Betrayal Trauma Stages of Grief

Stages of grief in betrayal trauma
When you discover the sexual betrayal of your spouse, it plunges you into pain, loss, and grief.

When you discover the sexual betrayal of your primary attachment, it plunges you into pain, loss, and grief. The losses are extensive from 

  • the loss of trust in your partner
  • the loss of the relationship you thought you had
  • the loss of the future you envisioned
  • the loss of trust for others
  • the loss of trust for yourself
  • the loss of your sense of self
  • even the loss of trust in a higher power

Some women express that it shakes the very foundation of trust for everyone and everything. 

In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief that include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I’m going to add two more stages to betrayal: shock and obsession. 

As I’ve studied betrayal trauma, I’ve learned that this type of trauma parallels the sudden loss of a loved one. While one must go through the stages of grief as part of their healing journey, the stages are not linear. In fact, they can overlap, repeat, and you may find yourself bouncing around between stages from minute to minute. 

As we dive into each stage, I want to point out that all healing takes considerable time. This will be a process and it will take focused amounts of self compassion. Please be patient and kind with yourself. We will look at each stage, give examples of what that stage might look like, and discuss tips on how to avoid getting stuck in any one stage. 


The shock stage consists of the initial discovery of your partner’s betrayal and deceit.

Reactions during this stage can vary greatly and often the behavior is extreme.

The betrayal sends you into a fight, flight, or freeze state. We go numb. We wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on. We try to find a way to simply get through each day.

Some women shut down, unable to get out of bed, shower or function with daily tasks. Others may lash out not only at their partners, but toward anyone in their paths. Others find themselves unable to control their emotions which may include tears, anger or laughter. Some women also go into a hypersexual state, finding themselves wanting to become even closer to their partners. (While this coping mechanism is often short-lived, some women use it try to keep their spouses closer).

Some studies have shown that during this initial shock phase, the shock gives us a level of anesthesia to help cope with the pain. We go into survival mode, and our body only allows us to feel as much as we can handle, though many women express that it feels almost unbearable.

As the shock starts to wear off, you find yourself moving into other stages that can bring on greater pain. I want to remind you that the way to healing is through the pain. Unfortunately there is no magic pill, no secret tips, and no shortcuts. To heal from the pain, you must walk through the pain.

But I will promise you, that if you do the work, you can heal. There is hope. 

How to recognize if you are in this phase

This stage is less about signs and more about the initial discovery. It usually lasts for a few weeks to a few months.

How to not get stuck here

You cannot get stuck in this stage as this is just the reaction to discovery. The following stages will require closer attention.


According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, denial is the first of the five stages of grief.

David Kessler, her partner, wrote on his website about denial, “It helps us to survive the loss. In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense.”

It’s common to move between denial and shock often during the beginning stages. Denial follows shock easily because it’s often hard for your brain to comprehend and grasp what has happened. And often the greater the shock and surprise, the harder it is to grasp the reality of what has occurred: that your partner has shattered your trust and broken their promises. 

Many struggle with the reality that this is now their life. In our attempts and desires to make it all go away, we can fall into patterns that end up rejecting the reality of the betrayal. 

How to recognize if you are in this phase

How to recognize stages of grief
Many struggle with the reality that this is now their life. In our attempts and desires to make it all go away, we can fall into patterns that end up rejecting the reality of the betrayal. 
  • If your betrayal was from virtual infidelity or from an emotional affair, you may tell yourself that at least your partner didn’t act out with a real live person.
  • You have premature optimism. This could include acting like the betrayal really doesn’t bother you. You take any tiny steps your spouse takes as proof that your partner has changed. 
  • Another part of premature optimism could be instant forgiveness for the other’s actions. While optimism can indeed be a good, helpful state of mind, prematurely being too optimistic can be a clear sign of denial for the situation or where you are at.
  • You may simply shrug your shoulders and assume that there is nothing that you can do. This could include saying that it was in the past and that the only thing to do is move on and let it go. This type of denial skips all of the steps of healing and puts you in a victim mindset.
  • The most obvious form of denial is the actual denial that anything is going on or has gone on. You may make excuses for the offender and find alternate explanations for what is clear to all objective observers.
  • Saying  “I don’t want to know” and avoiding conversations about the betrayal are also clear signs that you are in the denial stage.

