Step 1: Describe the Transgression

Betrayed Partner

Once you’re able to engage your partner constructively, it’s necessary to talk about what happened. If you’ve been betrayed, describe to your partner how he or she violated your trust. Be specific about how your partner’s actions violated your expectations. When describing how your partner betrayed you, do your best to use descriptive rather than evaluative language. Descriptive language specifies what happened in a relatively neutral way, while evaluative language is overly critical and judgmental.

When Maria and George started talking about the betrayal, she was descriptive and to the point, “I assumed you’d be faithful to me, and I now know you had a long-term affair with Teresa.” Maria could have used more evaluative language and said, “I assumed you’d be faithful, but you went behind my back and cheated on me.” Using evaluative language is more likely to create a defensive response from a partner, which prevents couples from having productive conversations.

Hannah struggled to use descriptive language when telling Ethan why she was upset and accused him of “flirting” with someone from work. Using the word flirting, while probably accurate, is an emotionally charged way of describing the problem. It would have been better had Hannah said, “I didn’t expect you would exchange sexually suggestive messages with someone else, but you did.” Again, the more you can describe what happened without focusing on a partner’s intentions or the outcome of what happened, the easier it will be to talk about the betrayal.