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Alex had been cheating on Alice from day one. Secretly, he hired strippers at his bachelor party and never made it through his honeymoon without cheating with someone he met at the pool of the resort where he and Alice stayed during the week after the wedding. It didn’t stop. He slept with Alice’s best friend, hired hookers when on the road for his work, and was hooked on porn over the years.
Alice caught him looking at porn on his phone late one night and suspicioned there was more but was afraid to confront him. Then, one evening Alex’s phone rang and Alice picked it up thinking it was their daughter needing to be picked up from volleyball. But it wasn’t. It was a strange female voice who asked for Alex. When the person recognized that it was not Alex she hung up. Triggered with suspicion, Alice checked his texts and phone messages. She discovered a ton of graphic sexting texts between Alex and a woman named Lisa. She checked the phone number and figured there were over 75 phone calls to this one woman’s number. She called the number on Alex’s phone and the same voice of woman answered the call and Alice hung up without saying a word. She burst into tears because she knew what she had been dreading for quite some time.
She confronted Alex about the call but he denied and lied about anything inappropriate. She stayed with it and laid out the enormity of detail that she uncovered and finally, after hours of adamantly denying and gaslighting Alice, Alex broke down and admitted that he had been having an affair with a woman named Lisa who worked at his company. He piecemealed his history of sexual misbehavior. It wasn’t till a month and a half later when through intensive therapy and an extensive sexual history polygraph that Alice learned that Alex was never faithful to her throughout their ten years of marriage.
She determined that the only way she would remain in the marriage would be that he move out, go to inpatient treatment recommended by his therapist, and do whatever they recommended.
This is a common story for therapists who work with compulsive sexual betrayal. The stories vary and some relationships are able to heal betrayal brokenness while many are not. Addictive behavior is often concealed in deceit and secrets. In time, compulsive infidelity is discovered by partners and other family members. It is always traumatic for everybody.
Healing around betrayal is difficult and dicey. The trauma that is incurred impacts both the betrayer and the betrayed. The hurt is multifaceted.
Therapists treating broken trust have a number of considerations to assess when administering treatment. There are established guidelines for counselor support. However, while there are similarities that are common to all partner betrayal, no two betrayal responses are the same. Couples whose relationships have been riddled with compulsive infidelity with long-term dishonesty have a number of considerations to assess.
1. The compulsive betrayer must prioritize the following in order for healing to be effective: Cut off all contact with the affair partner immediately. This includes text, email, phone calls, and face-to-face visits. If the affair partner is in a working relationship with the compulsive betrayer, contact must be only about business with a commitment to gate all nonverbal energy communication. Preferred accountability about this dynamic would be with a recovering person who also is working a program. The betrayer must prioritize stopping the runaway train going down the track of their entrenched compulsive sexual behavior that has been in existence for a long period of time. Individual treatment is an absolute must. Promises to stop fade away all too frequently for the one who refuses treatment intervention.
2. The partner must engage treatment for damage created by the betrayal. All too frequently the partner refuses treatment favoring that their betraying partner be the “identified patient”. It is familiar to hear “I am not the one who struggles with lying and infidelity. Focus on the betrayer. They are the culprit. This is like getting run over by a big mack truck and laying on the side of the road with tire tracks across your back. The paramedics are called and when they arrive they tend to the driver, put them in the ambulance, and whisk them to the emergency room for treatment, leaving the victim who was run over lying on the side of the road. It makes no sense. Betrayal breaks the heart and the spirit of every victimized partner. Induced trauma requires long-term partner treatment for recovery. Codependent responses are always triggered by underlying trauma. It must be treated and will not heal without it.
3. The 3-legged stool approach. I prefer the 3-legged therapeutic approach. Every stool must have solid legs in order for the stool to be stable to safely sit. I find it most helpful that when treating betrayal trauma that each party in the relationship do individual therapy and that the couple also engage therapy as a couple, ideally with three different therapist involved (one for each of the 2 individuals and one for the couple together). I have experienced good success when it is done concomitantly. There are exclusions when situations are exempt to this approach. That said a three-pronged approach has proven most helpful in healing.
4. Triage priorities in treatment. Betrayal is chaotic and crisis is not uniform and predictable. Careful consideration and guidance is needed in treating the betrayer, the betrayed partner, family, friends, and extended community depending upon the roles people have in those communities. Both partners will need to embrace their wise-minded adult within, and if this is absent carefully accept the guidance from an experienced counselor to triage treatment based on your specific and unique needs.
Destructive behavior, broken hearts, and tire tracks across the back caused by betrayal can heal. However, it is a long journey that insists that both partners embrace the healing journey. One or the other being the “identified patient” will impact prognosis for healing and will stymy healing. Addict betrayal is not only about relational infidelity. Addicts betray their own values and the trust of those around them who are counting on them to work a program for healing. It is crucial that the entire family treat the addictive behavior from a family systems perspective. Each family member will need to address the impact of trauma that warps perspective and undermines trust.