Understanding Partner Trauma After Sexual Betrayal


Jenny was not doing well. She discovered pornography on her husband’s computer several weeks ago. She was scared and hurt, never imagining that she would experience this kind of heartbreak. She confronted her husband, and he admitted he has a problem. He said he was open to getting help, but Jenny was still struggling. 

Her pain went beyond hurt feelings and troubling emotions. She had trouble sleeping, she was not hungry and was not eating, and she felt overwhelmed. The sight of her husband’s computer triggered deep anxiety. Jenny knew this was not sustainable, so she reached out to her friend and to their pastor looking for solace and support.

Instead, when she opened up to them about her situation, she felt even more confused. Her friend was quick to emphasize that it was “good news” that her husband was now willing to get help, and her pastor explained to her the importance of forgiveness. Jenny understood their perspectives but did not feel understood–or supported. She felt like they were rushing past her pain so that they could offer her solutions to the problem, but “solutions” were not what Jenny needed.  

Sadly, well-meaning helpers often overlook the reality that discovering a spouse’s infidelity is a traumatic event. What’s more, this trauma does not simply go away. The one you loved and trusted, the one you counted on for truth and security, that person committed an act of betrayal. Finding out something like that turns a person’s world upside down, resulting in trauma that has an emotional and physical impact.

According to one study, more than 76% of the discoveries of sexual addiction or infidelity are accidental. When this occurs, the spouse was living life and doing routine activities when suddenly his or her world is shattered. The sudden unexpected betrayal has a significant impact on both mind and body, including distressing recollections, irritability, anger, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, and an exaggerated startle response. 

Individuals who have been hurt by betrayal require love, care, and knowledgeable support. They need to be seen in their pain and not rushed to support the one who has betrayed them. For the pastor or friend listening to their story, give them the gift of understanding. When someone is in a traumatic state and opens up, it can be retraumatizing when that person feels unheard or misunderstood. The goal at that moment is to listen and be empathetic without diminishing or questioning that person’s experience. Be in it with the individual without rushing to fix it.

If you are the one struggling, offer yourself the gift of understanding. Recognize that you are struggling and there is not a quick fix. Be compassionate towards yourself; don’t judge or condemn your body for how it is responding. You may need to seek professional help for support, whether it is a good counselor or a gifted spiritual coach who has training in this area.

Regeneration is here for you. If you are a wife or husband who has discovered that your spouse is viewing pornography or is involved with someone outside of the marriage, please reach out. We want to support you. You don’t need to go through this alone. And remember that whether you are the one struggling or the one listening, you can turn to Jesus. Jesus was betrayed. Jesus had His world turned upside down. Jesus cried out to His Father wondering why He had been forsaken. Jesus understands and knows what it is like to be betrayed. He will support you in your pain. 


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