The stretch of desert called no man’s land feels intolerable for betrayed partners. Nevertheless, the inherent manner in which healing betrayal trauma unfolds requires us to temporarily weather this untenable and painful stretch of territory. In some way, betrayed partners must figure out how to tolerate the intolerable for a period of time, and that is no small task.
Years ago, when I was in this no man’s land, I did not have anyone helping me understand it. I knew I was afraid. I knew I did not feel safe. I knew I was falling apart and behaving in ways that felt irrational and out of control even to me. But I did not know that this was a normal reaction to having my security and my sense of connection with my partner breached by betrayal.
Most of all, I did not know that part of the healing process involves learning how to tolerate no man’s land for a while, instead of trying to just escape it. I did not know (and did not want to know) that a necessary part of the healing journey actually involves learning how to set up camp and survive in no man’s land. Even more farfetched was the idea that I could shelter myself, nurture myself, and care for myself in spite of being stuck in the middle of this desert.
One of the most crucial things I learned when finding my way through no man’s land was that I could not, at that time, rely on my husband as my secure emotional base. This realization took a long time, and was very difficult to acknowledge. However, once I got enough good support around me, I was able to admit to myself and others that at that time my husband was too sick for me to be connected to him in the way I wanted to be. Trying to be deeply emotionally connected to him was creating a merry-go-round of emotional bruising. When I finally began to emotionally detach from him and to build connections with others, my sense of security and stability began to grow.
When I took my eyes off my spouse and looked around to see what else I might find, I discovered that there were surprising amounts of help and support available. I found friends who knew about addiction, who had years of recovery themselves and could point me in the right direction. I found a wise and skillful therapist who became my emotional Sherpa, leading and guiding me with love and insight. I found a community of friends who were amazingly supportive and invested in my growth and healing. At the same time, I was in school getting my Master’s in Counseling and was inundated with new information and assignments that pushed me further into the personal work I needed to do.
This provided me with an alternative safe base from which to operate. I was finally able to tolerate the truth about my relationship and the depth of sickness I had been living in because I had support around me. I had people to call in a crisis. I had friends to walk and bike with while talking through all that was happening. I had a therapist who knew what she was doing and was clear, direct, and profoundly loving. I had professors who spoke truth into my life and were committed to pushing me forward in my personal growth. I had a community I found through books who understood sex addiction and the experience of being the spouse.
This support is what I needed to be able to accept the reality of my relationship and enter the process of healing. This support is what enabled me to do things that felt incredibly scary but ultimately resulted in less pain and more healing and freedom.
You too need a community of support to help you navigate no man’s land. You need a group of people who form an alternative safe base for you during the time your partner is limited in his ability to be a consistently safe and secure connection. This support will help stabilize you, ground you, and calm your trauma symptoms. Over the past several weeks I’ve written several blog posts on different ways to create a community of support for yourself in the aftermath of betrayal. Below are links to those blog posts so you can remind yourself of different possibilities for creating an alternative safe base while you are passing through no man’s land.