Broken trust is one of the biggest impacts for a couple when there has been sexual betrayal or a pattern of pornography use.
When there has been a history of pornography use, sexual acting outside of the relationship, or emotional affairs, it will likely be hard for a couple to trust for some time. There may have been a gradual distancing between the couple that was hard to place, and there will need to be a demonstration of a pattern of new behavior. Some of the signs of trouble come when a spouse becomes more comfortable not communicating and has pulled away or is no longer interested in participating in a faith life together.
Betrayal of a spouse is not only a break of trust, but a shock to the body. A wife or husband, upon learning that there has been a physical or virtual break of vows, can react in a way that is similar to an experience of trauma. Trauma caused by betrayal is similar to PTSD, where the offended spouse can experience a state of overwhelmed anxiety and stress. This does not mean the person is going crazy. This can also look like depression, feeling overwhelmed, heightened triggering, obsessive thinking and even suicidal thoughts. Safety and trust have been damaged and one can feel isolated. Trauma reactions are important to address as it is hard to be ready to trust while one is activated by trauma.
It can be common for a couple to isolate themselves from others. Instead of isolating in shame, it is good for a couple to find a few trusted people and certainly a therapist who is aware of the role of trauma. Some couples react by increasing the frequency of their physical intimacy in hopes of stabilizing things. Other couples completely avoid each other as a means of safety. But couples can find that better connection happens from honest communication than from mere physical connection or avoidance.
Spouses may initially not be ready to seek help as a couple, and individual support with a goal of helping the marriage can be best at first. Since this will take time, it is important to take a long view of the process and acknowledge tangible signs of effort.
It is important that both spouses work together to rebuild trust, recognizing that a marriage and a family is at stake. Spouses can find motivation to work on the relationship for the sake of the kids or out of honoring their commitment to the marriage. This does not mean blind forgiveness, but a desire to find a new normal. While being respectful to offer the betrayed spouse time and space to work on trauma, the offending spouse can work to respond without defensiveness and anger. There are small but meaningful things that can be done to facilitate trust.
For example, a spouse can show specific evidence that they are following a plan, gaining support from peers and working on steps to stop negative behaviors. In the case of pornography, local therapist Joann Condie recommends that “your husband gives you password access to all devices and accounts, he seeks male support and accountability and he seeks professional counseling.”
The initial focus may be best put on personal healing. This lays the groundwork for them to come together as a couple with a healthier mindset. It can be helpful for the husband to hear from his wife, what things can be done that are meaningful for her and can help rebuild trust. There are many ways for a spouse to show that he/she is engaged in the home. The betrayed spouse can also work with a therapist to heal from trauma and work on physical, emotional and spiritual self-care. She can also look to receive and acknowledge legitimate efforts to build trust from her husband.
A couple can grow in the ability to understand and value each other. They can regain a sense of respect through demonstrating their commitment to the other, a couple can slowly evidence mutual support and trust. It is very helpful to have a renewed commitment to prayer as a family, which can be an important aspect of regaining peace in the home, towards building a better trust.
Bloom for Catholic Women: https://www.bloomforcatholicwomen.com
Covenant Eyes for Catholics: https://cleanheart.online