A Man’s Tools for Addressing Betrayal:
A Blog Talk Radio Interview with Carol the Coach and Sibylle Georgianna about Male Partner Betrayal Trauma and How to Overcome It
Betrayal Trauma can feel different for male partners Their greatest wounding is to believe that nothing that they experienced with their significant other was real. They experience an out-of-the-blue grief response to the sudden loss of what they thought was their life and they have nowhere to turn because that there are very few resources for male partners.
I feel honored to have written a book for male partners to offer that support. I want male partners to know that at some point they need to mourn the relationship they thought they had. I know that reactions such as anger, sadness, numbness or craving to go out and cheat in response to an affair and/or other type of betrayal show the humongous loss. The betrayal wound causes you to no longer trust your significant other and yourself.
You have many questions: Was my relationship with the one who betrayed me an illusion? What’s my sense of reality that I did not see the dual life of the one who betrayed me sooner? How could I have entrusted myself and my family to a person I did not know? You have been wounded on so many levels. I would like to repeat: betrayal trauma is not your fault.
Listen to this episode during which coach Carol Juergensen-Sheet (CarolTheCoach) and I dialogue about how to best address betrayal trauma (skip ahead to the start of the interview 11:55 min into the episode of this podcast):
Carol: I just worked with a man today, a male partner. I worked with another male partner on Friday. Male partners are beginning to come out and say, “This is tough stuff and I’ve been holding it in and I know that I’ve got to get it out.” We have a local male partner group and it’s called “The Only Man in the Meeting,” because if you’re a male partner, you don’t have a lot of resources. And for anybody who has ever seen my post-traumatic growth course for female partners, you know that I include a male in there and he really goes off in his interview on how few resources there are for dealing with male partners.
That’s why I was so excited when I found out that we had somebody on our APSAT ListServ that works specifically with male partners, and she’s actually written a book to offer that support that she knows so many male partners want. They go through the same issues as a female partner, but it’s a little bit different in part because of the societal norms, and also in part because men need to keep the secret. They don’t feel comfortable telling everybody that they’ve been betrayed.
I’m so excited to be working with Sibylle Georgianna, who has a written a book for male partners to offer that support.
Sibylle, welcome to the show.
Sibylle: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to share.
Carol: I was so excited to hear you were writing this book, and we’re always looking for support groups for male partners. I know I threw it out to a couple of ListServs and (Leah Brick), she contacted me. I was talking about my book, Unleashing Your Power, Moving beyond Sexual Betrayal, and she said, “I have a couple of men, could they come to your workshop.” I said, no, but I would love to start a workshop just for them, so the fact that this book is so well done, you go into how does a man feel, what does he think about himself, understanding his stress response. Let’s just talk a little bit about the kinds of things that you really feel that a male partner goes through.
Things That Male Partners of Sexual Betrayal Go Through
Sibylle: It is so hard to serve men because I think maybe even one of the obstacles is that they may not even think that it is manly to seek help. I think we find that easier in female partners, but I’m so excited to hear that you would want to offer that workshop for the men, because even looking for a male support group is really…there are not that many out there. So I’m so excited to serve in that capacity, because even when I have male partners in my practice, getting them to a resource that they can just look things up with, more like a manual with like action steps, things they could expect, How long does it take to recover from betrayal? What health care professional is treating trauma from sexual betrayal? I have felt like that is missing, so I put this step-by step guide book together for betrayed partners with broken trust, trauma triggers, and their struggle to achieve mental health.
Carol: Yes, and you did a very good job.
Is that how you got involved with this, when you realized what a limited amount of resources were available for male partners?
Sibylle: Yes, because I love when clients come in that I can give them something to read or something to look up fo themselves. So that they don’t just think I’m coming up with treatment recommendations. And before I wrote the book, I did not have a book accessible for men to describe what they are dealing with- what betrayal trauma is, for example, what options they have to address betrayal trauma. What requests they can make.
There’s this myth that men are always strong and they know what they want and that’s not going to be happening to them. When the reality then is that same rupture that you mentioned earlier that occurs for a woman affected by betrayal can also debilitate men.
Do you have an emergency first aid kit, if you will, that you advise male partners to do first?
