SALT LAKE CITY — Have you heard of “betrayal trauma?” According to Dr. Liz Hale, it’s a condition resembling PTSD that can plague those who have been victims of spousal infidelity.
“You can’t eat, you’re startled, you can’t sleep, your whole life has been turned upside down,” Hale explained on last week’s episode of Let’s Get Moving with Maria. “It might be one of the worst things a person goes through in their life.”
Luckily, Hale told KSL’s Maria Shilaos, there is a way forward.
First, Hale acknowledged that betrayal is “a broad spectrum.”
“There’s the secret flirtatious conversations online… to decades-long affairs,” Hale said. “What constitutes betrayal to me may be different than what constitutes betrayal to my partner.”
To shore up against the hurt that comes with a breach of trust, Hale recommended communicating preemptively with your spouse about what you would consider a betrayal. She also mentioned what she called “the ‘if my partner were standing here’ yardstick.”
“Would I be saying these words, doing these actions and texting these messages if my spouse were standing right next to me? If they saw or heard me, would they be hurt? Or if the tables were turned, would I be hurt or even crushed?” Hale recommended asking yourself. “If so, then a boundary has been crossed.”
Once that line has been crossed, Hale said that couples hoping to recover must go through three distinct stages outlined by John and Julie Gottman: “atonement, attunement and attachment.”
Atonement is about the “what” of the betrayal. What went wrong? This is a time to discuss the infidelity, Hale said, not the circumstances that may have encouraged or enabled it.
In the atonement phrase, “the betrayer takes 100 percent accountability for their missteps,” Hale said. “There is no moving forward without it.”
Only in the attunement phase can partners begin to address the “why” of the infidelity. “What in it in our marriage that set us up for vulnerability?” Hale recommends asking.
Finally, once they reach the attachment phase, couples can consider the “where” — “where do we go from here?”
“Both parties have to want to do whatever it takes to recover,” Hale said. “Any act is forgivable if you allow it to be.”
Hale explained that the attachment phase is about renewing and rebuilding your relationship.
“The good news is that a new and improved relationship can be accomplished and your commitment can richer than ever,” she said. “Not because of the affair, but because of the work done to make marriage #2 better than marriage #1 ever was.”
It “really is reasonable to think about starting fresh,” Hale said, explaining:
“The first marriage has been obliterated … There’s a new line in the sand, and now we have marriage #2.”
Much like a broken bone that has healed and acquired extra-strong scar tissue, Hale said, “we really are stronger in the broken places.”
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