The Effectiveness of Truth Telling Toward a Deeper Healing in Relational Betrayal

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Beth had been partnered with Steve for 12 years. She thought they were doing just fine. There were a few scuffles and every now and then she felt some distance but overall she figured it was just what people go through in a relationship. Then she stumbled into a pit of horror one afternoon looking for a phone number for Steve’s brother. She noticed a list of numbers that were foreign to her. She called one and found out it was an escort service. She had no idea. She was numb with shock and even though the evidence of infidelity was clear as a bell she was hoping that there would be a legitimate answer to this horrible reality. 

There wasn’t. At first, Steve lied about the inquiry. Then he finally came clean. It was piecemeal. If Beth asked the right question he gave her an honest response. This went on for a few days until such a point that Beth was unsure she would ever get the truth to the full extent. Now she had a dilemma. Do I leave the relationship? When can I know the last shoe of disclosure has dropped? Do I ask for a polygraph? How do I live with him knowing that he has so prolifically, profoundly lied to me? Who in the hell can possibly understand this crazy-making experience that I feel from being gaslit? There were a ton of other questions that raged within. 

Couples like Beth and Steve who experience infidelity will only heal through truth-telling. While the steps toward healing are not cookie cut, truth-telling must be embraced, particularly when there is compulsive infidelity.  Every stone must be turned over so that there are no secrets. A polygraph can be helpful to establish that a full disclosure has been made. 

When truth is agonizingly piece-mealed it is torture to the offended partner. “I wanna believe, but how can I when details dribble out that break my heart” is a common response.

Truth-telling about secret behaviors is essential but not sufficient. The partner in shock wants to know “Where did this behavior come from”. “This is not who I thought I was partnering with or what I thought I would get!” It is significant for the philandering partner to understand the cycle of offending behavior and disclose what was going on within that led to the hurtful behavior. The behavior did not happen out of the blue. If so, you would have been even yet more unpredictable. Digging in and understanding the mistaken beliefs, build-up behaviors and triggers that precipitated betrayal is a necessary truth-telling step for both the betrayer and the one betrayed. At least the betrayed can begin to grapple with what’s been going on inside their partner who betrayed. 

Truth-telling establishes a ground zero in a relationship pockmarked with infidelity that helps to determine the potential future of the relationship. It does not guarantee that the relationship can be salvaged, but without it, healing doesn’t happen.

Once these two momentous steps in truth-telling have been taken, there will be questions that nag the betrayed. How could my partner pull off this behavior under my very eyes? Why would they do this? What is wrong with me that I ended up screwed over like this? 

A process of clarification is a necessary next step of truth-telling. It is important to understand that when you choose to violate the values of another it is a victimizing behavior. There is an offender in every one of us which expresses itself through a mentality that “wants what I want when I want it”. It is this part that is the core of offending behavior. The offending behavior must be exposed for what it is—the epitome of narcissism. 

What must be cultivated in the heart of the offending person is the capacity to tell on themselves to the offended party. It is one thing for your victim to recognize by his or her own insight that you, as an offender, have victimized. It is a more powerful healing experience to the relationship when the offending party demonstrates awareness of ways in which they have victimized. Clarification is a way to “unbrainwash” your victimized partner so they understand that you “get it” and that they were not responsible for your abusive behavior in any way. 

There are 12 steps:

1. The obvious. Identify the way you offended your partner.

2. Identify 5 memories of special promises that are now spoiled because of your betrayal.

3. Make a list of 3 overt and covert ways your partner would have resisted your behavior had they known.

4. Identify 3 ways you groomed yourself and your partner around your betrayal behavior.

5. Identify 3 lies you told yourself, excuses you made to justify your behavior, and rationales that gave you a sense of entitlement to betray.

6. Describe the “smoke screens” you used to keep your partner off track (moodiness/busyness, etc).

7. Share how dishonesty around relationships occurred before you ever knew your partner in attitude, fantasy, and action.

8. Validate the confusing mixed messages you gave your partner through examples that you own. (secrets you kept)

9. Identify 3 others who would not do what you did, and areas it would not be wise to be trusted without accountability.

10. Give examples of ways you tried to hide your behavior from certain others.

11. Validate your partner’s boundaries and ways they distanced themselves from you after learning of your betrayal.

12. Validate that whatever weaknesses your partner may have, they are inconsequential to your choice of destructive behavior. Also, identify 3 hardships that your behavior has caused for your partner. 

When you complete these steps, weave your responses into a letter. Share them with your partner. Ask her to have a supportive person (therapist, coach, and/or others) to be with her as she listens. You will be wise to have the same support. 

There is an offender in us all. It would be wise for the partner who has been offended to consider ways in which they have offended their partner. Likely, betrayal is not your concerned behavior. Of course, you have done nothing to make your partner act out and betray you. Yet, you have contributed to intimacy distance in some way. It will be helpful for you to compose a clarification process for your betrayal partner. You will find healing through common awareness of shortcomings whatever they may be. 