Sibylle: Yes, and actually I put that right at the beginning of the book, because I’ve had specifically one partner who said, “As you’re putting this together, I would want them to know from the trenches what they should go right to. I wish I would have known.” So it’s one of those emergency first aid kits that may not feel great when you go through it, but it’s having applied it to yourself that may make a big difference.
As soon as possible:
- Get an STD test;
- Educate yourself about betrayal trauma and what’s happening;
- You’re not to blame, it’s not your fault, but even knowing “why am I feeling so intensely.”
- Set up support to learn how to manage even these triggers that come out of the blue a lot of times, interrupting them;
- Set up emotional support, ideally even with people that understand like in a COSA meeting and a 12 step group, they understand what you’re dealing with.
That way, you won’t have to decide right away what your family and friends should know, who should be hearing what and at what time. The partner who really wanted that this information to be included in an emergency kit said that unringing a bell that you rang when you shared with others, that’s not possible, so be careful.
That was the other point here too, to be careful as to what you share with others, because you may not get that support in the way we would want it through the share. So getting an educated person or somebody who has been learning and growing and healing themselves, that might be someone to share it with. That person can then easily empathize with you where you’re at, instead of sharing people who may not know at all how to deal with betrayal trauma.
Carol: Absolutely, and you give some of the basics that anybody really would need to use if they were finding out by discovering betrayal, finding out about disclosure.
Who do you think that they should look for or what do you think that they should look for as they’re trying to find a therapist that is sensitive to this?
Sibylle: Yes, and that was another thing I really wanted to highlight, because when people come to my office, a lot of times they’ve seen multiple therapists and it’s so sensitive to get support with someone who has a lot of knowledge about betrayal trauma as early as possible. Questions to ask:
Someone who has been trained specifically, had supervision, had case consultations to help a person with compulsivity and who has had at least some basic education on betrayal trauma through that certification. Therapists not trained in betrayal trauma might erroneously say ” There was too much anger in the relationship” or it’s misdiagnosed as something where people should just have more sex and this will go away. Instead, work with a therapist who has been certified in their work with sex addiction. ,
Have you heard of partner trauma? Have you been trained so you know what that means, betrayal trauma?
Ask a potential therapist if they are educated on betrayal trauma. Or, are they operating more from a “co-addiction” treatment model that was around longer than the treatment model of betrayal trauma. The “co-addiction” treatment model considers a partner of somebody who has an addiction a “co-addict”: a person who has some form of addiction him-or herself.
In contrast, the betrayal trauma treatment model considers a partner of somebody with compulsivity as someone at risk for post-traumatic stress. Treating someone for post-traumatic stress is a completely different than treating somebody for an addiction or “co-addiction”.
Can you work with me and my triggers specifically using a so-called “somatic” type of therapy?
“Soma” means body, and a somatic therapist works specifically to decrease the body’s built up stress response. Somatic types of therapies (e.g., EMDR therapy, EFT therapy, Somatic Experiencing) help with discharging the stress response gently from your body so that your body doesn’t keep amping up and keeping you in the triggers.
Carol: So I was wondering, we all know that partners say to themselves over and over and over, “What is real in my life, I thought I knew what my life was all about and then, damn, I find out that it is a lie.” So that kind of questioning of one’s own existential self and the existential world around them really creates an identity deficit, I believe. You talk about that in the book, and I had really wanted you to tell our listening audience about the different types of betrayal trauma, some of which you learned from Dr. Omar Minwalla.
Signs of betrayal trauma:
Sibylle: Yes, he and his research colleagues have done amazing work to identify what different types of betrayal trauma exist. That suddenly, with that discovery of these behaviors, everything what you held true shatters. From a starting point of what is being found out, you knowing that suddenly what you thought it was is really not what it was for your significant other, and this being in loss with reality, it feels like you are out of touch.
I want you to understand how your body responds to trauma, because it can so impact us physically. You may not have been somebody who struggled with a body image issue prior to betrayal, but suddenly you find yourself wanting to go for plastic surgery because you’re feeling maybe you’re too old or your body is not looking how it was when you met your significant other.
We can see even typical stress around not being able to sleep, feeling you don’t even know how you’re driving to work and back. You feel you completely lost your grounding in reality, so then at the same time, I feel it validates it when we say it is such an existential crisis, no wonder you feel you’re floating around in space.
