Pain of Betrayal
Infidelity in a relationship is the most powerful and painful form of betrayal. It goes against the heart of everything that is sacred in a coupleship – everything that makes this relationship different from all other connections. Infidelity is the proverbial “hit by a Mack truck” scenario, and it shatters lives, hearts, and hope. The emotional devastation is crippling.
When faced with the ravages of sexual addiction, a couple may feel there’s no hope for their relationship. The addict spouse may feel overwhelming shame at what he/she has done, along with the crippling fear that the partner will leave the relationship. The betrayed partner will question everything about the relationship and self. She/he will wonder how she ever wound up in this place and if it’s possible to feel whole again.
Principles of Healing
The good news is that the crisis of sexual betrayal can be the window into the kind of relationship both spouses have always wanted – a relationship of genuine intimacy. Paradoxically, the pain of betrayal can ultimately morph into a healthy coupleship in the truest sense of the one-flesh union that God intends for marriage.
Partners sometimes say they wish “we could go back to the way it was.” The reality is that the coupleship was in deep trouble during that period before discovery or disclosure. The harder reality is that only one partner in the relationship was aware of its true status. Real healing is possible only when both spouses are facing the reality of the painful truth about the betrayal.
A core principle of systems theory is that two healthy partners are required to build and sustain a healthy relationship. The agonizing reality is that one partner can destroy it. Redemption for the coupleship happens when both spouses are willing to do what it takes for healing. These paths look very different, of course. The addict partner must take responsibility, gain empathy for his/her partner’s pain, and rebuild trust. The betrayed partner must face the crushing pain of betrayal and loss, learn to enforce healthy boundaries that promote safety and heal from any prior wounds as well as the current trauma.
If both parties are faithful to the process of healing, eventually the infidelity of sexual addiction will become a part of the couples’ history, but it won’t be the all-defining aspect. Recovery and healing will be the couples’ primary story.
Couples Recovery & Prerequisites
This kind of renewal, however, takes the same dedication to healing as a couple that’s required for individual recovery. A recovering sex addict and partner sometimes think that their individual work will automatically improve their relationship. In some ways, that’s true. It definitely helps the relationship when the addict is being faithful! It also helps when the partner is walking a personal path of recovery.
Individual healing, though, doesn’t automatically translate into a healthy coupleship. Each couple has their own couple’s dance – a predictable pattern of interaction that’s been developed over the years. Maybe one spouse distances and the other pursues. Perhaps one mate over-functions and the other mate is irresponsible. Often both partners unconsciously project family of origin or other wounds onto the spouse, so that their relationship is complicated by the additional baggage that was brought into the marriage. These patterns must be identified, understood, resolved and forgiven.
This trifecta of the addict’s personal recovery, the partner’s personal recovery, and the couple’s recovery is the foundation of Bethesda Workshops’ approach. This principle is behind our requirement that each spouse attends his/her separate individual workshop first before attending the couple’s workshop. Generally, this means attending a Healing for Men Workshop for a male addict and a Healing for Partners Workshop for the wife of a male addict. Sometimes the addict is female, in which case she would attend the Healing for Women Workshop and the male would attend the Partners’ Workshop. Occasionally, both spouses identify as addicts, in which case each would attend the appropriate (gender specific) addict’s workshop before coming to Healing for Couples.
The Healing for Couples Workshop provides a huge entry into couple’s recovery. It creates a foundation of compassion and structure that can carry a couple through the hard, early months of healing. We highly recommend that a couple come to this workshop as soon as possible after their individual workshops.
Each couples’ group is staffed with a male and female Bethesda Workshops’ leader. Their example offers encouragement and hope, as well as a practical model for interacting differently.
It’s the same safe, powerful environment as the individual workshops, and a couple will find these benefits:
- Safe place to share your hurts and fears about your relationship
- Powerful experiential process that creates an understanding of each other’ pain and how it gets played out in your coupleship
- Nontoxic forum for having those difficult conversations, and multiple opportunities to practice under two leaders’ guidance
- Tools for building emotional intimacy
- Deep connection with other healing couples
- Much more!
