By Dr. Kevin Skinner, Therapist, Author, Co-Founder of Bloom
“I almost feel paralyzed. Like I can’t stop thinking about my marriage and questioning if any of it has been real. Did he ever really love me or have I just been lying to myself? Have I ever been good enough for him?”
I sat in silence for a moment after being asked this question, and looking over the table and into this woman’s eyes swollen with tears, I searched for a way to tell her that what she was feeling was completely normal. Many women, in fact, have described to me their struggle to sleep, eat, and even take care of themselves or others around them after discovering that their spouse has been unfaithful to them. Whether it was infidelity, looking at pornography, going to strip clubs, or sexually acting out in other ways, these women felt helpless and unsafe with their husband’s behavior.
I remember speaking to one of my colleagues about these things one day. She, too, had noticed that many women who she had been visiting with were experiencing similar emotions that I had observed in my clients. She suggested that the women she had been working with were showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As I began to review my clients who were dealing with their partner’s infidelity, it quickly became apparent that my colleague was right – my clients were also showing signs of PTSD. In fact, my client’s symptoms paralleled exactly those of PTSD with the exception of a fear of life.
It’s since been determined that trauma can be a result from betrayal in a relationship. As therapists, we call it Betrayal Trauma.
In an effort to learn more about the trauma caused by betrayal, my colleague and I teamed up to create one of the first, if not the very first, assessments looking at betrayal trauma. That was nearly 12 years ago, and since that time, we have had over 5,000 betrayed spouses and partners from all over the world complete our assessment. (You can take the assessment here)
The following symptoms are very common:
- Indescribable fear
- Reliving the experience (dreams, replaying discovery over and over)
- Avoidance (not being able to go out in public or be around things that remind you of what your spouse has done)
- Negative self-cognition (I am not good enough or he/she wouldn’t do this, if I were prettier, taller, more attractive, lost weight, she/he wouldn’t do this).
- Increased emotional arousal (intense anger, yelling, sleep problems related to racing mind, anxiety, suicidal thoughts)
Whenever I share this information, inevitably women say, “Why isn’t this being talked about more? I really thought I was going crazy.” My response is that we are now just starting to see the powerful and long lasting effects of betrayal trauma. The symptoms are real and individuals suffering from this type of betrayal should be understood and treated using a trauma model.
Now comes the difficult part: What do we do to help the millions of individuals and couples dealing with betrayal trauma in their relationship? Since our field is just starting to fully accept the trauma model for treatment, we are only in the beginning stages of identifying best practices. The learning curve for effective treatment is steep, but the need for professionals and all in the helping profession (e.g. religious and community leaders) to come together is crucial. Unfortunately, there are still therapists and others in society that do not understand the extent of the trauma that occurs when sexual betrayal happens in a relationship. In some situations, the pain is minimized or overlooked (e.g. It’s just pornography, what’s the big deal?). This can trigger more trauma as the pain is ignored.
Solutions for Individuals Seeking Help
If you’re someone who is experiencing trauma from sexual betrayal you may feel that you are losing your mind or going crazy. In truth, what you are experiencing is common. If you find that you identify with the symptoms described in this article, please reach out for help and support. There are people who understand what you are experiencing. You are not going crazy.
Fortunately, we now see a growing number of people who specialize in understanding and treating trauma. For example, we now know that trauma is largely stored in the body and may best be resolved through using our senses. For this reason, yoga and meditation can be effective tools in healing from trauma.
Learn About Your Betrayal Trauma
If you are suffering from your spouse’s infidelity and/or hidden use of pornography, there is help and support. You are not alone and you aren’t going crazy. What you are experiencing is betrayal trauma. If you would like to take our free assessment to help identify your symptoms you can take the assessment here.