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Trauma Bonding

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 Thumos (original poster Member #69668) posted at 12:53 AM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

For some reason I’ve never seen this topic (trauma bonding) addressed here on SI, but it appears there is a growing awareness that infidelity causes not only betrayal trauma, but an unhealthy betrayal trauma bond which the faithful partner is poorly positioned to break in a weakened state after the shock of DDAY:

1. A series of abusive adulterous actions (most affair constitute emotional and psychological abuse, including obviously gaslighting).

2. Causes significant and ongoing PTSD in the aftermath of discovery. Can trigger profound feelings of abandonment from childhood and worse.

3. Leads to a strong trauma bond with the unfaithful partner that is exceedingly hard for a faithful partner to sever.

Trauma bonding, it turns out, may not be the exclusive province of only relationships with narcissists and abusers, but rather is the norm in most marriages after affairs. It means most, if not all, wayward spouses are perpetrating some level of abuse — not just during the affair but after and perhaps for a long time after.

I believe this accounts for the various phenomena we observe here: the intense hysterical bonding; the cycle of grief, dissociation, anger, depression, and POLF; the inability of a faithful partner to end the marriage right away in most cases.

It also makes the blithe "you heal you" advice given to betrayed spouses look like cruel and unnecessary mockery, unless of course we are talking about a therapeutic separation immediately after DDAY (which seems to make an ever-increasing amount of sense as a standard operating procedure).

In other words perhaps the first piece of advice here on SI should be for a betrayed spouse to immediately get to a place of safety away from the abuse of infidelity.

This raises profound issues many here on SI not be comfortable with, because it suggests the authors of "Cheating in a Nutshell" are correct.

Perhaps we should more willing to immediately identify most post-DDAY reluctance to leave as a betrayal trauma bond that a faithful partner needs to free themselves from.

[This message edited by Thumos at 10:21 PM, Thursday, September 2nd]

"True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character's essential nature."

BH (me): 50, WW: 49
Married: Feb. 1996
DDAY: Dec. 20

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Dude67 ( Member #75700) posted at 1:02 AM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

That’s extremely interesting. I would assume that this condition would be ameliorated if the WS disclosed 100 percent of the truth, especially early on. Or, perhaps, the trauma remains the same regardless?

Evan dash

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id 8686334
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 Thumos (original poster Member #69668) posted at 1:10 AM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

I would assume that this condition would be ameliorated if the WS disclosed 100 percent of the truth, especially early on.

To some extent, yes, although the trauma bonding still seems to be a factor even in these cases. And as anyone who has read for any length of time on SI is woefully aware, this full disclosure seems to happen only rarely.

I have only come across this information about trauma bonding this week, and found it immediately opened a lot of things up for me.

I think it is likely a kind of master key that will probably unlock a lot of insights for most betrayed spouses.

The first step is probably acknowledging that infidelity is a form of abuse and then work outward from there.

[This message edited by Thumos at 1:12 AM, Tuesday, August 31st]

"True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character's essential nature."

BH (me): 50, WW: 49
Married: Feb. 1996
DDAY: Dec. 20

posts: 4214   ·   registered: Feb. 5th, 2019   ·   location: UNITED STATES
id 8686336
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ChamomileTea ( Member #53574) posted at 3:01 AM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

I'm not convinced that trauma bonding has much (if anything) to do with infidelity. We're ALREADY bonded to our WS. That's why the infidelity is painful. I do think that the trauma response can induce greater feelings of love and attachment in the immediate aftermath of DDay when we realize that our relationship is seriously threatened. I'm not sure that meets the definition of trauma bonding though.

It also makes the blithe "you heal you" advice given to betrayed spouses look like cruel and unnecessary mockery...

I'm super interested in hearing the alternative. It would have been AWESOME not to have to do my own healing. How does it work exactly?

