Second chances

Second chances

Lies about a previous romance destroy a child’s trust in her mother

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 05/30/2013

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Dear Patti,
I’m 24 and have been living on my own for two years. I’ve always been very close to my mom, who is the department head of a well-known company. When I was in high school, she was accused by coworkers of having an affair with a subordinate 10 years her junior. They even sent anonymous letters to my father, but he believed — as did I — they were just jealous because she was successful. My dad passed away three years ago and I’ve just learned my mom is now dating this same man. She claims their relationship was previously platonic, but there are so many holes in her story that I don’t believe her. He recently transferred to a different company and all of a sudden they’re together romantically; she’s even talking about living together and insists the romance moved quickly because they’d been friends for so long.

I can’t help but wonder if my father knew all along and whether her lies contributed to his heart attack. He loved my mother and me more than anything else and I don’t see how my relationship with her can ever be repaired in light of her betraying us both. Maybe she thought I’d get upset and suspicious when I found out they were dating and then get over it. I don’t know if I can ever trust her again or if I even want to try.

— Stacy

Dear Stacy,
I’m so sorry and can only imagine how shocked, hurt and angry you must feel, not to mention lonely and painfully wounded. You lost your father and now you feel like you’ve lost your mother. I don’t know if your suspicions are valid, but let’s face your worst fears together and say it’s true that your mother was having an affair for years and lying to you and your father. If so, this constitutes a major betrayal for you.

A major betrayal is when someone breaks a fundamental expectation or promise that significantly hurts and damages your faith and peace of mind. The rage, helplessness and sense of disloyalty caused by this breach makes it feel impossible to ever forgive or trust again. Self-protective walls are erected. Your deep resistance to start over is understandable but doesn’t mean the relationship is unfixable. It is, instead, a measurement of how hurt you are.

I don’t know if your love and trust can survive the betrayal but let’s explore the possibility. Betrayal hurts and there is no fast, easy way to heal. The first step is to take time away from her if you need to and surround yourself with people who love, support and comfort you. You should then ask yourself the following questions.

Prior to the betrayal, did you have a healthy, fulfilling and meaningful relationship with her? Was her betrayal a one-time situation or were there other lies? If a relationship was previously a strong, loving one, people often have regrets of leaving for good.

Does she love and care about you enough to work this through? Is she willing to make total honesty her future policy? Is she open to listening to your rage and pain? Is she amenable to attending counseling together and supporting you through individual counseling?
Rebuilding this relationship will require her to support you while you go through the healing process to feel safe and whole again.
Can you find empathy for her point of view? What’s the possibility she was very torn between loving two men and now fears her heart being broken by the possibility of losing you?

In the long run, is it better to have her in your life? Is your lack of forgiveness a self-destructive act or a self-protective one?
Is she willing to do — within reason — whatever it takes to support your healing? Would she honor, for instance, a request that you only want to visit her alone without the man for a while at least?

Are you willing to listen and try to understand her feelings? In order to restore your relationship, you have to believe she really understands how much pain she caused and will do whatever she can to never hurt you like that again. Betrayal can cause significant change but, ultimately, how it changes you is what matters most. Forgiveness may seem impossible right now, but when you truly believe that you’re safe, can trust her and want a heart that isn’t hardened, you might want to consider giving her another chance.

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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