One of those symptoms that are so hard to deal with a lot of times is that these memories from discovery come back in and in and in, and you are in it all the time and you are so sensitive to feeling like it could happen any moment or that it just happened again.
Was it real or was it not? Really it puts the lens on the more post-traumatic stress that could be easily triggered even by, let’s say, you’re looking on your phone at photos and you wonder, when you were at the baseball game together, were we really enjoying ourselves or was it not.
There are so many layers of betrayal including how we feel in our self-concept. How we define ourselves, that these roles that we have, and me speaking as a woman here, as a mom, as a friend, as a teacher.
Now for the guys, that’s really more how they see themselves, as a guy, as a provider maybe, as a father, male. And all of that is suddenly also at stake. It can be so confusing to really find the trauma also affecting you in your core of your gender identity. I would like to remind you that you may blame yourself. That is an automatic response to this experience that you had with the betrayal, but at the same time I want to say that you are not to blame and there is nothing that you did that caused this betrayal to happen.
Carol: That is such an important part, isn’t it Sibylle? Because truly I see it over and over and over again:
The partner says, “how could I have avoided this, what could I have done differently, why wasn’t he satisfied with me, what was wrong with me?” Male partners also have those same feelings. They wonder what was wrong with them.
Sibylle: You see these perfectly fine individuals thinking that they were not enough to their spouse and that is as heartbreaking, I feel, as it is for the female partners I work with as when I see men with that question, was I not enough for you. Even as we see it with the coupleship or relationship then being so traumatized, and maybe you find yourself reacting in ways that you had your life going, you moved along, and now you’re in this very sense of an insecurity that you react in these ways that you never imagined.
Understand this through the lens of the betrayal trauma as the relational trauma, not as suddenly you lost all your competencies. It’s really as if the betrayal trauma put this huge debris on you. Like you’re driving in the desert and you have your headlights full of dust and dirt and the betrayal trauma is like it wants to clog up your headlights, what your life is and what your sense of self is. We want to just wipe that out and tend to that betrayal trauma so that it doesn’t keep you from having access to your values, your sense of self, and how you want to be in this world. It’s just so overshadowing.
Carol: I get that. Now this 13 types of sex addiction, taken from Omar, is called the “Sex Addiction Induced Trauma (SAIT) Model,” because what it really does is it takes a look at the trauma that is found in partners of sex addicts. So would you just list those different traumas so we can have an idea of what they go through as discovery occurs?
Betrayal trauma symptoms:
Sibylle: Yes.. Dr. Omar Minwalla lists them as:
#1 Discovery trauma:
Trauma from a staggered, ongoing discovery of what happened, the impact can cause you fear in that shattered state of your sense of self
#2 Disclosure trauma:
Even when things come out, most of the time, the truth doesn’t come out as healthily filtered and with the support of a therapist. Instead, it can be a “staggered” disclosure where the partner gets more and more pieces. Being exposed to the deception and these behaviors can cause that traumatic stress response.
#3 is Break with the Ego trauma:
That means it’s the sense of your reality, the ego, the fragmentation of your reality. Your sense of reality becomes traumatized and is completely shattered and you change in your way of how you are seeing yourself. You’re thinking you’re not good enough. You suddenly loose yourself.
#4 Physical Impact trauma:
This trauma’s physical symptoms are not being able to sleep, weight loss, weight gain, hair loss. You find yourself hypersensitive.
#5 Trauma due to External Crisis:
Your world is destabilized with the discovery of betrayal. Even changes to our routines, you have to figure out different ways to do child care or who’s picking up the child, or a disruption in your living arrangements. All that can cause understandable traumatic response.
# 6 Trauma of Hypervigilance:
Trauma by re-experiencing the details of what was disclosed, or flashbacks of what you came across.
# 7 Trauma from Psychological and Emotional Abuse:
that is as traumatic as physical abuse. Sex Addiction-Induced Perpetration (SAIP) includes emotional abuse, psychological abuse, dominating family relationships, using deception. You may experience trauma from going along with sexual requests because you are concerned that, if you decline, the acting out continues. Feelings of betrayal can also come about when your child get neglected by the acting out partner, or other violations human rights take place (e.g., the acting out partner is spending the money to act out instead of taking care of an elderly parent).
