you receive news that your spouse has betrayed your trust, it is common for your nervous system to go into fight, flight, or freeze mode. By taking time away, you can begin to ground yourself and get in touch with the emotions underneath your nervous system’s survival response.
Step #2 – Feel your emotions
After you have taken time away to breathe and gather your thoughts, it is important to identify what you are feeling. In distressing situations, it may feel natural to try and ignore the painful emotions, shove them down, and go into “fix-it” mode. However, feeling emotions is an essential part of true healing and moving through the hurt.
Emotions don’t just go away because you ignore them. Instead, they start manifesting in other unhealthy ways. You might start retaliating against your spouse, trying to hurt them in the same way they hurt you. You might turn to destructive behaviors like drinking or binge eating to try and numb the pain.
Instead, take a moment and identify what you are feeling. Common emotions attached to betrayal are anger, sadness, shame, and confusion. You may feel all of these things or only some, neither is right or wrong. The important thing is to allow the emotional space to exist.
Step #3 – Reach out for support
As humans, we are hardwired for connection. We are social creatures and it’s okay to need support in painful situations. After identifying your emotions, consider who you could call for support. You don’t have to tell this person everything you are going through, but even connecting with another person has been scientifically proven to help us regulate our nervous systems.
Step #4 – Grieve the loss of trust
The next step in the healing process is to allow yourself time to grieve the loss of trust in your marriage. Grief can look different for each person, but a universal piece of the grieving process is a raw and vulnerable acknowledgment of the loss.
With this acknowledgment comes another wave of painful emotions. Allow yourself time to cry, be angry, be confused, or feel crushed. By feeling the effects of the grief, you are validating the severity of your spouse’s actions. This validation helps you move through the healing process fully and authentically.
Step #5 – Collect your thoughts
The last step in this first phase is collecting your thoughts. This is the time to be alone and reflect on where you stand in this situation. Where are your emotions? What might you want to express to your spouse? What are your initial thoughts on how much effort you want to put into repairing this relationship?
If this isn’t your spouse’s first affair or if the affair was long-lasting and extensive, you may find that you don’t want to proceed with this relationship. You are allowed to create this boundary and voice your level of investment in the future of your marriage.
Phase 2 – Acknowledgment Phase
Step #6 – Face the betrayal
Depending on the severity of the affair, this may or may not look like speaking directly with the betraying partner. During the step when you collect your thoughts, it can be evaluated and decided whether direct communication with the betrayer would be effective.
If you, the betrayed partner, want to discuss the situation with your spouse, this is best done in the presence of a licensed professional that specializes in marital issues. If you are confused about where to start in finding a professional to meet with, Regain.us is a simple and effective resource. Their online therapy services connect you with a licensed relationship counselor that is able to work with you and your specific schedule and needs. (Click here to read our full overview on Regain counseling)
Step #7 – Communicate your emotions
Communicating your emotions to your spouse can be an effective and relieving release of pent-up feelings. Until you put to words what you are feeling, only you can know how the breach of trust affected you. To begin communicating, try starting with identifying the emotion or emotions you feel the deepest, for example, hurt, sadness, anger, and so on. Then, frame this emotion in an “I statement” that labels your feelings as your own.
As the conversation continues, try to name the feelings that arise in addition to your initial reactionary feelings. Saying them out loud in real-time can aid you in processing the event.
Sometimes giving specific examples of what happened to make you feel a specific emotion can be also helpful.
Step #8 – Take time to honor your emotions before moving to “fix-it” mode
Once you have expressed your emotions, taking time to honor what you’re feeling is a crucial next step in addressing an act of betrayal. Doing this before attempting to enter “fix-it” mode, which is an attempt to reconcile the action and feelings, allows you the space to have your real feelings witnessed.
Step #9 – Develop a plan for moving forward
In this step, even agreeing to make a plan to move forward can feel like a victory. Deciding to develop a plan reflects a mutual acknowledgment of the breach of trust and respect for moving through it together. What kind of plan you both agree to will be largely dependent on whether the feelings to continue investing in the relationship are present or not.
It is important that once a plan is set in place, the plan contains goals that are specific, manageable, achievable, realistic, and timeable. Doing so ensures that each partner has something well-defined to work towards.
Step #10 – Give yourself and your partner clear steps to take in repairing
With goals established, creating steps to reach those goals makes the sometimes daunting task of repairing a broken relationship more achievable. It is up to you and your partner to decide what the exact steps are. In any case, it is essential that you both agree to these steps.
Some examples could be increased transparency regarding daily activities, or extended time apart while feelings are still raw. Communicating these steps as expectations also requires follow-through on the step and a dedicated time to review if this step has been achieved in a set timeframe.
Phase 3 – Repairing Phase
Step #11 – Offer yourself forgiveness
It might seem counterintuitive to forgive yourself after a betrayal, but commonly the blame for a betrayal ends up landing on the betrayed. A person might ask themselves how they missed the signs, or what they did wrong to deserve this. Realizing that you, the betrayed, are not to blame, and working on owning what is and isn’t yours furthers your healing.
To forgive yourself, you could say the words out loud or write them down. Forgiving yourself doesn’t have to be a singular event either. Forgiving yourself each day, at least once a day, helps you to believe it, and helps to heal the pain of betrayal.
Step #12 – Take care of yourself
Many of these steps are geared toward you and your spouse. Focusing so much of your mental energy on your relationship may prevent you from caring for your own needs. Take time to check in with yourself. Are you taking the time to eat well-rounded meals? Are you showering, getting outside, or going to bed early enough? Your self-care is essential in making sure you are emotionally available to show up during this healing process.
Step #13 – Take time to repair trust with yourself
Trusting yourself after a betrayal can be scary. You might have doubts about whether you can trust yourself with your emotions or your ability to go about your daily routine. Taking things one step at a time helps break down large tasks. If you’re struggling with daily tasks, reading affirmations can reinforce the belief that you can handle this difficult time in your life.
Step #14 – Realize trust and forgiveness of your partner will take time
This can be a very difficult step to conceptualize, as an inevitable question that arises from this step is ok, but how much time? Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer for this. Once you’ve become open to the possibility of trusting and forgiving your spouse, allow yourself to accept that healing is messy, and doesn’t come with a set timeline.
Step #15 – Open up to others to practice trusting again
Opening yourself up to trusting others again is the last step in this healing process. This step can seem like the most impossible, and very often, take the most amount of time. As with the previous steps, deciding when to trust again is entirely up to you. Some of us are more trusting than others. Putting your trust in another person can’t be forced, and always comes with a bit of risk. Ultimately, you owe it to yourself to take the time you need to trust again.
How long does it take to get over a betrayal in a marriage?
According to Dr. Schachar, a licensed psychologist, there is no exact time frame for getting over betrayal in a marriage. It is common for emotions to cycle back to the surface for extended periods of time, even after concluding the above-mentioned steps. Dr. Schachar says that, even with the help of a licensed professional, the healing process takes at least a year, so that you and your spouse can go through an entire cycle of holidays and birthdays.
How to know if you should leave your spouse after a betrayal?
Some key signals that it might be right to leave your spouse following a betrayal are as follows:
Your spouse won’t take responsibility for their wrongdoing and, instead, blames others.
Your spouse remains in contact with the person they cheated on you with.
Your spouse continues to lie to you.
Your spouse cheats again.
A marriage’s foundation of love, commitment, and trust can feel shattered following an act of betrayal, but these fifteen steps can help you move toward a place of healing. These steps can help you understand, communicate, and move through your emotions surrounding the betrayal so that you can open yourself up to trusting others again in the future.