This guest article from PsychCentral was written by Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S
The Agony of Betrayal
I’ve employed the above definition to describe cheating ever since the Internet came along in the early 1990’s. When working with clients and their betrayed spouses, I attempt to bring home the concept that it is the betrayal of relationship trust caused by consistent lying, rather than any specific sexual act, that both defines infidelity and causes the deepest pain to the betrayed partner. The emotional violation and trauma experienced by a spouse who is forced to live with ongoing secrets, lies, and the resulting denial of his or her own reality by a cheating partner is indeed deep. The sudden discovery or unraveling awareness that a long-term intimate partner has been living a secret life filled with sexual infidelity—whether that infidelity has been carried out in-vivo (affairs, prostitutes, anonymous sexual partners, etc.) or online (porn, webcams, social media, dating/hookup sites, etc.)—evokes feelings that lead the betrayed partner to question literally everything about his or her relationship.
It is frequently the case when working with a betrayed spouse or life-partner (much as it is with abused children) that the victim will begin to question his or her own behavior, often experiencing guilt, shame, self-doubt, and remorse when reviewing the past. Attempting to establish some sort of emotional control over their grief, betrayed partners will turn on themselves as a source of the problem. It’s all too common for these individuals to think, “If I’d just been nicer, or better in bed, or thinner, or more emotionally supportive then he wouldn’t have turned to all those other women,” or, “If I made more money, was better endowed, had more hair, or drove a nicer car then she wouldn’t be meeting up with those old boyfriends she discovered on Facebook.” Betrayed spouses also find themselves examining feelings and misgivings they previously pushed aside when believing the lies they were told; oftentimes they wonder why they chose to ignore their self-protective instincts. Even worse, they may begin to question if they’ll ever be able to regain the trust they need to stay in this or any other relationship.
This negative self-appraisal is both normal and an understandable part of the grief process—especially when the source of that grief is the loss of what one thought his or her primary relationship to be. In cases involving repetitive patterns of cheating, betrayal, and lies, a wide range of powerful emotions are likely to be unleashed and to stick around for quite some time. Some more common responses to learning about a loved one’s infidelity include: