Listen to all three parts of the article as an extended version on my podcast, or read part three below!
When we have been betrayed, we might think that we have discovered the truth about the other person, that they have shown their true colours, but all we have done is discovered one truth about them. We are all people with admirable qualities and people who also act from their so called shadow sides. We all act from conscious parts in us but also from fears and suppressed unconscious energies that we have learned to disown. When somebody has betrayed us they have hardly ever set out to do this on purpose but usually they have acted from their own needs, wants and desires without considering their impact on others.
Healing the trust means figuring out together what led to the betrayal and to making changes in the relationship in a way that makes another betrayal less likely. You want to have problem-identifying and problem-solving conversations. This is not about finding fault with either partner but about understanding the unconscious dynamics in our relationships.
Let’s be very clear. A betrayal is like a mugging. Just as it is not your fault that you were mugged, it is not your fault that your partner broke your trust. However, once things have calmed down emotionally, you can examine how each of you has contributed to a situation that led to broken trust. Some problems will be issues your partner needs to deal with, others, you might need to take responsibility for. You can both make changes that will make a future betrayal less likely.
Kirshenbaum shares that many years ago, her husband had an emotional affair. She analyzes, “I had in fact made it far too easy for him to go off and have an emotional affair… I was very busy. I was very impatient. I was very critical of him. I was very unsupportive when my husband was going through a difficult time himself. Somehow I had withdrawn from him… My husband’s part in the problem was that he didn’t know how to get my attention and let me know what he needed and how we were going off the rails. My part in the problem was that I ignored his needs and sent us off the rails.” (Kirshenbaum, 168/169)
The inability of one or both partners to express their needs creates huge problems in our relationships. We usually grow up believing that as adults we shouldn’t be needy. Fact is, people are only as needy as their unmet needs. Living a healthy relationship means finding out what your needs are, believing that you deserve to have your needs met, and expressing them appropriately to your partner. Some needs we have are independent needs, others are dependent needs. The first ones we can meet ourselves, for example “I need to exercise every day”; the latter ones we can only meet with the cooperation of the other person, for example “I need to connect with my partner every day”. Some needs are negotiable for us for example, “I am willing to skip a day of exercise here or there”. Other needs are non-negotiable due to our values, for example, “I need my partner to be monogamous” could be a non-negotiable need for you.
The key to problem solving is to not get defensive. Refuse to hear blame and do your best to hear the underlying unmet needs. It is not up to you to judge your partner’s needs, nor do you need to justify whether you have tried to meet those needs. Strive to hear the need and find out how you can actually meet it, if it is one that involves you, or give your partner time and space to meet their own need.
Kirshenbaum names six top solutions that help rebuild the trust:
- Learn to listen
Instead of really truly listening until the other person feels understood, we tend to jump to conclusions, assume, explain, defend, interrupt, criticize, minimize and blame or feel blamed. Listening means hearing. You show you have heard and understood by reflecting back what you have heard, for example, “Did I get this right, you feel…”
- Make each other feel the other matters
Listening is one way of making each other feel important. Another way is making time for each other, or reaching out to your partner to connect.
- Be fair
When one of you feels resentment because something does not seem fair, the other person needs to hear this and at least try their best to make things more balanced or more fair.
- Learn how to make decisions together
If you are struggling to find compromises in regards to what you want, you can use the numbers from 1 to 10 to determine how important something is to you. 1 means you don’t care much, 10 means it is extremely important to you. The partner with the highest number gets to make the choice. If it is equally important to you, take turns making decisions.
Also talk about why something is important to you, what it means to you. That way your partner can understand your experience.
- Don’t belittle
Treat each other with respect, no matter what you think about the other person’s thoughts, needs, fears or feelings. Nobody likes to be treated as if they are stupid, crazy or unimportant.
- Don’t be controlling
Our needs can be experienced by the other person as control. And the more they feel controlled, the more likely it is that they will do everything to escape the control. If your partner experiences your needs as you trying to control him or her, it does not mean that you have to throw your needs overboard. It means that you have to have a conversation and make sure you explain your feelings and needs. You also need to express your needs as requests not demands.
Rather than insisting on needing to check up on the other person, the betrayed partner could try to come from a vulnerable place and for example say, “I still feel scared and vulnerable, and it would help me to feel safe if you were more open and shared more with me. I’ll do my best not to get upset but to make you glad you shared.”
In the aftermath of a betrayal, the temptation to be controlling is great. However, can you actually control what you are trying to control? If your partner chooses to do what you do not want them to do, he or she will find a way to have secrets. And if it is something you can actually control, it might make you feel safer in the short term but not help you trust your partner in the long run. If you don’t try to control them, it is a win/win. Either he or she shows that they are trustworthy, or they show that they cannot be trusted. In the latter case it is better, to know sooner rather than later.
If you are thinking that you need to control them because they won’t respect your requests and be honest, you are saying that this person has radically different values than you but that you want them in your life anyway. In that case, you are not honouring your own values and needs. For the sake of our soul and our personal growth, the decision whether to continue with the relationship or not, needs to be one of self-love and self-respect. Are you in integrity with your own values staying in this relationship, or not?
If our values overlap enough and we are able to work through a betrayal together with our partner, we can rebuild the trust as a team. In that case, the relationship usually ends up being stronger than before.
PART ONE of this series explored how mistrust entered into the relationship. Click here to read part one.
PART TWO of this series was about how to decide whether to stay in a relationship and rebuild the trust, or not. Click here to read part two.
If you would like to work through a betrayal by yourself or with your partner, contact me for a free phone consultation.
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