Healing for CouplesWorkshop
for couples who are dealing with sex or relationship addictionLearn More
Secrets harm relationships, even if the addict believes his/her spouse doesn’t know. It’s impossible to have true intimacy unless it’s built on honesty. In the case of couples facing sexual addiction, that means full disclosure on the part of the addict is required. Unfortunately, addicts often engage in staggered disclosure, which means he/she withholds information and continues to lie. As partners are well aware, this practice only further harms the relationship.
On the other hand, it’s not helpful for the addict to dump everything about his/her addiction onto the spouse, especially in the early days after discovery or an initial disclosure. It’s almost always harmful for a couple to attempt disclosure without professional guidance. Consultation with a trained clinician is vital. Disclosure is usually the hardest part of a couple’s recovery, and it’s too important to attempt alone. A structured approach ensures adequate resources are in place for both spouses, especially the partner. It also greatly increases the likelihood that complete, appropriate information is included.
Bethesda Workshops covers the principles of disclosure in every individual intensive. You can also access our two-part podcast on disclosure.
Addicts and partners alike are usually desperate for answers around rebuilding trust. Addicts ask, “Will she/he ever trust me again?” and partners lament, “How can I ever trust after what he/she has done?” Rebuilding trust is a key task of couple’s recovery, and be assured that it is possible.
The addict is responsible for re-earning trust that’s been broken, which is a process of demonstrating change over time. That means he/she must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. The partner must ultimately be willing to re-extend trust, which often is harder. Often, it’s a one step forward, two steps back process. Any instance of continued lying destroys any positive progress.
Addicts must not only learn to practice rigorous honesty but also to feel and express empathy to the partner for the harm they’ve caused. This task usually is developed only after some solid sobriety, but it’s crucial for the relationship. A helpful resource is Marnie Ferree’s book Out of the Doghouse for Christian Men – A Redemptive Guide for Men Caught Cheating. Co-authored with colleague Robert Weiss, this book provides practical guidance for men who have been unfaithful, as well as validation and encouragement for their wives.
Couples who are years down the road of recovery say that trust can be rebuilt to the point that it’s no longer an issue. At Bethesda Workshops, we tell addicts that rebuilding trust will take much longer than they would like, and much less time than they deserve. Trust blossoms with hard work and time.
Couples in the early stages of healing benefit by establishing some clear boundaries about the relationship. Many couples find an in-house separation is helpful, because it takes the pressure off the relationship by dropping the “happy couple” façade. Agree to table any discussion of divorce or make any other major decision while you’re working to rebuild the relationship. We encourage waiting a full 12 months before making a permanent decision about the relationship. During this timeframe, each person works on him/herself. You also participate in couple’s counseling, even if it’s mostly focused on early stabilization and communicating about the work you each are doing individually.
Another important phase of early recovery is an agreed on period of sexual abstinence. Even if it feels like you’re having the best sex ever (this is referred to as the honeymoon phase of recovery), be assured it won’t fix anything and it won’t last. Most partners worry that if they stop being sexual with their addict, he or she will act out elsewhere.
The reality is that acting out was occurring before while the couple was being sexual; the partner just wasn’t aware. A sexual time-out fosters individual healing. (Why would a partner want to be sexual with someone she/he doesn’t trust?) It also allows the couple to focus on building non-sexual intimacy, which usually has been lacking in the relationship.
We cover the neurochemistry of sexual addiction and the benefits of a couples’ abstinence period at every Healing Workshop.
For the relationship to fully heal, both partners must experience forgiveness. An addict must forgive him/herself for acting out and for the pain it caused. A partner must forgive the addict for the betrayal and its associated consequences and losses. Both often must forgive each other for the unhealthy coping methods each spouse has used. There are many things both need to forgive about the unhealthy patterns in the coupleship.
Addicts typically beg for forgiveness prematurely, when they have done little or nothing to express remorse, accept responsibility, or rebuild trust. That kind of request is an addict’s way of dealing with his/her shame or trying to make healing happen quickly without doing the hard work that’s involved. Partners shouldn’t be manipulated into extending forgiveness when remorse isn’t genuine.