#8 Trauma to a partner’s sexuality:
Dr. Minwalla describes that the sexuality of a partner is often impacted by sex addiction in a similar way that women who have been raped or otherwise been sexually traumatized. You may avoid sex or feeling sexually shutting down. You may find yourself with wanting to numb (e.g., by eating), may fear a sexually transmitted disease. You may feel dirty and contaminated.
Finding yourself with an increased need to be sexual (post-trauma-induced-hypersexuality), sexual guilt and/or sexual pressure are equally common.
#9 Gender-related trauma:
This trauma influences how you see yourself as a guy, as a partner in a committed relationship, as a father, as a coworker.
#10 Trauma related to the way how you attach to other people:
Your relationships including how you relate to others can be severely impacted. You feel like living two lives when you are suffering from this unfathomable betrayal while trying to keep your relationships at your children’s baseball practices the same.
#11 Trauma to the Family:
Community, and Social life. How you relate to the kids and extended family members, coworkers. You may lose friends with unhealthy behaviors (and/or those not sensitive to betrayal trauma), social circles where your significant other acted out.
#12 Treatment-induced trauma (also institutional betrayal trauma):
When you go to a therapist or medical provider who is not properly educated about betrayal trauma, you may not receive help with with the betrayal and the trigger management. A male partner shared with me that his girlfriend’s first therapist said that she wasn’t sure that sex addiction existed. Or, being treated as if you have a “co-addiction” but neglecting your post-traumatic stress response can create this type of trauma.
# 13 is Spiritual Existential trauma:
How you relate to God, your faith, religion, higher power, all this is extremely compromised and impacted. How can God allow this betrayal? Your faith and sense as a person, a human being, can feel very shattered.
Carol: Sibylle, you nailed it when you described his sex addiction criteria and how that affects the partner. Dr. Omar Minwalla is a master at understanding partner betrayal. He was one of the first. He actually was on the founding board of APSATS, which is a partner-sensitive training program for clinicians and coaches, of which I train all the coaches and clinicians in the world, so I love talking about this. And you are making it simple, you’re bringing it home to people that are hearing about their own trauma and if we have sex addicts out there, male or female, they can hear this and recognize what they’ve done in their own families, the collateral damage if you will, of the despair.
Now I have a question, because I want to remind my audience that this is a new book. Sibylle, you know I’m doing an EMDR workshop with (Giselle) and you sound just like her because you’re from Germany originally aren’t you?
Sibylle: I am from Germany, yes, you can hear it any time of the day, that’s right.
Carol: It’s beautiful, so please forgive me. You have written this new book and it makes everything simple. It’s called A Man’s Tools for Addressing Betrayal and the information that she is sharing with us is from that book. Do you have any idea when we’re going to be able to get it?
Sibylle: As of April 15, 2021, it is released as a hardcopy book or an ebook. You can get it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I really want to give this book to men affected by betrayal, even if they’re already now with a therapist. A lot in the book describes resources for yourself or your significant other to find a therapist.
Carol: That’s excellent. Sibylle.
Tell me what options do you feel exist for partners who discover the betrayal but with regards to handling the relationship with the one who betrayed?
Sibylle: I think so. I think a lot of times the culture is looked at that guys may not care as much about their relationship. Again this is a total stereotype, I don’t agree with that at all. You have different ways or options when you discover betrayal:
Immediately when betrayal is discovered, you could leave the relationship right then and there and leave it behind. Leaving is one way to just distance yourself from that incredible pain that you’re in. At the same time, it may not reflect where you had anticipated that relationship to go. Leaving is an option and I think a lot of times men are looked at as they would choose that option more easily.
One of those myths that people say, the guy easily move on. I don’t think that myth is true. At the same time, it is always an option to say you could just leave that relationship behind and move into a different relationship constellation. However, leaving does not complete and relieve the pain that people are in.
Stay with the party who is needing to do the repair work and even if they are not doing the repair work, you would stay with it because you see yourself committed.
