It takes courage to share aspects of your life and marriage on a podcast, and something beyond courage to talk about personal failures. Peter and Alex personify this exceptional courage, as they share about a dark time of betrayed trust in their marriage and how they were able to build back their love and trust. Dr. John and Dr. Morgan sat down with Alex and Peter, parents of three kids, ages 5-9, and were amazed at the grace and wisdom they expressed in their relationship over the last few years of working through an emotional affair.
Here are some insights about betrayals and love and trust again:
1. Slippery slopes: tragic falls are often preceded by many small missteps
The first steps toward the edge of any affair are often taken in good faith. This means that they are not viewed as a step toward danger, or giving in to a temptation, or an act of wrongdoing. Rather, they are often inaccurately believed to be something that is good-willed, compassionate, and even loving. However, these good intentions are just a cloak of self-deception. And the partner of the one slipping into betrayal often intuitively feels that something is wrong, even though there is no hard evidence. So, when they approach and confront their partner, even in the most gracious and loving way, it often leads to strong denials, defensiveness, and counterattacks. This only serves to create barriers between the couple that are often used justify the partner further stepping toward the edge of betrayal.
Here are some areas to explore in order to understand and set your boundaries:
- What are the boundaries that I practice and that keep me far from the edge of an affair?
- One litmus test (certainly not the only one) is to imagine my partner thinking, saying, or doing what I am engaging in—would I be worried or uncomfortable with that? If so, then I too should back out of those things.
- Talk together with your partner about different relevant situations that may need boundaries—discuss together what boundaries you would appreciate and why.
- Cultivate an attitude of humility, acknowledging your own vulnerability to self-deception and human error. There is an old saying, “Pride comes before a fall.”
2. There are two realities that co-exist: personal responsibility and relational vulnerability
There is no wavering on the fact that each person must accept responsibility for their own actions. There can be no room for blame or excusing an action because of some mitigating circumstance. This is an indisputable reality. However, another reality co-exists… and that is that our relationship can be lacking something, or you could be acting in some way that increases your partner’s vulnerability to acting out in inappropriate or wrong ways. So, even though that partner is 100% responsible for their actions, we cannot escape that we contributed to their vulnerability by our choices. These two realities may not exist in every betrayal, but they must be examined and discussed by both partners once a trust is broken.
- How do you acknowledge full responsibility for your actions when you have done something that betrayed your partner’s trust or deeply hurt them?
- When you betray your partner’s trust, it often takes much longer for your partner to forgive and rebuild any loving trust in you than you would like it to take. So, stay in the supporting, discussing, and apologizing attitude of heart much longer than you would think is necessary.
- It is when your partner has broken your trust that you should be the one to bring up the question, “Is there anything in our relationship that we can improve on and that will strengthen your resolve to not do what you did?” This needs to be explored without shifting ANY of the responsibility from each individual for their own personal choices. But it always is better to come from the partner that felt betrayed.
3. Healing takes time and requires both forgiveness and a rebuilding of trust
Many couples fail to work through a breach of trust simply because they quit too soon. Time is not the healer of all wounds, but it is a necessary quality ultimately in any healing process. This means that when the horizon points have all closed in and there seems to be no future hope; when your present pain seems like it will last forever; and when you don’t believe your feelings (or lack of feelings) can ever change; it is at that very moment that you often need to persevere, give it more time, and engage in the right steps to foster genuine forgiveness and work to reconstruct a loving trust.
Here are some insights into the healing process that can increase your patience, promote forgiveness, and rekindle a loving trust.
Try to keep your head working with your heart during a relationship crisis. In other words, it is necessary to acknowledge, express, and resolve your emotions. However, those same emotions may prompt you to do something in the moment that is not best for you or those you love.
It helps to know that a present emotional state that feels permanent is often temporary. Most couples in crisis have extended times of either intense emotion, or complete absence of any feelings for the partner. When partners know that this is a common and often unavoidable phase when experiencing a crisis, especially an affair, then they can navigate it with greater patience and perseverance, and with giving that emotional state less long-term legitimacy.
Forgiveness first requires that the offense has truly stopped. After that, the offending partner can help their partner forgive them by taking personal ownership with deep remorse, being willing to be transparent, and engaging in many conversations to process the betrayal. This attitude/disposition helps to create an relationship environment where forgiveness becomes much easier to give.
The forgiving partner can feel bitter that the work of forgiveness has been unfairly put on them. However, there is actually a profound and meaningful personal gain when you genuinely stretch yourself to forgive another for a wrong they committed against you.
The partner that committed an act of betrayal often has to forgive him/herself. You would expect that partner to feel shame; however, coming to terms with and resolving a personal failure can be very challenging for many partners.
Rebuilding trust is not the same as forgiving an offense. Forgiveness is about letting go and resolving the act and related pain of past offense. In contrast, rebuilding trust is all about reconstructing a belief and security in a partner for both the present and future. Both are essential for healing a relationship. And typically, a sense of forgiveness precedes the longer process of rebuilding a love and belief of trust in a partner.
What else is there?
To learn more, and hear about what may be necessary to maintain a relationship with someone you “agree to disagree” with make sure to listen to the full episode.
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