Healing from the Deep Pain of Emotional and Physical Betrayal

IAOL 2 | Healing From Betrayal

Betrayal takes many forms, but all of them can be exceedingly painful. Sadly, we are sometimes betrayed by the very people we count on most to love us, protect us, and care for us. As difficult as it is to bear any type of betrayal, infidelity by a partner can be the most devastating of all. Whether a partner has engaged in a sexual affair, emotional betrayal, financial deception, or other acts of infidelity, the consequences can be staggering. Join Dr. Carla as she offers empathic insights that foster understanding and healing for those who have suffered the terrible pain of betrayal.

Books by Dr. Carla Manly:

Date Smart: Transform Your Relationships and Love Fearlessly

Joy From Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend

Aging Joyfully: A Woman’s Guide to Optimal Health, Relationships, and Fulfillment for Her 50s and Beyond

The Joy of Imperfect Love


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Healing from the Deep Pain of Emotional and Physical Betrayal

Discover How to Move Through the Anger, Sadness, and Grief of Infidelity and Other Forms of Betrayal

Betrayal. It’s a tough topic and one that often evokes deep pain, anger, and resentment. It’s difficult when we are betrayed by someone we aren’t close to, but it’s downright excruciating when we are betrayed by someone we love, someone we count on to love us, cherish us, and protect us. In this episode, we’ll focus on this real-life question. I’ve been betrayed a lot in life, from my father to my best friend to my sister. “My life partner was my soulmate. We were a perfect couple, or so I thought, but she’s cheated on me. I am so hurt and angry. How can I get over this?” With that question, as the focus of this episode, I’m Dr. Carla Marie Manly, and this is Imperfect Love.

The topic of betrayal is a very difficult one. As we dive into this topic, take good care of yourself. Read at a level that feels right to you. When we start to respond to the question, to the person who is cheated on by a soulmate, by someone that they counted on in life, we see that we’re getting to the deep roots of safety and security to those very basic needs in a relationship. In truth, we all want to be loved, to be safe, and to be seen. When we are betrayed by someone who’s dear to us by a person who’s very intimate, we can go to the very depth of ourselves to all of the wounds that maybe weren’t healed and to the new wounds that are caused by the betrayal. When we look at the word betrayal, it’s important to know the etymology or the meaning of the word. It goes back to the meaning of looking at being false, being unfaithful.

Betrayal takes many forms, and all of them can be exceedingly painful. When we are betrayed by the very people we count on to love us, protect us, and care for us, the pain can be nearly unbearable. Join Dr. Carla on a journey to foster understanding… Share on X

Thus, we can see that betrayal can happen not just physically, but we can betray someone by our thoughts, our words, and our actions by what’s happening in our souls. That’s what the slippery slope of betrayal is. Sometimes we start fantasizing about somebody else, or we think that it doesn’t matter if we’re emotionally connected to another person. Before we know it, things have devolved, and we are in a physical relationship with someone else, someone that we believe will maybe meet our needs better, help us more, take better care of us, and see us more. Those are all understandable needs. We want to get our needs met in straightforward ways rather than going behind somebody’s back and betraying them. Let’s look at betrayal. First, betrayal needs an opening. We cannot betray someone unless we have left an opening for the betrayal.

IAOL 2 | Healing From Betrayal

Betrayal Doesn’t Happen by Chance

I get this from so many husbands, wives, or partners who say, “The emotional betrayal or the physical betrayal just happened.” Betrayal doesn’t just happen. We can sometimes catch ourselves when we’re looking a little bit too long, in a very sexual way, at somebody else and pull ourselves back. Those occasional little hiccups, they’re natural. We’re just human. We’re imperfect. When we lean into an emotional betrayal, where we begin to maybe talk with someone in sexually-oriented or very intimate ways that are not part of the agreement in the relationship because I do have to say some relationships have an open agreement about various levels of emotional and physical contact that are fine in that relationship. I’m not speaking about that here. I’m speaking about relationships where people have a very straightforward agreement about what it means to be emotionally and physically faithful.

We want to have these kinds of agreements with our partners from the get-go about what we mean by emotional betrayal. Physical betrayals are a little bit easier to have boundaries around, but emotional betrayal can show up in different ways. We want to know that first, what are our needs? What are our boundaries? Work with a partner so that we come to a mutual agreement on that so we have a mutual understanding. If somebody is giving an excuse like, “I couldn’t help it,” you can help it. You may not be responsible for every thought that comes up in your mind, but you can manage your thoughts. You are certainly responsible, and your partner is responsible for managing their actions. Betrayal doesn’t happen by chance. It is somebody taking a step in that direction.

