Infidelity is the betrayal our society focuses on, but it is actually the subtle, unnoticed betrayals that truly ruin relationships. When partners do not choose each other day after day, trust and commitment erode away.
Partners may be aware of this disloyalty to each other, but dismiss it because it’s “not as bad as an infidelity.” This is false. Anything that violates a committed relationships contract of mutual trust, respect, nurturance, and protection can be disastrous.
Relationships die when we hide our true needs and dreams to avoid conflict. They are poisoned when we yearn for emotional connection from outside the relationship that seems unavailable from our partner.
These betrayals can show up in three ways. It is only by confronting and taking responsibility for them that couples can establish trust and cultivate profound intimacy.
It’s very easy for platonic friends to bond in the trenches of work, day after day. Sometimes we call this person a “work wife” or “work husband.” Even friendships made at the gym or local coffee shop can threaten the bond at home.
These nonsexual relationships can lead to both parties sharing intimate details about each other’s lives. That doesn’t make it a betrayal. What makes it a betrayal is this: if your partner would be upset by the things you’ve shared or would be uncomfortable watching the interaction.
Tom first learns of his wife’s sexless affair when they hosted a Christmas party. Emily has never mentioned Chris, the new manager of her department. At the party, Chris seems to know about Emily’s entire life. He even brought their son Marshall a Bumblebee Transformer. His favorite.
Tom looks at Emily with a shocked expression. Her sheepish look sinks his heart in an ocean of distrust. When he confronts her on the issue after the party, Emily argues about her friendship with Chris. She tells Tom it’s “nothing” because they are “just friends.”
Emily then turns against her bond with Tom and defends her friendship with Chris. She accuses Tom of being irrationally jealous and tells him it’s the reason he didn’t know about Chris in the first place. Tom feels there is nothing irrational about his jealousy. Whether he admits it or not, his wife is cheating.
The evidence lies in her secrecy.
5 signs your partner’s friendship is not an innocent friendship:
- Has the friendship been hidden?
- Are your questions about the friendship responded with “don’t worry” or discouragement?
- Have you asked it to end, only to have your partner tell you no?
- Have your boundaries been disrespected?
- Is the friend the subject of fantasies or comments during troubled times in the relationship?
If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, the friendship may be too intimate. Use Dr. John Gottman’s Conflict Blueprint from his book What Makes Love Last? to help talk to your partner about this issue.
Couples don’t feel supported when one partner keeps a foot out of the relationship. They don’t feel like their partner has their best interests at heart, that they have their back. When this happens, it’s not uncommon for the betrayed partner to blame a trigger as the real problem, when it’s actually the lack of commitment.
As Kristina reflects on her first marriage, she knows she began to feel betrayed when her husband stalled on starting a family. At first she thought he was anxious about becoming a father, but in couples therapy it became clear that he was hesitant to deepen his commitment to her.
Like an anxious lover, she clinged onto him with desperation, terrified of losing the marriage she had until she realized she never really had it to begin with.
Sometimes a partner may pressure the other to marry or move in, believing the “next level” will deepen their connection, but it’s difficult for a marriage to succeed if it is built on a vow to create a strong bond rather than the result of one. The shallowness of the bond will eventually bleed through the connection.
Steps to create unconditional love: When couples ignore or dismiss discussing difficult issues, they are left with a shallow commitment. By using conflict as a catalyst for closeness, couples can intentionally use problems as an opportunity to discuss their goals, fears, and dreams. Couples that unconditionally love each other live by the motto, “baby, when you hurt, the world stops and I listen.”
Emotional withdrawal can be something big, like choosing a work meeting over a family funeral, or it can be as small as turning away when your partner needs emotional support.
A committed relationship requires both partners to be there for each other through the life-altering traumas and everyday nuisances. That means celebrating joys and successes with your partner, too.
Everybody has different ways of expressing themselves. In a committed relationship it is the responsibility of both partners to both uncover and disclose these to understand what the other requires to feel loved, protected, and supported. Think of The Five Love Languages.
In his research lab, Dr. Gottman discovered that happy couples turned toward each other 86% of the time, while unhappy couples turned towards each other only 33% of the time. That means unhappy couples withdraw 67% of the time. When more than half of your emotional bids are ignored, your relationship is suffering from emotional withdrawal.
Solution: To improve your relationship, focus on rebuilding and updating your Love Maps, cultivating a culture of admiration and fondness, and turning towards bids for connection.
Betrayals Gut Check
Do any of the items listed above feel familiar or make you feel uneasy? If so, you may be facing a betrayal. Maybe it’s as serious as finding discomforting text messages between your partner and someone else. This list is not about who is right or wrong. Like sexual affairs, these betrayals can be overcome if you recognize the problem and repair the relationship together.
P.S. Does one of the betrayals describe your relationship perfectly? If so, I’d be willing to set aside 20 minutes to give you ways to betrayal proof your relationship I’ve learned working with other couples. Just snag a time on my calendar here.