Recently, several clients have come to me concerned I would not accept their “cases.” The first time it happened, I was a little surprised. I mean, if all my clients are in trauma when they find me, feel completely isolated and desperate, why would I send them on their way? But it kept happening, so I attempted to figure out why they were asking.
One of the most common denominators I see is: they felt they were going against the standard healing process for betrayal trauma… the “prescribed path.”
What is the "prescribed path?"
There's A LOT of information available today which discusses betrayal trauma, sexual integrity abuse and problematic sexual behavior. From a marketing standpoint, each modality offers its own unique twist for partners. Partners have choices and must begin using that quiet voice they have stifled, or more likely, has been intentionally squelched to find healing. Does each modality require partners to obey a defined, unique plan void of any alternatives? I'd like to hope not.
How does a partner discern which path is right for their specific betrayal trauma?
I've broken the choice of trauma healing into 3 arenas. Each path elicits an aroma, an odor, or a stench.
The aroma path is where hope blossoms. Think of placing your nose so close to a gardenia you can feel the gentle brush of the white petals on your cheek while the perfume wafts into your lungs- replacing the smell of bland loss with delicious anticipation. Intuitively, we know this space feels safe and we want to stay here because it just feels right.
For the odorous path, I look at it this way- It’s kind of like forgetting to put on deodorant. I can shower, put on clean clothes, spray a dab of perfume, and smell perfectly fresh. But if I forget the deodorant, the minute I lift my arms, you will see the pit stain and catch a bit of BO wafting your way. When I put my arm down, you stop gagging. Betrayed partners have choices today and within some of those choices, there may be something odiferous, but we don’t need to throw out the whole concept. Intuitively, you pick what you want and pitch the rest.
For the stenchy (yes, it is an actual word for all you lit gurus!) path, it is a suggestion that is just plain wrong. Recently, after being gone for a few days, I reentered my house and was greeted with a putrid odor. Seems a skunk decided a hole under my quiet front porch was a good place to raise her family. I never saw her but I knew, based on my own gag reflex, she needed to go. It took awhile to get the smell out of the house after I vacated her. Intuitively, for betrayed partners, if this path causes you to physically wretch, close that book, leave that therapist, or flee that church. And it may take a bit of energy to remove the damage caused by "stinkin' thinkin'."
The next question is, "How do you know if you have an aroma, an odor or a stench?"
It starts with intuition, defined as:
Unfortunately, in the beginning of betrayal trauma, partners have no idea what their intuition is, how to describe it, or what it means.
Examples from partners I have worked with experiencing “intuition” prior to discovery:
1. On that day, she just had a nagging sense she should look at his phone. And she saw this text from her husband to another woman, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t wonderful.”
2. This sentence randomly floated through her mind, “He’s masturbated today.” There had never, ever been any conversation about sexual secrets in their marriage.
3. She could not be fully present intimately for her husband. She couldn’t give her whole heart and soul to him in bed but didn't know why.
4. After every couple’s therapy session, she left feeling worse no matter how hard she tried. She “knew” something was missing but had no idea what that was.
Examples of intuition in a relationship after the discovery of problematic sexual behaviors:
1. Partners obsessively search phones, emails, and electronics after their betrayer’s state “they know everything.” They know there is more information.
2. Partners object to the betrayers going to private therapy sessions. They know the betrayer isn't telling the whole story to another therapist.
3. Partners reject the concept of “couple’s therapy”. They know they aren't safe with their partner because an "unknown danger" exists.
Finally, if you have intuition, and we know it exists, what is the solution to honoring this hunch, instinct, or innate knowledge?
To the betrayed: I know you “hear” your intuition. Putting words to it, clearly defining it, or understanding what it means is the confounding confusion. Find a good therapist or coach who is willing to help you understand that small, tentative voice trying to protect you. (APSATS.org is a great place to start!).
To supporters of the betrayed: Give them time. Take the puzzle they present to you, with all the pieces you have available, and teach them to verbally recreate their truth.