Have you betrayed the trust of your loved one? Has it been hard managing their triggers after a betrayal?

I’ve worked with many couples who’ve experienced betrayal in their relationships. Affairs. Emotional affairs. Lying. Not following through. Broken promises. There are many betrayal wounds that have lasting effects on a person and the relationship.

Often times a person will feel a “trigger” that brings the old emotion from the betrayal to the surface. They can feel the same hurt, panic, fear, etc. even if it’s been years after the original wounding. Think of it kind of like PTSD.

A trigger can be from seeing, hearing, and remembering something that is familiar to the wound. They will often be flooded with memories and emotion that brings them back to the betrayal- almost like a time machine. It can feel like it comes out of nowhere sometimes.

If you’re the one who has betrayed your partner, it’s common to want to defensively say things like, “Why are you bringing this up now? That was so long ago. I’m different now.” A defensive reaction is normal when you feel attacked and are caught off guard by your partner’s trigger, but it doesn’t help your relationship heal from the betrayal.

It’s important to remember that the role of the wounder needs to change to be part of the healing process. I often say to my clients, “Now the wounder gets to be the healer.” By this I mean that the one who betrayed their partner now gets to play a part in reassuring, rebuilding trust, and helping their partner in managing triggers. The wounded one should not have to do trigger management alone.

A big part of the healing and reconnection process in relationships after a betrayal is how the betraying partner responds to triggers.

If you have betrayed your partner, here are 3 things to do when helping your spouse in managing triggers:

Show empathy

It’s important to keep your emotions of fear and defensiveness at bay when you realize that a trigger hits. One of the most important things you can do is lean in and empathize. If you stick to your gut reaction, you will likely want to retreat, defend, and build a wall. Remember that managing triggers together helps your partner not feel alone. Showing empathy will help them feel understood, heard, and not crazy. They need you to be in the hole with them. Here’s my favorite video about empathy.

Take ownership

It can be hard to say “I’m sorry” over and over again. But taking ownership of your actions that caused wounds can help you participate in the healing process. Owning your part helps your partner know that you see the error of your behavior. A genuine heartfelt apology with a repentant heart will go a long way in your partner’s healing.

Give reassurance

Reassurance is a way to speak the truth to help your partner fight the lies in their head after experiencing a trigger. Doing it in a calm and loving way will help your partner know that you care and want them to see and hear the truth. For example, you may reassure them that you are not leaving and that you are so thankful they have not chosen to end the relationship. Or maybe you need to reassure them gently about how far you’ve come as a couple since the wounding happened. Offering reassurance can help dilute the strength of the lies.

Managing triggers can be a roller coaster, but remember that the more you’re able to respond in these ways, the more the wound will heal.

Healing after a betrayal can be a hard and complicated process and you may need some professional help to guide you through. Reach out to Renewed Horizon for more info.