When you promised "for better or for worse," maybe you momentarily considered the possibilities of "worse": illness, problems with children, financial difficulties. You probably never imagined you might one day face betrayal, but it's not uncommon for marital trust to be shattered by secretive behavior or broken promises.
In my counseling office, my own heart was breaking as I watched Barbara suffer in the moments after James, her husband of 21 years, confessed his infidelity. Her sobs wracked her whole body. She trembled in a corner, holding her knees to her chest as if to shield herself from the emotional assault.
James had been involved sexually with Barb's best friend, so she felt doubly betrayed. She had sensed a growing distance between her and James, but she'd never suspected adultery. Once Barb regained control, we returned to the counseling session to begin a process that would, at first, seem completely impossible: rebuilding her ruined trust.
Sexual unfaithfulness inflicts profound wounds, but in our years of counseling, my wife and I have seen deep pain caused by all kinds of betrayal: financial mismanagement, gambling or embezzlement, drug or alcohol abuse, a so-called emotional affair, any habitual hidden behavior. It's devastating to find that your spouse has kept a part of his or her life a secret. Initially, the sense of betrayal is so strong that re-establishing trust seems an unreachable goal. But it is possible, as Barb and James found, to find a way to trust again.1