Healing from betrayal trauma can be a long journey. If you and your husband have made it through the first long and difficult stage of recovery from sexual betrayal trauma–establishing emotional, physical, and sexual safety–you may be ready for the second and third stages of the recovery journey, processing and grieving what has happened and reconnecting.
Recovery, healing, and growth take hard work and time. In fact, I believe some of the hardest, but most rewarding work is yet to come. After establishing emotional safety, the work of healing moves from surviving to thriving. The following five steps can help you continue healing from betrayal trauma and get back to living a life that you value and enjoy.
Practice relational care.
Begin to foster rich and fulfilling friendships based on mutual interests that bring you joy. It’s also a wonderful time to develop your relationship with yourself. Explore your interests, schedule them on your calendar and follow through.
To strengthen your relationship with yourself:
- Take an art class.
- Learn a new skill.
- Create a life vision and start to carry it out.
To strengthen old and form new friendships:
- Grab coffee with a friend.
- Call a family member.
- Participate in a book club.
- Eat lunch or take a walk with a co-worker.
- Meet new people by taking a class or joining a club.
- Get involved with a church.
Acknowledge and work through grief.
The recovery process of healing from betrayal trauma is not linear. Even when we feel we’ve processed, grieved, and now feel fantastic, grief can hit us at unexpected times. Whether it’s your marriage, or the ideal marriage you thought you had, a friendship that fizzled due to lack of understanding, a loss of self-esteem, loss of faith in God, others, or yourself–grief must be dealt with. There is a saying that I love: “The only cure for grief is grieving.”
There are many ways to work through grief.
- A “container for grief” refers to choosing a place and time to give air to dwell on and express the pain. Some choose to do this as they shower or during quiet time.
- Stay close to those who accept and love you.
- Express feelings in a tangible or creative way–journaling, art, poetry.
- Accept your feelings–don’t place a deadline on your grief.
- Draw comfort from your faith–prayer, scripture reading.
- Write angry letters to sex addiction and goodbye letters to life as we knew it or dreamed it would be.
Learn to trust your intuition.
Life with an addict can ruin your confidence in your judgment. You ask yourself, “How did I miss the signs?”
Chances are your intuition was right on point all those years. But you were being deceived by the one you were supposed to trust the most. Your partner put forth great effort into keeping his secret live, well, secret. Your partner was successful.
It’s time to start trusting your gut again, and it begins with body awareness. Intuition is nothing more than sharp observational skills that your body is sometimes aware of before your brain catches on.
- Pay attention to the signals your body gives you. (My stomach hurts; I feel anxious.)
- Once your body talks, listen and understand. (I feel anxious for a reason.)
- Act accordingly. (Communicate concerns, protect yourself, if necessary.)
Manage boundary changes.
As you progress further, boundaries can change–both yours and your spouse’s. Navigating those changes can be tricky. Just as your boundaries can make your spouse uncomfortable, so can theirs make you uncomfortable, and even more so, when they change. For example, further into his recovery, an addict may feel he is now able to handle time alone on the Internet. For the partner, this may create great feelings of distress for obvious reasons.
Because boundary changes can be a sign of either progress or trouble, communication is key.
- Existing boundaries are the expectation until new boundaries are communicated.
- Uncommunicated boundary changes cause us to question whether our partners are being honest – until it has been communicated, a boundary change is a boundary violation, and should be treated as such.
Is the change a sign of progress or of trouble? It helps to keep in mind the things that can and cannot be faked in recovery. Words and behaviors are not reliable indicators of ongoing healthy recovery. What cannot be faked is ongoing transparency, willingness to take responsibility, and sincere attempts to build real intimacy (in the form of vulnerability, humility, accountability, making restitution, etc.).
Take care to watch for gaslighting, narcissistic traits, and other addict behaviors creeping back in that show that you need to move back to stage 1 of the betrayal trauma healing process of establishing safety.
Grow in intimacy.
What is it? I define intimacy as a deep level of safe connection where both parties are free to express feelings, fears, dreams, and affection.
There are many areas of intimacy:
- Spiritual: praying together, sharing deeper feelings and philosophies on life, purpose, and personal meaning.
- Emotional: includes giving and receiving love, encouragement, affection, and the benefit of the doubt. It’s the feeling that we have each other’s back.
- Intellectual: respecting and caring about each other’s interests, values, opinions, and ideas.
- Sexual: comfortably discussing insecurities and sexual boundaries without being pressured, experiencing togetherness even when “performance” falters.
If you’ve come through the initial stage of establishing emotional safety, you may be at place where you’re ready to tackle these next steps. This last phase, done well, will lead to a richer and more fulfilling relationship–possibly better than you ever imagined. So I encourage you to take your time with it, and seek out the support you need to further grow.