By Hugh McGeary, Managing Director of Counselling Services, Catholic Family Service
Read Part 1 of this series: Honesty at All Costs
Read Part 3 of this series: Vulnerability
Read Part 4 of this series: Trust and Forgiveness
If you are the person who betrayed the trust, you need to choose to take full responsibility and ownership for the betrayal. It just makes it worse to blame being impaired, stress, seduction or troubles in your relationship for the affair. Why? Because your partner knows that these vulnerabilities and risks will be present in anyone’s life or relationship at some point in time, so the betrayal can happen again. Your partner will be watching for signs of change, such as an increase in your emotional maturity, including accepting your responsibility to keep others safe and consistently honouring the promises made to yourself and others.
Next it makes a big difference to the process of recovery when your partner can see a symbol of transformation – a sign that something unique and significant is happening, not just a promise to do better. This could include being more emotionally available, addressing long standing issues such as addiction, finding faith, seeking help from a doctor or counsellor, or interacting with others in a different way. Without these symbols, your partner may just hear words coming from you, like past promises broken. Remember, once you break trust, to some degree you have given away forever your ability to completely reassure your partner.
Another step along the path to recovery is seeing signs of real empathy for the harm done. It seems likely that in order to have an affair, a person needs to be able to compartmentalize, to shut themselves off from the consequences of their actions. Knowing that we can really deeply hurt someone is an important protective factor that helps us avoid betraying their trust. Seeing someone rediscover their empathy and feeling the pain that they have caused will increase our confidence that they will protect us in the future.
The next stage in the recovery process is Understanding of Personal Vulnerability, which will feature in an upcoming article. Other stages to follow in future articles include: Understanding of the Relationship’s Vulnerability, Creation of a Crucible for Grieving, Normalizing the Process, Building Capacity for Internal Reassurance, and perhaps . . . Forgiveness. It is very possible to rebuild trust and co-create a relationship that is safe from further betrayals when couples can commit to the process of going through these stages/steps together over time.
Catholic Family Service’s Affordable Counselling Program helps people deal with a full range of life events from coping with daily pressures – like job loss or relationship problems – to addressing mental health issues and breaking intergenerational cycles of abuse. If you are feeling confused, overwhelmed or uncertain, we can help you. Reach out to our Engagement Team at 403-233-2360 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.