Looking Back with Love
Before I was married, I would watch the occasional talk show and wonder how the betrayed women they frequently hosted didn’t know they were being cheated on…
How in the world could they honestly profess to still love this guy? How could they be so clueless?
When I got engaged, I told my fiancé that I was all in— the only reasons I would ever end our relationship were if he hit me, or if he cheated on me.
Over the years I watched many friends––many good marriages, good men, and good women––endure the pain of betrayal. Each time this happened, my husband and I would talk about how sad it was and promise to always stay together.
About 6 years into our marriage, I experienced my first disclosure day. My husband had been using pornography for nearly five of those six years.
This moment wrecked me. How could I have missed this?
I am a tech savvy girl. Thinking about the depths to which he had to go to hide this from me felt so deeply painful—it was intentional. This caused me to internalize all kinds of negative beliefs about myself.
I wasn’t attractive enough. I wasn’t sexual enough. I was overweight. His actions were clearly all about me.
Over the next several years, I went through a very dark time.. I couldn’t find a way to bridge the gap—to trust my husband again. I knew it was on me at this point—he had quit pornography, talked to our spiritual leader… Clearly the problem resided with me. I needed to forgive him and move on. However, I had no support. No one even suggested that I might need to talk to a therapist. There were no podcasts, no books, no support groups––and nobody was talking about pornography addiction or betrayal trauma. The focus was solely on my husband. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know or understand the impact of his behaviors on me at the time.
After three or four years, I finally felt some of the darkness lifting. We moved halfway across the country—away from any family or friends. Things were really good for us… Or so I thought.
Nineteen years of marriage had come and gone. My oldest daughter had just graduated high school and was planning her college move when a second disclosure came. Pornography use had resumed just a year after the initial disclosure all those years ago. But it had escalated. Inappropriate sexual conversations with coworkers, sexting with coworkers, and ultimately, a physical affair.
How could I not know? How did I miss all of the signs again? I am the clueless woman from the talk show. How did this become my life? How could I possibly still claim to love this man(because I did)?
It was so disorienting and so incredibly painful.
It was shortly after this second disclosure that I happened across a podcast that described betrayal trauma. This was the first time in nearly 15 years that I recognized what I had been going through during the dark period following my husband’s initial disclosure––and just how far reaching the impact had been in my life.
As the validation came, so did clarity. I had been wrestling with the fallout of betrayal trauma for nearly 15 years. It impacted everything in my life––from my marital relationship to my relationship with my daughters (which was being fueled by my almost constant state of heightened anxiety).
Just before this second disclosure, I had spent some time working on a bachelor’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies (the irony isn’t lost on me). As part of that program, I had to create, advertise, and lead a three-part workshop. I chose to do it on Self-Compassion for Mothers. Little did I know the impact this project would have on me as I walked through my second round of betrayal trauma.
As I studied the work of Kristin Neff and Brené Brown in preparation, I thought about the negative beliefs I had taken on over the years––the harsh critical voice in my mind, constantly telling me that I was never going to be “enough”, that there was something wrong with me, or that I was stupid for not trusting myself or for allowing myself to be manipulated and gaslit for years… The mental beatings were merciless. The idea of self-compassion in their writing hit home.
I asked myself, “How could I have been so stupid?”
But the truth is, he was my husband––the man I loved and had built a life with, the man who had provided financially for me to be a stay-at-home mom, the man who had been an involved father to our daughters, the man who had told me repeatedly that he didn’t need friends, or to go out with the boys because he wanted to be home with us. Why would I have been expecting him to deceive me?
I trusted him… And I chose to trust again.
Through the work of Dr. Skinner and Bloom, I have gained the support and education I needed to correct and update many of those negative messages I had believed. I was able to recognize my actions were my best efforts to protect something that held great value to me—and there is nothing stupid or crazy about that.
The most significant thing I have learned on this journey is that there is no “right” way to go through betrayal trauma. The pain and the threat we feel is real, and our bodies and our brains do what they know how to, in a heroic effort to keep us safe and to protect our relationships. I believe that is something honorable and respectable, and worthy of our compassion.
As you reflect on your own journey, it is my earnest desire that regardless of your responses or reactions, you will allow yourself to extend some compassion towards that version of you who was doing all they knew how to do to survive a major catastrophe. They are worthy of our empathy and understanding. Look back with love for yourself.
Written by Sharree, a Bloom Guided Coach. If you are in need of resources and support, click here to learn more about our Bloom Guided program and connect with other women who are on a journey towards healing from betrayal trauma.