The steps of truth-telling around betrayal require guidance. Usually, a trained professional is necessary but not always. For sure, truth-telling requires courage and being anchored to your adult self. Yet, those who engage in this courage know the freedom of healing that truth-telling achieves.

Chaos and the Big Sleep

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“Everybody is somebody—but on any given day there is somebody who feels like nobody. At the end of the day, the question is “Does anybody care enough to walk alongside the one who feels like nobody long enough to help them feel that they are somebody again.” —KW

You can’t change the way you grew up. Mary Main, a professor at UCal-Berkeley suggests that people learn to engage in a cohesive coherent narrative of their life. What I think this suggests is that if you are an addict it is important to not just look back and identify all the acting out you have ever done. But dig in and look at the relationships with people in your life that connect to why you do what you do and who you are. It’s sort of like making sense of the chaos and learning to connect with yourself in this endeavor.

Chaos makes this hard to do. People who grew up with crazy chaos often carry a little crazy with them their entire lives. Chaos puts to sleep the awareness of living life through healthy alternatives. The way you survived is what you replicate later in life. Your habits for survival are tattooed on your bones.

Therapy teaches you to talk about your chaos. You can learn a lot intellectually about what happened—the abandonment, the disorganized attachment, and all the systemic dynamics about your dysfunctional past. But most of us who grew up in craziness will die with some of it still inside. Sometimes I wonder if this is why I will die an addict.

I, like many addicts, grew up in an environment that was so dysfunctionally complicated that it is exhausting just to talk about it, and I have been talking about it for years. Every abuse headline is connected to subheadings that guaranteed crazy living for mere survival. It’s been said that addicts learn to embrace the improbable and ignore the obvious. Is there any other way for an addict to survive a complicated abusive past? The web of instability is so complex that to endure required that you fall asleep to healthy behavioral options and live in a trance-like state to what is real.

For example, I grew up in a large family. The ubiquitous presence of sexual abuse impacted our family in every dimension. There was sexual abuse perpetrated by pastors and leaders at our church. There was sexual abuse that was pervasive in our family. The church I grew up in was a cult. There was patriarchal domination of men toward women in our home and church. In a cult, church life and home life environment become one. You must develop the capacity to fall asleep to the reality of what surrounds you just to survive. When I shared my sexual abuse by the pastor of our church to responsible leaders, they concluded that my parents who had attended the church for 40 years were troublemakers and shunned them for 3 months. You would have thought that victims treated in this way would sever relationships and find another church to attend. My parents didn’t. They went to sleep about the reality of what happened to their children and to themselves. Once, many years later I asked my mom about the church shunning her and my dad regarding the sexual abuse and she responded that it never happened. Of course, it never happened when you fall asleep to reality.

My parents fell asleep to the injustices that intruded their lives because they were overwhelmed with the history of abuses that took place in their own family of origin. If you don’t face and address injustice, the only way to survive is to fall asleep to the realities of abuse and domination that penetrate you and the people you love.

My parents ignored what was going on in their family by singing gospel songs like “When We All Get to Heaven” or “Victory In Jesus” in order to ignore the hell on earth that had pervaded every aspect of their lives. How is this so different than the way our society ignores the lies and deceit proffered by politicians, religious leaders, and cultural icons about what is real? Rather than sifting, sorting, and researching truth, most of us choose a media service to do our thinking and fall asleep to the incongruence of our own hypocrisy and those who lead us.

For those who choose to no longer ignore the emperor who wears no clothes, waking up takes commitment to truth and honesty. It also takes time. The effort to wake up requires that you stop doing what keeps you asleep. It’s no wonder you are sleepy if you keep taking sleeping pills.

You will need to stop your own crazy thinking like trying to do more to keep from being less. Slowing this locomotive down is no small task.

You will have to address your mistaken beliefs that exist and have created blocks to intimacy with yourself and others. Mistaken beliefs have been tattooed in your heart as a way of surviving the craziness of your childhood. When you do more and have more it is difficult to accept less and think you are more. Material gain is like booze. There’s nothing wrong with either one as long as you respect that both can make you drunk. Driving your life drunk is scary whether you are intoxicated with booze or the disease of more.

The only way to stop the chaos is to wake up from the big sleep. Nothing changes until it is real. When craziness is complex, waking up means to slow life to examine the inconsistencies, face your hypocrisy, and address your incongruence.

People talk about making America great again. Yet, if everybody, who knew somebody who felt like a nobody, was willing to walk alongside to wake them up from the chaos and craziness, maybe that would hold promise to a great future for the first time. Together, we can be somebody once again.

