One of the common challenges faced by betrayed partners during the holiday season is feeling like they are walking around with a giant secret. Getting together with friends and family—who often do not know about the betrayal, relational crisis, and pain that partners are experiencing—makes them feel fake, like they are putting on a show of normalcy while behind the curtain everything is a mess.
This can be confusing. Many betrayed partners talk to me about feeling like they are lying and keeping secrets from those they love at a time of year when they most want to feel intimate and connected. Recognizing that their significant other’s lying and secret keeping has caused them so much pain, they feel incongruent and confused about keeping a secret themselves. Still, they don’t want to tell their friends and family about the betrayal (for various reasons), and so they feel stuck in this uncomfortable place where they feel like a phony.
Even when betrayed partners feel alright about not telling their betrayal story, it can feel like they are faking their way through the holidays, putting on a brave face when they’re crumpled in a weeping heap on the inside. Many betrayed partners tell me that the enormous difference between their inside selves and their outside selves when they are around the people they care about feels dishonest.
One of the reasons that this becomes confusing is that secrets often have an element of shame to them. If the secret were to be discovered, the secret-keeper would often in some way feel shame. For partners, the information about their significant other’s cheating can bring up feelings of shame for them, even though they have done nothing wrong. Sharing the addiction or infidelity with others can feel shaming and that feeling of shame is at the root of why not telling about your situation often feels secret rather than private.
The reality though is that this is a privacy issue not a secrecy issue. Betrayed partners are not keeping secrets, they are maintaining privacy. Privacy is an act of boundary setting. Privacy is about how much of ourselves we feel comfortable disclosing to others based on the level of intimacy and trust we have with them. Privacy is about our own comfort level with what we are experiencing, and how we feel about bringing others into that experience.
You are in charge of your privacy boundaries. Always. You get to decide who, what, when, and how much of your betrayal story you want to share with others. Deciding not to tell your close friends or family because you aren’t sure how they will react, or because you need more time to process what has happened, or because you just want to feel a bit ‘normal’ during the holidays is a perfectly acceptable (and common) choice for you to make. So, not telling friends and family about the betrayal, especially during the holiday season, is about maintaining your privacy, not about secret keeping.
My hope for you is that as you navigate the rest of the holiday season you will give yourself permission to hold onto whatever level of privacy you feel you need, recognizing and understanding that even though you may be feeling some shame around the betrayal, you are not keeping a secret. Instead, you are engaging in healthy self-care by setting boundaries around information sharing. Most of all, I hope that by giving yourself the privacy you need, you create a little more space for yourself to heal while enjoying the holidays as best you can.