Infidelity is a topic most people don’t openly talk about. Why? Not only is it painful but for a betrayed partner in our culture, it’s shameful. Our culture has told betrayed partners things like…”Well, you should have been having more sex.”…or….”Well, that’s just what men do.” These messages blame the partner and make them think something is wrong with them or that this is just the way things are. Some of you are out there and have heard this from loved ones, and I want you to know that I am sorry. These comments hurt, blame, and shame you.
In this blog, I want to speak directly to you partners who have been deeply hurt and misunderstood. I want you to know that you’re not crazy. I want you to know the symptoms you are experiencing are normal and understandable (and backed by research).
If you have been through infidelity or are a partner of a sex addict, you are likely experiencing what we call Betrayal Trauma. Betrayal Trauma is a relational trauma in which someone that you rely on for survival and support violates trust or well-being. Betrayal manifests through deception, a secret double life, sex/pornography addiction, sexual affairs, and even emotional affairs. After finding out you have been betrayed, everything changes in your world. It’s agonizing, isolating, and feels unsafe.
As a human, we are always evaluating one question above all else…”Am I safe?” If I don’t feel physically or emotionally safe, nothing else matters but getting to safety. Having a secure attachment to a person whom we feel safe with and trust is vital to being a healthy, well functioning human being. When this safety is compromised and trust is broken through betrayal, you have been traumatized.
Many partners develop symptoms and often times meet the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. When most people think of PTSD, they think of war Veterans or victims of sexual abuse, but PTSD is a mental health disorder in which betrayed most partners meet criteria. Here are the 5 criteria for PTSD diagnosis:
- Criterion A: Exposure to death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence as follows: direct exposure or witnessing, in person.
- Examples for partners: Threatened or actual STD, threat of sexual violence, relationship rape
- Criterion B: Recurrent, involuntary, intrusive memories
- Examples for partners: Flashbacks, nightmares, intense prolonged distress after the event, unwanted intrusive memories, marked physiological reaction
- Criterion C: Avoidance of trauma-related thoughts or feelings or trauma-related external reminders
- Examples for partners: Excessive behaviors for distraction, avoiding certain people, places, activities, conversations, objects, or situations, avoiding sexual contact with partner
- Criterion D: Negative changes in thoughts or mood by 2 or more of the following: Lack of ability to recall important parts of traumatic event, persistent negative beliefs about oneself or the world, blame to self or others, persistent negative emotions (fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame), diminished interest in activities, feeling alienated from others, persistent inability to experience positive emotions
- Examples for partners: Feeling not good enough, blaming oneself for what happened, body image issues, insecurities, indecisiveness, depression, anxiety
- Criterion E: Trauma-related changes in arousal and reactivity by 2 or more of the following: irritable or aggressive behavior, self-destructive or reckless behavior, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, problems concentrating, sleep disturbance.
- Examples for partners: Irritability, acting out sexually, problematic drinking or drug use, safety seeking behaviors (constantly checking phones and other devices), insomnia, under or over-eating, lack of trust for people
If you are reading this and realize that you have been experiencing some or all of these things, you are not alone. From a biological perspective, your body is doing everything it’s supposed to do to survive trauma. Our brains and bodies are designed to keep us safe in whatever way possible through trauma responses called fight, flight, or freeze. Many betrayed partners that I work with express these symptoms and are concerned they are going “crazy.” I want to reassure you, what you are experiencing is understandable and normal for what you’ve been through. The problem arises when these trauma responses and symptoms get stuck into our every day functioning allowing our bodies, minds, and spirits to go on overdrive and eventually shut down.
The good news that I want to leave you with today is that you can find healing. You don’t have to continue to live with these overwhelming, debilitating symptoms of PTSD. I want to encourage you to seek out a therapist trained in trauma therapy. There are several incredible trauma therapies out there, but one I highly recommend is Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR). For more information on EMDR, check out our blog EMDR Therapy: A Tool to Heal the Mind, Body, and Soul.
If you are a partner of betrayal trauma, I hope you find this blog validating, informational, and encouraging. I hope this inspires you to have the courage to find the healing you deserve.
Whitney Voss, M.S., PLPC, CSAT-c