It’s Not Your Fault

If a partner gives you an excuse that it just happened, don’t accept that excuse because that’s what it is. It is an excuse. Moving to the next piece, the betrayal is never the fault of the person who is betrayed. I hear this when I’m working with partners who have found out about the other’s infidelity. Often I hear one partner say, “It’s his fault because he wasn’t giving me enough love. It’s her fault. It’s their fault because they weren’t thin enough. They didn’t keep their physical fitness up. They weren’t giving me enough presence,” all of these excuses. It is never the fault of the person who is betrayed. Why? If you’re not happy in the relationship, then it’s up to you to state that and to try to get your partner to work with you to meet your needs.

Betrayal Can Occur Anywhere

If you are not happy, then you exit the relationship after you’ve done everything that you can to keep the relationship together, whether it’s therapy or having lots of heart-to-heart meetings. You go your separate ways, and then you get to do whatever you want without betraying someone. The truth is, when we betray someone else, we have betrayed a part of the self. There is nothing we can do, be it good or not so good. That does not affect the inner self and someone else. If you have been betrayed, it is not your fault. Third thing, betrayal can occur in any relationship. Betrayals can occur in families, in the workplace, in a friendship, or a romantic partnership. Betrayals can occur anywhere. In this episode, we’re focusing on the question, which is a romantic relationship betrayal. Remember the principles I’m talking about can also apply to a wide variety of relationships.

Emotional betrayal and physical betrayal are two of the most common forms of betrayal. That’s the piece where we want to work again with a partner so that if we have mutual agreements, then we have better structure and better safety in the relationships. Someone still can betray us if we have an agreement, but at least we have the structure to support what we expect of ourselves and expect of a partner both emotionally and physically. There are also other types of betrayal like financial betrayal and spiritual betrayal. It comes back largely to the physical and the emotional, which are two of the biggest forms of betrayal that I work with. At the root of all of these forms of betrayal is deceit. That goes back to the meaning of the word betrayal.

Why Are Betrayals Damaging?

It comes from a lack of fidelity, a lack of faithfulness. We want to invite ourselves and our partners always to be faithful to the agreements that we set up for the relationship, faithful to the principles, and to the values that we’ve agreed to between the partners. These are important pieces in the healing process because, often, we can’t figure out what went wrong in the relationship. These are some of the foundational pieces that help us understand what happened in this relationship and, if we’re staying in the relationship, what to do moving forward and what to require. Also, if we’re exiting the relationship and then we do our healing, what we can look for and require in the next relationship. Why are betrayals so damaging? Why does the person who submitted this question feel so angry and resentful?

Betrayals annihilate trust. It’s that straightforward. Betrayals, particularly from someone that we know that we want to be able to count on and that we need to be able to count on because they’re the rock and our partner, they’re part of the foundation from where we live, when we are betrayed, it’s almost like a nuclear bomb goes off and there’s so much devastation. Not only do we have to clear all of that debris, but we also have this huge mess and all this toxicity in the ground to clear out. Betrayal annihilates trust, and trust is what allows us to feel safe and secure in relationships. If we don’t feel safe and secure, then we are not going to be able to be our best selves. In our intimate relationships, it is that bedrock of safety and security that allows us to move out into the world, do our work, take care of the kids, go off on vacation, run to the store, and do all of those things with ease.

It is because we know that when we go back home, that’s our safe space, that our rock is there, and that we are the rock for the other person. No matter how horrible the outside world may get, sometimes when we have that trust and safety in a relationship, we have that joy, peace, and sweetness of saying, “When I go home, all will be well. It might not be perfect, but it will be well because we have trust, safety, and security.” Remember, that’s why betrayals hurt so much. They annihilate trust. Trust is very difficult to build in a new relationship. Yes, it takes time for us to trust someone. We don’t just give away our trust. We build it over time. The other person earns our trust, and we earn theirs. That’s in a healthy relationship.

All of that building of trust, when a betrayal occurs, especially a big betrayal, a marital or relationship infidelity, a serious emotional one or a physical one, all of a sudden, all of those months or years of trust building are gone. All of those years, in the blink of an eye, a betrayal will annihilate trust. The process of rebuilding that trust is incredibly difficult because we’re not starting from a clean slate like we do when a relationship is new. We all have histories and baggage that we have to make sure aren’t invading our ability to trust a truly faithful partner. All of the work that we did to build that trust in the relationship, it’s so much harder to build after infidelity because we’re constantly checking, as we have a right to do.