While denial tends to have a negative connotation, it is part of the healing process. It shows up to service a purpose, to protect us from painful emotions. In the beginning we need to space out what we can handle. But getting stuck here will leave you numb and can cause a constant state of dull or intense pain, the exact emotion you are trying to avoid. 

How to not get stuck here

The key to not getting stuck is to begin to allow yourself to feel the emotions that come. Whether the emotions feel good or bad, allowing yourself to feel is key. You may find yourself scared to go there due to the fear of opening flood gates that you may or may not be able to close. Every emotion will eventually run its course if you allow it to.

It is okay to be angry, to feel pain, and to hurt. It is not enjoyable, but is essential. 


obsession stage of grief
“Once the realness of the situation begins to settle, you soon find it difficult to remain focused on anything other than your partner’s deceit and betrayal.”

Bloom for women describes the obsession phase as follows: “Once the realness of the situation begins to settle, you soon find it difficult to remain focused on anything other than your partner’s deceit and betrayal. You begin to wonder and fear over all possible, derailed deception  practiced by your spouse, and you examine if there was any truth to your relationship at all. You analyze and question yourself, investigating upon something you might have changed to prevent this damage from occurring. You are caught in a cyclone of painful details and frenzied analyzations concerning yourself, your partner, and the relationship you have together.”

How to recognize if you are in this phase

  • You spend your time thinking, analyzing, and spinning with all of the details of your spouse’s actions. 
  • All of your free energy is consumed in the betrayal
  • You are constantly checking their phone, tracking where they are, looking at emails, and policing their activities. 
  • You find yourself in a constant state of hypervigilance
  • All conversations with anyone tend to lead back to the addiction or the betrayal (whether in your mind or not)
  • You obsessively avoid anywhere that has perceived threats. This includes avoiding everyday situations where perceived dangers may lurk. It can include leaving the house, going to church, grocery shopping, driving down the street, or going anywhere where you might be triggered. While learning to create a safe place for yourself to heal is important, the key here is to check for obsessiveness. If you isolate to the point of not being able to leave your home or function, you are probably in the obsessive phase. 

It’s important to remember that each stage is neither good nor bad, just another part to work through.

While we don’t want to get stuck in a place of hypervigilance (it can interfere with sleep, cause fatigue, loss of concentration, and cause you to constantly spin), it is a normal part of working through the betrayal.

If you find yourself in this place, instead of judging yourself, recognize where you are at and have self compassion

How to not get stuck here

  • Self care is critical during this stage. Make time to nurture yourself and create an environment of healing. Focus on physical, emotional and spiritual self-care each and every day no matter how you are feeling. 
  • Learning to focus on yourself and your healing rather than your husband’s activities will help regain a sense of control. Many women falsely believe that if their husband’s would just do [fill in the blank] that they would feel so much better. While their choices are extremely hurtful, healing comes through the individual’s own personal work. 
  • Remove threats from your space by creating boundaries for yourself. If your spouse is still actively engaged in dangerous behavior, determine the amount of space and healing you need to heal. 
  • Practice mindfulness by learning to live in the present instead of spinning the past or future. There are great Apps or YouTube videos that can walk you through this.
  • Become in tune with your body. Learn the messages and signals it is telling you. Yoga (especially trauma yoga) is a great tool for this.
  • Find safe people to communicate with. Suffering in silence and refusing to share your thoughts will only serve to promote your fears and isolate you from others. Find a friend or family member in whom you can confide in and will maintain your trust.
  • Get community self-care. Join a group where others “get it.” The more you build a support network of individuals who understand your trauma, the more likely you will be to persist and reap the benefits of long term healing.


