What is Betrayal Trauma

By Brittany Coulsting, LCMCA, APTT (Betrayal Trauma Partner’s Therapist).

Partners of betrayal trauma

What is Betrayal Trauma?

Betrayal trauma is a specific trauma that occurs when someone we depend on for survival and protection, violates our trust and well-being in a critical way. Partner betrayal in a romantic relationship often takes the form of infidelity and involves the act of being unfaithful to a spouse or significant other. More specifically, partner betrayal is an intentional act of disloyalty, intended to deceive or cheat by lying, subsequently shattering the partner’s trust. 

The emotional pain of discovering that your intimate partner has betrayed you can be devastating to your well-being and mental health. Betrayal trauma occurs when your significant other uses things like deception, lying, manipulation, and gaslighting to put their time and energy into another entity. If one of the partners in the relationship has an active sexual addiction, there is often betrayal present.

Examples Betrayal Trauma 

  • Infidelity
  • Affairs (emotional & sexual)
  • Physical, emotional, sexual, or verbal abuse
  • Financial deceitfulness 
  • Secretive behaviors
  • Fantasizing
  • Pornography
  • Sex addiction 
  • Cybersex
  • Sexting 
  • Flirting 
  • Prostitutes

Dr. Sheri Keffer was the first to coin the term “Intimate Deception”, in which she describes the abuse that occurs when a betraying partner does not disclose the nature of their sexual behavior in full. As a partner of betrayal, you know that you have been traumatized and this wound brings with it a host of trauma symptoms that cannot, and should not, be ignored. 

Please click here to learn more about working with me on your betrayal.

Signs and Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma 

Betrayal trauma symptoms can be physical, mental, emotional, sexual, behavioral, and spiritual in nature. In fact, many betrayed partners, after learning about the betrayal, exhibit symptoms commonly seen in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder.

If you are a partner impacted by betrayal trauma, you may experience the following symptoms: 

  • Looping intrusive thoughts and images 
  • Emotional dysregulation and reactivity
  • Nightmares, insomnia, and flashbacks 
  • Avoidance and distraction behaviors 
  • Suspicion and hypervigilance (scanning environment for potential threats)
  • Irritability, rage, and outbursts of anger
  • Feeling emotionally numb, helpless, and vulnerable
  • Ambivalence and withdrawal
  • Intrusive thoughts about the betrayal 
  • Loss of self-esteem and sense of self-worth
  • Shame, guilt, and self-blame
  • Physical symptoms (muscle tension, gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, difficulty concentrating etc.) 
  • Anxiety, depression, or other mental health symptoms 

Healing From Betrayal Trauma  

Betrayal trauma is exceptionally distressing because it often involves intense feelings of shame associated with the act of being abused and/or violated in an intimate way. Although betrayal trauma is painful, there are certified professionals who specialize in working with sex addicts and their partners. Healing for the betrayed begins with a formal disclosure process, guided by professionals with training in this process. If you are a betrayed partner, it is crucial that you seek out professionals trained in betrayal trauma and certified in sex addiction recovery. As a partner, you deserve safety, validation, and support as you navigate the difficult journey of healing from betrayal trauma. 

If you have been suffering from betrayal and would like to learn how to heal from your betrayal trauma, please reach out to me today below.

Contact Brittany:

Phone: (980) 263-9236
Email: Brittany@charlottecounselors.com

Betrayed partner therapy in Charlotte, NC


Freyd, J.J. (2020). What is a Betrayal Trauma? What is Betrayal Trauma Theory? Retrieved April 24th, 2023 from http://pages.uoregon.edu/dynamic/jjf/defineBT.html

Keffer, S. (2018). Intimate deception: Healing the wounds of sexual betrayal. Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.