Partner Betrayals Exist Outside Of Cheating. Here's How To Handle Them

Human relationships are complex — to build a meaningful connection with another person, you must be willing to open yourself up and trust them, which puts you in a position of vulnerability. Consequently, when romantic feelings are involved, relationships become even more complicated, and trust can be easily broken.

Betrayal in a relationship can be one of the most painful experiences. Even though we tend to think of betrayal as a partner cheating, relationship betrayal can take on other forms that are just as hurtful. From lying to breaking a promise and neglecting you to secret and private behaviors, your partner can cause deep emotional wounds that take time to heal — if they heal at all.

If you have ever found yourself in a position of feeling betrayed, you know how difficult it is to navigate and deal with your emotions. Unlike with cheating, you might be wondering whether your emotions are justified or whether you are overreacting. You might wonder if your relationship deserves a second chance, and if it does, how do you handle it? We've got some expert advice to help you figure it all out. 

Types of betrayals outside of cheating

One of the most common ways a partner can betray you is by having sex with another person. Relationships can also deteriorate when one partner becomes emotionally attached to a third person (emotional cheating). Even in the absence of sexual intimacy, this type of emotional attachment is still betrayal. However, cheating is only one way a partner can betray you.

One of the most profound ways a partner can betray you is financial infidelity. If your partner has unhealthy habits and addictions, such as gambling and wracking up debts while hiding their finances from you, you will feel betrayed. As the lies keep piling up, betrayal becomes even more intense, and trust is irreparably damaged.

Another type of betrayal is when your partner prioritizes their hobbies and their work over you. If you feel that your partner has very little time left for you because they work crazy hours (enter work spouse), you will feel betrayed, and detachment will set in. You can also feel betrayed if your partner consistently fails to stand up for you in front of others and sides with their opinions instead of supporting you. A similar betrayal would be sharing intimate details of your relationship with others. Moreover, if your partner pressures you to change and uses your insecurities against you, they are betraying you, hurting you, and belittling you.

How does betrayal affect you?

Betrayals can lead to deep emotional wounds, but how each person reacts to them can be different. Healthline suggests that betrayal leaves a lingering trauma that affects a person's self-esteem and ability to trust and open up again. Feelings of numbness, grief, shock, and bewilderment arise. While some people may initially be surprised and in denial, others immediately feel enraged. Suspicion and hypervigilance may overshadow the relationship from that point on. If your partner consistently criticizes you, you might begin to withdraw and feel isolated. As the emotional symptoms take a toll on your mental health, physical symptoms can appear.

BTR.Org indicates that betrayal trauma can lead to the deterioration of a person's health as psychosomatic symptoms emerge. These include fatigue, insomnia, lack of appetite, weight loss, chronic pain, migraines, muscle weakness, unexplained infections, and even autoimmune disease-like symptoms. In addition, while each person reacts differently to betrayal, one common thought constantly invades their minds: "Does my partner really love me?"

Does betrayal mean they don't love you?

While experiencing betrayal trauma, it is common to wonder whether your partner really loves you. Understandably, you will expect a person who loves you not to betray you, but people are the sum of their experiences. Pivot suggests that you can be loved and be betrayed simultaneously, and the causes of betrayal are not always due to a lack of love.

For instance, a partner that constantly criticizes you might have experienced intense criticism while growing up and was held to high standards by their parents. If this is how they learned love is supposed to be expressed, they bring this experience into their relationship with you. Or, for example, a partner that made some bad decisions in the past and is up to their neck in debt might feel too embarrassed to admit it and are lying to you to cover past mistakes. A partner with very low self-esteem may seek validation by forming an emotional attachment to someone they think is their equal. A partner working hard to earn that promotion or supplement their income may have little time left for you.

Whatever the type of betrayal you are experiencing, the point is that you should search for underlying causes that have nothing to do with you or the love your partner feels for you. Then you can start to accept and deal with the betrayal.

Accept and acknowledge the why

Accepting the betrayal is the first step toward healing. Sometimes to protect ourselves from hurting, we deny that betrayal is an issue. However, denial will eventually backfire because, deep down, we know things are off, and instead of being happy, we are hurting. So, acknowledging that betrayal is paramount in fixing the relationship and/or setting the healing process in motion.

Once you accept the fact that you are experiencing betrayal trauma, you must gain an understanding of what caused the betrayal in the first place. Understanding the deeper causes is key to lessening the pain caused by it and helping you overcome it. Next, look further back at past events and try to locate the reasons. Stepping back and taking an honest, unbiased look at your relationship helps you realize your role in the issue, if any, and your partner's role.