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prissy4lyfe ( Member #46938) posted at 3:38 AM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

Trauma bonding does not mean that it's a NEW bond. Its in the same lane as "hysterical" bonding. It's our spouse that we have slept with (presumably) numerous times. Is it really hysterical....married people usually have sex.

My understanding is that it's an attempt to restablish the bond that we perceive as broken as a result of a traumatic event.

Thumos....I am often frustrated that there is little spoken about RECOVERY. Posters show up and post in R and posters hold them accountable to R standards when they should be encouraged to RECOVER from the trauma they are experiencing.


I too struggle with the heal yourself advice. I think healing the BS is a joint venture between the WS and BS if R is on the table. The WS is responsible to provide an environment of healing thru honesty, full disclosure, patience and dedication to seeing it thru. The BS is responsible for processing their emotions and feelings regarding the betrayal. Together...if R is on the table...after a significant time of doing the above mentioned they heal the marriage.

posts: 1978   ·   registered: Feb. 24th, 2015   ·   location: Virginia
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jaynelovesvera ( Member #52130) posted at 6:44 AM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

Excellent info. Thank you for posting a lead to this in the other thread.

That explains a lot of my experience with this. And in my case, the duration of abuse lasted a couple of decades. To complicate it, I have CPTSD from work and the infidelity exponentially increased and entangled with it.

I'm gonna have to deep dig on this topic.

[This message edited by jaynelovesvera at 6:44 AM, Tuesday, August 31st]

BH

Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you. Jean-Paul Sartre

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Dude67 ( Member #75700) posted at 12:19 PM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

Thumos - have you considered the BS staying with the WS could potentially be equally attributable to the sunk cost fallacy versus trauma bonding?

I think the sunk cost fallacy especially could be relevant in your circumstances and your state of meh in staying with your WW.

Evan dash

posts: 96   ·   registered: Oct. 21st, 2020
id 8686395
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 Thumos (original poster Member #69668) posted at 2:30 PM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

Thumos - have you considered the BS staying with the WS could potentially be equally attributable to the sunk cost fallacy versus trauma bonding?

I think the sunk cost fallacy especially could be relevant in your circumstances and your state of meh in staying with your WW.

Absolutely although in my case I was aware of the sunk costs fallacy before DDAY. It factored into my thinking and always has.

This is why trauma bonding makes more sense to me. Something made me pause on divorcing my wife.

There are several factors, including what I call the "boy with the bat" (based on some revelations from another thread about my situation) Childhood trauma. And the severe gaslighting from my wife during her affair.

Contra to CT’s point: of course we are bonded to our WS - that is why we are the faithful ones. What is suggested by trauma bonding is that adultery creates a new type of toxic bond.

"True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character's essential nature."

BH (me): 50, WW: 49
Married: Feb. 1996
DDAY: Dec. 20

posts: 4214   ·   registered: Feb. 5th, 2019   ·   location: UNITED STATES
id 8686406
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DevastatedDee ( Member #59873) posted at 2:45 PM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

I agree with this completely. I remember sitting there telling my XWH a couple weeks to a month after DDay while I was gripping his hand that the only reason I was in the same room with him was that we had some sick trauma bond going on. I've never hated and been repulsed by and wanted to be touched by someone so much and it truly felt like a sickness. Being aware of what it was helped. That I had told him I had cheated on him back put him in a similar spot mentally and that was the sickest part, that we were both like that about each other. It's a horrible thing. Almost felt like being a drug addict hitting bottom, shooting up bad quality junk even though it makes you feel sicker and sends your life further into the sewer. Awareness of it brought me out of it faster.

DDay: 06/07/2017
MH - RA on DDay.
Divorced a serial cheater (prostitutes and lord only knows who and what else).

posts: 4435   ·   registered: Jul. 27th, 2017
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Dude67 ( Member #75700) posted at 4:45 PM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

Thumos - I don’t understand your response - that you were aware of the sunk costs fallacy before D day. Do you mean you were aware of the concept before D day, which I’m sure you were. Or, did you mean something else?

