Attention Intimate love — 30 September 2012
Resolving marital betrayal

Feeling betrayed by a mate is profoundly devastating. Betrayal is usually associated with infidelity, but even in its absence, emotional betrayal creates great pain and deep marital discord. Knowing how to manage episodes of betrayal is essential to the stability and security of marital connection.

In “The war of the Roses: An Interdependence Analysis of Betrayal and Forgiveness”, Professor Caryl Rusbult and colleagues state that “betrayal in close relationships occurs when the victim believes that the perpetrator has knowingly departed from the rules that govern their relationship, thereby causing harm to the victim.”

Rules that govern relationships include: Respecting each other and thus avoiding humiliating the mate in front of others; Being honest and truthful about facts and figures in monetary and other mutual concerns; Holding each other’s emotions and frailties with reverence; and, Being loyal friends to each other.

Dr. Rusbult suggests that when any of these or other “rules” are broken, reconciliation, “the restoration of violated trust” is required to reduce the victim’s hurt, assuage the perpetrator’s guilt and to resume pre-betrayal relationship status.

The process of reconciliation requires that the perpetrator understand his/her role in causing pain to the mate, be willing to take responsibility for his/her deeds and commit to abstain from this conduct in the future. If, for example, the husband shamed his wife in front of friends, he must understand and regret that his words were shaming and inflicted pain to his wife and commit to abstain from this behavior. Explanations, justifications or claiming lack of intention may only aggravate her hurt and anger.

Similarly, if a wife did not keep her word to manage the budget and manipulated funds to avoid her husband’s detection or lied about her deceit, she violated expectations of honesty and cooperation as their norm of conduct. If she were to be upset about being “found out” rather than about the deed that violated her husband’s trust, her lack of accountability and absence of a new commitment would be likely to create an emotional rift that would distance the couple from each other.

Social Psychologist Frank Fincham states that Reconciliation, “the restoration of violated trust, requires the good will of both partners.” He explains that the perpetrator needs to resume the pre-violation conduct and the victim needs to honestly forgive the perpetrator and revert to a trusting stance about the mate.

Professor Rusbult and associates suggest that the victim ask about the perpetrator’s thoughts and feelings prior to and during the act to help aid the mate in self-exploration. This approach will also help both partners understand each other and encourage compassion and change toward resumed intimacy and closeness.

To resolve marital betrayal:

¨     Be curious about and respectful of each other’s feelings.

¨     Avoid using the perpetrator’s conduct as evidence of character flaws.

¨     Remember that though hurts arise when personal needs supersede the couple’s agenda, the

pre-violation conduct can be restored.

¨     Reverse the hurt of betrayal through compassionate reconciliation and resumed marital harmony.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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