The disclosure of betrayal is often a sudden, explosive experience that can leave a spouse shattered. It is as if the person you have trusted to hold you up, suddenly abandons you to fall crashing to the ground. This is why:
Every human being is connected to other human beings. These connections contribute to our sense of who we are. They build our identity.
Members of our family – especially our spouse — serve as identity anchors. In many ways, I know who I am by experiencing who I am in relationship with YOU.
Martin Buber explored this in a small, beautfully wriiten book called simply, I and Thou. Buber was a Jewish techer who explored the nature of human beings as creatures who live lives of relationships with others.
Here is his basic insight:
The basic word I-You can be spoken only with one’s whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I require a You to become; becoming I, I say You.
Only in a relationship with another person does one’s sense of self comes into focus. It comes into focus not for the other, but for the self. I see myself most clearly in relationship with you.
The wonderful mystery of personal identify is expresed in the richness of a relationship. The influence of others on one’s personal identity is profound and profoundly dynamic. As one person changes in a relationship, the other person’s sense of self changes as well.
When I am affirmed by someone else, I can see myself as a person of eternal value. When I am criticized or put down, I begin to see myself as unworthy of respect. A good friend is someone who in seeing the best in me, helps me to become better. I am never something static. I am constantly changing in response to my partner.
This is what makes healthy relationships so deeply satisfying and so deeply life-giving. It is also what makes the crisis of betrayal so devastating.
Because the identity of the spouse is so deeply grounded in the relationship with her partner, when she learns that things are not as they seem, the problem is not just with HIM. Suddenly she is thrown into a whirlwind of identity confusion that effects not must what she feels, but also what she sees, how she thinks, and what she believes about the world.
The harm caused to the identity of the spouse produces such a shock to the system that many spouses who have experienced betrayal exhibit symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. The same shock that soldiers experience on the battlefield is often experienced by the spouse in betrayal.
Some of the symptoms a partner might experience include:[arrow_list]
- Feeling edgy and be easily startled
- Constant anxiety
- Hyper-vigilance in relationship others
- The presence the betrayer triggering anger, fear, grief of other overwhelming emotion
- Lethargy or apathy about their own life
- Avoidance of relationships with others
- Inability to trust others
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating at work[/arrow_list]
If you experience symptoms like these, it is important that you seek help — the sooner the better. Finding others who have experienced a similar crisis, and finding a guide who can help you navigate the experience and help you establish healthy connections with others, will help you get your life back.
You will become you again in healthy relationship with others.
Image by Ted Eytan