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Whenever there has been a breach of trust in a relationship, the offended partner will experience triggers at the most unexpected and sometimes inopportune moments.

“Why are you looking at your phone?”

“Where are you going?”

“What are you watching?”

A barrage of interrogative questions, an inrush of anxiety, or a wall of silence can come from these triggers — whatever is happening is causing that offended partner to relive the pain, shame, and trauma that came from that breach of trust. This doesn’t mean it’s fair; it’s simply a reality of how we can often react. Unfortunately, this can also lead to the other partner becoming defensive or even triggered themselves into a shame and guilt storm as they remember their mistake. This might in turn cause them to retreat emotionally, to isolate themselves — and that in and of itself can make everything worse!

It’s a vicious cycle of heartbreak, and I see it in my couples every day. There is only one way to combat this painful back and forth, and that’s through vulnerability. Each partner must agree to remain present in that vulnerability, and to vulnerably see and hold the other’s pain. Each partner must do their best to come to a place of understanding and curiosity, rather than blame and shame, but if you feel that happening, remember: vulnerability is the only solution.

Being vulnerable means exposing yourself to the risk of pain. It means giving your partner space in which you could be hurt. That is the core of what it means to be vulnerable, and that is what’s essential to heal. Your relationship will never escape this cycle of trauma if you don’t both risk vulnerability — that is truly the only way to get past it. It’s the only way to lead to more connection and more healing.

Will you take that risk?