A third option is that you would take a little bit of a leaning back approach and watch what the other person does in terms of repairing. Then based on watching the repair and the growth, then you can make a decision at some point. I would usually say to my clients to do it 3 months, 4 months, 6 months; make a short-term goal to watch the other person’s effort to repair.
If you have then these data points coming, such as a disclosure that is facilitated with a therapist, the ability to seek emotional restitution come your way, then you can decide after that time of observing that you recommit yourself to that relationship. This option is more a time of observation during which you then work on your own trigger management. Again, it’s not your fault but you’re dealing with it understandably. Taking good care of yourself, clearing out any topics or things you want to work on; that would be a good time to do that.
Do you believe that male partners have different needs when it comes to boundaries and behavioral requests?
Sibylle: I think they have the same needs, but men may have a harder time conveying those needs. We always look at men as these straight shooters going forward and they have the action list.
However, the needs for safety, the needs for honesty, the needs for compassion, men don’t have it easier. Making request to have those needs met is part of the work we would do together. Helping them to be really clear on these needs. Setting manageable outcome and using measurable tools to make a request. To get these needs met in a healthy way. It doesn’t have to be pushy. It doesn’t have to be overpowering. A respectful, empathetic way of setting boundaries protects the men’s needs. It also helps the person with the problem behavior the healthiest necessary for her to be at her best.
Setting boundaries after betrayal:
Carol: Again, what would some of those boundaries be?
Sibylle: I think that’s a really good question. We can be as practical as possible on these boundaries. Boundaries sound like such a psychological term, but even to say what are these non-negotiable things such as certain behaviors needing to stop, apps needing to be uninstalled from a phone or from a computer. It could be things such as communicating when the person with the problematic behaviors changes the location where they’re at. Notifying each other when you’re running late. It could be on boundaries how to use language or how to treat other people, using emojis, online interactions. That will reset the way of communication.
There is a lot even around physical boundaries that are so important. For example, even for a guy to say, I’m the one, if I want to have touch, if I want to have closeness, I’m going to be the one initiating the touch. If I’m in my space, don’t come in and interrupt me, but I need time to finish and then I can recommit myself to some other thing to do.
Also, in terms of when these difficult conversations about what happened, what time are they taking place? We all still need to make sure the kids are attended to, going to work, working from home, so even keeping certain conversations to a certain time of day, not later than maybe 9:00 p.m. can be a physical boundary to help keep or make a situation as healthy as possible.
With physical boundaries in place, there can be action steps we can put in. We can ask the significant other to stop a certain action. We can remove ourselves to increase space. You can have your privacy when you take a shower, when you work out, you may sleep in another room. You as the partner can initiate those behaviors even if your significant other’s response is not as understanding and empathetic as we want it to be.
Guys care about sexuality as much as we care as a woman about value-driven sexuality. So even sexual boundaries are important. For example, you initiate sexual encounters as you feel fit. Being sexual with one another only with outside boundaries in place, let’s say, having uninstalled certain apps. As a guy, you can say, that’s too much for me right now, I need to be the one initiating. I need to create a safe space, and I invite you to help with that.
And last but not least, boundaries around communication. For example, what to share with others, family members, friends, children, so to be on the same page. With whom and what type of information will be shared.
How to gently assert yourself and make requests:
Carol: And in your book, it goes into what to share and how to share to get the most bang for your buck, if you will, so that you’re learning assertiveness and gentle assertiveness and behavioral requests that are done in a way that just does not make her feel defensive. You’re more likely to at least feel like she understood what you ask.
That can be tough, because you know communication is tough when there is conflict anyway, and we all believe that conflict is normal, natural, and necessary. When it’s combined with betrayal, it’s the worst kind of conflict because it throws anybody’s brain offline.
So I love the fact that you talk about these behavioral requests; “I would like for you to… or what I would like is… or would you be willing to… It really goes into a simple formula for being clear and direct about what you think, how you feel, and what you need. I have a question, does your book talk at all about gay relationships?
Sibylle: I started out with that the betrayal trauma does not stop with ethnic background, sexual orientation, so it has that at the beginning as a reference point. In the foreword, I listed various different identities that we could identify with. These intricate complexities can make talking about betrayal and moving past it so challenging. Please know that you’re not needing to deal with this alone. That is why we want you to have a support group or a therapist who can help you with this, because it is the hardest thing to do the communication when there is so much going on.
