One of the things clients have told me helps them to ‘get it’ that they are not responsible for their partner’s behaviors is sitting in group therapy or 12-step meetings with other betrayed partners. When they hear other’s stories they are able to see clearly that this other person is not responsible for their partner’s behaviors. This in turn helps them to consider that they also might not be the cause of the betrayal.
Another element that helps betrayed partners to see beyond themselves as the cause is to learn about their significant other’s history. Often the sexual behaviors were present in previous relationships or, in the case of those who are sexually addicted, may have begun all the way back in childhood or early adolescence, long before the two of you even met.
As the betrayed partner, you have responsibility for your part of the relational dynamic that exists between you and your significant other. And you have responsibility for what happens in the relationship today and how the two of you go forward. However, you are not responsible for your partner choosing to betray you.
Let’s talk about what you might gain by blaming yourself for your partner’s behavior. That may sound strange. You may think to yourself, “What benefit could I possibly be getting from this?” Well, in my personal and clinical experience there is a ‘pay-off’ of sorts that you gain from this belief.
Here it is. Here’s what you get from blaming yourself: You get to keep the dearly held hope that you can somehow control your partner’s behavior. Let me say it again: The deep fear that you have caused the betrayal is tied very closely to your hope that you can control the betrayal. If some lack or deficiency in you is causing your partner to stray, then you can fix that; you can do something about that. But if his behavior does not have anything to do with you, then you are confronted with your powerlessness over his behavior. And it is hard to admit that you are powerless in the face of something that is causing you so much pain. When you face your powerlessness over the betraying behaviors, you can begin to feel powerless about your pain.
The desire to find a way to try to control and prevent further betrayal is a very human one. Believing you have caused the betrayal is a way to try to manage the pain and uncertainty it is bringing into your life. It is very hard to give up this belief because it means facing the fact that the person solely responsible for the sexual behavior is your significant other. He or she is the only one who can do the work necessary to ensure that the betrayal stops and the damage to the relationship is meaningfully and fully repaired.
When you let go of the fear-based belief that you have caused the betrayal, you also surrender your belief that you can fix or control it. This sets you free from the false hope offered by control, and instead opens you to the true hope that comes from letting go. There is freedom in recognizing that you cannot control your spouse. You are free to release him or her and to focus on living your own life in the best way possible. Now you can use your energy to help yourself. You no longer believe that your partner’s behaviors are in any way a referendum on your lovability or worthiness. You are able to stay connected to your own inherent worth and to live out of that lushly green place inside of you, instead of wandering through the desert of personal despair and self-blame.