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The Effects of Betrayal on a Marriage

by Elise Wile

“Betrayal is the sense of being harmed by the intentional actions or omissions of a trusted person, “ says psychology professor Stanley Rachman, Ph.D. in a 2010 article in the journal “Behavior Research and Therapy.” When one person chooses to have an affair or otherwise betray a spouse, the effect on that person can be devastating. Unfortunately, it is difficult to simply “get over” betrayal and move on quickly, as the damage can be great enough to require a lengthy period of healing.

Anger, Anxiety and Loss

Betrayal is associated with shock and loss, anxiety, damaged self-esteem and anger, according to Rachman. Often, dealing with the pain of betrayal is challenging enough that a person should seek therapy to avoid succumbing to an ongoing depression, for example. In a marriage, the partner who was unfaithful or dishonest must be accepting of her partner’s emotions. While it is normal for both partners to want everything to return to the way it was, this is unlikely to happen until each has dealt with the emotions surrounding the deception.

Insecure Feelings and Behavior

After a betrayal, the injured party must often cope with overwhelming insecurity. Understandably, she’ll be likely to wonder if her partner will lie to her again, and may be suspicious to the point of seeming paranoia. The betrayed may also feel the need to play detective, says psychologist John Grohol in an article on the relationship website YourTango.com. After an affair, for example, a spouse may examine credit card bills, receipts and other “evidence” looking for clues to how the betrayal occurred without her knowledge. The marriage is likely to suffer from the effects of this insecurity for a long time, as the couple works to restore trust.

Improved Relationship

While it may seem counter-intuitive, a betrayal can serve to strengthen a relationship, says psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne in an August 2012 article in “Psychology Today.” If the perpetrator apologizes and offers reparations while sincerely promising not to repeat the behavior, the couple can emerge from the experience understanding what to prioritize in the relationship. Forgiveness offered in response to such an apology can ease the pain of both parties and each can grow from the experience.

Demise of the Marriage

When infidelity or other forms of betrayal are present in a marriage, the betrayed partner always has the option to terminate the relationship, rather than working through what may be a long and laborious process of forgiveness and reconciliation. Some marriages – up to 69 percent, according to Oprah.com – don’t survive an affair. Other forms of marital treason such as lying, can also lead to divorce as the betrayed spouse loses the ability to trust her partner’s words and actions. If the betrayal is part of a deceptive behavior pattern, the chances of the marriage surviving are slim.

About the Author

Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.

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