In Part 1 of this series on Sherlocking, we discussed the fact that early in the healing process betrayed partners tend to spy, snoop, and sleuth to find out the truth about what happened in their relationship, to validate that what they know about the betrayal is true and complete, and to begin to integrate the betrayal into the narrative of their life.
In Part 2, we discussed the idea that many betrayed partners continue to Sherlock well beyond that point, engaging in what I like to call ‘Sherlocking Beyond Reason,’ and one of the reasons they do so is to avoid overwhelming feelings.
A second reason Sherlocking Beyond Reason occurs – avoiding the vulnerability of feeling safe – is the subject of this week’s post.
Avoiding the Vulnerability of Feeling Safe
A second reason betrayed partners continue sleuthing and spying despite the lack of evidence that these behaviors are still needed is to avoid the vulnerability of feeling safe.
This may seem contradictory. If Sherlocking is about trying to establish safety, as we said it was in the initial Sherlocking post, then why would we use the same behaviors to avoid feeling safe. And why would we want to avoid feeling safe in the first place?
When betrayal shatters our sense of safe connection with our partner, it creates enormous feelings of fear, insecurity, and panic. The safe base of our relationship has been eliminated and we are left unmoored and untethered in the middle of a tumultuous emotional storm. For most of us, the behaviors engaged in after discovery (from sleuthing to big emotional conversations to trying to find help and support to leaving the relationship to making threats and giving ultimatums) are all attempts to re-establish a sense of safety.
Here’s the rub. When you start to feel safe again with your partner, it creates a feeling of danger. When you start to feel safe again, you relax and lower your guard and let your partner connect with you again. This emotional opening up makes you vulnerable, and, as with all vulnerability, it creates the possibility of getting hurt again by the person who just devastated you. So, as much as we long for our sense of safety to return, we might also be terrified of allowing ourselves to feel safe and therefore to become vulnerable to betrayal once again.
Sherlocking is a way of keeping ourselves vigilant and protected and not allowing ourselves to relax and open up again. The safety in our relationship may be legitimately growing through our cheating partner’s hard work to repair the relationship and make amends for the damage he has caused. Still, it can be incredibly challenging to allow ourselves to once again be vulnerable with the person who hurt us.
Continued sleuthing defends us against this vulnerability by holding the possibility of more betrayal in our mind at all times. Sherlocking Beyond Reason makes sure we never forget what happened so we can never be blindsided again.
When we move into Sherlocking Beyond Reason, sleuthing behaviors that once were a normal response to being cheated on and lied to transition from safety-seeking behaviors to safety-preventing behaviors. Rather than helping to validate our experience, contain the betrayal, and provide us with the information we need, these behaviors keep us stuck in the trauma reactions and responses of hypervigilance, defensiveness, and avoidance. They block our path to slowly, gently, and carefully re-attempting vulnerability with our cheating partner (or a new partner).
What to Do
If reading this series of Sherlocking posts has made you wonder if maybe you have moved from normal sleuthing for safety into Sherlocking Beyond Reason to avoid overwhelming feelings or to prevent a sense safety and therefore vulnerability, here are some suggestions.
The next time you want to spy, snoop, check, re-read, re-tell, or re-talk the same conversation, pause for a few moments. Notice what is happening in your body. What are you feeling? When did you start to feel it?
- It is possible that something suspicious occurred and you are checking that out to see if you need to be concerned.
- It is equally possible that nothing happened, but your mind began to ruminate on past hurts and that triggered your impulse to check on things.
- Or, maybe you had a good moment or day with your partner and felt the possibility of closeness again, and that felt scary, causing you to push away by revisiting the betrayal.
If either of the last two is occurring, take some time to sit with the feelings you are having. If past hurts surfaced, you may need to take some time to simply feel the pain. Journaling about it, taking a warm bath, and calling a friend can all help you acknowledge and validate your feelings. (Do you remember the posts a couple of weeks ago about validating your feelings?) Allowing the pain to be felt and to move through you will allow the feelings to complete and eventually to resolve.
If you realize you are scared about feeling close to your partner because ‘what if he hurts me again?’ and you are wanting to distance yourself from those feelings because they are too scary, my advice once again is to let yourself feel your feelings. Validate your experience, and, if you can, find a time to share it with your partner, letting them know how frightening it is to make yourself vulnerable again after being hurt. Sharing your fear and trepidation with your partner is a way to move toward closeness by asking your partner to empathetically hold your fear and to understand more about the damage they have caused.
The last thing I’m going to say on this subject is what I always say. Be kind to yourself. Sherlocking and Sherlocking Beyond Reason are normal responses to betrayal trauma. Your goal is to be aware of which responses are helpful to you and which are not, and to move toward the helpful ones and away from the unhelpful ones. Gently.