Forgiveness and the Problem of “Betrayal Bonding”


When I began writing about the virtue of forgiveness I recognized the need to identify prevalent yet mistaken attitudes about forgiveness. For example, many think that forgiving someone who is no longer living is a meaningful act. But I maintain that this misunderstands forgiveness.

Sometimes a virtuous form of behavior is confused with forgiveness. What I’ve called “therapeutic forgiveness,” for example, may be rooted in healthy beliefs and practices, without counting as forgiveness in the proper sense. A person may feel negative emotional ties to someone who was abusive but is no longer living. These emotional links can be especially crippling and efforts should be taken to break them. Fortunately, there are effective tactics for doing this. But these tactics do not consist in forgiving the abusive person.

Another confusion arises in cases where a person defends an attachment with a person who has betrayed him and may be known to betray others. This kind of attachment has been called “betrayal bonding.” The idea of forgiveness comes into play for the person who “looks past” the behavior of such a person and “accepts them as they are.”

I’ve seen this in several instances where a charismatic figure, very likeable from a public vantage point, is personally nefarious in his dealings with people who work closely with him or are members of his family. In another post, I wrote about “Snakes in Suits,” where I recommended a book with this title. Snakes in suits are among those who cultivate psychically dangerous and damaging relationships. But the type can be found in many different contexts.

What does betrayal bonding look like?

You may be friends with an individual who has a record of wrecked relationships that many would have thought were healthy, even exemplary. You may harbor vague puzzlement about this pattern. You may accept the individual’s explanation for relationship collapse, where blame-shifting often is featured prominently. You may wish to defend this individual out of a sense of loyalty—loyalty that may have intensified if you think the individual has been “abandoned” by “so-called friends.” You may wish, contrary to the evidence, that the individual is blameless in his dealings with others. You may suppose that your relationship with the individual will survive and that you will never be relegated to the sidelines or cast upon the pile of carnage. You may judge that the individual’s “quirks” and “foibles” are tolerable, and perhaps should be “forgiven,” given his importance in whatever cause you identify with.

All of this is evidence of betrayal bonding. (Betrayal bonding is not to be confused with co-dependence, though subtle co-dependencies may be at work.) The effect is unhealthy for the least suspecting person—YOU.

How do you know whether you’re bound to someone in this way?

Here’s a clue: If while reading this you have found yourself thinking of a particular person whose friendship you value, but whose relational skills by certain important measures are a little sketchy, then there’s a chance you suspect the presence of betrayal bonding. If so, this merits further exploration.

The International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) has developed a “Betrayal Bond Index Test.” It’s a series of straightforward questions that you answer with a simple “yes” or “no.” Unlike much psychological testing, there isn’t much scope for uncertainty as you answer each of the 30 questions. And it goes quickly.

Today, I would answer all questions in the negative. But I would also be thinking of a destructive relationship of the past. Sometime after the early stages of that relationship, an honest answer to many of the question would have been a “yes.” That relationship, which I mistook for a friendship, pooped out a long time ago. I still have occasional encounters with the person, but I have not the slightest inclination to restart a relationship, to imagine that he has changed for the better, to give him a second chance, to make excuses for his conduct, to give him a pass or defend his reputation because of his popularity or perceived importance. (Forgiveness, a precondition for restoration, must await repentance.)

If he’s reading this, he probably knows who he is. At the moment, I’m happy to say, I can think of no one else who qualifies for the ignominious status rightly accorded to this person of the past. In fact, I can’t remember any other person prior to that relationship where I was at risk of “betrayal bondage,” (except, possibly, a girl I once dated). I guess that makes me a lucky guy.

How about you? Have you been so relationally blessed that none of this speaks to the inner you? Then by all means, celebrate. (It shouldn’t matter much who you celebrate with.)

But maybe you’re not so sure that you’re in the clear. Then the IITAP Index Test may be a good place to start toward better understanding!

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Chances Are, You’re Married to the Wrong Person


Romeo and Juliet.

Image via Wikipedia

Actually, it should be said, “Chances are 100% that you’re married to the wrong person” (assuming you are married).

