The picture above depicts Judah bestowing a kiss on Jesus Christ. This “kiss”, often referred to as “the kiss of death”, symbolizes Judah’s betrayal of Jesus. As the story tells it, with the “kiss”, Judah is revealing to the Roman soldiers the identity and whereabouts of Jesus. The information leads directly to Jesus’s death. Judah’s kiss is an apt metaphorical illustration of the nature of betrayal in our culture. In the worst acts of betrayal, you find subterfuge and deception, as is the case with Judah who “pretends” love and loyalty while planning the ultimate “double cross”. When betrayed in our intimate personal relationships we feel both “stung” and outraged. How could we have been so wrong about someone we loved and trusted? We may doubt ourselves and/or imagine that the next “Judah” is right around the corner.
The Devastation Of Betrayal In Relationship
John Gottman is a relationship expert who has been studying long term committed relationships for over thirty years. His goal is to discover the secret ingredient of “relationship longevity”. Dr. Gottman’s research is unique in the field of “relationship” study because of the large body of data he has amassed in longditutional studies of the same couples over a 30 year period. Gottman’s findings about the role of betrayal in relationship disintegration are particularly interesting and offer some valuable insights about how to recognize “betrayal” as it insinuates itself into virtually every relationship at some point in the relationship. The good news is that a small betrayal can actually be repaired if “caught” early enough. A small betrayal can be worked through to strengthen the relationship…thus avoiding “the kiss of death”.
Anyone who has been betrayed in a long term relationship by the unfaithfulness of his/ her partner can attest to the profound and long lasting nature of this particular type of betrayal. Almost by definition an “affair” starts out in secret…and at least in my experience…. restoring trust when there has been this ultimate breech is close to impossible. How do you even begin to do that? assuming both partners even want to.?
A Sligthly Different View About Affairs And Betrayal
Dr. Gottman takes a slightly different view about how and why affairs begin, and then seem to gather momentum and flourish in some marriages. Many of us, myself included, have always assumed that some men and women, for a myriad of reasons, are prone to have affairs. Dr. Gottman thinks this is usually not the case. Although he agrees that “extra marital affairs” are huge and often insurmountable betrayals, he has also found that he is able to predict those who are prone to the most egregious of betrayals because of the many smaller betrayals that preceded them. The small betrayals begin to add up and form an atmosphere where larger betrayals can more easily flourish. …especially when an opportunity presents itself. What does he mean by “small” betrayals?
The Importance Of Trust
To understand the nature of betrayal it seems important to add the word “trust”…that is to say “betrayal” means “betrayal of trust”. If you’re talking about trust between people it implies there is an agreement of sorts between them. Each partner in the agreement has to trust the other to abide by the terms of the agreement. The agreement may be verbally explicit and/or written….or it can be implied, unspoken, assumed. In marriage and long term relationships I think this is where the trouble comes in. Many details of the “agreement” may be quite vague . If you have an actual legal marriage you may have verbalized some vows about, say love. Honor…respect. But…what do these things really mean, operationally? Your idea of what you may expect from me in terms of honor and respect is very different from what I think honor and respect are.
In Gottmans research he actually watched the interactions of couples as they stayed for weeks at a time in apartments he had set up for them. He had video equipment set up to record everything they said and did and he also made minute observations of facial expressions. He even recorded heart rate and other measures of high emotional arousal.
After analyzing his data, Dr. Gottman concluded that couples spend a large amount of time in their day to day interactions trying to figure out what the other person expects of them, and being disappointed that they are not getting what they expect. For some of the couples, the constant sniping at one another, the angry “flare ups’ the “stonewalling” and constant criticism of one other means that each member of the couple actually feels quite profoundly disappointed and betrayed. This marriage was just not what was expected, and nobody is talking about it.
Dr. Gottman found that the couples that had more resilient marriages also had deep disappointments in each other and betrayals did occur. The difference was that a small disappointment or betrayal was actually talked about. Gradually the couple was able to form new agreements with each other based on issues that would just “come up” spontaneously. When I read this, I thought of one specific instance where my husband and I had been having coffee with a couple that he knew, but I was just meeting for the first time. In the course of our first casual conversation, my husband described an issue in our marriage that is yet unresolved and very private and tender for me. I was furious! In this instance I felt betrayed and told him so later on. The key point here is that he was totally stunned. I had to educate him that this issue was not open for public discussion. So…that became a new agreement between us.
In closing I think it’s important to note that Gottmans conclusions inevitably oversimplify the complex matrix that is a long term relationship. What is not clearly elucidated, I think, is the fact that both partners in the relationship have to be willing to recognize and understand the importance of the constant “tuning in” to each other and the communication that is necessary. One person can’t do it solo. I have always felt that whatever is created is in fact “co-created”…which means that whenever one member of the couple feels there is trouble…the other member has to be willing to look into the situation and do the “work”. The hopeful message in Gottmans research is that it is not the betrayals per se that are the problem…quite the opposite. The betrayals, or you could also say misattunements actually provide the solution if you bring them into the light, and “speak out” about them.
By Leslie Kays MFT