What's The Ultimate Betrayal? Nope! Not Cheating! / by Dr. Natalia P Zhikhareva

What’s the worst betrayal of trust you can think of?  I know what you are thinking - cheating is.  It’s the ultimate betrayal – you say – and the one that ends the relationship. 

Unfaithfulness is painful.  But there is another form of betrayal that is more dangerous and equally – if not more – painful.  And it starts long before infidelity creeps in.

This betrayal is sneaky.  It can be incredibly deceptive.  It enters relationship when you least expect it and sneaks out long after the damage is done. 

It goes by the name of DISENGAGEMENT!  It doesn’t care about you.  It lets go of connection you have.  It is selfish and only thinks about the self.  It doesn’t want to devote any time and effort on the relationship. 

DISENGAGEMENT is an assassin!  It is there to destroy and kill your relationship.  What exactly is disengagement and how does it look?  Let me paint you a vivid example taken from Brene Brown Daring Greatly book.  Brene sights an example of disengagement taken from John Gottman – the ultimate researcher and expert on couples.

Here is how Gottman describes disengagement:

“What I’ve found through research is that trust is built in very small moments, which I call “sliding door” moments, after the movie Sliding Doors.  In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner.

Let me give you an example of that from my own relationship.  One night, I really wanted to finish a mystery novel.  I thought I knew who the killer was, but I was anxious to find out.  At one point in the night, I put the novel on my bedside and walked into the bathroom.

As I passed the mirror, I saw my wife’s face in the reflection, and she looked sad, brushing her hair.  There was a sliding door moment!

I had a choice.  I could sneak out of the bathroom and think, I don’t want to deal with her sadness tonight: I want to read my novel.  But instead, because I’m a sensitive researcher of relationships, I decided to go into the bathroom. 

I took the brush from her hair and asked, “What’s the matter, baby?”  And she told me why she was sad.

Now, at that moment, I was building trust: I was there for her.  I was connected with her rather than choosing to think only about what I wanted.  These are the moments, we’ve discovered, that build trust.

One such moment is not that important, but if you’re always choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship – very gradually, very slowly.”

Where you able to spot silent assassin in the example above?  The one that quietly chooses to turn away rather than forward?  The one that only cares about the self and not the other?

Do not underestimate DISENGAGEMENT!  This is how people we love stop paying attention.  Stop caring.  Stop investing.  And stop fighting for the relationship.

This is how trust begins to slip away because the assassin has done its job.  Pain starts seeping in.  We begin to feel abandoned.  Alone.  Unworthy.  Unlovable. 

Often, this is how affairs get started.  We begin to seek another person who cares about us.  One that wants us.

Next time you have a sliding door moment – think twice before turning away.  Remind yourself that DISENGAGEMENT is a silent assassin – ready to strike the moment you look away.


Brown, Brene.  Daring Greatly.  New York, 2012.

Dare to bare and share your thoughts on DISENGAGEMENT?  Have you encountered it in your life and if so, how?