Beckie Hennessy was born and raised in West Valley City, Utah where she currently resides with her husband of 14 years and their 3 children. Beckie has been a therapist since 2007 and currently owns BRICKS Family Counseling, Inc. She is one of the professional therapists on the Advisory Board for Leading Saints and has recently started a podcast called The Path of Imperfection. She has written a book called Ministering Through Connection.  Her best days are spent with her family as they watch movies together, blow bubbles in their chocolate milk and laugh until tears come. She loves to read, is a Pinterest addict and enjoys taking naps when she’s able.

Enter Beckie…

I’m bummed that I didn’t get to live in a time where folks shared phone lines. Maybe it’s just the therapist in me but I’ve thought that would be awesome! To listen in on conversations is quite fascinating to me and the primary reason why when my husband and I go to dinner, I get to face the wall while he sits across from me facing the restaurant so that I can stay focused on him and not side bust into everyone else’s lives (#TheHardsOfBeingMarriedToTheTherapist).

I’m going to give you that chance right now. I’m going to give you a peek into a conversation I have pretty consistently. They go something like this.

Bishop: Hello?

Me: Hi there, my name is Beckie Hennessy. I’m a therapist currently working with Ward Member. They’ve signed a release for me to touch base with you about their therapy. Is now an ok time to talk?

Bishop: Sure. Let me just get into a place where we can talk privately. Ok. Go ahead.

Me: Great. It sounds like there has been some betrayal within the marriage/relationship.

We then talk about the situation, the treatment goals and how I’ll help Ward Member accomplish those goals. Typically (not every time but enough times to use the word ‘typically’), the conversation then goes as follows.

Bishop: So Beckie, let me ask you this. How can I help Ward Member forgive and forget? How can I help them understand the Atonement and that it covers this for their spouse and that they need to forgive in order for the marriage to survive?


Does Ward Member really need therapy too? I’m already covering the costs for Spouse and Spouse goes every week? I think forgiveness is what needs to happen, not therapy.

PAUSE. This isn’t EVERY bishop. This is some bishops. Truth? This is a lot of bishops. It’s not because bishops don’t want to understand, don’t want to help, don’t care or because they intend to hurt. Bishops don’t know what they don’t know. So, here are some things to consider.

These are in no particular order, except for this first one. The first one is always first.

Establish Safety

Not every person who betrays is abusive and not everyone who is being betrayed is abused but abuse happens in these spaces so you need to ask. Chances are if abuse is happening, you’d never know or guess that it is. Ask both parties about safety and ask them separately. Then protect.

Recognize That This Is Not the Betrayed’s Fault

Of course, it isn’t, Beckie!! Who would think that or say that? Bishops do. Again, not EVERY bishop but enough that I want to make sure to put it here. The betrayal is NEVER the betrayed’s fault. EVER. NOTHING they did or didn’t do MADE their spouse betray.

Could they contribute to whatever marital issues are present? Yes. We all have a part in the unhelpful patterns that show up in our marriages.

Betrayal is a choice. Whatever Ward Member is doing or not doing may explain why there is disconnect but it does not excuse the spouse’s behavior. No one is forced to betray. Even if the betrayed is emotionally or physically unavailable.

There are countless spouses who have partners that are emotionally and/or physically unavailable and decide to never betray. At any point, the spouse could say something and encourage change.

Giving the betrayed suggestions about what they can do differently to prevent or eliminate the betrayal is bonkers. It’s like telling someone they shouldn’t have a car if they don’t want it to get stolen. The betrayal is not the Ward Member’s fault. It happened because the spouse chose to betray. Point blank.

Personally Reach out to the Betrayed

I know. This is asking a lot given a bishop’s schedule and all of the things a bishop is balancing. It will go a very long way. Their world has just been turned upside down. Everything they know to be true and real isn’t anymore. When the bishop personally reaching out, it gives the opportunity to get a feel for where the betrayed is at and gives them the opportunity to see the bishop notice their hurt in all of this.