You may not be surprised to hear that you’re married to the wrong person. You’ve believed this for a long time, so it resonates. But you are a little troubled, possibly even vexed, that I know this about you. And you’re aghast at the very suggestion that it was bound to be so, that, whoever you are, you married the wrong person.

If this sounds wildly implausible to you, then I recommend reading a post by Lori Lowe, titled “We All Married the Wrong Person”—at her Marriage Gems blog.

In her post, Lori recounts the high points in her interview with Dr. Scott Haltzman, a psychiatrist whose books focus on marriage and family dynamics. Haltzman explains why we should acknowledge that we’ve married the wrong person. For that, we should consider the evidence that it’s true.

  • We never know a person completely when we step into marriage with him or her.
  • Marriage frequently begins with star-crossed lovers, blind to each other’s faults or limitations.
  • We bring unrealistic expectations into our marriages, expectations that cannot be fulfilled by anyone.
  • We all change with time and circumstance, so that we find we’re married to a different person over time.
  • The frequency of divorce is alarmingly high.
  • Couples that remain married acknowledge that they are not always completely happy in their marriages.
  • The pool of marriage candidates may be so large that the odds of choosing the right person are low to begin with.

Lori’s excellent post surfaces many valuable points. There are others to consider.

First, the whole concept of a right person to marry needs to be examined. Even if we allow that more than one person could be right for us, we should wonder:

  1. What does it mean for a person to be right for me?
  2. How would I know that a certain person is right for me?
  3. How would I know later that the person I married is not right for me after all?
  4. And what if every “right person” marries the wrong person—that is, marries someone other than me?

Second, suppose there is no “right person” for anyone to marry, at least in the sense that so many hope for. Anyone you marry will, sooner or later, disappoint. But this does not mean:

  1. You should never marry.
  2. Your marriage to the wrong person cannot succeed.

And it definitely does not mean that:

  1. Any person you marry is good enough.
  2. There is no person who is wrong for you.

Third, some readers will argue from a religious point of view that for those people who should marry, there is always the right person. This, they may say, is tied to the sovereignty of God and God’s special means of guidance for individual believers.

Even if this is true, the questions raised here are still vital. They translate into questions about what God desires for us, how we know what God desires for us, and how we know when we’ve found what God desires for us.

Fourth, we should commit to having a successful marriage, and let go any idealistic notion of being married to just the right person and having a perfect marriage.

Fifth, we should welcome a different conception of the values and rewards of marriage than what is so widely assumed today.

Scott Haltzman’s books:

A book I recommend on decision making for the Christian, and its wisdom approach to marriage decisions, is Decision Making and the Will of God, by Garry Friesen.

If You Love Writing, Take Care of Your Better Half


I came across a bit of uncommon wisdom embedded in a list of common sense guidelines for making headway in your writing.

(4) If you have a better half living with you, make sure your better half is appeased and happy before starting.

Literature and Latte • “How to Finish Your Book on Time”

Good idea. You may not finish your book on time, but you’ll be a better writer.

So, if you love writing, take care of your better half.

Summer Nights


Summer nights are for . . .

  • taking turns in the batting cage under the bright white lights
  • sitting on the tailgate of the pickup truck, eating ice cream with someone you love
  • listening to the diminutive voices at the end of the street chattering, “Hey, batter-batter!”
  • swimming a few refreshing laps in the backyard pool
  • pausing to hear the distant booming of the fireworks going off at Disneyland
  • strolling down Birch Street (if you live in north Orange County, California)
  • seeing a movie at a drive-in (if you can find one)
  • gathering with close friends round the patio table and talking with hushed voices
  • reading what you want, for as long and as late as you want
  • observing the physical similarities between pedestrians and their dogs at a busy intersection
  • going to the beach, just to see the sunset
  • splurging on dessert on the patio of a fancy restaurant
  • counting each distinct sound the mocking bird makes as you lie in your bed trying to sleep

What are the best experiences you’ve had during the summer nights of your life? Care to share them in the reply box?

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