Betrayal Trauma– Understanding The Wife's Experience

This is a post that I have been wanting to do for a while. I was able to sit down with Dorothy Maryon, CMHC (Clinical Mental Health Councilor), and talk about Betrayal Trauma, or our wife’s experience. Dorothy has been working with wives for over 18 years. I asked her to share with me what we needed to know, as addicts, about Betrayal Trauma, and how we can help to restore trust and heal the relationship.  

Whether we drop the bomb all at once (my story) or it comes out gradually, Betrayal Trauma happens. I think we as addicts want to isolate our addiction as just one piece of the relationship, but Dorothy explains the impact this way:

“[from the wife’s view] I have no place in my world to make sense that the person I love and care for the most has gone outside the relationship…‘whatever it was it wasn’t me,’  And it feels betraying and it is a betrayal.”

The other big revelation for my recovery was how we handle our wife’s trauma responses coming up.

“Addicts tend to respond to betrayal in mistaken ways.”

Dorothy uses a good analogy of us handing our wife a big rock of pain. Here are the ways not to respond:

- She is triggered back into the betrayal trauma, so it’s not about the facts. Trying to explain that the situation is a 2 when her reaction is a 10.

- Defensive/Blaming – Whacking her with the rock. If you weren’t so mean I wouldn’t act out.

 - Victim – Wake myself with the rock. I’m a loser. I’ll never be good enough for you, etc.  

- Reasoning/Logic – The rock that your holding is not really a rock. Denying the reality. This isn’t a big deal, don’t worry about it so much, why do you get so bent out of shape over this, etc.

- Ignore the rock – Withdraw, leave, and avoid. I see she is triggered, so I go walk the dog or run to be with the kids to avoid talking with her.

“Your #1 job is to become an honest man. And her job is to learn how to be around an honest man, even thought it’s painful. Because sometimes, your honesty will be painful.”

“What creates safety is honesty.”

“You are not going to heal betrayal trauma if there is continual deception.”

I have two big take a ways:

1- It doesn’t matter where my wife is in her recovery, if I continue to be honest and move forward with my recovery the relationship will get better. My recovery is not contingent on her changing or her acceptance.

“You can’t fix this quietly. You can’t do it the old way, you can’t just medicate this and go on.”

“If you change you, it will change the relationship.”

2- Her healing will take time, so when those big trauma response moments come up don’t freak out and think you’re back at square one. It just takes time, but healing will happen.   

“If you think about it, most addicts are dealing with a life long addiction; it’s been 10 or 15 years. And yet you get frustrated because your wife isn’t over it in 6 months.”

“If you can, get a bigger perspective and say, ‘regardless of the outcome, my job is to be honest and work at creating safety with [my wife],’ and that will give her time to create safety for you.”

“I see people do it. I see people get better all the time. It’s doable.”