Recognize and Counter 3 Types of Harmful Betrayals

One of the more common complaints I hear among my couples, particularly those with sexual desire differences, is a lack of romance. What is romance? Why is it so important?


By Caralee Frederic, LCSW | Certified Gottman Therapist | Couples Workshop Presenter

COUPLE 1: Emma joins a community charity group, now that the kids are in school. She’s married. He’s married. But the thrill of the obvious chemistry between them now has her thinking of him non-stop throughout the day, fantasizing what it would be like to be with him; if she’d only married him. She finds herself dressing up extra special for the events they attend; arranging lunch dates with him; “happening” to stop by his office during the day.

“It’s harmless,” she thinks. “We’re both married and my husband knows I’m meeting new and exciting people through my charity work.” Troy, her husband, feels the distance increasing between them, but if he tries to bring it up, he risks a volatile fight and accusations of not being supportive of her dreams.

COUPLE 2: Jack rushes to meet his wife, Leslie, for their weekly date. He’s late … again. “But she’ll understand,” he thinks. “After all, it’s my work.” He gives her a rushed “hello” and peck on the cheek as he joins her in the booth. He tries to ignore the disappointment in her face and quickly begins to ask her about her day, when his phone interrupts them. He sees his boss is calling. “I have to take this, hon.” She smiles, sadly, acknowledging the demands on him, and orders another drink.

COUPLE 3: They’ve been together for 5 years and have 2 adorable kids. They refer to each other as “my husband” and “my wife,” but they haven’t yet had a marriage ceremony. He travels for work, she stays home with the children. She brings up wanting her dream wedding every few months and the symbolic importance to her of a public commitment. He says, “We’re good. We don’t need to spend the money on that. We’re together anyways, so what’s the difference?” However, their conflicts often end up with one or the other thinking “I don’t have to put up with this!” and threats to end it all, and leave.

Couples like these, who are struggling in their relationship, often feel a sense of betrayal. However, because an “affair” has not occurred, they are not sure what to call it nor how address their feelings. They muddle along. They deny betrayal has even occurred.

While intimate physical contact is easily recognized as infidelity or cheating, sexless betrayals are more difficult to identify. As a result, these betrayals may fester under the surface, until significant damage is done to the relationship.

What is a betrayal? According to marriage research expert Dr. John Gottman, betrayals can be either the “deception of not revealing your true needs in order to avoid conflict or a yearning for emotional connection from outside the relationship.”

A betrayal is anything that violates a committed relationship’s expectation of mutual trust, respect, protection and caring because it can lead to pain and disaster. Three of the hard-to-spot, yet common, types of non-sexual betrayals are:

Emotional Cheating. Nonsexual relationships often involve both parties sharing intimate details about one another’s lives. These start off innocently enough, but the slippery slope begins when personal information is shared, especially if it includes complaints about one’s spouse or life at home. The things you’ve shared and your interactions – would they make your partner uncomfortable or upset? Have you invited this person to know the personal or intimate details of your life? Have you kept the friendship hidden or downplayed how important it is to you? Have you refused to end the friendship when your partner has asked you to? If so, then your “friendship” may be too intimate and will harm your marriage or relationship.

Emotional Withdrawal. Marriage and committed relationships have an inherent expectation that both partners will love, protect, support each other and choose one another first. Choosing a work meeting over a family event, forgetting to express appreciation or actively withholding praise; declining to give a comforting hug when needed – emotional withdrawal occurs in both large and small ways. In a marriage, both parties are responsible for discovering and sharing the ways you feel loved and supported with your partner, and for nurturing that connection. When this process is ignored, then you may be emotionally withdrawing from the relationship and betraying the agreement “to love, honor and cherish” one another.

Shallow Commitment. This is one of the more difficult betrayals to identify and overcome. It requires both partners to face uncomfortable or painful truths. This betrayal occurs when a partner is slow to commit to forming a deep bond, but also expresses a desire to continue in the relationship. Did you pressure your partner to get married? To start a family? Have you asked for an open relationship, where affections and intimacies are shared outside the relationship with others?

While your partner may have valid reasons for delaying or denying such life-changing decisions, what is needed is a brutally honest conversation about each person’s commitment to the relationship, the meaning it holds to each one, as well as goals, fears and dreams. If either person is unable to have their partner’s best interest at heart and to support their dreams in some way, then a betrayal is being committed by pretending to be there, while not.

Confronting all types of betrayal means holding yourself and your partner accountable to rigorous honesty and authenticity. It means honoring yourself, your partner, and the relationship. Managing any betrayal requires clarity in communicating feelings, wishes and desires. Re-establishing trust is a process of helping the hurt partner feel validated, chosen and cherished, and the betraying partner to feel remorseful and work to repair the broken trust.

Is the process painful? It can be. But it can also be a catalyst for improving the depth of your emotional connection with each other. A professional therapist trained in couples counseling can guide you through the process so that the relationship is healed – not harmed – by open and honest communication.

Couples can choose from a variety of ways to seek and receive professional guidance through this process: self-help books, private therapy, or workshops. In my experience as a therapist for about 20 years, I have found weekend couples workshops to be a safe way for couples to recognize betrayals, avoid them, and to repair non-sexual betrayals.

As a certified Gottman therapist, I present The Art and Science of Love couples workshops. Workshops like this one, and other credible sources, provide face-to-face support from licensed therapists in a comfortable, relaxed setting. The format maximizes the opportunity for improvement in the relationship in a short amount of time.

And, the bottom line: a reputable workshop counters the 2 “building blocks” of betrayals – the deception of hiding oneself from one’s partner, and the yearning for connection from outside the relationship – by teaching skills for friendship building, managing conflict effectively and supporting one another’s dreams. Couples learn the clinical research of thousands of couples to understand and develop the actions to form deeper bonds. So many of my couples comment in the workshop evaluations that they leave feeling like better friends than when they came in, realizing the importance of supporting one another’s dreams, and wanting to take the time to invest in nurturing their connection.