“Am I safe? Am I safe? Is he going to do it again? Is she going to do it again, or are they going to do it again?” That makes it very difficult. Even if you’ve forgiven the person who betrayed you, it is very natural to be circumspect and to be cautious about trusting them again. That person, the betrayer, will need to earn your trust. It may take years. It may take decades. It may never return. We always want to think more than twice before we betray a partner because the ramifications to the self and certainly to the partner are huge. Even if we get away with a betrayal, we have a good moral compass, which may have gone awry if we had a one-off betrayal. You have to realize that even if you get away with it, you are suffering inside because your psyche knows when you do something that’s not appropriate, even if you get away with it. That’s an important piece.

We always want to think more than twice before we betray a partner because the ramifications for ourselves and certainly for our partner are huge. Share on X

Moving on, the next item is that betrayal violates core agreements in relationships. When we enter into a committed relationship, whether we do it implicitly or explicitly, we’re generally telling that other person, “I promise to care for you. I promise to watch over you,” and vice versa. That core agreement or that promise to care for each other and to keep each other safe is wiped away. When those core agreements are gone, that leads to mistrust, a lack of safety, and a lack of security. What it also does when there’s a betrayal is it takes us to a very raw, primitive state in the psyche, that place of fight-flight, which is also fight-flight-freeze-appease. It takes us into a place of deep fear, which often feels anger and panic, and sometimes is anger, panic, and anxiety. Often, at the root of that is a deep fear that I am not safe.

That awful pit in your stomach senses that your world has been upended. That’s often fear at work, just on a very primitive, “Should I stay? Should I go? Should I try to make it work? Should I stop and cry on the couch for 365 days?” That very primitive survival sense is very normal and painful. The other thing that that betrayal does to us, and it’s very sad, is it brings up grief. You might think, “I’ve been betrayed. I’m angry, and I’m ready to give up, but I’m not grieving.” There’s generally grief involved. The denial, the anger, the bargaining, the depression, those stages of grief are often a part of the betrayal process or the healing process because we often deny it at first, “She wouldn’t cheat on me. She would never do that. He would never do that. They would never. No.”

How to Move Forward from Betrayal

That’s the denial. The anger then starts coming up. “How could that person do this? How could they betray me?” That’s the denial, the anger, and the bargaining. “Maybe I could stay. Maybe if we go to counseling. Maybe if she or he promises or they promise to do this or that,” and then the depression, that deep dark abyss of having your trust, your love, your belief, all of the hopes and dreams you had just swept away in what feels like a blink of an eye. Remember, grieving is a very natural and painful part of the betrayal process, and then healing. Back to the person who submitted the question, how do you get through it? How do you move forward?

You do it one day at a time. You do it by knowing what is right for you from your gut. Do you need space from the person? Are you ready and wanting to end the relationship? Do you want to see if you can make it work? It is knowing what you want, and that knowing may be a long time coming, and you are not required to know this right away. Another piece that comes up for people who have been betrayed is a sense of all of these shoulds. “I should stay for the sake of the children. I should stay because I can’t make the house payment alone. I should stay because I committed to a lifetime of happily ever after. I should stay because my parents will be upset, people will look down on me, or I’ll lose my friend group.”

All of those questions are normal, they’re natural, and they are up for you to work through, rework through, and take your time. If you have been betrayed, your timeline is yours. Not that you want to make the other person pay for it and be cruel to them, but if you need a lot of space and time to figure out what is right for you, that is your right. You are not the betrayer. It doesn’t mean that you might not have some self-work to do. We all have self-work to do for the rest of our lives. That’s my belief. There may be some parts of you in the healing process where you think, “I want to shift this about myself. I want to work on this. I want to do this,” for yourself so that you can show up as a better person.

If you have been betrayed, your timeline is yours. It’s not to make the other person pay for it and be cruel to them, but if you need a lot of space and time to figure out what is right for you, that is your right. You are not the betrayer. Share on X

If you stay with the betrayer, you can then maybe show up in a way that makes you love them more and makes the relationship feel more connected. Also, you can work on yourself just for you, not for anybody else. Sometimes people say, “I want to work on myself so that the next individual I meet, I’m in better form for them.” It’s all up to you because it’s your journey. There is no timeline for this. It’s not as though you can recover from a betrayal in 6 months, 3 months, a day, or a year. For some people, depending upon the type and nature of the betrayal, personal history, and unresolved childhood wounds, it may take you a while before you feel strong and steady enough to where you feel you’ve let go of the anger and the resentment so that if you do move into another relationship, you’re not taking baggage with you.

If you decide to stay in the relationship, what do you need to feel you can live with this person without hating them? Are you able to forgive them? What do you need to be in this relationship so that you’re not constantly fearful of coming home and finding a hotel room, seat, or the proverbial lipstick on the shirt or whatever it is? What we want to be able to do is take our time to figure out if we’re staying in the relationship. There are basics. If you’re staying, such as a wholehearted apology, no blaming you, no shaming, “This is what I did. I apologize. I take responsibility. I will not do it again in the future. Here’s why. Here’s how I got off course.”

