3 Ways We Betray Our Partners Without Realizing It (and How to Stop)

Reestablish trust by confronting these issues sooner rather than later.
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Reestablish trust by confronting these issues sooner rather than later.

Many of us most fear the betrayal of infidelity in our relationships, but it is actually the subtle, nonphysical, and often unnoticed betrayals that truly ruin relationships.

When partners do not choose each other day after day, trust and commitment erode away. Partners may be aware of this disloyalty to each other but dismiss it because it’s “not as bad as an affair.” This is false. Anything that violates a committed relationship’s contract of mutual trust, respect, and protection can be disastrous.

Betrayals are founded on two building blocks: deception (not revealing your true needs to avoid conflict) and a yearning for emotional connection outside the relationship. Only by confronting and taking responsibility for them can couples reestablish their trust in each other.

01. Emotional Cheating

Imagine if you attended your S.O.'s work Christmas party and met a coworker of his who you'd never heard of before. All of a sudden you realize that they're actually quite close; she even brought a gift for him that had special meaning for just the two of them. You may know with certainty nothing physical is going on, but there's still a betrayal happening in this scenario.

It’s very easy for platonic friends to bond in the trenches of work, day after day. Sometimes we call this person a “work wife” or “work husband.” Even friendships made at the gym or local coffee shop can threaten the bond at home.

These nonsexual relationships can lead to both parties sharing intimate details about each other’s lives. That doesn’t make it a betrayal. What makes it a betrayal is this: if your partner would be upset by the things you’ve shared or would be uncomfortable watching the interaction.

Five signs your partner’s friendship is not just innocent:

  • Has the friendship been hidden?
  • Are your questions about the friendship responded with “don’t worry” or discouragement?
  • Have you asked it to end, only to have your partner tell you no?
  • Have your boundaries been disrespected?
  • Is the friend the subject of fantasies or comments during troubled times in the relationship?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, the friendship may be too intimate. The Conflict Blueprint from Dr. John Gottman’s book What Makes Love Last? can help you talk to your partner about this issue.

02. Conditional Love

Imagine you're ready to have children, but your husband is hesitant. You assume he's just not ready for fatherhood yet, but you come to find that he's actually not willing to deepen the commitment between you, which a child would inevitably do. 

While this may be an extreme example, instances like this do happen and can happen on a smaller scale too. For example, when one person in a long-distance relationship is ready to move to the same city as their partner, but the other doesn't want to take that step. Couples don’t feel supported when one partner keeps a foot out of the relationship. They don’t feel like their partner has their best interests at heart, that they have their back. When this happens, it’s not uncommon for the betrayed partner to blame a trigger (like a baby or the distance) as the real problem, when it’s actually the lack of commitment.

Sometimes a partner may pressure the other to take a next step in their relationship believing the “next level” will deepen their connection, but it’s difficult for a marriage to succeed if it is built on a vow to create a strong bond rather than the result of one. The shallowness of the bond will eventually bleed through the connection.

When couples ignore or dismiss talking about difficult issues, they are left with a shallow commitment. By using conflict as a catalyst for closeness, couples can intentionally use problems as an opportunity to discuss their goals, fears, and dreams.

03. Emotional Withdrawal

Emotional withdrawal can be something big, like choosing a work meeting over a family funeral, or it can be as small as turning away when your partner needs emotional support.

A committed relationship requires both partners to be there for each other through the life-altering traumas and everyday nuisances. That means celebrating joys and successes with your partner, too.

Everybody has different ways of expressing themselves. In a committed relationship, it is the responsibility of both partners to uncover and disclose these preferences to understand what the other requires to feel loved, protected, and supported. Think of The Five Love Languages and how important they are in making your partner feel loved.

In his research lab, Dr. Gottman discovered that happy couples turned toward each other 86 percent of the time, while unhappy couples turned towards each other only 33 percent of the time. That means unhappy couples withdraw 67 percent of the time! Emotional withdrawal sets in when bids are ignored.

To improve your emotional connection, focus on rebuilding and updating your Love Maps, cultivating a culture of admiration and fondness, and turning towards bids for attention more often.

Do any of the items listed above feel familiar or make you feel uneasy? If so, you may be facing a betrayal. Maybe it’s as serious as finding discomforting text messages between your partner and someone else. This list is not about who is right or wrong. Like sexual affairs, these betrayals can be overcome if you recognize the problem and repair the relationship together.

This article was originally published on The Gottman Institute blog and edited here from its original version. Get your free copy of “7 Signs Your Relationship Will Last” by clicking here.

Photo Credit: The Kitcheners