The Pain of Betrayal

The pain of betrayal runs deeper than words can describe. When women try to express it verbally it’s almost always in the language of graphic violence:

“It felt like I had been stabbed in the heart over and over and was bleeding to death,” said one respondent of the 2104/2015 Survey of Wives of Sex Addicts.

Another stated: “I [was left] feeling violated: mentally, emotionally, physically.”

For most of us, when we discover that our husband has betrayed us—be it a one-time emotional/physical affair, or habitual sexual acting out—we are shocked and grieved to the depths of our soul. If the acting out continues, or disclosure is "dribbled" each new revelation feels like another “bomb” dropped into our lives. Knowing you live in a war zone makes the bombs less of a surprise, but no less terrifying and devastating.

Why It Hurts So Badly

It is through the revolutionary work of psychology researcher Sue Johnson that we get the best understanding of why betrayal hurts so badly. Prior to Johnson's work it had been understood that children form attachment bonds with their their parents, that if severed had devastating psychological consequences for the child. Johnson demonstrated that romantic couples form a similar adult attachment bond, and that if one partner betrayed the other, the consequences for the betrayed partner were similar... enormous psychological pain.

Looking at the work of other psychologists (such as Gordon Neufeld and Ruth Lawson-McConnell), I would add that having our attachment bond reject us can be extremely damaging to our sense of personal identity. It is normal for children, and adults to look to their "people" for a sense of significance and belonging. When our "main person" sends us a message (by choosing others sexually) that, compared to her, we are "less than," this is a lie (from hell, but often told by the world) that can cut to the core.

Moreover, recent brain studies show that the brain experiences emotional pain much the way it experiences physical pain. No wonder we use the language of graphic violence to describe it!

So, if anyone tells you to “suck it up,” or “get over it” when you express pain over your husband’s betrayal, understand that advice makes no sense. We have been grievously wounded (traumatized, in fact) by the betrayal... and frequently by the behaviours surrounding it (lying, hiding, gaslighting, abuse). Such wounds affect mind, spirit and body. The healing process will not be fast or easy and until the biggest wounds have begun to close up, you may find yourself unable to function at your usual level. In fact, at times your own behavior may shock and distress you.

How Pain Manifests

There are a number of ways this level of pain is likely to manifest itself in our lives. These include:

  • Shock
  • Anger
  • Sorrow
  • Fear

It’s not uncommon to experience all of these manifestations – within a single day. How we deal with them, when they occur, influences how our healing progresses… or fails to progress.

Over the next few weeks we’ll look at all of these manifestations – sharing the stories of the respondents to the survey conducted for the Beyond Betrayal book. We’ll also look at tools for managing them as we work our way toward healing.


Let's remember that there is One who has also suffered the pain of betrayal... and He defeated this and all sin. As we increasingly look to Him for our identity and sense of belonging, the betrayals of this world become less painful.