For nearly three decades I have worked with those trapped on either end of intimate betrayal, attempting to guide them through the long and difficult process of recovery. Having grown up in a violent home rife with all forms of betrayal, I saw this work as a mission.
No matter what form it takes—abuse, infidelity, deceit, financial cheating, or any combination—the pain of intimate betrayal is unique, striking at the very core of our ability to love and trust.
Yet there is some light in the bleak remains of betrayal, some bright green shoots that grow out of the ashes to enrich the lives they touch. Here are a few.
The Beauty in Revealed Truth
Rarely do relationships thrive in the months and years before the realization of betrayal. Almost always there is a decline of compassion and kindness, often with resentment filling the void of disconnection. The betrayed partner is frequently adrift in confusion about what might be wrong during this unsettling time before the damn bursts and the betrayal is recognized. Some even doubt their sanity. As shocking and dispiriting as the truth seems, there is an eventual transcendence in finally learning it. There is something beautifully right about realizing what is wrong.
The key to reaping the benefits of the truth, while muting some of its sting, is to accept it. The Buddha said two and half centuries ago that most of the suffering in the world comes from wishing it were not the way it is. Psychological suffering intensifies when we become fixed on why the betrayal happened or on protesting that it should not have happened. Once we accept the truth, we can channel all the emotional energy spent railing against it into healing and improving our lives.
Re-examination of Deeper Values
Few events can rend the value system of human beings like intimate betrayal. Recovery is very much centered on reestablishing the hierarchy of our personal values, which keeps us from losing ourselves in reaction to the pain and vindictive impulses that naturally accompany intimate betrayal. (Unabated, these will turn us into someone we are not.) My clients who have fared the best in recovery were able to reestablish a firm foundation of deeper values that helped them heal and grow. Not surprisingly, these were, for the most part, the same values their betrayers violated—the need to be compassionate, protective, appreciative, and kind. I have had so many clients say near the end of their treatment that for the first time in their lives, they knew true compassion for people who suffer, not only from betrayal, but from pain and hardship of all kinds.
Form Deeper and Broader Connections
Because the pain of intimate betrayal runs much deeper than the common ego defenses that impede deep connections to other people, most of my clients are eventually able to see beyond the limits of their own experience to join with the essential humanity of others. The great joy of being alive is growing from the vast terrors of life to realize that we are not alone or isolated, neither in pain nor in transcendence.