Betrayal In Relationships: Why It Happens & Why It’s So Painful

This post was updated on Jul 19, 2023

Suffering betrayal in your primary relationship is one of the most difficult things an individual can endure. You rightfully expect your relationship to be full of love, emotional support, and acceptance, which is why it is extremely hard to have the trust broken and your life to feel like it has been flipped upside down – to put it mildly. That is why betrayals in relationships are difficult to overcome.

It doesn’t matter if the betrayal happened because of recent boredom in a relationship, or because you and your partner have started to become dishonest and disconnected from each other. Betraying your loved one in any way is not excusable however with the appropriate process, you can discover why the trust was broken. If there is a plan to try to resolve and move forward, understanding and facing the reality of what happened is crucial.

Betrayal trauma impacts trust in relationships, and can affect other personal relationships in your life, such as with friends, family members, peers, coworkers, etc.

The path to healing can be asynchronous between you and your partner. In other words, the timing of when the perpetrating partner and betrayed partner can both hold space and understand the other partner’s experience can take time and requires patience. If the expectation is that the betrayed partner is supposed to understand the “why” immediately after the disloyalty has been disclosed, that is an unrealistic expectation. The traumatized partner needs time to let the emotional bomb settle. The coupleship will either fail or begin to heal during this transitional phase. A willingness to lean in toward healing and rebuilding trust is critical for both parties to feel supported.

Some couples may need help and support from professional relationship experts in these cases. These highly trained and qualified professionals organize private sessions or couples retreats that address different relationship hardships.

What Is Considered Betrayal In A Relationship?

The most common example, and certainly one of the most hurtful forms of betrayal between romantic partners is infidelity, whether you are cheating on someone or having someone cheat on you. Discovering a romantic betrayal can be devastating and impact your sense of well being. Yet, what if you haven’t experienced such a problem in close relationships and still feel betrayed?

Affairs are only one type of betrayal. Betrayals in relationships can occur in many ways, and each hurts in its own way. The following are only some of the other forms of betrayal in relationships:

  • A friend constantly putting their needs and wants above yours
  • Experiencing emotional cheating on behalf of your partner
  • Your partner being dishonest about different matters
  • Having your insecurities and vulnerabilities used against you
  • Noticing your partner emotionally distancing themselves from you
  • A partner that constantly makes you feel pressured to change
  • Learning of your partner complaining about your relationship to someone else
  • Your partner always prioritizing hobbies, work, or other passions above the relationship
  • Having your private information divulged to others without your consent
  • A friend or loved one disrespecting you or criticizing you in front of others

What Does Betrayal Do To A Person?

Betrayals can have a great emotional impact on a person. They take many forms and happen for a variety of reasons, but they share a defining characteristic – they can leave serious emotional scars and trauma to those who have been betrayed.

The initial reaction to betrayal varies. Some individuals will, at first, feel surprised and confused, while others will feel immediate anger or sadness. All of us are different, and we react to unpleasant and hurtful situations in our own ways. 

However, most people will, at some point, experience a lack of trust toward the person who betrayed them. While this is a problem that can be overcome, it can truly damage a relationship if partners don’t find a way to resolve this issue. 

That is one of the biggest reasons why betrayal is so difficult to overcome. Initial emotional reactions subside, while a lack of trust lingers. And trust can be extremely difficult to rebuild.

What Are The Symptoms Of Betrayal Trauma?

Betrayal trauma occurs when someone experiences intense emotional pain and psychological distress as a result of a significant betrayal, particularly by someone they trusted or depended upon. The symptoms of betrayal trauma can vary for everyone, impacting both physical and mental health, but here are some common signs and symptoms:

