The Christmas Story and Betrayal Trauma
This has been on my heart all week and I decided to share in hopes that it will speak to some of the hurts betrayed partners experience, especially in the Christmas season.
This article is for betrayed partners who identify as Christians. Betrayed partners experience struggles with their faith. I grieve with you if you are experiencing spiritual struggles during the holiday season. Christmas can be filled with emotional reminders of lost dreams and trauma triggers. Several years ago, I remember attending church on Christmas morning. I was in my normal seat – hiding out in the balcony, when I looked down and noticed some people in a new way. One was a longtime friend. Her children were in school with my daughter. I noticed she had no family with her. I realized this was her first Christmas since the divorce and her children were with their father, the one who betrayed her repeatedly. Her first Christmas morning without her kids at home. I went to invite her to come home for Christmas dinner with our family. This made me reflect more on what betrayed partners experience during this time of year.
One of the many spiritual challenges partners face when they seek support from their church family is having their experiences minimized, if not completely dismissed. Or people in their faith community begin ignoring their calls and texts and are suddenly too busy to spend time with them. Feeling isolation where there was once community is confusing and devastating. It seemed like the church had all kinds of grace and acceptance for the addict, but none for her.
Last year as I worked with partners through the Christmas season, I began to reflect on a part of the Christmas story that isn’t emphasized in nativity pageants and holiday festivities. It’s the part of the story where Mary, a virgin, learns she is pregnant. She is engaged to be married to a carpenter named Joseph. An angel had told her she would have a son and would name him Jesus (Luke 1:29-31). Can you imagine what Joseph experienced when he heard the news? This young girl, who he believes is a virgin and has been faithful to him during their dating relationship is coming up pregnant right before the wedding. Shock, pain, devastation, anger, pain, fear, humiliation and all of the emotions experienced by a betrayed partner. As Joseph works through his grief, he decides to break things off with Mary. What would it be like to raise another man’s child? How would he be seen in the community? All of the shame messages and questions that hit upon discovery of betrayal. He is experiencing the consequences of what he believes was Mary’s choice to cheat.
Something happens next that may show the heart of God for betrayed partners. Matthew chapter 1:20-21 says
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
I can’t think of any other place in the Bible where God sent an angel to send a message of comfort to an individual who was so deeply wounded. This must speak to the depth of pain God realized that a betrayed partner would experience. I shared this concept with a few partners this week and they found it to be comforting. I don’t believe it was an accident that God would recognize the devastation of betrayal on one individual and provide comfort in a way no other human could do. As far as I can remember, this is the only time in scripture that this happens. It tells me that the pain of the betrayed is near to the heart of God.
It’s my hope that one day the church will desire to comfort betrayed partners with the same heart that God showed Joseph. The next time someone wants to minimize your pain and believes it “really isn’t that bad,” remember that God values you and your pain so deeply that he intervened in one of the most significant moments in history to bring comfort to someone experiencing the same things you have. It’s my prayer that you will experience special comfort during this season.
Richard Blankenship, LPC, NCC, CCH, CPCS, CCPS, CSRRS