Betrayals in romantic partnerships are traumatic. They can leave you in a state of fear, constantly questioning your partner and doubting your own judgment. When a reminder of the betrayal triggers fear, it can lead to a spiral of worse case scenario thinking. This spiral is often followed by ineffective attempts to gain control of the situation. These attempts include anger, acting as a detective, and people pleasing. As much as you would like to, you cannot prevent your spouse from being unfaithful or choosing to leave. Therefore, these attempts often lead to hopelessness and despair. Let’s explore how anger, acting as a detective, and people pleasing can further harm your relationship and hinder healing.
Anger after betrayal is typically a form of self-protection. You may think that if you stop projecting anger onto your spouse, they will forget the pain they have caused. Overtime anger in the form of criticism and contempt will push your partner away. While experiencing anger is an important part of the healing process, so is learning to process and communicate anger effectively. In most cases, communicating anger in a healthy way starts by acknowledging when we are experiencing it. Engaging in a self-care activity then allows us to calm our nervous system, and communicate anger without criticism.
Acting as a Detective
It is common for betrayed partners to check-in on their spouses frequently or to attempt to catch them lying. For example, you may check your partner’s phone or emails, track their location, or persistently asking whom they are with. This behavior is often brought forth to avoid further pain as well as to avoid missing signs of betrayal. While this behavior makes sense given the depth of pain you have experienced, it can take time and energy away from your individual healing process. For example, if you are spending hours each day checking-in on your spouse, this may infringe on time that could be spent connecting with friends and family members or engaging in self-care activities.
Not displaying negative emotions, concealing mistakes, and always saying “yes” even if you mean “no” are examples of how people pleasing can present in romantic relationships. People pleasers are often the “fixers” in relationships because they believe that if the problem is their fault than solving the problem is in their control.People pleasing in response to betrayal can also present as spending a lot of time focusing on your appearance, being overly affectionate, or initiating sex more often than usual.
For betrayed partners whom resort to people pleasing there is usually an underlying negative self-belief such as “I’m not enough!”. These individuals try to compensate for this negative self-belief by trying to fit the mold of who they think their partner wants them to be. Overtime, people pleasing can lead to bitterness and resentment because after tireless efforts, you realize that you can never truly control another person’s emotions or behaviors. Despite stereotypes about affairs, they do not always occur as a result of a happy or sexless marriage.
Michaela Standhart is a Marriage and Family Therapist Candidate. She specializes in couples therapy, betrayal trauma, and works with adolescent as young as 12 years old. Michaela stays sane while practicing social distancing by reminding herself how happy her dog is.