Anger is a natural response to perceived threats. It  is a survival instinct that activates the body’s fight or flight reaction. This causes a boost of adrenaline making senses sharper, your blood pressure rises, your heart beats faster and you are more ready to take action. Often anger inspires powerful, sometimes aggressive feelings and actions to defend ourselves when we feel attacked.

Anger phase of grief
Anger is a natural response to perceived threats. It  is a survival instinct that activates the body’s fight or flight reaction.

Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Let me repeat that: Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process.

Many women culturally have been taught to repress their anger, only be kind, and to suppress any negative feelings or outbursts. Yet, what is the result of this suppression? Deeper resentment and a lack of progression. The more you truly allow yourself to feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal. 

When the anger stage comes, the anger may or may not be directed at your loved one. It may be toward friends, family, yourself, God, children, co-workers, other drivers, or any other person who crosses your path. 

It’s important to allow yourself to feel the anger while remembering that underneath anger is pain, and even deeper, more vulnerable feelings. Anger is a secondary emotion, showing up to protect other more sensitive feelings beneath it.

Dr. David Kessler states, “It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned, but we live in a society that fears anger. Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss. At first grief feels like being lost at sea: no connection to anything. Then you get angry at someone… and suddenly you have a structure – – your anger toward them.”

The anger stage of grieving also gives the traumatized partner the strength and energy to face the logistical challenges that present themselves in the process of recovery. This could include the motivation to follow through with boundaries, make hard decisions or give the energy needed if a separation results. This may include becoming a single parent, a single breadwinner, continuing in essential routines connected to both roles, etc.

It’s important to note that while there is an initial survival benefit to anger, it is also important to recognize that the benefit wanes over time.

It’s also important to remember to handle anger with dignity. This is for no other person but yourself.

I can’t tell you how many women have come to me embarrassed and frustrated with themselves for how they poorly acted with their anger. It’s important to learn healthy ways of expressing and managing anger so you can maintain the dignity you wish to retain. 

How to recognize if you are in this phase

  • You might remember walking in on your partner acting out and you feel tremendous rage, disgust, and shame.
  • You are uncharastically more frustrated and angry at people around you.
  • You are yelling at your children more than usual.
  • You get frustrated at yourself for your lack of awareness of the issue or seeing what was going on.
  • You say things purposefully to hurt your spouse.
  • You want to cause your spouse the same level of pain they caused you.
  • You become passive-aggressive with your spouse, finding ways to make their life harder without outwardly showing anger.
  • Your patience level has greatly decreased and little things can set you off, whether they are related to the betrayal or not.

How to not get stuck here

Like other stages, allowing ourselves to feel the emotions that come with this stage is crucial. Anger is not something to be feared. Find healthy ways to address and release your anger. These could include:

phases of grief anger
Burn journal (write out all of anger, hate, frustration) and when you are ready burn it.
  • Exercise
  • Burn journal (write out all of anger, hate, frustration) and when you are ready burn it. 
  • Turn your anger into art – painting, poem, pottery, drawing, etc.
  • Find someone safe to talk to who will listen without judgement. This could be a therapist, a good friend, or a trusted church leader.
  • Get a punching bag. 
  • Dance
  • Yoga
  • Meditation – learning to not judge yourself for the anger and sitting back and mindfully be aware of the anger
  • Deep breathing activities. Focus on the 4X4 Box Breathing. Breath in for four counts, hold for four counts, release for four counts, and hold for four counts. Think of yourself creating a box with each step of the exercise. Repeat. 
  • Progressive muscle relaxation. Slowly tense and relax each muscle group one at a time. This will help your body feel more relaxed from anger’s muscle tightening response.
  • Practice turning your anger over to a higher power. Create a surrender box where you surrender the anger to. When you feel this anger, write it out and then surrender it to the box, letting it go. 
  • Create and maintain healthy boundaries
  • Throwing eggs out in nature (or your bathroom shower)
  • Some communities even offer rage rooms (check groupon) where you can go break things! 

