Cheating. A few years ago, two people came to my office seeking help after one of their partners confessed to having a second relationship for years. The news was still fresh and, despite their strong emotions, they knew one thing: we wanted to move on together and did not want to lose our family. But how? They had no idea... Men who frequent prostitutes are common. Every man has shagged a prostitute at one time or another.
In all my years of counselling, I have never seen a couple seek help so soon after coming out. Often people send an e-mail shortly after discovering the betrayal, then cancel the appointment after a 'nice chat over the weekend', saying that 'everything is fine now. We'll work it out together'. For me, it was unbelievably nice to accompany these people who immediately 'got going'. For the sake of themselves and each other.
Because I usually see people who are still struggling, many years later, with the consequences of all the hidden feelings associated with cheating and coming out. The betrayer is still atoning for his guilt. The betrayed person is still struggling with distrust and feelings of anger. The innocent, unconditional and solid trust that once existed has been destroyed by the betrayal.
Stages after the betrayal
Once the betrayal is discovered, there are several phases.
- The explosion phase
- The fraud is discovered. Pain comes like a sledgehammer blow. Disbelief and confirmation: I knew it. The deceiver feels relieved because the big secret has finally fallen from his shoulders like a leaden weight. The telephone can be opened on the table again. The boss no longer has to work overtime because of the lies. The betrayer, on the other hand, can walk around with the pain and guilt of watching his partner suffer. After all, the partner who knew nothing about it sees the old vision of the future shattered in one fell swoop. And not only that: the past, too, is no longer what it once was. In short, everything seems uncertain.
- The chaos phase
- In the first days and weeks after the betrayal, there is usually a lot of talking, blaming and crying. How could this happen? When? And with whom? And how often? At least if the partners are capable of it. When emotions are too strong, the betrayed may want to distance themselves to calm down. Those who have been betrayed often experience a feeling of numbness. The feeling: oh yes, my life is not what it used to be.... there is a big catch. Now what? How should we proceed?
- The reflection phase
- After the initial emotions of disbelief, anger and bewilderment, there is time for approach and reflection. How did it come to this? What was the trigger and what was my role? What did we leave out in our relationship? What could I have done differently? What does our relationship still represent? Do we still want to move forward? Things have to be different, but how? What impact will it have on our relationship? Depending on the quality of communication and the intensity of feelings.
- The farewell and mourning phase
- There comes a time when you can grieve and give free rein to your grief. It is the farewell to a relationship as it once was. The blind trust in the other, the lost vision of the future. It can also be mourning for the partner with whom you were intimate as a betrayer and of whom you know: it will never be like that again. You cannot go back to the secret love bubble where for a while only the two of you and the rest of the world existed. Everyone involved will say goodbye anyway.
- The decision phase
- When everything has been brought under control and the fiercest storm has subsided, there is a risk of returning to business as usual. The cheater promises better. Or the cheater wants the new love to have a place in his life. The partner is reluctant to give in because he or she does not want to lose the other person and certainly not the family. Agreements are made on how to proceed. They struggle with insecurity and jealousy or forbidden desires. But for the moment love wins. Or it does not work and the partners separate.
- The progress phase
- Once a decision has been made on how to proceed, 'normal' life is resumed. The focus on the betrayal slowly fades and other things come back into focus. In moments of loneliness, thoughts return. Sometimes jealousy or insecurity re-emerges, but also feelings of revenge, insecurity and guilt. Uncertainty about the future remains. The intense closeness created by the tension in the relationship fades again. What now?
- The mirror phase: reviewing one's past
One thing has become clear to me over the many years of counselling: If you do not check your relationship patterns and free them from the old ballast of the past, there is a risk that history will repeat itself. A relationship is nothing but a reflection of old emotional patterns that want to be healed. Every human being desires inner wholeness and, through our partners and the important people in our lives, we hope to achieve it. Consciously or unconsciously.
I have found that the way you see and interpret relationships is influenced by the system of origin you come from. Your family system, your parents and ancestors. Sometimes there is trauma further back in the family system that has not been seen and whose energetic emotional baggage you carry with you. Children unconsciously start caring for their parents when they are no longer able to care for themselves. This transference is logical but undesirable, and eventually everyone wants to get rid of it. In my practice, this is done through an intensive relationship seminar.
I have done the same with people who have come to me immediately after discovering their betrayal. Roles and forms of relationships have been questioned, the old emotional ballast has been thrown away and both are now very happy about a new phase that is about to begin: the new relationship phase.
8 The new relationship phase
In this phase both partners faced their part. They discovered that they were unconsciously acting on a survival strategy that prevented them from getting in touch with their true needs and desires, let alone communicating them to each other. In the new relationship phase, these desires are re-examined and a new way of relating is experienced, confronting old destructive patterns and openly discussing desires. Usually, both partners are able to really listen to the other, leave responsibility in its place (to the other and to themselves) and feel free to talk about it.
Finally, the partners feel they can leave the past behind and are ready to forgive (themselves) and take a new step: The reaffirmation phase
9 The reaffirmation phase
In this phase a celebration takes place. Sometimes the phase is sealed with a ritual pledge of eternal fidelity and the resumption of a relationship together (it can also be a threesome) in which desires grow over a period of time and are evaluated regularly. Because the only certainty in life is that everything always changes and never stays the same.