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How to Decide Whether to Mend or End a Relationship after Betrayal


You feel so hurt, so angry, so scared. There is nothing more devastating or hurtful than when someone betrays you. Trust is completely gone, and you cannot imagine that you would ever trust them again. Depending on how fresh the betrayal is, you might not even want to try. But hope is tenacious. Somewhere deep inside you there is a little tiny bit of a possibility that maybe trust can be restored, and the relationship can heal.


How do you decide? You know how hurt you are, and your thoughts seem to be all jumbled up inside. Deciding whether to stay or leave is a very scary question. So, let’s change the questions. Here is a list of 6 questions to help you decide if you want to mend or end the relationship.


Question 1: Would I want this relationship if trust could be restored?

Think back to before the betrayal, what were you thinking and talking about with your friends in terms of the relationship? Were you saying positive things? Were you fanaticizing about an exit plan before it happened? When you discovered the betrayal did you feel relieved because you now had a reason to end things? Or were you shocked because you thought the relationship was great before the betrayal?


Practical Guidance #1: If you didn’t think the relationship was good before the betrayal, why would you want to stay in it now? BUT if you felt the relationship was a good one before the betrayal, why wouldn’t you want to try and salvage it? Something to keep in mind: Research shows that most people who believe that the relationship was good before they were betrayed develop regrets if they leave the relationship without trying to mend it.


Question 2: Has the betrayal changed how you see the other person?

When our trust is destroyed, we often see the person through different lenses. You could see them as a good person that made a mistake and be able to work on rebuilding the trust. But it could be that you went from seeing them as a loving caring person before and now you see them as an awful person who intends on harming you. It is a completely different lens.


Practical Guidance #2: If the betrayal has changed who the other person is so thoroughly that you can’t imagine wanting to be with him/her then trust is not the issue, and you will be better off ending the relationship.


Question 3: Can you imagine the possibility of forgiveness?

Forgiveness is hard thing to think about when the betrayal is fresh. As time goes on can you imagine yourself asking, can I see him/her in a way that will let me move on from what has happened? Can you work towards empathy and try to see what was behind their motives and actions?


Forgiveness is one of those things that we often think is for the person that needs to be forgiven, but forgiveness is more beneficial to our own healing. This means that whether you stay and work on the relationship or not, forgiveness will be one of the steps in your own healing. One of the main reasons people forgive is because the lack of forgiveness is destroying their own life.


Practical Guidance #3: If you can see forgiveness as a life-affirming act and if you can sense the realistic possibility that one day it might be possible to forgive, it makes sense to work at healing the relationship.


Question 4: Does the betrayer care about how you feel?

There are a couple ways someone who has betrayed a trust can act. One is to be dismissive and tell the person who is hurt to “just get over it”. Say things like they have already apologized once and therefore it is over or in the past. The other way is to be there and listen with the intent of trying to understand how the hurt affected you. Then they make noticeable behavioural changes to work towards rectifying the relationship.


Practical Guidance #4: If the other person doesn’t care about your feelings and has not consistently gone out of their way to demonstrate loving actions, then he/she will not be able to work with you during the trust-restoring process, so it is not likely to occur. Why bother trying to force it?


Question 5: Can the other person work on your relationship with you?

One of the biggest parts of healing a relationship is being able to talk through the hurts and share information about how things affect you. You have to talk about things that are difficult to say and difficult to hear and do so without making each other miserable. You have to listen even when you are itching to make yourself heard and express yourself when you are tired of talking.


Evaluating this in the other person can be complicated because struggling with the difficulty of talking about the relationship is different than someone unwilling to work on the relationship. There are two main reasons why people are afraid of talking about a relationship. They are either afraid of being attacked or they do not feel that they will be provided with the opportunity to express themselves and be understood.


Practical Guidance #5: A good way to tell if the other person is willing to work and able to work on the relationship is this. What happens if you attack less and listen more? If the result is that the other person is more willing to work on things with you, then it is a good sign that your relationship can heal. If it does not make a difference or if you can not bring yourself to attack less and listen more, then you may not be able to go through the process of rebuilding trust.


Question 6: What will I lose by giving our relationship a chance?

We all contemplate the “right” move in our life. This question really is asking what is the worst that can happen? You are already devastated, and trust is already broken. But for all the damage that has been done, the cost of trying to build trust can be surprisingly low. The worst that can happen when you take the risk of rebuilding the relationship is that the person who betrayed you will show they have not changed. If that happens then you know they can’t or won’t change so you can stop wondering if that is a possibility, and you be able to make the decision without regrets. On the other side, if they prove to you that they can change and trust is rebuilt, you’ll be happy that you tried.


Practical Guidance #6: If you can get to the point where you can say you have nothing to lose by giving the other person a chance then its worth staying and working to rebuild trust.


I understand the pain of answering these questions, not only because I have worked with multiple couples who have suffered a betrayal but also because I have had to answer them for myself. From personal experience and research, more couples do choose to rebuild the trust than don’t. The ones who choose to mend, report that they have a happier relationship after the betrayal than they did previously. They also say that they could not work through the process of rebuilding alone because they would have kept hurting each other. If you have decided that it is worth the risk to try, then seek professional help.


Warmly,

Trish Pauls, MA RP

Registered Psychotherapist

HELPPS Psychotherapy Services

519-601-HELP (4357)

www.helpps.ca

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