Forgiveness is a gift to oneself, not necessarily something that is earned or deserved. Forgiveness frees you to focus on personal healing and move forward regardless of what your spouse does or doesn’t do. It’s possible and healing for a partner to forgive an “unrepentant” addict because that’s an important part of the letting go process.
It’s important to understand that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean a restoration of the relationship. You can choose to forgive and still enforce strong boundaries, including ending the relationship. It’s possible to forgive and still not trust because trust hasn’t been earned. Don’t confuse the two concepts. Both are processes that evolve over time.
Effective couple’s recovery includes getting connected with other recovering couples. Just as the addict and partner need their individual support groups, the coupleship requires the same kind of help. A couple benefits from a sponsoring couple to mentor their journey.
Unfortunately, finding a mentor couple is often difficult. Recovering Couples Anonymous is a 12 Step fellowship specifically for couples with groups scattered across the country. In places where an S fellowship is active for both addicts and partners, a joint or combined meeting is often held where they can attend together.
We’ve tried couples counseling and it didn’t work. Why will a workshop be different?
A variety of factors could have contributed to the failure of earlier counseling. One or both partners may not have been completely honest with the counselor. (Many active addicts won’t disclose their acting out, even to a therapist.) Maybe one or the other spouse was stuck in blame and unwilling to accept personal responsibility for his or her contribution to the relationship problems. Or perhaps you didn’t get the right kind of help.
Unfortunately, many counselors, including Christian counselors, aren’t trained in treating sexual addiction or in helping the marriages affected by this issue. If the “help” you got before didn’t go deeper than the behavioral issues, it’s no surprise it wasn’t helpful. Addicted couples must explore the “whys” behind their behavior patterns – the baggage each brings into the relationship.
We also find that too often couples jump into marriage counseling without working on themselves as individuals. We find this approach rarely works, and it’s why we require each spouse to attend his or her own individual workshop before coming to the Healing for Couples Workshop.
Why do we keep having the same old fights? We’re destroying each other with our hurtful patterns.
Couples often feel powerless when the dysfunctions of their relationship continue, no matter how hard the spouses try to stop. One key answer to breaking this cycle is to change the patterns of unhealthy family systems, which each spouse brings into the marriage. Realize that you and your mate are probably doing the best job you can as a marriage partner. And your parents did, too. Recognize that you didn’t have the modeling, the instruction, or the unconditional love and nurturing you deserved as you were growing up. You lack the tools to have a healthy relationship, especially one struggling with the trauma of addiction. When you identify the ways you get triggered and how a trigger affects your relationship, you can begin to change your behavior.
I’m interested in attending a Couples Workshop, but my spouse isn’t. What should I do?
First, discuss the possibility with your mate again. Find a time when things are calm and invite your spouse to a conversation about improving your marriage. Begin by sharing some positive things about your relationship. Assure your mate you’re interested in understanding him or her better and learning how to interact in a healthier way. Emphasize you’re willing to do your part in addressing any issues, and take responsibility for any lapses you’ve had since your own workshop. Share again how strongly you want to attend a Couples Workshop and explain how it can be feasible in terms of arranging childcare, finances, etc. If your person still isn’t interested, be sure to get extra support for yourself, including counseling. Ask for a joint session to discuss the blocks that are keeping your spouse from pursuing intensive help.
Do you offer financial support for couples attending workshops?
Couples who attend all three workshops* within a 12-month period may attend the Healing for Couples workshop for an initial payment of only the deposit. The remaining balance may be paid over time on a no-interest payment plan. Any balance remaining on individual workshops may be rolled into the Healing for Couples balance for new payment terms.
If you are attending the Healing for Couples workshop more than 12 months after individual workshops, a total of $2,000 must be paid prior to the beginning of the workshop (this amount includes the $1,000 non-refundable deposit). A no-interest payment plan can be arranged for the balance (usually 2-8 monthly payments). If you have an outstanding balance on the individual workshop(s), the balance for the Couples Workshop may be added to it and a new payment plan arranged with prior approval.
* “All three workshops” means each spouse attends his/her individual workshop and then they attend the couples workshop.