  1. Emotional distress: Intense emotions such as shock, anger, sadness, hurt, and confusion are common following a betrayal. These emotions can be overwhelming and difficult to manage, leading to emotional turmoil and instability.
  2. Anxiety and fear: The betrayed individual may experience anxiousness, fear, or even panic as a result of the betrayal. This can manifest as a constant state of worry, hypervigilance, or an overwhelming fear of further betrayal.
  3. Depression: Prolonged feelings of hopelessness and despair can be signs of depression following betrayal trauma. This may result in a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, and difficulty concentrating or making decisions, causing a shift in your mental health.
  4. Intrusive thoughts and rumination: Betrayal trauma can lead to constant thoughts about the betrayal, often accompanied by a strong desire to understand why it happened. This can result in rumination, where the person becomes preoccupied with the betrayal and has difficulty focusing on other aspects of their life.
  5. Relationship issues: Trust is often shattered in the wake of a betrayal, which can lead to difficulties in forming new relationships or maintaining existing ones. The betrayed partner may be more guarded, less open, or overly suspicious of others’ intentions.
  6. Self-esteem and self-worth: Betrayal trauma can leave the individual questioning their own worth and value. They may experience feelings of inadequacy, self-blame, or self-doubt, which can further contribute to their emotional distress.
  7. Sleep disturbances: Sleep problems such as insomnia, nightmares, or restless sleep can be symptoms of betrayal trauma. The emotional and psychological stress can make it difficult to relax and fall asleep or lead to nightmares related to the betrayal.
  8. Physical symptoms: The stress of betrayal trauma can impact physical health by manifesting as physical symptoms, including headaches, digestive issues, muscle tension, or a general feeling of being unwell.
  9. Isolation and withdrawal: In an attempt to protect themselves from further hurt, the betrayed may withdraw from social interactions, avoid situations that remind them of the betrayal, or isolate themselves from friends and family.
  10. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): In severe cases of betrayal trauma, the individual may develop symptoms consistent with PTSD, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety.

Why Is Betrayal So Painful?

Betrayal in a romantic relationship can cause you to overthink your entire relationship. It can allow insecurity to creep into your relationship with your partner, which is a personal bond thought to be strong enough to withstand any challenge.

Insecure Attachment

Drawing on attachment theory, we can better understand the pain of betrayal trauma and how our attachment styles influence our emotional responses and coping strategies. If either partner has experienced betrayal or broken trust earlier in life, this repeat betrayal can have profound effects psychologically.

The original wound was traumatic and can manifest in many different ways. For instance, a person who experienced physical abuse by someone during childhood may have developed an anxious attachment style resulting in significant trust issues in relationships. The anxiously attached partner fears rejection and abandonment and has been known to also anticipate betrayal. Let’s say that this particular individual has not previously engaged in therapy or personal growth work. So now, they’ve been betrayed by their partner for another person. The specific trust issues rooted in their childhood resurface, and their emotional reaction is to lay down in the fetal position in bed over the next several days, frozen. This experience of repeat betrayal trauma can be both devastating and painful.

Repeated instances of betrayal can exacerbate existing emotional wounds and create a cycle of self-doubt and insecurity, creating complexities in romantic relationships and beyond. This can make it increasingly challenging for individuals to break free from the patterns of distrust and fear that have been ingrained in their psyche.

Trust Is Broken

Depending on the individual, betrayals are painful for a variety of reasons. However, betrayal in relationships usually hurts because we often feel that our partner, who is supposed to be closest to us, acted against us and exposed us to pain through their actions.

And that is precisely why betrayal hurts so much. Where once there was certainty, there is now uncertainty. Where there was understanding, there is now misunderstanding. And, where there was belief, there is now doubt. And that hurts. As trust erodes, individuals may find themselves questioning not only their partner’s sincerity but also their own worth and ability to maintain healthy relationships. This can lead to feelings of isolation, despair, and being trapped in a cycle of betrayal and pain.

Can You Love Someone And Betray Them?

No matter the violation of trust you or your partner have experienced, it can be very difficult to resolve and overcome. Betrayal trauma can be emotionally draining and devastating.

However, everyone makes mistakes. Making mistakes doesn’t mean we do not love our partners, we do not appreciate them, or we do not want to be with them. 

At PIVOT, we look at love as a verb. Are you being loving toward your partner? Some days for personal reasons, we may not feel capable of giving and receiving love.  Life challenges arise and can sometimes bring a tremendous amount of fear, anxious feelings, and depression.  Not feeling loving does not excuse betraying our partners. Communication is key. It is your responsibility to share how you feel with each other so expectations are realistic.

