How Long Does Betrayal Trauma Last?

If you’re wondering how long it takes to recover from the pain of betrayal trauma, the answer is: It depends. I know that answer sucks, but it really does depend on so many factors that it’s impossible to give a blanket answer. Some of the factors that affect how long you have to suffer this horrible burden include:

  • Did he confess or did you discover his infidelity on your own?
  • What was the extent of his cheating behavior?
  • What is his behavior like now?
  • Have you been betrayed before?
  • What is your support system like?
  • What are you doing to take care of yourself?
self care with cats
I hope you’re holding lots of cats.

The answers to these questions will help determine how long the symptoms of betrayal trauma will last for you, but it’s not like you can plug your answers into a computer and get an response like, “Your betrayal trauma will last 289 days, 4 hours, and 17 minutes.” You already know it doesn’t work that way.

I can say that if you focus on your own healing and don’t pin all your hopes on him, you will probably feel way less crazy within about six months. That doesn’t mean you’ll be fully healed, but you probably won’t feel so much like screaming or cutting his teeth out with a samurai sword or burying yourself under a blanket mountain and never emerging again.

Why Loyalty Won’t Heal Your Betrayal Trauma

You can harbor hope that your partner will change, just don’t make that the primary determinant of your happiness. Why? I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but you can’t make anyone change but yourself. Blah blah blah, right? If he would just stop being the Michael Jordan of acting like a son of a bitch, things would be so much better, right?

Yeah, things might be better. But then again, maybe not. The thing is, even if he stops cheating, he is still the same person. All his flaws are still there. And he has shown that he is the type of person who is okay with betraying you, lying to you, manipulating you, gaslighting you, defending his shitty behavior, blaming you for his shitty behavior – all that spina bifida bullshit. So yeah, maybe he’s not cheating, but unless he can magically change his entire personality overnight, he’s still kind of an asshole.

And we all know people don’t change overnight. It takes YEARS to change those deeply ingrained thoughts, coping methods, and ways of behaving that we’ve used for pretty much our whole lives. In fact, most CSATs will tell you that it takes a minimum of 2 years, but often 3-5 years for a relationship to recover from betrayal. Yeah, year two won’t be as bad as year one, but it’s still HARD. Do you really want to commit to a few years of hardship?

If you do, that’s totally fine. No judgment here. You got together with him for a reason and you’ve developed a really strong attachment bond with him. If you don’t want to break that bond, don’t break it. And don’t feel guilty about that either. You do you and tell all the haters to get on outta here.

If you’re unsure about whether or not you want to stick around that long, that’s okay too. In fact, that’s pretty much the norm. Should I stay or should I go? Don’t expect to be able to make a firm decision right away. It sucks to live with such massive uncertainty, but sometimes you just need to wait and watch.

The point is, just be aware of what you’re committing to if you stay. 2-5 years of healing your relationship. Plus, you gotta heal yourself in there and hope that he does the same for himself. It’s a lot.

But the real point is, you will probably feel a whole lot better within six months. Keep a journal or a log of your symptoms and look back once every month or so to see what progress you’ve made. It can be difficult to see your progress from inside the shit ball, so it’s helpful to have some kind of external way of tracking it.

Side note about the history of the shit ball: One of the useful things a therapist suggested to me was to imagine all of my partner’s stupid, crazy-making words forming into this ball between us. To see all the words just swirling around in there. I didn’t need to take on the weight of that ball, I could just let it be. Or, if I felt really generous, I could HELP him hold the ball, not hold it myself. I came to call this ball of words the shit ball. Because it literally felt like a gloomy glob of disease and funk that would overwhelm my sense of virtue, melt my eyeballs off, and destroy my flesh with violently swirling chunks of corn.

Okay, back to making progress. Every time you notice that you’ve made some tiny bit of progress, celebrate the shit out of it. Here’s an example. I was always pretty frugal, probably to an unhealthy degree when it came to things I wanted but didn’t truly need (hello money trauma). If my shoes were falling apart I would try to glue them back together instead of just buying a new pair. “I don’t need a new pair of shoes! These still work perfectly fine!” I said this as I kept tripping over the floppy tread on the soles.

But about two months after D-Day, I bought myself a rug! Yeah, it sounds pretty dumb. I was tired of my feet being cold on the wood floors, but I didn’t NEED a new rug. I bought one because I realized that my discomfort was real and meaningful. I didn’t have to ignore my needs or desires anymore. I had a right to recognize that they were real and to prioritize meeting them. This was life-changing for me.

Okay, one more example. About four or five months after D-Day, I found myself getting sucked into another one of his crazy-making conversations. I literally saw myself getting sucked into the shit ball and said to myself, “Fuck this. I don’t want to waste my energy on this anymore.” So I didn’t. Instead I went for a lovely walk in the woods. And I high-fived the shit out of myself the whole time.

“Look at me! I can walk away from a stupid argument and do something that makes me happy instead!” It may sound silly or like something any normal human would naturally do, but it was a big deal for me. I didn’t have to convince him of anything or soothe his fragile ego or listen to his bullshit excuses anymore. I could just let him sit in his own shit and go on my merry way.

Once I had a few of these small successes under my belt, I realized that I was really capable of doing things differently. Of not pinning all my happiness on him and his behavior. Of being okay even if he acted like an asshole. I realized I could take care of myself. And while I still had shit to deal with, I knew that I was beginning to move past my betrayal trauma.

Yay, happy ending! Okay, but since I like organizing things, I’ve summarized the signs that you’re beginning to recover from betrayal trauma into this handy dandy set of bullet points:

  • You start prioritizing your own needs
  • You stop prioritizing his needs or trying to solve his problems for him
  • You don’t get sucked into the shit ball as often
  • You start focusing on taking care of yourself and letting him take care of himself
  • You realize that things can be different, even if you’re not sure what that looks like yet
  • You stop donating your time and energy to him while getting nothing (or very little) in return
  • You start spending more time doing things you enjoy, building new friendships, or rebuilding old friendships

Recovering from betrayal trauma can’t be forced, but you can help it along by doing these things. It’s still important to allow yourself to feel your feelings though. If you’re filled with despair, let it fill you. It hurts (so fucking bad), but I promise it won’t last forever. If you’re filled with rage, go throw rocks or something. Stuffing those feelings away or bottling them up or avoiding them means they’ll just sit there and fester inside of you. Get that shit OUT.

And while you’re letting this pain work its way out, do something you enjoy once in a while. Like looking at pictures of cute cats.

If you’d like to schedule a session with me to talk more about betrayal trauma, cute cats, or anything else, head over to my contact page. I get it.