Back in episode 209, we did a show on the five things you need to know if you’ve been betrayed by your husband. Today we want to look at the experience of a husband who has been betrayed. Men and women both experience betrayal, but have different ways of responding to it.
Betrayal trauma is the result of a shocking disclosure of a relational breach, whether that’s unfaithfulness or some other form of broken trust or loss of confidence in your marriage. These breaches can come from things like spousal neglect, cheating or various forms of infidelity, dishonesty, deception, betrayal, rejection, or other circumstances that cause you to stop trusting your spouse.
Men Process Betrayal Trauma Differently Than Women
Unfortunately, there is much less research on men dealing with betrayal trauma than on women. Men definitely experience pain and have to go through a process of healing after they are betrayed, but they tend to process it differently than women. According to Douglas Weiss (2019), a psychologist who sees both women and men dealing with betrayal trauma, men tend to compartmentalize more than women and they tend to block out painful experiences such as betrayal.
Research shows that men tend to go in one of two directions when dealing with infidelity: either they divorce their spouse or they give them one more chance. Women are actually more likely to experience symptoms of trauma and PTSD after betrayal, whereas men don’t end up with the same PTSD symptoms. Keep in mind that this is a general statement. There are men who do experience trauma and PTSD symptoms after betrayal. They also should look for professional help, grieve what has happened, and deal with the hurt, anger and betrayal that they’ve endured.
Betrayal can Have Lasting Effects
Just because you have not developed symptoms of PTSD, this does not necessarily mean you are free and clear of any lasting effects. Even without adverse ongoing symptoms, you still have to take time to process the hurt, anger and betrayal. You have to grieve the loss of an unadulterated marriage and other effects of what has happened.
There are some feelings that betrayed men experience that are common to both genders. For example, shame. It could be shame of believing that others will see them as sexually incompetent, thus prompting their spouse to go outside the marriage. It could also be believing that they are relationally or emotionally inadequate, again prompting the spouse to seek to meet their needs outside the marriage. However, where other women will typically rally around one of their own when betrayed, a man in the same situation may find himself with friends who don’t know how to support him in this very vulnerable and emotionally raw stage after he discloses the affair to them.
Finally, it’s always helpful to remember that everyone processes betrayal differently. And every kind of betrayal is different. For example, a financial betrayal (e.g., a hidden gambling loss) will prompt a very different reaction than the discovery of an affair.
One thing both genders need to do is to consider, process and express the emotions generated by the betrayal. If you have friends, a mentor, or someone in your support network who can be there with you as you do this work, that is a huge help. It’s also a good idea to reach out to your therapist for counseling. If you haven’t worked with a therapist before we have a number of our team members at OnlyYouForever who work with betrayal situations in marriage too.
5 Ways To Heal From Betrayal
We’d like to give you the five things you can do to help you recover from a betrayal.
1. Give Yourself Time
It’s important to understand that there is no quick fix to a situation like this. Recovery from betrayal is a painful process. It takes time to heal.
It is totally normal during this time to feel anger and distress. It’s normal to be fine one moment and ambushed by emotions the next. It’s all part of the process of healing.
Betrayed husbands may feel tempted to act out in a revenge fling after finding out their wife has had an affair, but that does not help the marriage heal. Typically, you just end up hurting each other worse through a reaction like this and it does nothing to help your healing process. Sometimes these revenge affairs are just an attempt to fill the hole in your own heart or an attempt to replace the loss you feel. Even if the betrayal has left you alone, being alone for a while is not necessarily a bad thing.
It will take several weeks before things are not totally raw. It will take several months to return to a fairly normal state of being. And it may take a few years to fully heal from betrayal, especially if it was traumatic. To be honest, some spouses report not being able to fully heal from their spouse’s betrayal even with enough time. That said, if you are motivated to heal and you can find the right kind of help to walk with you through that healing journey, there is definitely hope that you can heal with time.
Betrayed by Your Wife? 5 Things You Need to do
Once again, we’ve created a bonus guide for our much-appreciated supporters, specifically for men who find themselves in this situation. This one takes more of a cognitive behavioural approach where you will learn to record what you are experiencing and then choose an exercise or way to respond that helps you to heal. It’s very practical and will help you to productively move through this very difficult situation you find yourself in. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.