Ignoring the Obvious While Embracing the Improbable

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“Who so loves, Believes the impossible” — Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Addicts ignore the elephant in the living room. It is obvious to everyone that dad, mom, brother, or sister is acting out in addiction. Yet, nobody confronts the issue. Everyone pretends that there will be a better day. Nobody admits that addictive behavior is running rampant. You drink the Kool-Aid of denial and project that the family is good and everything is going just great. 

Families with untreated substance addictions are not the only ones who ignore the obvious while embracing the improbable. There are families who project being very religious while ignoring that dad is a serial philanderer. There are couples who project the image of harmony and happiness in public but who privately barely speak to each other. Is it hypocritical? Sure! Yet, over time those who ignore the obvious gradually learn to believe the improbable is real. There really isn’t a dead dog in the living room!

Businesses and institutions also ignore the obvious while embracing the improbable. There is a certain type of game that is played. Once I worked as one of the ministers at a large dynamic church. It was promoted as the largest of its kind. The lead minister avowed and reported that several thousand people attended his church each Sunday. It was questioned so he asked that I organize a count of worship goers for six weeks. After the allotted time, I reported that there were 1000 fewer people attending the worship service than he boasted. He was very angry and insisted that his estimate was correct and my count was wrong. So we pretended that 1000 people were there that were not. Eventually, the infrastructure of embracing the improbable implodes and reality deflates perception like a deflated balloon. When you ignore the obvious it will eventually become devastating. 

Everyone is tempted to embrace the improbable. We don’t want to face the obvious when the reality is disappointing. 

Historically, many did not want to think of John Kennedy or Martin Luther King as philanderers but they were. Many wanted to ignore that steroids in baseball were a problem, but they were. I wanted to believe that Lance Armstrong was an unbelievable athlete who did not cheat, but he did. What is obvious, and that which is improbable, bump up against each other throughout life.  How do you sort or sift what is real in your life?

1. Don’t play games. Face what is real in your personal life. There are payoffs for people who play games. The games that I reference are not “Ha-ha” games. They are games that you keep you safe in a dysfunctional family. Every family creates rules and gives messages about what is OK and what is not. Family is the cocoon in which children learn to interact with the outside world.  When a family is unhealthy, a child will not know the difference between what is hurtful or not. The sphere of their family world is all they know. Unhealthy families become rigid so their rules and regulations become gospel and make it difficult for new information from the outside to penetrate the protective sphere of family influence. So if dad gets drunk on Fridays and screams at everyone or slaps mother because she said something he didn’t like, it is easy for a child in that environment to interpret that all families live like this and that walking on eggshells around dad, with fear and anxiety, is a normal part of everyday living. It takes time and deliberate action to demythologize your parents and the family rules that dominated you. You must first recognize how unhealthy family rules and messages impact you in a negative way. Without this deliberate action, your tendency will be to ignore the obvious and embrace the improbable. The process is unnerving and likely will trigger guilt for questioning the fundamental beliefs that your parents taught, depending upon how dysfunctional your family of origin is. If you learned that you are not to question the authority of your parents, then be prepared to struggle with guilt.  You may need the help of a therapist to detach from the guilt and the rules of your family. They are powerful.

2. Once detached, train in observing your behavior around authority figures and the culture you engage at work and other organizations. It is normal to want to please those you work for or with. When things don’t go your way, pay attention to how you respond. Notice when you become triggered and overreactive. Pay attention to what goes on emotionally underneath the surface about the issue that triggers you. If you have a patterned history of struggling with authority figures, it is a signal that you have unresolved family-of-origin issues to address. Maybe your struggle is that you tend to go along to get along. It might mean that you won’t address a principle that you believe in for fear of rejection. On the other hand, you might find yourself quibbling and irritated without knowing why. What you think is a personality conflict might be an issue of unresolved family-of-origin work with your parents. If you don’t address these issues you will repeat ignoring the obvious and embracing the improbable. You must pay attention to your behavior and the games you play as well as the rules of the games other people play. When you learn to detach from both, you will respond from a position of strength and not weakness.

3. Embracing the obvious opens the potential for the impossible. Nothing changes until it becomes real. When you identify the elephant in the living room, you can do something about it. You can separate destructive behavior from the person. You stop playing a game and identify the destructive behavior for what it is. You transform behavior that is experienced as nonproductive to being a curse and destructive into a blessing of resolution and relational connection. This is the essence of what love is about. It is not ignoring what is hurtful but it is leaning into the obvious. Seeing the obvious with mature compassion and love is the way to responsibly create a different world. Love teaches you what is beneath the surface. It helps to see what is hidden to the eye but known to the heart. When you embrace the obvious you can allow the wisdom of love to work its magic in transforming relational dynamics in family, work, and the culture at large. Breaking through denial and facing the dead dog in the living room is necessary to heal unhealthy relationships. This form of love is the dynamic that transforms the impossible within you and creates possible healthy relationships with those whom you engage.