Mistakes happen. How we deal with those mistakes is what we can use to show our partners just how much we care about them. So yes, you can love your partner and betray them. Or be loved and feel betrayed. If it happens, it’s important to show them how much you care and take responsibility do what’s in your power to make things right.

What Are The 5 Stages Of Betrayal?

Betrayal is a complex and painful experience that can have lasting effects on individuals and relationships. Though there isn’t a universally accepted model for the stages of betrayal in personal relationships, many psychologists and relationship experts propose various frameworks to help understand the process. Here is one such framework that breaks down betrayal into five stages:

  1. Discovery: This is the initial stage when the betrayed person becomes aware. It is often characterized by shock, disbelief, and confusion as the individual tries to process the information and make sense of what has happened.
  2. Emotional upheaval: In this stage, the betrayed individual experiences a roller coaster of emotions, including anger, hurt, and despair. It’s common for individuals to feel emotionally overwhelmed and to oscillate between different emotions as they attempt to cope with the betrayal. During this stage, if the betrayed person had a similar past trauma, the emotions, and their instability are amplified.
  3. Meaning-making: During this stage, the betrayed person starts to analyze the betrayal in an attempt to understand why it happened. They may question their own actions, the actions of the betrayer, and the circumstances surrounding the betrayal. This stage can involve a great deal of introspection and self-reflection.
  4. Rebuilding: In this stage, the betrayed partner decides whether they want to repair the relationship or move on. If they choose to work on the relationship, they will likely establish new boundaries, engage in open communication with the betrayer, and seek professional help if they haven’t already. If they decide to move on, they may start to create a new life without the betrayer, focusing on their own healing process and personal growth.
  5. Acceptance and healing: This final stage involves coming to terms with the betrayal and finding a sense of closure. The betrayed person learns to forgive, either to restore the relationship or to let go and move forward. This stage is marked by rebuilding trust, personal growth and a newfound connection with self and others.

It’s important to note that these stages are not linear, and individuals may move back and forth between them as they process the act of betrayal. Additionally, the duration and intensity of each stage can vary depending on the nature of the act of betrayal and the individual’s coping mechanisms.

How Do You Deal With Betrayal In A Relationship?

Being betrayed is hard enough, but dealing with and overcoming relationship betrayal can be a lot more difficult to do. There is no set list of rules that will help you overcome betrayal in your relationship faster or better, but here are some tips that might help you have healthy relationships and deal with betrayal a bit more easily:

  • Name and embrace the emotions you’re feeling, as acknowledging how you feel is the first step toward recovery.
  • Don’t feel the need to explain your feelings to anyone or to rationalize them.
  • Resist from the potential desire to retaliate to a betrayal. 
  • Take as much time as you need to come to terms with your relationship betrayal.
  • Assess the betrayal and attempt to uncover the possible reasons behind it. 
  • Try to calmly discuss the betrayal with your partner and listen to their side.
  • Take your thoughts and feelings to a retained professional to help you. 
  • Know that you don’t have to stay. If the betrayal is too damaging to you, you can work toward processing what to do, and if the decision to leave is where you end up, that is a valid decision. Often when children, money, and other factors are involved, it is important to give yourself time to understand what happened and why it happened so you can move on without carrying additional baggage.

Leave Betrayal Behind At A PIVOT Couple Relationship Workshop

What Does Betrayal Do To A Person

Have you experienced a betrayal from romantic partner and want to find a way to deal with it? It’s important to first uncover the reasons behind that betrayal. Understanding why your partner betrayed your relationship is the first step in coming to terms with it and eventually managing to overcome the entire difficult situation.

Sometimes, relationship betrayals may happen because your relationship might have been toxic. You and your partner may have become increasingly emotionally distant. Knowing the causes of any kind of betrayal is essential for moving forward and finding a way to rebuild trust. Romantic relationships can heal from betrayal. That is why it is a good idea to seek support from expert relationship advocates at PIVOT. Our relationship advocates are knowledgeable and experienced professionals who organize both individual couples emotional coaching sessions, as well as group emotional workshops for couples. We are here to assist you in any way we can. Reach out to us today!

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