If you have questions and you want some details about the affair or the betrayal, you are entitled to ask. This one is touchy because you need to know you. Sometimes the more we ask, the more we are in pain. Sometimes the more details we have, the who, what, where, when, and how, then now we have more in the memory to chew on and to cause us pain. That doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to ask questions. You get to ask whatever you want if that’s part of your healing process. Remember, it can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Often couples therapy, if you’re staying, is critical to salvage the relationship. Often, the person who is betrayed needs individual therapy to work through all of the many issues that come up. You can forgive when you are ready and in your own time and way.

I am a bit of a believer that forgiveness, as soon as you can come to that, in a wholehearted way, you are best served by doing that. When we hold resentment, it tends to hurt us. Forgiveness does not mean we need to allow someone to harm us again. We can forgive and still say, “I’ve got a boundary here. I’m not going to let you do this again. I forgive you for what you did, but I’m not going to let you cross this boundary again.” It may also be part of your process, the forgiveness and the boundaries at your pace. As you continue to move forward with your journey in healing, remember that if you are staying with this person, you may need the individual who betrayed you not to take responsibility, but you may want them to make amends.

You are best served by forgiving the person who betrayed you as soon as you can do so in a wholehearted way, because when we hold resentment, it tends to hurt us. Share on X

We often think that means that the person who betrayed us will bring flowers, chocolates, or fancy jewelry. For most people, that won’t do the trick. Those are more superficial. If you want someone to make amends to you, it may be in very real life non-material ways. I’m not saying you can’t have material things if that’s what you want, but it may be things like, “The amends process for me is that we’re going to go to couples therapy and that we are going to maybe go on walks together just so that we can learn to be together again and build trust.” It may be something like, “I need you to show up from work on time every day and make dinner so that I can see that you’re devoted to us and reaching in toward us.”

The amends process looks different for every person, but know that amends are okay. You don’t want to cause pain to somebody else in the amends process, but you are entitled to ask that the person make amends in a healthy, beneficial way. Last but not least, if you love the individual who betrayed you, and you believe they love you back, and that they got off course, that they generally have a very good moral compass and something went awry, maybe they were at a party and added too much to drink, I’m not saying that’s an excuse or even a good example, but if they are generally a person with a very good moral compass, even a drink or five drinks aren’t going to get them to betray you.

It’s up to you to look at this and say, “I love this person. I believe this person will not do this again. Their track record is such, and our relationship is such that I believe love will help us move forward. I believe that we can persevere with this.” If the other person is reflecting that same belief back to you authentically and genuinely, and is willing to do whatever it takes to rebuild the trust, then you may want to continue that relationship. You have the right to have as many discussions about this with your partner as you need to have so that you feel you’re processing it and not getting over it but moving through it, and then being able to move on with your life.

Either way, whether you stay with the person or move forward in another direction, remember that if you are betrayed, you have a lot on your plate. Betrayal goes deep. It cuts us to the very core of who we are. Remember, if you have been betrayed, allow yourself to heal. Give yourself time. Do not judge yourself. Do not blame or shame yourself. Know that, although life is imperfect, and we are imperfect, you deserve to be loved. You deserve to be treated with respect. You deserve to feel safe. You deserve to feel secure, and you never deserve to be betrayed.

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6 Responses

  1. My ex-wife wanted a divorce a year and a half ago and we divorced in 64 days she said she wanted to be alone and I have found out that she has been in three relationships since lies lies lies betrayal I can’t get over it year and a half of crying and sadness and depression

  2. I’m so sorry for what you have experienced, Mark. Sadness and depression are common (and understandable) responses to a divorce and heart-wrenching betrayal. I encourage you to seek mental health support to make it through to the other side. My thoughts are with you.

  3. I gave everything u had believing if i supported and loved a single mom and her children that it was an honorable thing and it would be appreciated.she went w a guy just out of prison driven by lust.it was the most horrible feeling but later on i recieved a text that she was hurting so i responded and forgave but here we are again i believe shes betrayed me again so i just ended it.i cried screamed threatened then finally just cried.shes not even sorry.thats what hurts the most.

  4. I’m so sorry for what you’ve experienced. Betrayal is so harmful to the mind, body, and spirit. Please reach out for support in your area; you deserve to heal and move forward.

  5. I need help. I am devastated. My partner of 12 years has been hiding his sexual relationship with his ex wife for the past year. I have never felt so hurt in my 71 years on this earth.