In the initial stages of a betrayal, couples are likely to be extremely dysregulated. The crisis becomes a vortex, sucking the couple in to endless pain, bitterness, revenge, defensivesness, attack and self-pity. It’s difficult for some couples to get out of this space. They may find it hard to imagine that they’ll ever feel good again- but it is entirely possible. The couples I see that successfully navigate a betrayal are able to shift their focus away from blame and shame to accountability and growth, using their experience as an opportunity to create positive change in themselves and in the relationship.
I believe that in order to recover from the betrayal, a couple must develop a shared understanding of what happened, why it occurred, and what it means for the relationship. The offending party needs to work towards an understanding of their own decisions and taking ownership for any unconscious patterns that led to the betrayal. While we aren’t looking to justify or minimize, putting the behavior in context may also help mitigate the anxiety of the aggrieved party as they gain a greater sense of order in the cause-and-effect. For the aggrieved party it makes sense that they be prone to express very strong emotions of anger and rage. However, it is critical to be able to express the vulnerability underneath the rage so that their partner can actually hear their pain and be better positioned to tend to it.
Emotional safety is created when we feel there is partnership in our pain - when we have the belief that our partner truly wants to know our pain and understand what we’ve felt and experienced. For all these reasons, it is critical that the couple work to be able to communicate their thoughts and feelings effectively, no matter how difficult it may feel at times.
Generally, it takes significant time and effort to re-establish a sense of emotional safety. It takes consistency, demonstrating a pattern of dependable behavior, and strong, emotionally aware communication.