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The Marriage Podcast for Smart People

How Do I Know When/If I Can Trust My Spouse After Betrayal?

How do I know if I can trust my spouse again? This question represents one of the most profound dilemmas a betrayed spouse will struggle with as they journey towards healing after a significant betrayal. How do I know I’m not going to get hurt again? How do I know I’m not just being a fool to trust him or her? Trust is so easy to break and so hard to build: today we’d like to give you more insight into the dynamics at play in this important struggle.

Before we talk about indicators of trustworthiness, we’re going to look at factors that are independent of trustworthiness, or a lack thereof, in your spouse, that affect your ability to trust them again.

The Interference of Betrayal Trauma

Betrayal often causes symptoms of trauma to appear. Symptoms of betrayal trauma include:

Avoidance (possibly even as far as terminating your relationship with your spouse)Hypervigilance (fear response) which can involve scrutinizing all of your spouse’s behaviors, searching, researching, double-checking and interrogatingObsessive questioning, meaning that you continually grill your spouse, and may find it hard to stop Rage (fight response)Numbness (freeze response)[1]

Identifying these symptoms isn’t meant to pathologize any of them. It’s just good to be aware of the symptoms so that you can recognize it if you experience betrayal trauma.

Sometimes you can spend a lot of emotional and mental space trying to figure out what happened. Gordon, Baucom and Snyder (2005) note "a primary disruption experienced by the injured partner is intrusive, persistent rumination about the event, which can become so overwhelming and uncontrollable that it interferes with both concentration and daily functioning" (p. 1394).[2] If you’re experiencing symptoms of betrayal trauma, the process is entirely inside because of what the betraying spouse has done. The symptoms of betrayal trauma can protect you from reaching out to your spouse again, even if they’ve returned to a trustworthy place. We’re delicately saying that the symptoms of trauma can prevent you from trusting, even if you are in a situation where it would be safe to trust again.

Part of the impact of trauma is how it affects trust. Gordon, Baucom, and Snyder (2005) go on to observe: "A major cognitive response associated with the discovery of an affair is the change in beliefs about the partner and relationship; one can no longer trust in his or her partner or feel safe within the relationship" (p. 1394).

Trauma affects what you believe about your spouse. Here’s the point: they betrayed you. The betrayal causes trauma. In the ensuing fallout, it is possible that significant cognitive and emotional changes occurred in your spouse so that they are now a trustworthy person. But if your trauma is unresolved and unhealed, the trauma itself will prevent you from seeing, believing and acting on that trustworthiness. 

We’re not saying all betraying spouses become trustworthy. Yours may not be. But we are saying that yours may now be, but your trauma prevents you from acknowledging this because it’s protecting you. In conjunction with your spouse doing what is necessary to become a changed, trustworthy person, you also need to take care of this trauma that has occurred. 

For betraying spouses listening, it is not for you to turn on your spouse and say this is your fault/problem. A trustworthy betraying spouse can say “yes, I caused this, and I understand that your healing may not follow the same trajectory or speed as mine and you take all the time you need and I will do what I can to support you and I will do what I can to support you.” If they won’t do this, that is a sign that they’re not really trustworthy because they are still blame shifting.

That’s for betrayed spouses to consider as you reflect on yourself. Now, as you reflect on your spouse, we want to give you some warning signs, and some proceed with caution signs. Keep in mind that trust is not a switch that you...
The Marriage Podcast for Smart People


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