Creating a Recovery Plan for Couples in Betrayal Trauma Recovery

One of the hardest parts as a therapist is to watch a client struggle.  In the work I do, a good majority of my clients are facing the devastation of a betrayal trauma.  Betrayal trauma is what it sounds like – feeling traumatized by the experience of betrayal.  It is most often, but not always, associated with relational infidelity and sex addiction.  This type of pain has often been described to me as one of the most painful experiences one will have in a lifetime.  I also see it in the tears, questions, and tormented eyes of most of my clients.  

My job then is to provide hope and a structure to healing this pain.   From this need to give clients more structure to their healing, my colleague, Joshua Nichols, and I developed our Individual and Couple Recovery Plan.  

The Three Entities of Focus

This plan serves many purposes.  To begin, it organizes and answers the questions “So what do we do now?”  This plan is laid out to describe and detail what each party or entity should be focusing on.  We have identified three primary entities that need special attention and care in order for betrayal trauma recovery to be the most effective. These three entities include the (1) injured partner, (2) the acting out partner, and (3) the couple relationship. 

As couples’ therapists, it is essential for us to acknowledge and treat the wounds that exist not only interpersonally, but also relationally.  Taking care of the marital or committed relationship with its own needs is often left out of treatment in many treatment settings.  

The Five Pillars

Another important purpose this plan serves is that it addresses what we have termed, “The Five Pillars of Recovery Success.”  We believe that individual and couples in betrayal trauma recovery should have these pillars in place to increase chances of success in recovery. The five pillars are:

  1. Individual and/or Couples Therapy
  2. Group Therapy
  3. Accountability
  4. Support
  5. Psychoeduction

These pillars not only creates and facilitates wellness and healing for anyone in recovery, they are also responsible maintaining the new way of life.  Please watch our video to learn more about the five pillars of recovery success:

As part of the recovery planning process, we identify how each individual and the couple relationship can start taking steps to get these pillars in the proper place, thereby creating more stability and security in their life and relationship. 

The Coupleship

The section of the plan for the coupleship acknowledges the current needs of the relationship related to how much information has been or needs to be revealed regarding the infidelity.  Specifically, we address the value of a therapeutic disclosure if needed information has not been shared about the affair.  We also introduce the value of boundaries when talking about the betrayal event and the feelings that both members of the couple are experiencing.  We usually suggest that the couple participate in couple’s therapy to work together to build new boundaries and structures that improve communication and trust. This section of the plan also highlights the value and importance of varying types of retreats to help the couple be more intentional with being still to allow for the body and mind to heal as well as instilling balance in the relationship.  

Each section of the plan has measures that confront and face the problems (e.g., therapy sessions, reading about betrayal trauma, journal entries about hurt and pain, etc.) as well as measures that are about retreat and rest and settling down your brain and body (e.g., meditation, date nights, deep breathing exercise, etc.).  Striking this balance is important in helping everyone endure and heal at a pace that does not burn them out. 

My hope in sharing a little bit about the betrayal trauma individual and couple recovery plan is that it might offer more guidance and direction in your own recovery as well as your couple recovery.  While many are not able to meet with us at Family Solutions Counseling to develop your customized plan, I encourage anyone to take these ideas to your current individual and/or couple’s therapist and work with him/herl to create your own recovery plan.  If you are currently not able to work with a mental health professional, start with what parts of this plan you can build on your own.  For example, develop an exercise plan, establish a devoted time for meditation, and/or institute a regular time to meet and get support from caring trusted people in your life.  

I know that the discovery of a betrayal in your relationship can be so overwhelming that the idea of setting regular time for self-care can seem like it won’t make a difference.  It’s important to remember that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” as they say.  Start where you can, and, focusing on one brick at a time, you will begin to build something that is safe and sturdy – your recovery.

Carrie Kyger, LMFT, CSAT

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