How to Deal With Betrayal in a Relationship

person upset at their partner

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What Is Betrayal?

Betrayal

Betrayal in personal relationships refers to the violation of your trust by someone close to you.

The betrayal could be your partner's infidelity or it could be your best friend’s dropping you for a new friend. You might also feel betrayed if your significant other didn't defend you in an argument with others. Or maybe your best friend didn't reach out to you when they knew you were feeling down.

Feeling betrayed can lead to a flurry of complex emotions and they may feel difficult to manage. This article discusses the types of betrayal, how to decide if you should end the relationship, and how to cope with feelings of betrayal.

Types of Betrayal

Betrayal can occur in any type of relationship. It can occur between romantic partners, friends, and family members. Some people may also feel betrayed by larger institutions like the government or the healthcare system. Despite the many forms of betrayal, this article will focus on betrayal in personal relationships.

Romantic Partner Betrayal

It is painful when your significant other does something to hurt you. Their action likely will make you feel vulnerable as you counted on that person to be there for you. When people experience a betrayal, common reactions include lashing out in anger, self-blaming, a loss of confidence and withdrawal.

Betrayal Trauma

A scientific study looked into the aftermath of intimate betrayals and the result scientists found they called betrayal trauma.  A romantic partner’s betrayal is deemed to be a form of interpersonal trauma. The effects of your partner’s actions are clinically significant, too. 

Between 30% and 60% of those who experienced romantic betrayal showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. Betrayal trauma can also affect self-esteem, lead to distrust in relationships and mental health challenges.

If your partner cheated on you, abused you, or ghosted you, you may feel betrayed. You might also feel betrayed if they don't prioritize you or you find that they're repeatedly unreliable.

Friendship Betrayal

Friends are important to have for our physical and mental health. For example, their caring can reduce your stress levels and gives you a sense of belonging.

When a friend crosses the line, their betrayal can be devastating. So, it makes sense that a person might not be as open to future friendships after such a hurt.

Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist and one of the only licensed psychologists who specializes in friendship therapy, posits that good friendships help us feel supported and deserving of meaningful connections.

Maybe your parents are going through a divorce, or you're going through a rough breakup or maybe you're experiencing grief after losing someone close to you. In these situations, you'll expect that your closest friends will be there for you. If they fail to do, you might feel betrayed, especially if you've always been there for them.

Family Betrayal

Family love is the foundation for your secure attachments. For infants and young children who rely on caregivers emotionally and physically, a lack of care can be a form of betrayal. Not having foundational nurturing can lead to long-term damage.

A recent study of adolescents with betrayal trauma identified that when a secure bond was broken, these children developed difficulties with emotion regulation. The study set up a stressful lab task between mothers and their children. Children who had betrayal trauma showed fewer positive communications and more aggressive behaviors than their peers who had nonbetrayal trauma.

Uninvolved parents who are grappling with substance abuse, alcoholism or mental health problems may end up neglecting their children. That lack of emotional responsiveness can have negative consequences for their children. If your sibling tattles on you and it gets you in major trouble, that too could be an example of a family-type betrayal.

Should You End the Relationship?

As an adult, deciding to maintain a relationship after a betrayal or end it altogether is a decision only you can make. Your decision depends on the severity of the transgression, your desire or hesitation to forgive the person and other factors.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Ending the Relationship

Ask yourself these questions to help you evaluate if you should end the relationship or not:

  • How much does your history together matter?
  • Have both of you changed or grown apart?
  • Is your loved one taking responsibility for their actions?
  • Is your loved one apologetic for the betrayal?
  • Is your loved one remorseful and willing to make amends?
  • Is your loved one willing to go to therapy to help mend the situation?
  • Are both of you committed to continuing the relationship?
  • Is your relationship beyond repair?

If you realize that you want to end the relationship, it is OK to do so. You shouldn't feel pressured to keep a relationship that doesn't bring you joy. However, if you do decide to repair the relationship, that is also OK as long as your personal safety isn't at risk.

In some cases, repairing the relationship could lead to a better and stronger relationship than the one you had before.

If you are having a tough time deciding whether you should end the relationship, reach out to other friends or family members for advice. You can also contact a relationship therapist as they provide you with an unbiased perspective of your situation.

How to Cope With Feelings of Betrayal

While it’s challenging to manage your feelings after a betrayal, how do you move on and heal?

  • Acknowledge the betrayal. The first step is to acknowledge the situation and that the betrayal happened. Go through the process to clarify and accept, rather than be in denial.
  • Sit with your feelings. It’s perfectly reasonable to feel anger, disappointment, shame, or emotional pain. It’s helpful to name your emotions, too. After all, an intimate bond has been broken so it’s reasonable to feel these things. After a while, though, you shouldn’t be immersed in negative feelings. That includes self-pity and regret.
  • Reflect on how your relationship was before the betrayal. Be honest with yourself.  While what happened isn’t your fault, did you inadvertently play a role or contribute in some way? This isn’t about blaming yourself, but objectively looking at the big picture. Were you both moving in different directions anyway? Take a look at what the relationship provided you with. Did it add value or remove value from your life?
  • Consider taking a break. If you feel that the relationship is salvageable, you can decide to take a break from the person who betrayed you. This can help you gain more clarity about the situation. You can also use this time to set any boundaries and address what may need to change in the relationship.
  • Take time to grieve. Know that it’s OK to grieve. The relationship is now changed whether you’re seeking to repair it or let it go.
  • Practice self-compassion. Recognize your own bravery and that you discovered more about yourself and life. Betrayal can lead to growth, wisdom, and maturity.

A Word From Verywell

If you’re ruminating about the situation too much or your grieving interferes with your everyday activities, seek out the guidance of a mental health counselor. If you're in a relationship, you might choose couples therapy, but you can also go alone to a therapist in person or online. Therapists who specialize in trauma can help you heal from the betrayal as well. Professionals can help you cope with and get over the betrayal more easily than trying to do it on your own. 

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lonergan M, Brunet A, Rivest-Beauregard M, Groleau D. Is romantic partner betrayal a form of traumatic experience? A qualitative studyStress Health. 2021;37(1):19-31. doi:10.1002/smi.2968

  2. Cleveland Clinic. How to Make New Friends as an Adult.

  3. Jacoby VM, Krackow E, Scotti JR. Betrayal Trauma in Youth and Negative Communication During a Stressful TaskInt J Aging Hum Dev. 2017;84(3):247-275. doi:10.1177/0091415016669724

By Barbara Field
Barbara is writer and speak who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.