If you have just learned for the first time that your husband/partner has sexually betrayed you in some way – be it porn use or another form of sexual acting out – I’m so sorry. Through no fault of your own you have just been forced on a journey that many of us find to be excruciating, confusing and overwhelming. However, there are steps we can take to staunch the wounds and begin to heal.
A good first step might be to assess how we are doing. To do this we can ask ourself, How am I feeling?” Am I numb? Relieved (to know what "the crazy" has been about all this time)? Furious? Overwhelmed? In deep grief? These feelings are a normal part of the betrayal journey. They are often accompanied by cognitive symptoms (inability to concentrate, thoughts spinning) and physical symptoms (panic attacks, vomiting, big startle reactions, inability to sleep). While all these symptoms are within the range of "normal" for this abnormal thing known as betrayal trauma, if their presence is continually making life difficult (e.g., for more than a month) this indicates that we should take action. (You can read more about the pain of betrayal here).
As we do our self-check-in, it’s important to work out whether we are in so much pain that we are at immediate or near immediate risk of harming ourself or others. Depending on our past history with relational violence we may also have to ask if we are at risk of being physically harmed by him? This is most likely to occur if there has been physical/sexual violence in the past, and especially if there has been violence and my own emotions are now quite volatile (and he is prone to reacting violently to that).
Where any of the above are the case, we may need to take immediate protective action, such as leaving the house temporarily (or permanently). In addition to this we might also have to find childcare support, and/or call a crisis support line, our health practitioner or the police. This website contains many articles on various types of abuse that may occur in a relationship with betrayal. You may wish to start here.
Other forms of action we will definitely want to take as part of our healing journey are:
There are now a number of excellent sources of information on healing from sexual betrayal in print or online. This website is one of the faith-based sources of that information as is the Beyond Betrayal book. Other excellent sources on betrayal or porn/sex addiction for those coming from a faith worldview include Naked Truth recovery, Hope Redefined, Freedom Fight, Pure Desire, Redemptive Living and Daring Ventures.
Understanding more about betrayal and betrayal trauma (or porn/sex addiction) can help validate our pain, and give us hope that there is a way out of it. Moreover, it can help point us to the type of deeper support we may want to invest in. Be sure to check out our resources page if you need more ideas for education.
2. Get support
Many of the above-mentioned websites offer online forums and groups for betrayed partners/spouses. Some also point us to coaches and counsellors who specialise in working with women who have gone through this journey. Another excellent source for counsellors working in betrayal trauma is the APSATS website.
While it is always tempting to start by looking for support in our usual places (friends, family, church), the best support – both for us and our husband/partner – is more likely to be specialist support. The sooner we start tracking down this support the better, as it can take a bit of time to find what feels like the right fit.
We may also need to seek out support for our physical health. As part of this it is recommended that we get tested for STIs… even in those cases where we were told there has not been unprotected sex with another person. Because this can feel painful and daunting, it can be helpful to take a trusted friend with us to medical appointments related to our husband’s betrayal.
Many women find it tempting to start by finding him support and leave helping themselves for another time. However, this is an ill-advised strategy and it’s not particularly honoring of ourselves. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with expressing our desire for him to get some help (so that the betraying stops… or never happens again), but watching to see what our husband’s motivation is to move on that request provides us with very valuable information that can help us make decisions further down the road. Moreover, it is better for his healing journey if he initiates his own healing/recovery journey. That said, after some time has passed and we have given him that chance to initiate, we may, with support, decide and express that his getting support is an important boundary for us to continue in the relationship.
Our support can also help us work out other boundaries that we need in order to keep going in the relationship. This website contains quite a few posts on that topic.
3. Reassure and calm
One of the first steps on this journey is learning healthy ways to re-stabilize in the face of those powerful negative emotions we are facing. Sometimes we have anger or rage that needs to be released safely. Sometimes it's deep sorrow or fear.
Note that it’s easy for those negative emotions to drive negative narratives which can also leave us feeling stuck. That's why I like “grounding” exercises which can also be combined with truths that fight the lying narratives. This might include:
- Taking long slow breaths in and out with a bible verse such as: Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you (Psalm 56) or I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139).
- Doing the "shalom my body" exercise
- 1 minute (move to 2 eventually) of revisiting a moment of gratitude and connection to God... especially moments where we felt affirmed by His acceptance and love of us.
This is also a time to prioritise whatever healthy things we have found life-giving and calming in the past (and that we have energy for now). Particularly helpful are activities that give us light exercise, and fresh air, or which help us connect to others, including God. Music (listening to or making it) is also helpful. You can read more on grounding here.
Once again, I’m so sorry that you have experienced sexual betrayal. However, I hope that you will find, validation, encouragement, hope and more as you explore this site.