As a therapist, I witness couples amid their deepest challenges and uncertainties. I am with them in those life-changing moments as they heal from marital betrayal. And the question so often asked is, “How can someone who loves me betray me?”
Hurt partners find it difficult to understand the duality of love and the lack of loyalty. And it’s no wonder. In our modern society, relationships provide far more than a last name. Indeed, we have developed our committed relationships into bonds like never before.
That sense of security in our relationships leads us to believe we are safer than we actually are.
Consequently, here we are, experiencing more infidelity than ever before.
How Can You Make Sense of What’s Happened?
To discuss this topic further and offer tips for handling this dilemma, I invited the following members of my team at Relationship Experts:
- Yael Haklai-Neagu is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and a Ph.D. specializing in relationships and affair recovery. She is a part of our Infidelity Recovery program team with a decade of experience.
- Ana De la Cruz is also a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in relationships and affair recovery. She is on our Infidelity Recovery program team as well, with ten years of experience.
- Alana Tokayer is our marriage and family therapy intern and program specialist. Alana specializes in relationships and affair recovery as well. She retains all the information about our programs and interviews couples who want to join.
You can find more information about our programs on our websites:
“How Could You?” Trying to Understand Why & How Loving Partners Choose Betrayal
All the discussion group members agreed that how partners think about the betrayal initially impacts healing significantly. Asking the right questions with the right perspective matters.
Alana’s POV: How can those two things be true at the same time?
“Many of us are privileged to live lives where the people who love us don’t hurt us. The people who love us are our protectors, our comforters, our go-to’s. The concept of someone who loves us hurting us is just foreign… it cuts deep when it’s your chosen person. Your best friend. Your everything…”
Alana Tokayer, Marriage & Family Intern and Program Specialist
Alana affirms the confusion about love and betrayal to be “…absolutely one of the most difficult things for a betrayed partner to wrap his or her mind around in the aftermath of infidelity.” Boiled down, she recognizes two looming questions:
- How can my partner claim to love me and yet hurt me so badly?
- How can those two things be true at the same time?
Most hurt partners can’t reconcile this in their minds. Thus, they feel forced to conclude that their unfaithful partner must not have loved them. Consequently, healing feels unreachable.
Alana notes too, that the unfaithful partner often feels just as confused by their actions. They may say, “I love my partner. I never stopped loving my partner. So how could I have done this?”
Ana’s POV: Keep your open to the possibilities
Ana noted that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It all depends on the situation. Still, generally, the hurt partner just wants to understand what happened. They are trying to put the pieces together. When betrayal occurs, pain and confusion result.
What makes this question difficult is that the person asking is hurting. They are evaluating the life and love that they had. Infidelity does that to people; it shatters everything you thought you knew.
To heal, Ana asserts that the hurt partner must leave room for possibilities. Hence, they must ask, “Why did and how can someone who loves me betray me?” This is much more productive than telling themselves, “My partner doesn’t love me and that’s why they hurt me.” That mindset keeps both people stuck. Asking the question prevents the hurt person from prematurely making up their mind, leaving no possibility for love.
Yael’s POV: How you think can keep you from healing.
Yael agreed that it is normal for one or both partners to ask how a person could hurt/betray someone they love. They may even feel haunted by it. However, she also pointed out that people often ask themselves that question while experiencing three types of thinking:
- Either/ Or thinking → either my partner loves me or not
- If/Then thinking → if my partner betrayed me, then they don’t love me
- All/ Nothing thinking → all the items in the list to confirm love or there is no love.
These ways of thinking can get the couple stuck in a destructive loop that can interfere with their ability to heal.
Yael maintains that partners must challenge these types of thinking and accept that theirs is not a linear, cause-and-effect situation. It is okay to process it as a complex and multi-layered experience.
Coping with the Conundrum: Accepting That Love & Betrayal Can Coexist
Why is this so hard to wrap our minds around? The group shared how our perceptions of love keep us from accepting the truth about relationships.
Alana’s POV: You can be loved and betrayed at the same time
Alana acknowledged that while betrayal feels like a contradiction, it is entirely possible that the betrayed partner is still loved. The unfaithful partner can feasibly love them and still hurt them. Healing, she asserts, comes from a place where you can accept that things you never thought could coexist. Feeling love is one, and acting in a way that protects that love is something else.
A big part of the healing journey is understanding that feeling love, while extremely important, is not enough to sustain a healthy relationship or shield a couple from infidelity.
Ana’s POV: Love & loyalty are not necessarily linked
Regardless of what we believe about loyalty and love, there will never be an answer that could justify the action of betrayal. However, many of us grew up believing that love and loyalty are entangled with each other. Somehow, we believe that one cannot exist without the other.