Often, at its roots, anger is driven by fear. You brain is signaling that you are in danger and your defenses must be activated. Fight or flight kicks in. Reinterpreting anger as fear can allow us to get to the bottom of the issue faster instead of getting stuck in draining resentments. Asking yourself this question, “What am I afraid of?” will serve as a catalyst for moving forward.


bargaining phase of grief
Bargaining is obvious when you lose a loved one. You may have thoughts like, “Please God, I will never be angry at my wife again if you’ll just let her live.”

Bargaining is obvious when you lose a loved one.

You may have thoughts like, “Please God, I will never be angry at my wife again if you’ll just let her live.” Bargaining with betrayal is less cut and dry. We can become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. We want life returned to what is was; we want our loved one restored. Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. The “if onlys” cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently. We may even bargain with the pain. We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss. We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the hurt. 

Some try to bargain the heavy questions. How do I move forward? How do I tell my kids?

These thoughts and questions can cause you to bargain with your personal wellness, excuse poor behavior, or begin to accept things that tear you down. We bargain away our personal integrity with the hopes that if we do this, we don’t have to face the fear of vast unknown.

How to recognize if you are in this phase

These phrases are good indications you may be in the bargaining phrase:

  • If I just do this, then he will do that.
  • If I just explain things to him in the right way, he will understand and want to change.
  • What if I….
  • If I had just….
  • If I were [fill in the blank] enough

How to not get stuck here

While bargaining is a normal part of the healing journey, getting stuck would mean that we would be continually sacrificing our sense of self for the hopes of getting something in return. This is a recipe for long lasting self esteem issues, depression, anxiety, pain, and a lack of progression. 

To move forward, boundaries will need to be created and implemented.

One good rule of thumb to knowing where you need a boundary is paying attention to your triggers. What areas of your life are you getting the most triggered? Another way to recognize a need for a boundary is where resentments are building. When you learn to prioritize creating a safe place for you to thrive and heal, you will be able to progress in your healing. 


Depression or mourning phase of grief
“After bargaining, our attention moves squarely into the present. Empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. This depressive stage feels as though it will last forever.

This comes from Dr. Kessler and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross on depression and mourning after the loss of a loved one, but their words are spot on for recovering from betrayal. “After bargaining, our attention moves squarely into the present. Empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. This depressive stage feels as though it will last forever. It’s important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the appropriate response to a great loss. We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness… If grief is a process of healing, then depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way.”

While this depression stage is not in and of itself a sign of mental illness, please note that this can trigger long lasting depression or symptoms already present. Many healing from betrayal work with their medical professionals and find medication to be necessary to heal. 

It’s been said that the mourning stage can be the wild card of the stages because it often takes place at the same time of many other stages. For some, it seems to always be present, as a dark cloud over you. Life can feel dark, heavy, and lonely even with others are all around you. Things that used to bring you joy now hold no flavor. The motivation to move forward takes every ounce of your energy. 

During the stage, you might find yourself engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms as a way to handle the pain and despair. Overall you feel hopeless, discouraged, and unsure if you can or want to move forward. Your situation feels beyond your capacity to bear. 

How to recognize if you are in this phase

  • You might feel lifeless, unmotivated and exhausted
  • Things that used to bring you joy no longer do
  • It is hard to get out of bed or take care of your basic needs
  • You feel hopeless
  • You don’t know if you can handle your situation
  • You find yourself crying often whether for a reason or not

How to not get stuck here

Depression is usually the stage we are most eager to work through. Many people struggle with having patience with themselves during this process and try to rush through the healing. Unfortunately, you cannot rush healing. This stage often takes the most amount of time.

The key to not getting stuck is to allow yourself to feel the emotions and the pain.

Take the time to examine it, process it, feel it, learn from it, and grow through it. Out brains are going to want to self protect and do whatever they can to avoid the pain. Yet it is through the pain, that we heal. 


Many people see acceptance as the finish line, proof that they are healed and done working through the loss. This is misleading. Acceptance can change the lens through which you see the other stages, but often acceptance can come and go, and you can have it while still trying to work through other stages such as anger and depression. 

acceptance phase of grief
Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case.

Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case.

It is recognizing that this new reality is now our reality.

It’s not wishing life was back how it was or living in fantasies of the future.

It is living in the here and now, accepting the past has forever changed and we must readjust. Instead of focusing on restoring what was lost, we understand that we can never replace what was lost.

We create a new future, one that is led by our choices to heal and move forward.

Dr Kessler states, “We can make new connections, new meaningful relationships, and new inter-dependencies. Instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs; we move, we change, we grow, we evolve. We may start to reach out to others and become involved in their lives. We invest in our friendships and in our relationship with ourselves. We begin to live again, but we cannot do so until we have given grief its time.”

With acceptance you understand and accept the process to heal will be hard. Yet despite this, you move forward, taking your power back and reclaiming your life. 

How to recognize if you are in this phase

  • You feel like you are beginning to understand more about sex addiction and see potential reasons why your partner has done the things they have done 
  • Acceptance may involve accepting that you no longer trust your partner and that is okay
  • Acceptance may mean terminating the relationship. Not all relationships are salvageable, particularly if only one of the parties is interested in making changes.
  • Acceptance may mean recognizing our own contributions to the situation while still holding our partner accountable.
  • Ultimately, acceptance is about incorporating what has happened into our lives without letting it define our lives from here on out.

The idea of acceptance can be a trigger word since it implies surrender, but it’s not surrendering.

We are not accepting our spouse’s infidelity. We accept that it happened. There’s a major difference in that.

Acceptance is about beginning to understand how your reality has shifted, and coming to grips with how to live well in your new reality.

How to not get stuck here

With the acceptance stage many of us want to be stuck here! The reality is, there is no finish line.

The stages of grief twist, turn, bounce around, double up, and can shift in a moments notice, skipping around in no particular order. Grief holds a life of its own. It needs a space to have a voice and to heal. It can come raging forward in the most inopportune times, surprising you and sending you realing. If you can honor grief when it shows up and allow yourself to feel it in spite of how inconvenient and exhausting it can be, this will allow the emotions to be processed and help you to move through the grief and loss more quickly. 

Please, please, please above all else, be gentle with yourself.

Don’t try to rush the process or skip steps.

Give yourself plenty of space to feel the wide variety of emotions that will ultimately come.

Betrayal trauma is exhausting, difficult work. You will be tired. You will want to give up at different points. Be patient with yourself and have realistic expectations about what you can manage. 

The road may seem daunting, but stay on the path.

Sit down a rest when you need to, but don’t unpack and stay there.

Take your time and keep moving forward, working to a brighter tomorrow. It may not look anything like you imagine, but to those who are willing to do the work, you will once again feel the joy, gratitude and happiness you once had. 

If you are experiencing any of these stages of betrayal trauma, WORTH can help. We offer free therapeutic training and support for women struggling from betrayal trauma. Please reach out if you are experiencing any of these betrayal trauma stages of grief.

If your husband struggles from a pornography addiction or any other sexual misbehaviors, visit our Men of Moroni program so he can get the help he needs and you can both begin your healing process.

Marriage Repair Workshops

For the women who are looking for extra support and training to address marital issues, we now offer the Women’s Marriage Repair Workshop.  Specialist, Maurice W. Harker, Director of Life Changing Services, will be discussing the work women need to do in order to do their part in helping a traumatized marriage recover.  This class will cover different, related topics every week.  

For details CLICK HERE.

Maurice also offers an inexpensive Men’s Marriage Repair Workshop.  This Workshop gives you direct access to the Spiritual and Scientific interventions Maurice uses in his therapy techniques for less than 1/4th the cost of therapy!  

For more information: CLICK HERE.

Lazarus Lectures: A series of online multimedia lessons proven to revitalize marriages using Christ-centered therapeutic tools and principles. You’ve dreamed of eternity together, catastrophe has destroyed your marriage. Maurice and his team will show you how to re-birth and revitalize your marriage, making it vibrant and healthy.

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