Infidelity is the betrayal our society focuses on, but it is actually the subtle, unnoticed betrayals that truly ruin relationships. When partners do not choose each other day after day, trust and commitment erode away.

Partners may be aware of this disloyalty to each other, but dismiss it because it’s “not as bad as an affair.” This is false. Anything that violates a committed relationship’s contract of mutual trust, respect, and protection can be disastrous.

Betrayals are founded on two building blocks: deception (not revealing your true needs to avoid conflict) and a yearning for emotional connection from outside the relationship.

Below are three betrayals that ruin relationships. Only by confronting and taking responsibility for them can couples reestablish their trust in each other.

Emotional Cheating

It’s very easy for platonic friends to bond in the trenches of work, day after day. Sometimes we call this person a “work wife” or “work husband.” Even friendships made at the gym or local coffee shop can threaten the bond at home.

These nonsexual relationships can lead to both parties sharing intimate details about each other’s lives. That doesn’t make it a betrayal. What makes it a betrayal is this: if your partner would be upset by the things you’ve shared or would be uncomfortable watching the interaction.

Tom first learns of his wife’s sexless affair when they hosted a Christmas party. Emily has never mentioned Chris, the new manager of her department. At the party, Chris seems to know about Emily’s entire life. He even brought their son Marshall a Bumblebee Transformer. His favorite.

Tom looks at Emily with a shocked expression. Her sheepish look sinks his heart. When he confronts her after the party, Emily argues about her friendship with Chris. She tells Tom it’s “nothing” because they are “just friends.”

She then turns against Tom and defends Chris. She accuses Tom of being irrationally jealous and tells him it’s the reason he didn’t know about Chris in the first place. Tom feels there is nothing irrational about his jealousy. Whether he admits it or not, his wife is cheating. The evidence lies in her secrecy.

5 signs your partner’s friendship is not an innocent friendship:

  1. Has the friendship been hidden?
  2. Are your questions about the friendship responded with “don’t worry” or discouragement?
  3. Have you asked it to end, only to have your partner tell you no?
  4. Have your boundaries been disrespected?
  5. Is the friend the subject of fantasies or comments during troubled times in the relationship?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, the friendship may be too intimate. Use Dr. John Gottman’s Conflict Blueprint from his book What Makes Love Last?  to help talk to your partner about this issue.

Conditional Love

Couples don’t feel supported when one partner keeps a foot out of the relationship. They don’t feel like their partner has their best interests at heart, that they have their back. When this happens, it’s not uncommon for the betrayed partner to blame a trigger as the real problem, when it’s actually the lack of commitment.

As Kristina reflects on her first marriage, she knows she began to feel betrayed when her husband stalled on starting a family. At first she thought he was anxious about becoming a father, but in couples therapy it became clear that he was hesitant to deepen his commitment to her.

Like an anxious lover, she clung onto him with desperation, terrified of losing her marriage until she realized she never really had one to begin with.

Sometimes a partner may pressure the other to marry or move in, believing the “next level” will deepen their connection, but it’s difficult for a marriage to succeed if it is built on a vow to create a strong bond rather than the result of one. The shallowness of the bond will eventually bleed through the connection.

Steps to create unconditional love: When couples ignore or dismiss talking about difficult issues, they are left with a shallow commitment. By using conflict as a catalyst for closeness, couples can intentionally use problems as an opportunity to discuss their goals, fears, and dreams. Couples that unconditionally love each other live by the motto, “baby, when you hurt, the world stops and I listen.”

Emotional Withdrawal

Emotional withdrawal can be something big, like choosing a work meeting over a family funeral, or it can be as small as turning away when your partner needs emotional support.

A committed relationship requires both partners to be there for each other through the life-altering traumas and everyday nuisances. That means celebrating joys and successes with your partner, too.

Everybody has different ways of expressing themselves. In a committed relationship, it is the responsibility of both partners to uncover and disclose these preferences to understand what the other requires to feel loved, protected, and supported. Think of The Five Love Languages.

In his research lab, Dr. Gottman discovered that happy couples turned toward each other 86% of the time, while unhappy couples turned towards each other only 33% of the time. That means unhappy couples withdraw 67% of the time! Emotional withdrawal sets in when bids are ignored.

Solution: To improve your emotional connection, focus on rebuilding and updating your Love Maps, cultivating a culture of admiration and fondness, and turning towards bids more often.

Do any of the items listed above feel familiar or make you feel uneasy? If so, you may be facing a betrayal. Maybe it’s as serious as finding discomforting text messages between your partner and someone else. This list is not about who is right or wrong. Like sexual affairs, these betrayals can be overcome if you recognize the problem and repair the relationship together.