Ask to Visit with Just the Betrayed

This gives them the chance to say whatever they need to say without the betrayer present as well as gives them the chance to feel supported. If they decline the visit, empathize and then ask if they’d rather meet one on one with the Relief Society President (if the betrayed is a woman) or the Elders Quorum President (if the betrayed is a man).

Do not take the spouses word for how Ward Member is doing because:

  1. Their perception may not be accurate
  2. Ward Member may not yet be comfortable in speaking their truth about how they really are with the spouse and/or
  3. The spouse may lie to you about how Ward Member is doing.

Give Empathy and Compassion

Empathy is recognizing others’ perspectives as their truth, staying out of judgment, recognizing emotion in the other person and communicating that emotion. “It’s feeling with people.”  It’s recognizing that their entire world has been shattered and that they don’t even know which way is up. Giving them the silver lining to the cloud with an “at least” statement or moving right to what they need to do to stop feeling the pain isn’t empathy.

Compassion is what we do to help alleviate another’s suffering. It’s asking them what they need. It’s offering for them to go see a professional when appropriate. It’s about comforting them and letting them know that it is ok to feel what they feel. Giving them the silver lining to the cloud with an “at least” statement or moving right to what they need to do to stop feeling the pain isn’t compassion.

Recognize That Betrayal Is Trauma

Betrayal trauma occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that person’s trust or well-being.  People who have undergone betrayal trauma have this experience where their “ability to integrate and regulate on all levels (emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually)” becomes overwhelming and difficult. The trauma that comes from betrayal is a full body, heart, mind and soul experience. To say that their world has been rocked is an understatement.

Recognize That with Betrayal Comes Grief

Grief is the deep physical, emotional, mental and spiritual pain that comes with loss. Grief is more than sad. It’s more than depressed. Grief is deep and dark and really hard. Ward Member has lost everything when betrayal occurs. Everything they’ve known, everything they’ve believed, everything they’ve experienced and everything they have hoped to experience. Their spouse is not who they knew, their marriage is not what they knew, memories are not what they knew. Grief is like uncontained soup because the container the soup was in is no longer.

Help That Promotes Posttraumatic Growth Versus Victimhood

For many years, victims have been bullied, shamed and blamed, which worsens the effects of their experience. Unfortunately, in a swing to the opposite side, victimhood has now become a protected class in our society, a trend fed by well-intended, but potentially harmful, therapists, activists, and daytime talk shows.  Don’t get me wrong, trauma has occurred and in some instances, abuse has occurred. The label of “victim” is not helpful however because “the traumatic story is not where [they’ll] find [their] true voice.”  (Adam Moore; “Beyond Trauma: Reclaim Your Life and Live It Like a Boss”)

Posttraumatic Growth is finding meaning in suffering. This is not about them finding the “lesson” they were supposed to learn. It’s finding meaning in the situation and circumstance they didn’t choose to be in. It’s showing up the same way Obi-Wan Kenobi did when he said, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

The Deepest Hurts Are Often Caused by the Dishonesty

If there is any behavior that needs to be focused on, make sure to focus on the dishonesty and secrecy that is present when someone has betrayed.

The details of what they did, how often, for how long and with whom is not the biggest deal. It’s important so that triggers can be identified and past patterns can be looked at but what the spouse needs to understand is that the dishonesty is where the betrayal happened. Just because they stop doing what they were doing doesn’t mean the hurt of the lies that have already happened go away. Nor does it mean that Ward Member will automatically trust them.

I get the opportunity to work with a lot of bishops. It’s an honor really. To hear the love, the sincere concern, the willingness that bishops have to comfort those who stand in need of comfort, to mourn with those who mourn, to bear the burden is humbling for me.

These things may already be in practice. Good. This article helps you know you’re on the right track. If they aren’t don’t judge your “then self” with your “now knowledge”. Let us take the opportunity to ask Father “Lord, is it I?”

If he says it is, listen to what He needs to be done differently and then “obey with exactness.”

What did I miss? What can you add? Comment below to get the conversation started.

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