Healthline indicates that while your initial reaction may be one of self-pity, you must move past it and acknowledge the underlying causes. If the causes are found in underlying relationship issues, you can humbly accept your part and perhaps own up to your share of the fault. For instance, if the underlying causes are a lack of communication or intimacy or if your success inadvertently makes your partner feel unequal, and you are subtly belittling them, you can begin to explore ways to resolve the issues.

Practice patience and embrace difficult emotions

While you might push yourself to get over it quickly, you need to practice patience and embrace difficult emotions. The "fake it till you make it" mantra won't help when dealing with betrayal trauma. The aftermath of betrayal is very real, and putting on a  brave smile or carrying on as if all is fine will do more harm than good.

Don't push your difficult emotions to the back of your mind. Instead, embrace everything you feel, whether fury, grief, or even shame. Healthline advises that while hiding from painful emotions can be the easy way out, the more you avoid them, the harder it becomes to get over them. So, as you embrace difficult emotions and put a name to them, it makes it easier and less frightening to begin your recovery journey. As you gain more emotional awareness, you can gradually try out ways to cope with these emotions.

But practice patience, and be kind to yourself. Take as much time as you need. There is no timeline for the path of healing and restoration. Patience should be practiced by both partners. While putting the betrayal behind you and quickly moving on may seem the less hurtful way to deal with it, talking about the betrayal and taking the time to process it is essential. Each partner should be willing to listen to the other patiently and accept their role in the relationship while working their way through it.

Focus on what you and your relationship need

Unfortunately, when we are betrayed, we are sometimes too willing to put the blame on ourselves. But to heal and handle the betrayal, we must focus on what needs to be done next. Instead of drowning in self-pity or endlessly criticizing our mistakes, we need to take steps to walk through betrayal and rebuild our relationship, if desired.

High Point Counseling lists self-care as their top way to deal with betrayal trauma. There are many things you can do to keep your mind off the betrayal, help you reconnect with yourself, and find your inner peace. However, even if you decide that the relationship needs work on your end, you first need to care for yourself. After all, you cannot pour from an empty jug; if you are feeling empty and at a loss, you won't be able to give your relationship the attention it needs. From meditation and yoga to mindfulness and healthy distractions, there are many things you can do to put yourself first.

Once you feel better and the intense emotions of betrayal have subsided, you can begin working on your relationship or moving on from it. Communication is crucial and having an honest talk with your partner about what each other needs is the first step toward healing. Couples therapy can help you gain valuable insight into the relationship and guide you to effectively communicate and put betrayal trauma behind you.

Take an honest look at your relationship before the betrayal

Even though you might wholeheartedly want to save the relationship and move past the betrayal, you should take an honest look at how things were before. Prior to putting all your energy into saving the relationship, objectively evaluate your feelings for it. Were you really happy in your relationship, even before the betrayal, or was it toxic?

It is easy to get caught up in the mundane daily routine and just go with the flow, staying in a relationship because it feels safe and familiar. Or perhaps you are staying in the relationship because you care for and love the other person but hate to leave them or see them hurt. If you are going to try to rebuild the relationship, first be honest and ask yourself if it is really worth it.

Assess if you were truly happy and fulfilled in your relationship and whether it added value to your life. Were you genuinely content with it, or if you were just going through the motions? Take a step back and decide if this is what you really want for the rest of your life. If yes, then commit to making it work. If not, then lovingly let it go so you can find the partner that fulfills you.

Consider taking a break

If betrayal trauma is too much to handle and your energy is too depleted to focus on mending your relationship, consider taking a break from each other. Taking a break does not mean breaking up and is not necessarily a bad thing. As Prevention puts it, "if you're considering taking a break over breaking up for good, it means you're still looking for a way to move forward with your relationship."

There are many benefits to taking a break. For starters, it allows you to practice self-care without having the stress of the relationship on your mind. It also helps get a fresh perspective on how you feel about your relationship and reexamine your needs and expectations. Finally, spending time away from your partner will allow you to evaluate their role in your life and how their presence affects you. Are you missing your partner? Do you feel that you are happier when they are around?

Dr. Kathryn Ford, M.D., a couple's therapist and relationships expert, tells Very Well Mind, "In a well-functioning relationship, the two people are constantly varying the amount of distance. The right amount ... optimizes love and intimacy while minimizing harm to each person and the relationship." When something jarring happens in the relationship and betrayal trauma sets in, putting some distance between you and the person who hurt you can be beneficial in helping you heal. Handling betrayal is difficult, but there are ways to find forgiveness and move forward.