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3 Betrayals That Ruin Relationships (That Aren’t Infidelity)
Kyle Benson

Kyle Benson is an Intentionally Intimate Relationship coach providing practical, research-based tools to build long-lasting relationships. Kyle is best known for his compassion and non-judgemental style and his capacity to see the root problem. Download the Intimacy 5 Challenge to learn where you and your partner can improve your emotional connection and build lasting intimacy. Connect with Kyle on Twitter and Facebook. For more tools visit kylebenson.net.

  • godfrey Mangenje

    I feel silly even asking this but it’s something that irks me every time I see it happen. My partner and I have different Facebook pages and have been since we met. I noticed that before we were together she’d post pictures of herself and her friends (mainly guys) would like them, even comment on them and she’d reply. Some of the comments were only too obvious what they were thinking or trying to say but this was before we were together. Since then I’ve noticed that the some of the guys have gone to the way side, they don’t comment nor like things that I’m involved or intimate posts about us but she’s still friends with them. It’s when she posts a picture of herself or something that doesn’t involve me that they come out of the wood works. Most of the comments that come from them are somewhat suggestive and some are just down right flirtatious without trying concealing their “desires”. In some of the comments she’ll go back and forth with the guys, maybe not in a overt way, but she’ll laugh along or post a sticker suggesting she’s giggling. At first I thought maybe I was being unreasonable and I’d rationalize with “she’s free to do what she wants it’s her account” or “am I turning into that insecure, overly controlling partner?” or “are my insecurities causing me to be hyper vigilant and anxious about things I shouldn’t?” As I said earlier I don’t like it the reason’s of which I cannot elucidate, it just leaves me feeling uneasy, frustrated, and betrayed. I’ve tried to talk to her about it but like you mentioned in the article the response is “it’s just Facebook babe” or “he’s a friend of mine and he knows we’re together” after that I don’t know how else to respond because in some respects she may be right. Most articles deal with face to face interactions, as yours did, but never social media; I need to know if I’m reasonable with the way I feel about this and if I am what can I do to get her to understand, maybe get her to set boundaries with her friends, and what would you suggest what those boundaries look like and how we could implement them. I love her dearly and I’m ready to spend the rest of my life with her but I really don’t want to feel anxious about our relationship as well as work on ridding myself of the insecurities that are causing me maybe to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

    • Hey Godfrey,

      Thank you for sharing your story. It makes perfect sense why you feel insecure and anxious. I don’t find it silly at all. I can imagine you feeling even worse when your girlfriend dismisses it with “it’s just Facebook babe” ignoring an opportunity to strengthen trust and connection in your relationship. It makes me feel like she didn’t hear your bid underneath your compliant.

      Ultimately what you are talking about is a couple bubble. It’s a place where couples understand each other’s vulnerabilities and can build a strong foundation of trust that use problems like this to strengthen the bond. A couple bubble also encourages partners to behave in ways that offer security to both partners. Blocking out invaders almost instantly.

      While you may think you’re girlfriend is right that the guys are “just friends,” you don’t feel that way. For you it crosses a line in some way and it sounds like you want her to stand up for you and say, “Hey [guy name], I don’t appreciate that comment.” Compared to laughing and giggling in a way that makes you feel like she encourages it. It’s not that flirting with another person is bad. It can actually be healthy, but there are boundaries that push things too far. And it sounds like in some way this does for you.

      Offering advice on reasonable boundaries with her friends on Facebook and how you can implement them would be very hard without understanding your situation more. Every couple is unique and therefore for needs a slightly unique solution. But it does sound like a very solvable problem.

      Based on my experience working with other couples like you, avoiding this conflict will turn this molehill into a mountain. It may feel like a simple thing, but ignored, it will resurface. Talk with her about it. Use Dr. Gottman’s conflict blueprint (in What Makes Love Last) or work with a coach or therapist you can trust. I don’t think it will take much, but getting it resolved will bring both of you closer.

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  • Tricia lynn

    Reading this and I still feel lost on where to start on my own relationship. I have been with my husband for almost 10 years, married 3 of those and we have 2 children. It has gotten to a point I feel lost, alone, and stuck! There is no communication I have made efforts to try and get him to talk to me but he just clams up and when he does talk we never get far cuz he is stuck on being so angry at me when I am just trying to tell him how I feel in a respectful way. I don’t feel like my own person and feel smothered and controlled. Turning to friends has been no help cuz I don’t knw whose advice to follow. I’m 2nd guessing my feelings and everything I do. Any suggestions

    • JCT

      Find a therapist and get out if necessary. Sounds like emotional abuse.

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    SCAMMER!!!!! PART OF A RACKET THAT POSTS ON ALL DISCUSSION GROUPS. THEY GET A CUT FOR EVERY REFERRAL

  • Sky Brown

    SCAMMER!

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    Nice article

    Thanks for this, I really learnt alot from it Mr Kyle Benson, please it up
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  • I am totally sure, that any kind of betrayel can destroy relationships and if you were cheated once, you have to think a lot about whether you should be with this man or woman.

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