How to Deal with Betrayal

How to Deal with Betrayal

Many have experienced it.  Many have made it through.  Many are experiencing it now and wondering if they can or ever will make it through. The emotional storm of Betrayal or Relational Trauma is a real thing.  The damaging and destructive path always has the same markers.  Anxiety over the possibility that your partner is addicted to pornography or acting out with someone else. Feelings of betrayal from the repetitive denial, lying, manipulating, gaslighting, staggered disclosures and discoveries. The whirlwind of craziness as you struggle with your own doubts and fears and the barrage of emotions that come from experiencing such a blow from someone you thought you knew and believed you could trust.  The sinking and heavy depression that is accompanied by helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness as you try to “fix things”, only to be faced with resistance or blame.

The spouses and Partners of women or men struggling with some form of Pornography or Sex Addiction tend to experience various symptoms of PTSD sometimes referred to as betrayal or relational trauma.  These experiences occur in varying degrees of severity and include but are not limited to feeling like you are in danger or actually being in danger from domestic violence, emotional and verbal abuse or a sexually transmitted disease (STD), intrusive thoughts, dreams or nightmares, hypervigilance, anxiety, depression, impaired eating and sleeping patterns, avoidance of people, places and things that do or possibly could trigger any or all of these experiences and last but not least, extreme feelings of powerlessness.  Trauma of any kind literally changes the way the brain and body function and the severity of the trauma(s) will determine the length of time required to heal from the trauma(s).  For some, merely talking about the experience is enough to help them work through and make sense of their experience and move on.  For others, it may take a few years of consistent trauma-based therapy to work through all the emotional, mental and physiological effects of the trauma.

The severity of the traumatic experience is different for everyone.  Present trauma experiences generally have a stronger intensity due to experiences and effects of ethnicity, culture, spiritualism or religion, personality, genetics and especially family histories.  Each of these areas can be influenced by addiction, mental illness, emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect and other dynamics that contribute to or exacerbate the problem.  For example, is in within our own homes and communities where we develop and are raised that we are programmed by specific attachment styles or communication and relational patterns and social experiences that shape the way we experience, perceive and make meaning of our interactions and relationships with other people.  Relational science has for decades shown us that a secure attachment style is the healthiest style and that we can change our attachment styles to a more secure attachment with the help of caring positive support systems.

Obtaining help for betrayal trauma is highly recommended and is so important that it is advisable to be patient with your treatment selection process.  Effective therapists will be educated in the use of appropriate assessment tools, grounding techniques and trauma treatments that assist spouses and partners to work through unhealthy beliefs, uncomfortable and powerful emotions, physiological reactions, social changes and traumatic experiences while developing tools to emotionally ground and regulate themselves.

If you or your spouse or partner is experiencing any form of chaos or unmanageability revolving around pornography, affairs, or sex, get help immediately!  Don’t wait!  Your healing journey and experience is not something you can or need to do on your own!  If you are unsure if you are experiencing betrayal trauma, you can refer to any of the references at the end of this article.  Some of these resources include one or more free assessments.  Results are instantaneous and should be taken to a therapist trained to treat betrayal trauma, sex addiction or PTSD.  They will help you determine the best treatment plan for you.  If you feel you are experiencing any of the symptoms of relational PTSD associated with betrayal trauma, here are some immediate tips:

  1. As difficult as it may be, stop asking questions of your addicted spouse or partner until you have contacted and are working with a mental health professional.  Asking continued questions facilitates staggered disclosure which is a form of repeated trauma and leads to the creation of unhealthy beliefs.
  2. Locate and attend a 12-step or other support group to find others who are on a journey of healing and recovery from betrayal trauma.  A support system is extremely helpful for working through relational trauma. 
  3. With the help of a therapist, develop and practice a series of grounding strategies and mindfulness techniques that will help you be objective and self-regulate.  This is a crucial process that helps the body and mind get back in sync after trauma has occurred and altered the automatic safety gauge of the body.
  4. Obtain the help of a trauma trained therapist who can help you identify and work through personal beliefs or cognitions that may contribute to your internal traumatic reactions and responses.  Some evidence based trauma treatment approaches include but are not limited to EMDR, IFS, Somatic Experiencing, Lifespan Integration and others.


  1. Skinner, K. Treating Trauma from Sexual Betrayal
  2. Carnes, S., Lee, M.A., Rodriguez, A.D. (2012) Facing Heartbreak
  3. Steffens, B.A. & Rennie, R.L. (2006) The traumatic nature of disclosure for wives of sexual addicts. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13, 247-267
  4. Minwalla, O. (2009) Mending a Shattered Heart: A guide for partners of sex addicts
  5. Palmer, V.T., (2016) Moving Beyond Betrayal
  6., Click: Find a Therapist