Over the past few weeks we have looked at the first two phases of the Authentic Hope Process for healing from betrayal trauma: the devastation and realization phases. Now we turn our attention to phase three, stabilization.
Many partners report that the stabilization phase is the longest phase, in terms of time, on their healing journey. Sometimes they feel like they stay in this phase even as they move forward into the later stages of healing. Remember, the phases do not always happen in the order they are being presented, and most partners tend to jump around in the phases, often doubling back to devastation or having a new layer of realization occur. So, the process of healing from betrayal trauma is both linear and non-linear all at once.
Sadly, it is possible to get stuck in the devastation and realization phases and not move forward into stabilization and the stages that follow. We talked about this a bit last week, looking at some danger points that can surface during realization. The best way to avoid getting stuck in devastation and realization is to get expert help and support from a professional who is trained in dealing with betrayal trauma, understands the progression of events, feelings, and symptoms that partners experience, and can guide you through devastation and realization into the stabilization phase, where you can start to learn the skills and tools that will help you cope and heal.
Over the years that I have worked with partners, and when I look back on my own process of recovery, I see one significant element that seems to be the deciding factor in whether partners get stuck in devastation and realization or move forward into stabilization. This factor is the partner’s willingness to accept their own need for personal help and healing and to enter fully into the recovery process.
Almost every partner that I have ever worked with has had to overcome some significant emotional hurdles to get to this place of accepting her need for help and entering the process of healing. And why not? If your partner commits a crime, you are not asked to go sit beside him in prison while he serves his sentence. But when your partner commits the emotional crime of betrayal, you must enter treatment either with him or on your own, even though you are not the offending party.
For most partners this feels wildly unfair, and the mere thought creates enormous anger and resentment. As a result, most partners will, for a period, rebel against this. Sometimes they simply refuse to even consider treatment for themselves.
Here are some of the things that I hear partners say during this refusal timeframe:
- It’s not fair.
- I didn’t do anything wrong.
- Why should I have to spend all my time, money, and energy when I’m not the one who cheated.
- It is my cheating partner’s problem, and he’s the one that needs to fix it.
- This doesn’t have anything to do with me.
- I’ll be blamed in some way for the infidelity.
- My cheating partner won’t be held responsible.
- It will let the cheater off the hook.
These are all normal fears and concerns, and if you have had these or similar thoughts, you are in good company. Most betrayed partners do. However, at some point you’ll need to move through these emotional blocks. Because that is what they are. They are blocks, and they are blocking you from wholeness and health. Partners who get stuck in the devastation and realization and cycles end up “circling the emotional drain,” allowing their thoughts and fears to keep them from the help and support they need.
To move forward into the stabilization phase, you must be able to move these emotional blocks out of your way. The best way for you to do that is by focusing on yourself and what you need. You did not cause the bus crash of betrayal. But the bus did hit you. And now you must decide if you are going to let that event cripple you, or if you are going to do everything in your power to become strong, well, and whole again.
This choice can only be made by you. No one else can do it for you. Your cheating partner’s recovery will help to heal your broken relationship, and it will lead him to make amends to you for the damage caused by his betrayal. But his recovery cannot heal you. Only your recovery can do that.
Returning to the “hit by a bus” analogy: The bus driver’s process of healing and making amends will not repair your wounds. For that, you will have to go to the doctor and engage in your own process of healing. Infidelity is the same.
To move out of devastation and realization and into stabilization, you must embrace your need for healing and become willing to learn new ways of thinking, behaving, and coping with your emotions. This is the key to moving forward through the rest of the phases and eventually finding that against all odds you are once again flourishing.
If you feel like you have gotten stuck in the first two phases, or if you are just still naturally in the devastation and realization phases, take some time this week to do some journaling about your potential sticking points. Are you letting your anger and resentment hold you captive? Are you allowing “it’s not fair” thoughts to block your progress and healing? If so, how can you move these blocks out of your way? How can you begin to focus on yourself and what you need to recover and heal?
Next week we are going to look further at stabilization, focusing on the key tasks and actions that will help move you forward through this phase.