A recent client of mine found herself stuck in fear after she ended her relationship with a partner who intentionally deceived her and hid his unhealthy sexual choices again and again. She knew that she no longer wanted to remain in an intimate relationship with him, and she felt very little love or tenderness toward him anymore. So, she was confused and concerned by the intensity of the grief and disorientation she was experiencing.
In our session, it suddenly occurred to me: The fear behind the expressed fear was that she was somehow codependent for feeling such deep loss and anger. If it’s her decision to leave, why is it hurting so much? As soon as I asked if she was afraid that her pain meant she was codependent, she began to weep deeply, wrapping her arms across her shoulders and hiding her face as she cried.
Damaging ideologies like codependence minimize the losses of the betrayed partner. Codependence says a person is overly dependent on an unhealthy person. But betrayed partners aren’t just losing the person they thought they had, they are losing the life they had. The intense grieving response of the betrayed partner is for the loss of the relationship that offered safety, stability, connection, and love; the loss of ‘together time’ as a family with the kids and grandkids; the loss of a relatively secure sense of the future; the loss of uncomplicated friendships and lifestyles; the loss of a lifestyle that has now been sacrificed to help cover the costs of treatment; the loss of….
When betrayed partners are first grappling with the fallout of discovery, it often takes some time for them to realize the betrayal is much bigger than them – meaning they could do everything right and the cheating partner might still choose to engage in destructive behavior choices. Ultimately, the cheater’s behaviors are the responsibility of the cheater alone.
It is vital for the betrayed partner to remember this when the cheater is spending a lot of time in private, confidential 12 step meetings and having private conversations every day with a sponsor or support group. These activities can bring up all the same fears and triggers of the secret acting out behaviors. The betrayed partner must come to terms with the reality of the situation: This is bigger than me. I could do everything right and the outcomes are still beyond my control. I must surrender to life on life’s terms and surround myself with supportive people and groups where I am not alone. I must experience my own confidential and private support spaces, so I can make space for my partner’s need for the same.
It can be so beneficial for betrayed partners to expose themselves to the 12 steps for non-addicts. Historically, if one wanted to work the 12 steps, they could only do so if they were an addict. Eventually, groups for non-addicts started developing their version of the 12 steps. Today, there are dignified and healthy options, in particular Prodependence Anonymous, for working the 12 steps as a betrayed partner.
Another great option for betrayed partners is participation in the online workgroups offered by Seeking Integrity. SI offers Level 1, 2, and 3 groups to help betrayed partners understand and deal with the situation in which they suddenly find themselves through no fault of their own. I also host a free weekly online discussion group for betrayed partners. You can learn more about that by clicking this link.