When I mentioned sunk costs fallacy wrt you, I was referring to your decision to stay post D day.

Evan dash

posts: 96   ·   registered: Oct. 21st, 2020
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Mr. Kite ( Member #28840) posted at 4:57 PM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

"Cheating in a Nutshell"

Thanks for this. Just now ordered the book.

"Looks like I've been fooled again.
Looks like I'm the fool again.
I don't like it, I don't like it." Tom Petty - Fooled Again

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AnOminousMan ( Member #79091) posted at 5:07 PM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

"most post-DDAY reluctance to leave as a betrayal trauma bond that a faithful partner need to free themselves from."

Some of it sure, but I see plenty of BS who seem to lack the decisiveness to immediately separate from their betrayer. I don't know if it can all be explained by trauma bonding. I think some of these people lack decisiveness in their lives generally.

If I had to guess why that was, I would think some of it has to do with their lack of righteous anger. Some BS just seem to skip over the anger stage and go straight to bargaining and depression. This anger is necessary for a BS to focus priorities and gain perspective.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
My story doesn't really matter. I had it way easier than most.
The only thing that matters is can you stare into the mirror and like what you see.

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id 8686448
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emergent8 ( Member #58189) posted at 5:45 PM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

I'm certainly no expert in trauma bonding (not even close!) but my instinct is the same as Chamomile Tea's. Us betrayeds are often hesitant to leave our spouses when faced with betrayal because of a pre-existing longstanding bond to our WS that pre-exists any trauma, cheating or abuse. Leaving is difficult in many cases because our lives tend to be so emeshed and intertwined. In my view, in most relationships the cheating/abuse/trauma makes it MORE likely that the relationship will end rather than causing us to feel more bonded to our spouses. We are typically keenly aware of the difference between what love and abuse feel like. Are there behaviours like hysterical bonding that sometimes occurs in the aftermath of discovery that might mimic the effects - yes perhaps. Is PTSD a common reaction to discovery? Absolutely! But as a whole I don't find the concept applicable to "most" situations as you suggest. In my case, it certainly doesn't apply.

I do think the idea of trauma bonding may be applicable in some more toxic relationships where cheating is also a feature and THumos, I can see why the idea might resonate for you. Your spouse's cheating and extreme gaslighting seemed intentionally cruel and focused on you at times even before Discovery. For most betrayeds however, their partner's lying is not intentionally cruel but typically an unfortunate (and often callous) means to an end.

It also makes the blithe "you heal you" advice given to betrayed spouses look like cruel and unnecessary mockery

Regardless, I do not see why this advice would not be applicable regardless of the type of trauma one has experienced. If anything, it seems all the more important in a trauma bonding type scenario. I disagree that this advice is given blithely.

Me: BS, Him: WS. Mid-late 30s.
Together 15 years, married 5 (11 m at D-Day).
D-Day: Feb 2017 (8 m PA with married COW).
Currently 4 years (and two kids) into R and optimistic.

posts: 601   ·   registered: Apr. 7th, 2017
id 8686460
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crazyblindsided ( Member #35215) posted at 6:57 PM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

Wherever there is intermittent reinforcement, reward/punishment type of behavior, a trauma bond is being formed. So if you are being blamed for an affair and then lovebombed the next minute that would qualify as intermittent reinforcement.

fBS/fWS (me):48 Mad-hattered after DD1
XWS:50 Serial Cheater, NPD tendencies
Together 24 years, Married 19
DD(18) DS(15)
DD1 (2008) COW, DD2 (2012) MOW, False R (2014) Same MOW. DD3 (2019) Webcam girl

posts: 8031   ·   registered: Apr. 2nd, 2012   ·   location: California
id 8686475
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 Thumos (original poster Member #69668) posted at 11:07 PM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

So if you are being blamed for an affair and then lovebombed the next minute that would qualify as intermittent reinforcement.

