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Mark Goulston, M.D. Headshot

Betrayal - The Wound that Will Not Heal for Women

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When as cared about and safe as you thought you were
is as uncared about and unsafe as you turn out to be,
you can never completely forgive or forget.

This may also be true for men, but it is especially true for women. Women are more in tune with their connectedness to other human beings than men. That may explain why many mothers can hear the sound of an infant toddler in another room and know what's going on, whereas most fathers would need to go and check it out. It may also explain why more mothers than fathers can tell when their child has a temperature by pressing their cheek to their child's forehead than is true for a father.

When a woman separates from her family of origin to attach to a man and to begin a marriage and then a family, she is much more in tune with and it is much more important to her that she feel she can trust the man in and with her life both explicitly and implicitly.

Not being able to do so shakes her to her core. That may explain why prenuptial agreements are so offensive and hurtful to so many women who feel pressured to sign them. What a prenup means to women if she is the less monied party, is that if he changes his mind about wanting to be in the marriage and decides he wants out, he gets to keep what was his before the marriage plus whatever is agreed to by virtue of the agreement. Makes sense from the man's and their lawyer's point of view, but it doesn't exactly help the woman's need to trust.

Since betrayal by cheating on a marriage is such a violent assault on the spirit of wedding vows, I think all prenups should have written into them that if either party has an affair that they forfeit something big. And while I'm on my soapbox that nobody will listen to, I would also add the stipulation, should either party ask for a divorce that both parties must agree to a minimum of six months of marriage counseling or marriage therapy, or else the person seeking the divorce also forfeit something big from the prenup (see: How Prenups Kill Romance).

What's can be done to heal this wound?

If you have been betrayed, you need to decide whether you want to get over it.

If you decide that you would like to heal from it, you will need to tell the person who betrayed you to offer you the 4 R's to respond to your 4 H's (and then watch closely how earnestly they do it).

1. To ease your hurt they will need to demonstrate remorse to show that they know they damaged or even broke something in you, by looking you directly in the eye and admitting they're truly sorry and that they were wrong, with no excuses or explanations (this is the stumbling block for very narcissistic people and something Bill Clinton and John Edwards couldn't do to the satisfaction of their wives or the rest of us).

2. To respond to the hate you feel at their taking away trust, they need to show restitution and offer a payback for what they took away from you by giving up something that matters to them or letting you verbally punch yourselves out at them  for making you feel crazy while they lied to you.

3. To lower your hesitation to trust they need to rehabilitate themselves to let you see a new way of dealing with those situations that caused them  to stray and that they actually prefer to their old destructive behavior.

4. To get you to stop holding onto a grudge, they need to request forgiveness after practicing those 3 R's for a minimum of 6 months so these new mindset and behaviors can become a part of their personality.

The level of resistance that the other person has to providing you those first 3 R's is directly correlated to how justified they felt their behavior was. And since most interpersonal problems have two sides to the story, you should also own up to -- with your 3 R's -- any and everything you may have done to trigger their behavior.

If you decide to not forgive, that of course is your choice. However, holding onto a grudge and dwelling on it can turn you into a bitter person (possibly like one of your parents who you swore you didn't want to end up like).

What it comes down to is that if you'd rather be right, self-righteous and stay a victim, you really are damaged goods and not relationship material, because one false move from your next relationship and they will die for the sins of your past one.

Stay Tuned: Humiliation - The Wound that Will Not Heal for Men