When wealth is lost nothing is lost. when health is lost something is lost. When character is lost all is lost. ~ Billy Graham
Betrayal comes in many forms. The most obvious being a physical affair. However, emotional affairs, drugs and alcohol, or addictions to things like pornography, spending, sports, gambling, and gaming/social media can cause a sense of betrayal in a marriage. Anything that is given such a high priority that the end result is growing distant from your spouse can cause them to feel cheated. Every one of the above listed issues have made there way into my office, and I can’t say with certainty that any one issue is any more or less harmful than the others. What I can say with certainty is that I have never seen any of these problems work themselves out over time. Understanding, collaborative effort, and genuine character change are the only remedies that give the marriage a fighting chance of restoration.
Over the years I have seen many couples who have faced the issue of broken trust, shattered feelings, and heartache that can only come from being utterly let down by the person closest to them. By the time they get past the shock of the situation and come to counseling the first question they have is whether or not the damage can ever really be repaired. The simple answer is yes, but with some pretty weighty conditions. For most people the love they have for the offending spouse doesn’t just go away. It’s still present and strong. It’s the trust that crumbles and has to be rebuilt. Even after making it through the process of forgiving it’s a whole order of magnitude more difficult to bring trust back to the relationship.
The first step in rebuilding trust is gathering information to discover and understand what lead to the failure. This is not a search for excuses, or a way to firmly affix blame to either party. Excuses and blame both tend to be useless at best, and more likely detrimental to the rebuilding process. We are looking more for patterns, long standing unresolved issues, and anything else that may have caused the marriage to weaken over time. Often this can be traced back to one of two things. Either single moments in time that were left in a state of brokenness, or small, recurrent, and eventually chronic issues that were allowed to grow across the span of several years. What we find in this stage must be addressed and healed to open hearts and minds to the hope that tomorrow can be different.
Step two is recommitting to being partners. After we get past the excuses, the blaming, and the rehashing of the past we have an opportunity to join together in the here and now. With the relational posture changing from adversaries to teammates working on a common goal each person will learn to trust and rely on the other a little more with every step forward. One patient in this stage described their “A Ha” moment coming with the realization that if she wanted her husband to climb up the ladder to the next level with her she would have to stop throwing rocks down at him. With this paradigm shift she let go of blaming and became his partner. When a couple shares in the ownership of their problems they also become unified in seeking solutions.
The final step is a change in character. Unfortunately time does not heal all wounds. Even with counseling, hard work, and growth in the right direction the marital relationship isn’t fully restored from the betrayal just because it hasn’t happened again for a month, six months, a full year, or even longer. To really trust your partner again this last piece is crucial. Character is the result of the way we conduct ourselves daily. Our conduct is determined by our beliefs. What we believe is a result of our thought life and the conclusions we have come to either on our own, or through learning from others. If we are going to experience a change in character it will begin by finding the flaws in the thoughts that started us down the wrong path. A change here will naturally result in a changed set of beliefs. With different beliefs we choose to conduct ourselves differently than in the past. If someone has cheated you in some way do you need them to tell, sell, or convince you that they have changed? No, the content of their character provides all you need to know.
While the therapeutic process is helpful in guiding someone along this path the bulk of the work is done autonomously. For someone of faith prayer will be encouraged along with exploration and strengthening of their relationship with God. For a secular individual this might look more like mindful contemplation or meditation to arrive at more emotionally and relationally healthy practices. Either way Bibliotherapy, the counselorese term for reading, will be heavily involved. From the Bible to blogs, and all the self help books in between reading is the quickest and most effective way to gain new thoughts and perspectives. When lasting character has been established trust can and will return to the marriage.
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