How to Help Those Suffering from Sexual Betrayal

pensive young woman dealing with sexual betrayal

In the last seven years, researchers have empirically validated the fact that those who experience sexual betrayal manifest similar symptoms as war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  However, because of the “private” nature of sexual circumstances, many victims of sexual betrayal (i.e. Betrayal Trauma) feel lonely, isolated, and suffer with symptoms that nobody (even themselves) do not fully understand.  

This situation intensifies fear, frustration, and pain. The purpose of this short blog is to increase awareness of Betrayal Trauma symptomatology and identify what can be done to help.  

1 – Facilitate Familiarity with Betrayal Trauma Symptoms

2– Help Them Feel Understood, Validated, and Reassured 

  • Stay focused on their feelings by asking questions like: (1) What is this like for you;  (2) Where is this coming from; (3) How does this feeling impact you (and/or your marriage and family); (4) What can I do to help? Be sure to validate, reassure, and compliment them on their effort to seek help.
  • For a deeper dive into a diagram of this communication skill, see website: > Betrayal Trauma > Talking Below the Line or TBL 

3 – Help Create Safe Connections with Others

  • Could you be that source of empathy and safety?
  • Strongly encourage participation in “Betrayal Trauma Support Groups for Women.”  Search online for “betrayal trauma support groups near me.”

4 – Support Immediate “Boundary Setting”

  • Healing requires safety.  Safety requires boundaries.  In other words, there will be no healing without boundaries.  Boundary setting is not about building walls of isolation or punishing a partner away. Rather, it’s creating clear and specific statements that identify the victim’s heartfelt desires and the consequences of behavior that is toxic to the relationship.  
  • Creating healthy boundaries clarifies relational expectations of each other, improves communication, minimizes the feeling of being “stuck,” promotes progress, solidifies safety, creates connection, and enhances healing.  Below are examples:

Deal Breakers: “I want to have a healthy relationship with you, but if you have another affair (could specify contact with prostitutes, meet up with a person for sex, engage in online sex, have emotional affair, etc.), you will need to find somewhere else to live while I make decisions for my future and what it include (or “I will file for a divorce).

Physical Boundaries:  I need to feel safe in this relationship.  If you come into the bathroom while I am showering, I will ask you to give me physical space for the rest of the day.”

Sexual Boundaries: “I would like to be the only woman in this house (or your life) that you are intimate with.  If you continue to invite other women into our home by looking at pornography, I will ask you to sleep somewhere else for a week.”

Emotional Boundaries: “I will engage in conversations when I feel respected and heard. When there is yelling or disrespectful or offensive language, I will leave the room or house and continue the conversation when I feel a respectful conversation is possible.”

or . . .

“When you deny, minimize, lie, or blame me for your behavior, it ruins trust and makes me question everything you say. Our relationship cannot move forward. I will take the space I need and will re-engage when I see humility, honesty, and accountability.

  • Invite a serious study of the book “Boundaries,” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.  Also read pages 113-127 for concise instructions on “how to create healthy boundaries” in Dr. Kevin Skinner’s book: “Treating Trauma from Sexual Betrayal:  The Essential Tools for Healing.”

5 – Encourage Self-Compassion and Understanding

  • Adequate sleep, exercise, nutrition, and emotional regulation are essential.
  • Provide positive and supportive feedback: “Your feelings are normal.”  “There is a way out of this.” “You are not alone.”
  • Therapy is often needed.  However, couple’s therapy (at this point) is usually premature.  Recommend individual therapy with a therapist who has been trained in Betrayal Trauma intervention techniques.  

Solace Emotional Health Can Help

If you’re experiencing Betrayal Trauma or are a victim of sexual betrayal, remember, there are resources available to assist you and help you overcome this difficult situation. Reach out to Solace Emotional Health, we’re here for you and will help you get through this.