Getting Beyond Betrayal |

4 min read

Betrayals in intimate relationships come in all shapes and sizes—from emotional and physical love affairs, to financial infidelity, to any number of other deceptions.

And while couples can survive these betrayals and choose to stay together, they almost never come out of the experience unchanged—and will almost certainly face plenty of struggles along the way. In fact, in my clinical practice, affairs are consistently ranked as one of the most stressful and painful life experiences…for both the betrayed and the betrayer.

If you recently betrayed your partner’s trust and are genuinely remorseful, I understand how difficult this season of your life can be (to say nothing of how difficult it’s been for your partner). But there’s one thing that can make it even more difficult: when your partner struggles to forgive, even when you feel like you’ve been making an honest effort to make things right.

What if your partner continues to bring up past issues? What if they harbor resentment and simply can’t forgive you? If you’ve decided to work through this betrayal as a couple, how can you move on together in a healthier and more productive way?

Here are three things that might help.

Be patient

There’s no way around it: Betrayal hurts, and it will most likely take your partner some time to truly heal from their pain. It also will take time for you to rebuild their trust. And even with both of you giving your genuine effort to move on together, this is a complex process that shouldn’t (and really can’t) be rushed.

Being patient with your partner can look like this:

  • Verbally acknowledging your partner’s feelings
  • Giving your partner your full attention when they want to discuss their thoughts and feelings (if you’re not able to be fully present when they want to talk—e.g., maybe they’re calling you while you’re at work—let them know when you will be available to give them your full attention and be sure to follow through)
  • Not intruding on your partner when they want space away from you
  • Releasing your expectations on how quickly your spouse “should” get over this

If you feel like you’ve been patient for a long time and there still hasn’t been a significant shift, there could be other things you need to explore (or you may simply need to wait longer). In the meantime, it can help to focus on self-forgiveness: Be mindful of how you speak to yourself, practice self-care techniques, and avoid any unhealthy coping mechanisms that could derail your own healing.

And remember, if you’re genuinely remorseful and ready to change, you don’t deserve to be “punished” forever—neither by yourself nor your partner. Patience matters, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy or useful to tolerate stagnation in your relationship indefinitely.

Be proactive

Owning up to your mistakes is essential here. If you haven’t yet, make sure that you’ve fully acknowledged and taken responsibility for what you’ve done that’s broken your partner’s trust. No excuses, no justifications, no martyrdom. Just complete ownership.

From this foundation of 100-percent personal responsibility, you can then start to initiate meaningful behavior change that shows you are serious about helping this relationship heal. This is where we walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Ask yourself (and your partner): What do I need to do or change to make this right?

Consult with a professional

I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to work with a licensed couples’ counselor if your marriage has been touched by infidelity or betrayal of any kind. Not only can a counselor help you and your spouse navigate how to move on from this betrayal together, but he or she can also help you ultimately decide if moving on together is truly the best call.

Professional couples counseling is especially useful when you and your partner have been attempting to move on from a betrayal for a long time already but there just hasn’t been any significant progress. A licensed marriage and family therapist can give you both the emotional scaffolding and communicative tools to help you rebuild your relationship and discover true restorative healing.

Forgiveness Essential Reads

Forgiveness takes time, patience, and personal responsibility. Your relationship is worth it to stay the course after a betrayal. Keep practicing these things along with self-forgiveness and your relationship could come out even stronger.

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