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?”
Related: 10 Signs of Porn Addiction–Do these describe your husband?
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.
Related: Boundaries for Couples Facing Porn Addiction
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.
Related: Gaslighting–What You Need to Know About This Manipulation Tactic
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.
Wow. That was outstanding. The most helpful part for us was:
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.
I had never thought about that and have done that very thing (made changes b/c I thought I was ready for stuff but didn’t inform my spouse). Great article. thank you!
Thank you for this article. 5 months ago today my wife discovered my addiction to porn which had existed to some extent or another in my life since first exposure at the age of 8 (I’m 48 now). I display(ed) all of the typical behaviors – denial, deception, gaslighting, defensiveness, blaming, minimizing and on an on the list goes.
I am in CR and we are in couples counseling. She has her own therapist and I hope to have one soon. I have an accountability partner and am on a waiting list for a specialized sex addiction group locally. I have Covenant Eyes installed on the only device (phone) I use to access the internet (other than work computer which is highly monitored by company I/S dept). I gave up my iPad and MacBook and no longer have access to them. I desperately desire to break free of the patterns of relational dysfunction that have led me to this point.
I have read volumes learning about sex addiction trying to understand the root causes in my life that have resulted in this sin and the betrayal of my wife’s trust at the most profound level. I am learning that the result of my sin is actual trauma for my wife, not unlike PTSD. I truly desire change and believe I am making strides in that direction. The thought of porn actually disgusts me at this point and I have not viewed it since d-day.
However I am struggling with the emotional connection with my wife. My patterns of defensiveness intrude constantly and fight against my desire to connect. I have difficulty with messiness and I seem to want to avoid it at all costs. I know this needs to change.
I can’t help feeling that some boundaries she has implemented are actually barriers to forward progress. I respect the need for her to have space and safety. At the same time I am feeling resentful about some of the things that have been put in place (I.e revocation of online access to bank account and all other investments like 529’s though I have never actually spent money on porn; prohibition on texting my two college aged sons without her being included in a group text format; video camera placed in loft to monitor my movement in upstairs area; gps location tracking on phone at all times while she will not share her location; and no discussion on whether she desires at some point to extend forgiveness or whether she desires to reconcile – note I am not asking for forgiveness or any promise of reconciliation I simply want to understand if her desire is in that direction).
At the end of the day I’m trying to decipher whether my feelings about her responses are rational or yet another symptom of my broken emotional capabilities and a lack of understanding of how badly I’ve traumatized her.
This article has given much to reflect upon and I thank you for writing it and for the work you are doing for women betrayed by their husbands.
If you have any book or article recommendations that might help me I would be grateful.
Good morning! I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. I’ve only recently become aware of your comment and wanted to give it a thoughtful response.
First, I want to acknowledge the work you’ve done so far at recovery. It’s wonderful that you’re reaching out for help, in addition to all the other recovery activities you’ve listed.
You are correct that what your wife is experiencing is trauma. Unfortunately for both of you, trauma doesn’t heal quickly. It takes time, often a year and sometimes more to get through the acute phases. The repercussions can last a lifetime. Your wife’s sense of reality, and therefore her sense of safety has been shattered, and your words will not mean anything to her until they are backed up with consistent and ongoing behaviors that demonstrate not only your commitment to recovery, but your commitment to support her healing, as well. Your wife is probably in the first stage of this healing, which focuses on safety and emotional stabilization for herself. This is both normal and necessary. What feels controlling to you feels like a life-line for her, and where the relationship is concerned, it is. In time, as trust is rebuilt, she will likely let go of some of these things, but that may be a long way off. Five or six months is still very early recovery. How many years was she deceived? I’m not asking to inflict shame, but to help you see from your wife’s perspective.
It’s also important to understand that only you know how honest you’re being. It’s hard for some in recovery to get this… You may feel you’re being more transparent than ever, and you feel this inwardly as a huge change. But what many don’t realize is that the honest words you use now and the words you used to convince her you were honest when you weren’t are exactly the same. She has no way of knowing the difference, but to see a change of heart (patience, non-defensiveness, etc). She is questioning reality. She is questioning your truthfulness. And in all honesty, she should be. Her emotional safety is at risk. She needs to be the one who decides when she can make herself vulnerable again. You cannot rush this, but you can provide these things to make it safer for her.
As for reading, by far, the best book you can read to educate yourself about your wife’s experience is Your Sexually Addicted Spouse by Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means. I recommend this to all the partners I work with and to those struggling with addiction who want to understand the trauma. Doug Weiss offers a helpful video called Helping Her Heal. Two books that will help you gain a sense of what it takes to demonstrate true recovery and rebuild trust are Worthy of Her Trust by Jason Martinkus and Stop Sex Addiction by Milton Magness, particularly Magness’s chapter on hallmarks of a healthy recovery.
Lastly, I understand how difficult this is for both of you. Early recovery, at its best, is just messy. This is the nature of addiction and betrayal trauma. And, if your relationship is to survive, you are in this for the long haul. Humility, patience, empathy, and non-defensiveness are powerful tools in helping your wife heal and learn to trust again. She will and should be looking for these. It’s up to you to provide them. I strongly suggest you work with a certified Sex Addiction therapist (CSAT) and that your wife see a Betrayal Trauma specialist trained by APSATS (the Association for Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists). BTR.org contracts with APSATS trained coaches. I and all of the coaches at BTR, are trained specifically to assist women experiencing this form of trauma.
