(The following contains brief thoughts on this subject. Working through personal trauma is a serious process and should be undertaken with a licensed therapist)
Here are six things to keep in mind when seeking to heal a marriage that has experienced betrayal trauma.
1.She doesn’t know who you are anymore. Disclosure, either as a guided process or unintentional discovery creates a new and frightening world in the mind of a betrayed spouse. The man she thought she knew didn’t really exist. For all she knows, he doesn’t exist now. This creates emotional and relational upheaval that under the best of conditions will take a long time to heal. Wondering where you are, why you are late, what you are looking at on your phone, what you are doing out of town, are all thoughts that tumble through her mind and can create re-traumatizing emotions that will be difficult to work through. This will take time.
2. You will need to develop a larger capacity for empathy. (See Help Her Heal by Carol Sheets) Now more than ever, you will need to listen and feed back words that demonstrate you are hearing her and that you care and are deeply sorry for the wounds you have inflicted. At times you will wonder when things will get better or if they ever will. But if you hang in there and continue to empathize they can and often do get better. Our addiction took years to develop. So will the healing, if it is to be. There are no short cuts. Even if the marriage does not survive, if you give it your best over time, acceptance of the outcome will follow. You will grow as a result.
3. God’s plan is to build your marriage on an entirely new foundation. Let’s face it. The old marriage is dead. Based as it was on lies, deception and isolation, it could not possibly work as a foundation for the future. But God can build an entirely new foundation on honesty, intimacy, trust and empathy. It will take time but the investment will be worth it in the end. Remember, this is what she wanted when she married you, so once you become committed to sobriety and recovery, once you begin to enjoy as a couple some of what she had always hoped for, trust will begin to be rekindled and marital healing will start to appear.
4.She may love you but the real issue is can she trust you? I have known several marriages of lust addicts where the wife still loved her husband, but filed for divorce anyway because she concluded she could not trust him. If a wife cannot trust her husband, including in non-sexual matters, then any hope for deep marital connection may never materialize. Most wives will say something like this. “I can deal with struggles. I can’t deal with lies.” Unless reasonable trust is restored, there can be no foundation. To address the trust issue squarely, a lust addict must work on his own recovery and sobriety for quite a while, rather than the marriage. The truth is we have nothing to offer unless we are sober and growing in recovery. Only then can we be trusted, having found relief from the addictive demands that have wrestled us to the ground. We must learn to live without lust and even live without sex from time to time.
5. Put your entire trust in God alone. During my initial stages of recovery, I realized that I had put my wife in the place of God. I had to get to the place where Jesus plus nothing was enough. God directed me to the Psalms and as I read them, He said to me “Now we can do business. All the props you have set up as a way to escape intimacy with me are now gone.” I was shortly able to accept that if my wife did not choose to reconcile with me that I would survive. We lust addicts are often co-dependent people, asking our wives and others to meet needs that no human being possibly can. That dependency had to go if I was to walk in freedom. Trusting God for an unknown future was the bridge to freedom for me.
6. We must accept that life is an up and down process. This is certainly true with a betrayed wife. One day she will want closeness. The next she will push us away as she remembers the past or fears the future. One day she will be hopeful, the next she will sit in the valley of despair. This process will go on for a long time and will be part of our growth in unconditional love. In the words of therapist Eddie Capparucci, we will grow up by becoming willing “to sit in emotional pain” rather than flee to our addiction.
There is so much more to say about betrayal trauma in marriage. Keeping these simple things in mind can help us all navigate the choppy waters that lie ahead.