David betrayed his life partner and he was not prepared for his partner’s emotional distress. He wanted to know when it would end. He asked “Why isn’t sorry good enough?” David needed to understand that his partner’s reactions were normal. Her healing was largely dependent on his ability to be empathic, remorseful, honest, apologetic, loving, patient and soothing over a long period of time. And most importantly to stop the behavior that devastated his spouse.
Normal reactions of the betrayed partner and how to respond:
Disbelief: They don’t believe this nightmare. This is understandable. They trusted you and don’t want to believe you did what you did.
Shock: They appear numb and dazed. Emotions are frozen and senses dulled.
Reality: “Oh my God. It really happened.” They don’t know where to turn. They may feel shamed by your betrayal. Encourage them to get the help they need for their pain.
Confusion: They’re disoriented, impatient, disorganized and forgetful. Be gentle and helpful.
Physical Symptoms: They may sleep or eat too little – or too much. They may suffer from physical aches and pains, weakness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, weight loss. Take long walks together and ensure a healthy diet.
Crying: Deep emotions well up, released by crying, uncontrollable sobbing and even screaming out loud. Support them by acknowledging they’re upset before verbalizing your remorse for causing their pain.
Self-Control: Too much self-control means they are storing up anger and will release it powerfully. The release of anger is necessary to heal.
Need to Know: They will ask lots of questions to process their trauma, move through it, and move past it. Whatever they ask, answer honestly and apologize with another promise you will never betray them again.
Injustice: Your betrayal is an agony you inflicted upon them. They need to know that you understand how this plagues them.
Inadequacy: Their self esteem is shattered. They may feel belittled, insignificant or unlovable.
Idealizing: They may live in the past, before the betrayal came along and “messed it up.” Assure them you remember the good times and will work at developing an even better future with them.
Frustration: Their pain returns again and again. They wonder if they will ever recover and feel better. Be there to hold and comfort them. Repeat your apologies.
Bitterness: Resentment and anger toward you and what you have done are to be expected. This is natural. Until they’ve worked through and exhausted their anger, they cannot heal.
Waiting: Their pain is waning, but their zest for life has not returned. They are in limbo, exhausted and uncertain. Life seems flat and uninteresting. Help them by planning activities that bring joy back into their life.
Emotional Conflict: Shirley Glass, PhD states: “The irony of healing from betrayal is that the perpetrator must become the healer. Thus, betrayed partners are vulnerable because the person they need to turn to is the source of their danger.” The conflict for a betrayed spouse is obvious, but Dr. Glass also recognized that…partners who are betrayers sometimes find it hard to stay engaged with their spouses when they know they are the source of such intense pain. The key is to stay engaged nonetheless. Be supportive and remorseful, and above all…keep talking.
Triggers: It is normal for the betrayed partner to be intensely triggered and traumatized by certain dates, places, items or activities. Depression, anger and nightmares are common when triggered. Again, express you are sorry, you acted so selfishly and caused this recurring pain. Never indicate they should “get over it”. Your betrayal will remain a permanent memory for them, which they learn to deal with better as they heal, and you earn back their trust and rebuild your relationship.
If you can apply all of these components: gratitude, love, acknowledging their pain, admitting you caused the pain, an expression of shame and a promise it will never happen again, there is a strong possibility of:
Hope: Life will get better and the good days out balance the bad.
Commitment: Life won’t be the same, but they decide to actively begin building a new life.
Peace: They feel able to accept the betrayal and face the future.
Life Opening Up: Life has value and meaning again.
Forgiveness: While the memory will never leave them, the burden they’ve been carrying from your betrayal is lifted. Given what you have done, the pain it caused them and the anguish they lived through, this is the ultimate gift they can bestow. They give it not only to you, but to themselves. Be grateful for this gift and cherish it always.