Exactly. I think this is not an either/or proposition as far as long-term bonding but rather a "both/and" scenario with respect to trauma bonding. In any case, it seems that because severe trauma occurs for most, if not all, betrayed spouses upon discovery/disclosure it stands to reason that a trauma bond is forming leading up to and after D-Day with the abuser/cheater in most cases on some level.


Thumos - I don’t understand your response - that you were aware of the sunk costs fallacy before D day. Do you mean you were aware of the concept before D day, which I’m sure you were. Or, did you mean something else?

When I mentioned sunk costs fallacy wrt you, I was referring to your decision to stay post D day.

Sorry I wasn't more clear: I meant that before I experienced my own D-Day I was aware of the concept of the sunk costs fallacy as it applied to infidelity situations. Before I VAR'd my WW, I had already begun reading about what to do in cases of infidelity. Unfortunately, I had not yet come across resources like SI or the book "How to Help Your Spouse Heal from Your Affair." But I was aware of the dangers of succumbing to the sunk costs fallacy.

As far as my take on the "you heal you" advice, I do think it is unfortunately offered blithely far too often. Not in every case, but what it overlooks is that the WS must step up to the plate of a healer in this situation, which is pretty much the entire point of a book like Linda McDonald's. If a WW/WH won't transition from being a destroyer to a healer, reconciliation of any meaningful kind cannot occur.

"True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character's essential nature."

BH (me): 50, WW: 49
Married: Feb. 1996
DDAY: Dec. 20

posts: 4214   ·   registered: Feb. 5th, 2019   ·   location: UNITED STATES
id 8686535
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DevastatedDee ( Member #59873) posted at 11:20 PM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

As far as my take on the "you heal you" advice, I do think it is unfortunately offered blithely far too often. Not in every case, but what it overlooks is that the WS must step up to the plate of a healer in this situation, which is pretty much the entire point of a book like Linda McDonald's. If a WW/WH won't transition from being a destroyer to a healer, reconciliation of any meaningful kind cannot occur.

Agreed. You can certainly heal yourself alone (done that), but if you're healing yourself without the help of the WS, why even bother having the cause of your trauma around? If they aren't helping, they're just adding to the damage as you try to heal and slowing the whole process down.

DDay: 06/07/2017
MH - RA on DDay.
Divorced a serial cheater (prostitutes and lord only knows who and what else).

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id 8686536
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emergent8 ( Member #58189) posted at 11:29 PM on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

As far as my take on the "you heal you" advice, I do think it is unfortunately offered blithely far too often. Not in every case, but what it overlooks is that the WS must step up to the plate of a healer in this situation, which is pretty much the entire point of a book like Linda McDonald's. If a WW/WH won't transition from being a destroyer to a healer, reconciliation of any meaningful kind cannot occur.

While I agree with you that it is necessary (but not sufficient) for the WS to step up for a successful R result, I do not believe that the WS is necessary in a all situations. Far from it. There are plenty of people who have healed whose WS never stepped up. Those people tend to be divorced, but they are healed. As you know, so many WS never get it. Never step up. THat's why it's so important to encourage a BS to be proactive in their own healing. They cannot sit around and count on the WS to pull their head from their posterior and get remorseful and do the right thing. Maybe they will, but as you know, many more do not. I want all BS to heal - whether R occurs or not. If they do not take steps to this end, while waiting around for their WS, I fear they will get stuck.

Frankly, I'm not saying its impossible, but I think its rare we see successful R in cases where there is severe prolonged flagrantly abusive conduct. In my view, the lying and the gaslighting post-A is, in many cases, as damaging (or more damaging) than the original A. In these case, I do not think R is impossible. More that I think a WS who acted so flagrantly is unlikelly to turn it around enough to become a good R prospect.

