24 Jan How To Support A Partner Who Has Betrayed You But Is Promising To Change


All of us make mistakes in our relationships, but some mistakes are much bigger than others. If your partner has been unfaithful, I doubt I’ll need to convince you of this fact. Ditto, if you’ve been betrayed by your partner’s excessive drinking, drug taking, porn watching or gambling – and the lies that almost inevitably come with these behaviours.

Depressed young couple outside

Infidelity, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, porn addiction, and uncontrolled gambling all classify as pretty big relationship mistakes.

And yes, they are betrayals as well as relationship mistakes, because it’s impossible to share a healthy relationship if they’re happening.

If your partner has been “busted”, or has simply hit rock bottom, perhaps he or she wants to change. If so, maybe you’re being asked… begged… to give him or her a second chance.

But you’re probably feeling very conflicted. 

Your head is screaming “Enough! Walk away!”. But your heart can’t walk away.

Your heart knows the love you’ve shared. Your heart remembers the tender moments and the joy. Your heart can’t handle the idea of abandoning someone you love in his or her hour of need.

You’re thinking that with the right support, your partner really can change. And you want to be that support. You want to give that second chance. You want to share a relationship that works, and you’re willing to wait while your partner does what’s needed in order to make that happen. Well, good for you. But let’s make sure you don’t go crazy in the process.

Here‘s how you can support your partner while he or she changes, and stay healthy and sane while you’re at it:

 

1. Do some soul searching.

Sorry to deliver uncomfortable news, but firstly, you must be very clear with yourself about why you are staying. Is it because this relationship really has what it takes to develop into a healthy, happy, functional partnership? Or is it more about avoiding the pain that you’ll suffer if you walk away?

2. Set a time frame and stick to it.

OK, so you’re going to hang around and see if he or she really can deliver the changes they’re promising. But don’t make this an unlimited offer. Decide on the time frame that you are prepared to invest in the relationship whilst your partner works on changing. Write it down. And stick to it.

3. Take an audit on your emotional health.

Confused, exhausted, broken-hearted – it makes sense that you might be feeling like this, given what you’re going through. But this is not how healthy relationships feel. Write down how you are feeling now. Then write down, specifically, how you want to be feeling once your time-frame is up. Now it’s there in black and white. At that time, if your feelings haven’t significantly changed for the better, then your relationship probably hasn’t either, and you’ll need to reconsider your decision to stick around.

4. Take an audit on your behaviour.

Again, it’s contextual if right now you’re not sleeping well, not eating well, crying a lot, missing work or social commitments – in other words, your level of functioning might be a bit of a mess. Write it down – so you’ll have an objective record of how the relationship is affecting your behaviour right now. Then write down, specifically, how you want to be functioning and behaving once your time-frame is up. Now it’s there in black and white. At that time, if your level of functioning hasn’t significantly changed for the better, then your relationship probably hasn’t either, and you’ll need to reconsider your decision to stick around.

5. Create a support structure for yourself.

You might be avoiding confiding in your friends, because you know they’ll just tell you to leave. But it’s crucial that you have somebody (professional or otherwise) who understands what you are going through, and who can be your support person whilst you are supporting your partner.

6. Draw on your own values and resources.

You’ll need to support yourself too, and to do so you’ll need to know yourself. Like compass points that keep you aligned with your true self, values can include loyalty, forgiveness, patience. Think about what values are most important to you. Resources are things you can draw on that help you feel supported, and might include memories, relationships (with people living or not), places, pets, music, spirituality. Write them down and remind yourself of them every day.

7. Define your role as support person, not as “rescuer” or “fixer”.

Your partner wants to change, and your relationship needs to change too. The very real risk is that you’ll become your partner’s sole confidant, therapist, coach, mentor, disciplinarian… all the things that you should not become, for your sake or for theirs. Don’t become responsible for your partner, and don’t invest more energy into your partner’s change than he or she does. Ever.

Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. For the past 25 years she has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive. Contact Pamela here.



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