I’ve worked with many couples who were blind to the subtler ways they violated their partner’s trust. The problem was, these couples held a narrow definition of what they considered an act of betrayal. Betrayals and trust violations can be more nuanced than infidelity or lying.
Betrayal? That sounds harsh
Betrayal is a strong word, and many people would rather believe they are not betraying their partner. But, if you broaden your definition of betrayal to mean the opposite of trust you’ll see how these behaviors are damaging your relationship.
10 0ther ways to betray your lover
Dr. John Gottman is a world-renowned research psychologist and couples counselor. In his book, What Makes Love Last, he lists 10 Other Ways to Betray Your Lover, helping many people clarify what it is they’re struggling with, and why it really is an issue of trust.
1) You aren’t fully committed
If you have the sense that your partner is only with you until someone “better” comes along, or if one person is constantly threatening the relationship by saying things like, “I can’t take this” or “It’s over,” it will be impossible to trust that person.
Another common scenario is when one person wants to take the relationship to the next level, perhaps living together, or marriage and the other prefers the status quo. Not being on the same page about the trajectory of your relationship is painful and will cause trust issues for any couple.
2) A non-sexual affair
Emotional affairs are tricky because many people believe they aren’t cheating unless they have been sexual with someone. This is not necessarily true. Here’s a litmus test:
If your partner was a fly on the wall as you interacted with your “friend,” would they be ok with what they saw and heard? If the answer is no, you are likely engaged in an emotional affair.
If your partner feels uncomfortable with one of your platonic friendships, try putting yourself in their shoes.
It can be exhausting for someone in this scenario because they can’t prove you are actually doing anything wrong. Even so, those feelings are real, and the mistrust bubbling below the surface is hurting your relationship. Be honest with yourself about whether you would do and say the same things if your partner really was a fly on that wall.
This one is simple, your words and behavior have to match if you expect trust in your relationship. If what you do contradicts what you say, your partner will be confused and hurt.
If you say that you were at work and it turns out you were really at a bar, your partner has every right to feel betrayed. If you say you want your relationship to improve, but you refuse to improve it, your partner will not trust you. Keep in mind, if you are attempting to regain your partner’s trust, patience and consistency are your friends.
4) Coalitions against your partner
This means you are participating in a separate relationship at the expense of your partner. For example, you tell a family member too much about your relationship and team up with them against your partner. Your partner will surely feel betrayed by this, and your relationship will suffer. It’s extremely invasive when two people team up against another. If there are issues in your relationship, seek a therapist who can provide neutral advice.
5) Emotional absenteeism
This occurs when one-half of a couple lacks empathy and compassion for their partner. I see this with couples that have experienced big things like medical illnesses, miscarriages, or the death of loved ones, as well as “smaller” things like job stress or a fight with a good friend.
When you feel like your partner isn’t there for you in times of crisis, you will feel invalidated, lonely, and betrayed.
6) Withdrawal of sexual interest
Many long-term couples are in “sexless relationships,” meaning they have sex 12 times per year or less. While this works fine for many couples, that is not always the case. When one partner is not fulfilled sexually, the message they hear is, don’t you dare be unfaithful but don’t look to me for sex either!
Gottman’s research found that contempt is the number one relationship killer. He became famous for predicting which couples would divorce with over 90% certainty just by seeing them interact for 5 minutes. He made these predictions based on whether or not contempt was present. Contempt includes name-calling, acting superior, subtle slights, eye-rolling, or any other way disgust is conveyed.
Seek help ASAP if your partner is emotionally or physically abusive—these dynamics rarely change on their own.
Unequal housework and child-care usually come up in this category. When couples divide the household labor evenly, they have trusting and loving relationships.
In Gottman’s book, And Baby Makes Three he advises men to do as much as they can to contribute to the house and kids, especially if they want their wives to feel sexual. Women do not seem to be able to relax and enjoy sex after a long day of tending to the house and children (and often her own job!) Gottman tells men that doing their fair share around the house is a form of foreplay.
You can’t truly trust someone who doesn’t prioritize your relationship. When you constantly see your partner meeting their own needs at your expense, you will feel betrayed and mistrustful.
10) Broken promises
The range of broken promises can be as simple as coming home later than promised to as complicated as developing an addiction. Often the person breaking promises says they will change but usually does not. Another broken promise! The betrayal deepens and deepens and the relationship can become very painful and destructive.
What should you do if your partner frequently commits any of Gottman’s betrayals?
If any of the above behaviors are going on in your relationship, you will likely find it difficult to trust, and therefore, you feel betrayed by your partner. You may not have thought about it that way before, but this list should validate your concerns about trust. If your partner disagrees that any of these behaviors are a problem for your relationship, you will likely benefit from some form of relationship counseling or coaching to help you resolve these issues.
If your partner doesn’t get help, try individual counseling to help you navigate these betrayals on your own and learn to set effective boundaries.