How to listen empathetically while remaining assertively:
Carol: I know and since you and I both believe in that, could you go over the listening skills that you encourage anyone to use, whether they’re the betrayed or the betrayer?
Sibylle: We all want empathy, we all want to be having somebody who listens to us, who puts themselves into our shoes what we’re dealing with. So to have it in the back of your mind, we’re not saying that you then as the listening person always have to be the listener. We’re just saying that it’s one way to be in this communication.
If it’s not developed enough, there are more resources we would want to put there. As a listening person, when you hear then the person share, keep in mind the person’s response is driven by their, or by her current degree of insight and her ability to communicate. Her response is her side of the fence. This may be in contrast to what your reality about the situation is.
Consider then reflecting within yourself what your reality looks like. That may be something you would do first with somebody in 12 step, with a therapist, where somebody can reflect with you. To increase the listening capacity, think even about positioning yourself and your body in a way that you’re facing the partner and look at the partner and what is your expression, your feelings, the body language, and listen to the words.
Listening and reflecting back can be extremely challenging when you feel so much pain and have to deal with triggers that can intrude at any time, in any circumstance. You’re dealing with yourself and your heart is racing and beating while your significant other may struggle to put effort into your healing.
This healing process is not for the faint of heart. Do a little more relaxation, breathing deeply, maybe just take a break when it’s too intense. Then thank the person for sharing and as you thank her, it doesn’t mean you agree with her. It doesn’t mean that you say your level of health is enough for our relationship. We’re just saying that you’re acknowledging what the other person has to say.
You are not locked in with leaving it like that. You could then respond with needing more time to think about what you heard or how to decide on how you want to handle what you heard from her. You could let the person know the time that you will get back to them, “I’ll let you know by tomorrow what I’m willing to share with you in response to what you told me. I’ll get back to you on this.”
Or when you’re in the moment and you know already what you need it, you can share and say, thanks for your response, I requested that you stop using that app. If I hear you correctly, you don’t want to, let’s say, let go of your Facebook app, and then you can make a stronger request such as “nevertheless, this is really important to me, can you look at that with your therapist.” You could point to what you need with the end of a request and say at the same time, nevertheless, we need to talk with the therapist about this.
Alternatively you could say, I’m meeting you half way as you share about you not wanting to uninstall the Facebook app, and at the same time let’s find ways that somebody helps you with that app, because I’m concerned it would be a way to act out again. There are the different ways to talk and at the same time, I would want the person with the triggers to know that we want to attend to the triggers so that the communication can get better. It’s not something that you would expect them…communication would be understandably affected by triggers as well.
Carol: 100%. I am telling you this book is a got to get for anybody who wants to improve their skills and work through their own betrayal trauma, and it’s for men who clearly don’t have enough resources. Sibylle Georgianna, I want to thank you so much for this incredible book about betrayal trauma. Surviving betrayal trauma. Again it’s called, A Man’s Tools for Addressing Betrayal. Everybody write it down because it should be out during the month of May. I just can’t thank you enough for helping this very special population heal. It’s amazing and thanks again.
Sibylle: Thank you so much for your time, I so appreciate it.
Carol: Keep us posted, I can feel more books coming on.
Sibylle: Yes, there is always more to add, especially as we learn more on how to best help the male partner. It’s worth all the work to give men a stronger, healthier future.
Carol: You are a born teacher and this book is so easy to read, it’s so well organized, and for the traumatized brain, I recommend it highly. I will look forward to passing this on to my male partners and I know that you do a great job of helping partners not only get healthy themselves but finding the right resources themselves. Thank you again.
Sibylle: I’m so honored for your time, and I’m hoping that together we can serve many, many more and help them create healing, healing from betrayal. The work they and we put in help them to achieve a stronger, healthier self and truly intimate relationships.
Carol: I agree 100%. Make it a good one. Again, Sibylle Georgianna, and what a wonderful book it is. It is absolutely imperative for men to talk about betrayal, so if you know somebody in your group, please tell them about this book. You know us, we talk about every type of betrayal and every type of resource out there, so as I say at the end of every show, there will only be one of you at all times, fearlessly have the courage to be yourself. Make it a good week.
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