Yet, if partners choose it, and though the relationship the hurt partner thought they had is gone, partners can choose to build a new one. Esther Perel explains it this way, “…“We will have many relationships over the course of our lives. Some of us will have them with the same person.”
Perel is right, infidelity will break a relationship, but it can also give you an opportunity to rebuild a new and improved one.
Relationships in the aftermath of infidelity can be similar to recovery after a hurricane. You’ll see an opportunity to redesign your relationship to one that fulfills your needs and boundaries. It is difficult to rebuild, it takes time, effort, and a lot of work, but at the end of the day you are where your heart desires to be, you are with the person that you choose to be with.
Yael’s POV: Love does not always immunize you from betrayal
Yael noted that couples often believe that love is the immune system for their relationship, only to find that, in most cases, it is not enough. She also invites hurting people to consider that love and betrayal can coexist. She refers to this way of perceiving the situation as the “both/and” way of thinking (“my partner can love me and at the same time betray/hurt me”).
Based on this understanding, the question, “How can someone who loves me betray me?” may no longer be dictated by the painful thought, “My partner doesn’t love me.” Instead, couples can consider the possibility of deep exploration, learning how something like this happens in their relationship regardless of their love for one another.
Rethinking Love After Infidelity: 3 Tips for Healing
Alana’s Healing Tip
Protecting love requires intentionality, commitment, loyalty, consistent action and effort, communication – having the hard conversations, empathy, and more.
And this is why healing from infidelity can lead to an enhanced relationship. You will not only understand the importance of feeling love but also you will be way more conscientious about acting in ways that protect that love.
Both partners, particularly the hurt partner, need time to adjust to the idea that someone who loves you can also hurt you. It’s a process and it takes time. Let it be. It doesn’t need to make sense right now. It’s not supposed to. Try not to feel discouraged. Not understanding right now, does not mean you won’t be able to move forward in your healing. So, relieve yourself of the pressure to reconcile it. In due time, with proper healing, it will start to make more and more sense.
Ana’s Healing Tip
Reconciling betrayal depends on their specific love story and how open they are to examining the option that this very love existed alongside disloyalty.
One of my program participants told his spouse at the end of the program “Thank you for staying… I would choose you over and over again”… It was a beautiful view into the new house that they had rebuilt together, It was not easy, however, I was able to see the beginning of a new relationship. Appreciation and admiration were parts of their new culture.
Look for Opportunities.
When we fail, we have an opportunity to rebuild a better version of ourselves. We go through life learning through trial and error, and when we hit rock bottom there is really only one place to go.. and that is up.
Yael’s Healing Tip
Visualize and Approach the Question With This Exercise.
Close your eyes. Think about the question, ‘How can someone who loves me betray me?” or on the assumption, “If my partner cheated on me they don’t love me”.
Now imagine that these kinds of questions or assumptions present as a wall. You run into it again and again and it throws you all the way back.
- How high is it?
- What material is this wall made of?
- Can you climb it, or walk around or through it?
As you organize your thoughts around ‘if/then’ or ‘either/or’ thinking, the wall can reach higher and be made of a rigid or hard material, such as concrete.
Now, how do you lower its height so it’s not so overwhelming? What questions come to your mind for the material of the wall to change from concrete to bricks; so that you can slowly take one brick at a time? How can you navigate around the question so that it is no longer a concrete wall but a soft transparent curtain you can walk through?
Rethinking Love After Infidelity: Take The Next Step
I have to say, although I know my team, I am always in awe of how talented they are. I hope this post was helpful to you! I truly believe their ability to understand complex situations while providing helpful guidance can help you start healing your relationship. Please use the tips from Ana, Alana, and Yael. You’re not alone. We would love to work with you. Please reach out soon, we’re here for you.
READY TO START AFFAIR RECOVERY?
Are you ready to rebuild trust and heal the wounds in your relationship? Take the first step towards affair recovery and reconnect with your partner on a deeper level. Join our supportive community at Relationship Experts, where you’ll find guidance, resources, and a safe space to navigate the journey toward healing and restoring your relationship’s foundation of love and commitment. Follow these three simple steps to get started:
- Schedule a free consultation or call our office at 305-507-9955 to ask about Affair Recovery
- Meet with one of our skilled affair recovery therapists for your first session
- Begin healing your relationship with your partner!
OTHER SERVICES PROVIDED BY RELATIONSHIP EXPERTS
Our therapists at Relationship Experts provide a wide range of services to help you and your partner recover from whatever your relationship may be dealing with. Our Miami, FL-based counseling office offers many different services online throughout Florida besides Affair Counseling, including Infidelity Recovery Program, Couples Counseling, and Communication Counseling. We also offer online therapy sessions for couples looking to heal their relationship in a convenient way. Check out our blog for more articles like this!