I hope this has been helpful. Again I’d like to recognize your wonderful start in recovery and encourage you to continue the hard work that lies ahead. It is a lifelong process, this recovery, but well worth it.
My direct business email for further information is Laura@BTR.org.
Best wishes as you move forward and happy holidays!
I have lived in denial ofmy husbands love/sex addiction for 20 years, my gut knew it was all happening but because of children and finances i felt my only choice was to stick it out and make the best of a terrible situation. After the latest revelation which occured a year ago, the evidence was concrete this time there was no way he could talk his way out of it this time and more than that there was no way i could just ignore it. He checked into 28 day rehab centre for alcoholism. As i said this was a year ago. Things have been ok but for me keeping up the happy face has become to much to bare and eventually the stop button for me had to be stopped. Im so glad i have found information on the net that so perfectly descibes the betayal trauma i am currently going through and that no im not crazy im just having an normal reaction to abnormal circumstances. My days are filled with fear crying anger and a hurt that is so deep in my soul i fear i will never recover for the rest of my life. My day also is consumed by thinking about tracking his car hacking his email so at least i feel i have some control over what is happening to me. My doctor has been wonderful and i am seeing a psychotherapist so fingers crossed i can start seeing the light but at the moment i feel hopeless. I also spend time trying to look nice and cleaning the house etc to try and stop him doing it again but ultimately i know this is no life for me and is not love. The trust is gone and for me once the glass is broken it will never hold water again. The worst part is his refusal to listen to my pain and anguish and not comfort me when triggers occur is just the invalidation of my feelings. Im reduced to writing it out so i have some release. There is a picture in my day room of myself and not in a vain way i look at a beautiful woman who i feel no longer lives inside me. I know i have to go through this i just wish the person who was suppose to be my soother was not my perpetrator. Thats the saddest line i ve had to write . Thankyou for giving me a space to share this
My heart just breaks for you. I think sometimes the betrayal is just beyond repair, and if this is true for you, this is true for you.
I do think that his inability to listen to your pain is a deeply troubling issue. Dr. John Gottman talks about what builds trust in marriage, and it is exactly this: the willingness to turn toward a partner! When your spouse refuses to do that, it really doesn’t matter how perfect their behavior might be in other areas, the emotional trust is broken and can’t be rebuilt. A person who won’t turn toward their spouse emotionally is not emotionally trustworthy.
I’m glad you already have a therapist to help you. Good for you! I highly recommend the online resources at Bloom, where there are forums, classes, and other supportive resources that will help you through this time.
I have recently separated from my husband a month a ago, we were nearly married for 8 years. We have two young daughters turning 2yr and 4yrs.
He has a porn addiction and has chosen it over a family, he doesn’t want any marriage counseling and wants a divorce. I have been very lonely for last couple of years he has been distant and never really showed any affection to me, and wasn’t there emotionally. He also had a temper and wasn’t very hands on with our daughters, like didn’t help with bathing them and never changed nappies.
He took 20 days to ask to speak to his daughters on the phone. I dont understand why he would want to give up and chose porn over us? He broke my heart over and over with his relapses, and took away my self esteem. He would deflect and say something nasty to me when I found out he had been looking at it. I felt like I couldn’t get my trust back and it felt like my feelings didn’t matter to him.
I have to stay strong for my girls, they asked where he was tonight, it’s so heartbreaking.
I am so sorry for the pain you are going through.
I am also thankful that you are going to be able to build a healthy life for yourself and your children, away from the constant influence of your husband’s addiction.
I hope you’ve got good support as you go through this: a therapist, a group, the online resources at Bloom for Women. You are not alone in this. No matter what your husband has chosen, you can choose a healthy life for yourself and your children.
I just found out that my husband had relapsed in his porn addiction last Friday. It all came out and he admitted he need helped and called therapists and left messages etc. Then just last night I found out he had frequented massage parlors and last month ended up having sex with a prostitute working there who gave him a massagem he, said the whole thing happened so fast and that it only lasted 1-2 minutes. I started shaking so hard when he told me and the tears rolled down my cheeks I cried so hard until I almost threw up. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was like I didn’t even know who this person was. I am in shock today and I’ve been crying off and on most of the day. My stomach is one big knot. I feel all day like I have to throw up. I’ve suffered from migraines since I was a child. Needless to say all of this triggered the worst migraine I’ve had in awhile. I’m very sensitive to light today and loud noises as well as being nauseated. Everytime I think I’m done crying it will start right back up again. I had to go into autopilot this morning for the sake of my 7 and 8 year old and get them ready for school. The betrayal is unreal. I have to go get tested to make sure I don’t have anything now. It’s so devastating and heartbreaking. My world has shattered. I love him but not how I loved him before I knew this. He never was authentic with me. So in reality I was just in love with an addict who hid his transgressions and vile choices from the woman he supposedly loved. The only reassurance I have right now is knowing I’m not alone in this trauma and that their are others like me.
I’m so sorry to hear about this. Like you said, it’s reassuring to know you’re not alone. You are not alone. Please allow me to recommend this free ebook https://www.covenanteyes.com/hope-after-porn-how-their-marriages-were-saved/ It’s a collection of stories from four women devastated by the impact of porn on their marriage. Again, I’m so sorry to hear about this. Please let us know how else we can help.