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How to Define Betrayal

Imagine this:

An individual walks toward a park filled with family and friends. From a safe distance and without warning, he takes a grenade out of his pocket, pulls the pin, and tosses it into the crowd. The explosion is devastating. He rushes to his car, pulls out a paramedic’s uniform, and rushes back to the scene where he earnestly tries to administer first aid. He is shocked when his loved ones react with anger and confusion at his attempts to comfort and heal their pain.

If something like this really happened it would make the headlines, right? In reality, it happens every day but it remains a secret, it is confined to private homes, or it is exposed in the offices of marriage counselors. The scenario describes  the confusion and pain of infidelity, and implies the difficult, betrayed meaning for the spouse.

As a marriage counselor specializing in infidelity I try to help recovering couples understand the confusion behind this cycle and how to define betrayal. We know the pain experienced by the betrayed can be similar to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder experienced by soldiers wounded in battle. The injured spouse may experience anxiety and depression, insomnia and intrusive thoughts, hyper-vigilance and an inability to maintain daily activities.

As the betrayer rushes in to comfort the damage he has caused, his partner vacillates between wanting intense closeness and insisting he get away or leave the home. Couples in this stage may actually experience great sex, intimate conversations, and open emotional expression. Just as quickly, however, their closeness can turn to confusion, anger, and even violence because of the blurred lines between trust and betrayal. This initial roller coaster is normal but it may be difficult for family and friends to be supportive (remember they were part of the collateral damage too).

Couples struggling to find equilibrium may discover they need the help of a professional who understands the cycle of infidelity recovery and who can offer the hope the couple needs.

Dr. Kate Walker, Ph.D. is the Owner and CEO of© and the non-profit counseling center Ann’s Place. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Supervisor.

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