[This message edited by emergent8 at 11:36 PM, Tuesday, August 31st]

Me: BS, Him: WS. Mid-late 30s.
Together 15 years, married 5 (11 m at D-Day).
D-Day: Feb 2017 (8 m PA with married COW).
Currently 4 years (and two kids) into R and optimistic.

posts: 601   ·   registered: Apr. 7th, 2017
id 8686540
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OwningItNow ( Member #52288) posted at 5:12 AM on Wednesday, September 1st, 2021

Sure, it's a form of trauma bonding, especially if the WS's emotional or psychological abuse has been ongoing. I agree with a lot of what you said.

However, just because someone causes you trauma does not mean they are responsible for fixing it. Murderers don't heal a family's loss. Rapists do not soothe their victims' shame. Drunk drivers do not help the survivors to recover in physical therapy. We heal ourselves. Always. It's not f-ing fair, but there it is.

Should the WS help to heal the relationship? Hellz, yes! But if they do not, there is nothing you can do. You cannot make them. You cannot change them. They have the stupid, selfish, idiotic, cold-hearted right to be a horrible human being. And you must accept their choice, heal yourself as the capable and worthy human that you are, break the dysfunctional trauma bond, and walk away.

It is our obligation to move away from--not enlighten--toxic people. They are not worthy of our efforts. We must save ourselves from our bad situations or choices whether it is drinking, drugging, gambling, overeating, undereating, or loving an unworthy person.

We heal ourselves because . . . would we ever want to entrust that job to someone else????

me: BS/WS
h: WS/BS

Reject the rejector.
Do not reject yourself.

posts: 5263   ·   registered: Mar. 16th, 2016   ·   location: Midwest
id 8686574
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HardKnocks ( Member #70957) posted at 2:54 PM on Wednesday, September 1st, 2021

Should the WS help to heal the relationship? Hellz, yes! But if they do not, there is nothing you can do. You cannot make them. You cannot change them. They have the stupid, selfish, idiotic, cold-hearted right to be a horrible human being. And you must accept their choice, heal yourself as the capable and worthy human that you are, break the dysfunctional trauma bond, and walk away.

Pretty much.

BW 30 year marriage.
DDay2 2/20 5 month PA
My Ducks are Aligned and I'm Good to Go! :)

posts: 304   ·   registered: Jul. 7th, 2019
id 8686599
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 Thumos (original poster Member #69668) posted at 8:07 PM on Wednesday, September 1st, 2021

Should the WS help to heal the relationship? Hellz, yes! But if they do not, there is nothing you can do. You cannot make them. You cannot change them. They have the stupid, selfish, idiotic, cold-hearted right to be a horrible human being. And you must accept their choice, heal yourself as the capable and worthy human that you are, break the dysfunctional trauma bond, and walk away.

I think I'm basically agreeing with you here, and it's why I brought up this fairly revelatory idea of a trauma bond. I agree with CT and others: you do have to take on the responsibility, ultimately, to heal yourself. But in the context of a "restored" marriage or reconciliation, the wayward must take on the role of healer.

I like the analogy of someone who deliberately sabotaged an ocean liner with an explosion (I think this is one of the sidebar articles here on SI). Realizing their horrific actions, they rescue their wounded spouse in a life boat. Now the life boat is taking on water, their spouse is wounded and unconscious, and they're bailing water. It's up to the betrayer to bail that water, perform triage on their wounded spouse, nurse them back to consciousness, and get that damn life boat to some kind of beach where their spouse can fully heal.

If they can't or won't (and let's face it, most won't) then you're probably dealing with a toxic trauma bond. And you probably need to walk away (or in the case of the analogy find another life boat and sail away).

[This message edited by Thumos at 8:08 PM, Wednesday, September 1st]

"True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character's essential nature."

BH (me): 50, WW: 49
Married: Feb. 1996
DDAY: Dec. 20

posts: 4214   ·   registered: Feb. 5th, 2019   ·   location: UNITED STATES
id 8686655
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