Last week, we talked about the first two stages in the process of rebuilding safety after betrayal: getting help and getting honest. Many couples going through the process of healing from betrayal trauma are clear about the first two stages of rebuilding safety. They reach out for help, they start doing life differently, and they get honest and go through disclosure.
And then they stall out a bit, not sure what the next step in the process is. Things are better in the relationship for sure. But there is still a lot of pain, mistrust, and anger. Many couples can get confused during this part of the process because they are doing the things they have been told to do, but it doesn’t seem to be healing the damage.
This is because the first two stages are simply laying the groundwork for the third stage, where the real emotional and relational healing occurs. You cannot do the work of this vital third stage without first getting help and getting honest. But the first two stages do not deal with the emotional wounds and attachment injuries caused by the betrayal. That is the work of stage three.
Research has shown very clearly that the antidote for relational distress resulting from attachment injuries is meaningful, secure connection (what researchers call secure bonding). Secure bonding is what heals the wounds and restores safety to the relationship. However, this type of secure connection is only created through repeated experiences of safe, meaningful emotional connection with our partners.
This means that both individuals must learn how to be vulnerable with one another, allowing their partner into the scared and tender parts of the heart and learning how to meet that person there with compassion, empathy, support, humor, and love. The betrayal must be talked about in ways that it has not been talked about before. The deepest parts of the hurt, the biggest fears, the most painful pieces must be shared and received with careful, vulnerable attention to honesty, connection, and safety.
When we work with couples in this third stage of safety building at CRR, we use Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples(EFT). EFT teaches couples how to go under the surface layers and into the deeper emotional world of the relationship. EFT teaches clients how to reach for and respond to their partner in ways that build and foster safety in the relationship. If you are in this stage of the safety building process, I highly recommend that you look for an EFT therapist to help you with this important work.
This last stage of rebuilding safety is not only the most important one, it is ongoing. The skills you learn during this part of recovery will remain with you and be used by you over the course of your relationship to continuously reinforce the emotional safety and connection in your relationship. Developing your vulnerability and connection muscles shapes and renews the love you have for your partner by bringing you close to one another over and over again.
To truly heal from betrayal trauma, safety must be restored. To this end, you as the betrayed partner must settle for nothing less than a new or rebuilt sense of trust with your significant other. If you have stalled out after getting through the first two stages of developing safety and are confused about why things aren’t getting better faster, then getting vulnerable is your next step on the path.