2. View It As a Wake-up Call
This is challenging — but, ask yourself if there is a way you can see this betrayal as a wake-up call? A way to learn and discover things about yourself and about marriage so that you can grow.
In a marriage, there are always times when one or both spouses’ emotional needs are not being fulfilled. This is especially true if you have had communication problems with one another. So as you work on regaining trust, try to be aware of the ways in which you perhaps have not been communicating your own needs and desires to your spouse.
A good couples’ therapist is very helpful: ultimately both of you will have to take some responsibility for the problems in the relationship that led up to the affair, even though your wife was the only one who was unfaithful. This is about taking charge of and accepting responsibility for the future.
Seeing the betrayal as a wake-up call is also a helpful perspective to adopt because it is empowering. If you are just blaming everything on your wife, and staking your future on her making all of the changes, then you are adopting a disempowered position. Yes, she does need to make changes and she does need to demonstrate reliable behavior over time so that trust can be rebuilt, but you can also be part of the change process in order to create a new, safer, thriving and passionate relationship.
3. Allow Yourself to Grieve
For men especially: we are not good at grieving. But going through a betrayal is a lot like bereavement. We talked earlier about some of the losses related to betrayal. Those things are in the past and cannot be recovered.
Grief is a process that requires time. It cannot be rushed and it should not be bypassed or it will likely show up in your marriage as anger later on, or even show up in your health in the form of mental health issues or even physiological problems.
4. Don’t Assume Moral Superiority
Taking the moral high ground in a situation like can be very tempting: being betrayed puts you into the place of a victim. Moral superiority appears to restore power and offers an outlet for anger. Unfortunately, it will not help you heal. It will increase your spouse’s shame and that will not help her to heal or to do what she needs to do in order to avoid this problem in the future.
On the flip side, blaming yourself is not productive either. While we do encourage you to face your part in contributing to a marriage where this became a possibility, it was still your wife’s choice to go outside of the vows she made to you. You don’t need to compromise your own integrity, the person you are, or the person you believe you can be.
Ideally, what you want to do is to move on from the experience and commit yourselves to restoring your marriage rather than ruminating on the betrayal.
5. Focus on The Good
Blame and guilt are destructive in a relationship. There’ll be a period where that is at the forefront, but if you maintain that and it becomes resentment you will have a hard time sustaining your marriage (if that is what you hope to do).
There has to be a process of acknowledging all the hurt, doing the hard work of forgiveness, working on yourself to understand how you’ve been impacted, and then restoring the marriage.
Throughout this, focusing on the positive can be helpful. This is a time, as you begin to heal, to strengthen yourself. Look for things at work or in your recreation time where you can be successful and boost your self-confidence. Ground yourself back in things that matter to you: your faith community is a good one to consider. Practice gratitude.
If you choose to rebuild your marriage, while the betrayal will remain as a significant event, don’t allow it to become what defines your interactions and your relationship with your wife for the remainder of your marriage.
Note From BCACC: As podcasts can be subscribed to and accessed all over the world, psycho-educational podcasts should include a disclaimer to the effect that they are a self-help tool and do not replace individual counselling or represent an attempt to solicit clients from jurisdictions where the RCC does not have the legal ability to practice. Further, they are not intended for those experiencing severe symptoms such as suicidal thoughts, for which emergency help should be sought.
“Recovery From Partner Betrayal Trauma,” n.d., https://partnerbetrayaltrauma.org/.
Doug Weiss, Do Men Get Partner Betrayal Trauma Too? What’s The Difference? (Question Answered), n.d., https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nussTjkgchY.
Linda Blair, “I Can’t Stop Thinking about My Wife’s Affair,” 2008, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/feb/21/familyandrelationships.
George Everly, “The Trauma of Intimate Partner Betrayal,” 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/when-disaster-strikes-inside-disaster-psychology/201806/the-trauma-intimate-partner-betrayal.
Blair, “I Can’t Stop Thinking about My Wife’s Affair.”
Everly, “The Trauma of Intimate Partner Betrayal.”
Blair, “I Can’t Stop Thinking about My Wife’s Affair.”
Everly, “The Trauma of Intimate Partner Betrayal.”