What to Do When You Feel Betrayed

Broken Heart Betrayal Distrust

July is a time to remember those who fought to create and preserve our freedom. We can also honor those individuals in our everyday lives who have stood up to the tyranny of self-centeredness, fought for and nurtured strong relationships. Most of us know a few individuals who choose to do what it takes to grow a marriage, a family or build a community. They often take “the road less traveled” in order for their loved ones to feel safe and that they matter.

Acts of treason and betrayal, when the United States of America was being formed, held grave consequences for those involved and our country. Betrayal in our closest relationships can incur the deepest of consequences as well. That betrayal fractures marriages, children’s growth and development, flourishing communities and ultimately our nation’s greatest resource, each other. The crippling ripple effects of our personal choices can have epidemic, world-wide results.

Dr. John Gottman, one of the most well-respected academic researchers in the field of marriage and family and author of What Makes Love Last: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal, describes 10 ways to betray a partner in addition to sexual betrayal. He explains that relationships are built on the foundation of trust, and the erosion of trust in a relationship begins in the seemingly most insignificant of moments. You choose to turn toward your partner or away from your partner when they need you most, whether you are consciously aware or not. Choosing to turn away from someone when they need your support or attention invites distrust. They no longer trust that you will be there for them. Over time, that constant turning away develops into a sense of betrayal, and ultimately a fractured marriage that lead to divorce, even in relationships that practice fidelity. The following behaviors contribute to a sense of betrayal, according to Gottman:

  1. Conditional Commitment – The underlying attitude is “I am here for you…until something or someone better comes along.” The partner is not fully in the relationship and any incident can diminish how much intimacy and support their partner receives.
  2. A Nonsexual Affair – This relationship involves a supposedly platonic relationship that a partner would be uncomfortable watching the interactions or upset with the closeness shared.
  3. Lying – Keeping secrets or not sharing the truth in order to avoid blow-ups or arguments in order to keep the peace.
  4. Forming a Coalition Against the Partner – When a partner includes outside family or friends in decisions, constantly vents or criticizes the spouse, or aligns with their parent over their spouse regarding issues, erosion of trust prevails.
  5. Absenteeism or Coldness – Instead of sharing true feelings, the partner chooses to give the cold shoulder OR emotionally not being present for the spouse when they need support or feedback.
  6. Withdrawal of Sexual Interest – A variety of reasons for not making sex a priority can lead to a sense of betrayal. Those reasons include busyness, stress, negative body image, criticism, not feeling cherished, mismatched sex drives, or physical/medical issues. When the issues are not addressed in honest, loving ways, hurt and rejection can consume the relationship, according to Gottman.
  7. Disrespect – If a partner makes another person feel inferior, uses frequent name-calling, sarcasm or implies they have the upper hand, they are being disrespectful and creating the poison of distrust in the relationship.
  8. Unfairness – Life can be unfair, but loving, long-term relationships can be havens from injustice. Mutual satisfaction only happens when neither partner feels taken advantage of and needs/wants are met equally. For example, spending, division of labor, or how free time is spent need mutually satisfying solutions.
  9. Selfishness – Happy couples understand that, at times, each will forfeit their own needs for the common good. However, resentment occurs when selflessness is not mutual.
  10. Breaking Promises – Broken promises can include, for example, secrecy or controlling of money/resources, not aligning with a mutual value established in the beginning of a relationship (like how to practice spirituality or boundaries with in-laws) or addiction.


How to build trust and avoid betrayal


  1. Create a safe place to share honestly with each other. Avoid blindly accepting hurtful behavior, shutting down or harsh retaliation and defensiveness. Also, avoid making your partner guess what is wrong. Put your feelings into words by saying how actions make you feel.  Ask each other open-ended questions that begin with the words WHAT or HOW that invite solutions. Be open, honest and unconditionally committed to mutually sharing what you both truly want for your relationship.
  2. Practice accountability and reliability. Re-establishing trust, according to Dr. Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, author and creator of the video, Anatomy of Trust, explains that individuals need to “own your mistakes, apologize and make amends as well as do what you say you are going to do consistently.”
  3. Listen deeply. Repeat what you think you heard your partner say and allow them opportunity to clarify. Refrain from choosing to hold on to your misinterpretations of their words or behaviors. Dr. Brene Brown also suggests to give your partner the most generous interpretation of their actions.
  4. Choose calm empathy. When we choose to respond calmly, our brains stay out of fight/flight/freeze mode and can problem-solve much better. Compassion and empathy are located in the pre-frontal cortex of our brain and can be accessed when calm. The prefrontal cortex also houses our ability to reach solutions. So, take a short time-out, get calm, choose empathy and you are on the road to finding solutions that work for your relationship.
  5. Get help. Enlist the help of an objective person who is trained in relationships, such as a board certified relationship coach, to help create solutions in order to move forward and align with the vision you have for your marriage.

So, embrace the challenge to build a deeper sense of trust and avoid the pitfalls of betrayal in your marriage in order to create strong relationships within your family.  Only then will you ever know the greatest opportunities for your ultimate dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of TRUE happiness!

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