After dealing with over 1,000 bad break ups professionally (in addition to quite a few of my own) I often feel like Helen, from that 2004 Disney movie “The Incredibles” in the scene where their plane is getting ready to crash land and she tells everyone to “get a grip, we are not going to die.”
When you discover that your partner has betrayed you, either by hiding an affair, romantic communications with another, an addiction, alarming amounts of debt, poor credit, or simply nasty habits that s/he knew would be deal-breakers for you, the blow feels like a swift kick to your gut and simultaneously a dagger through your heart. It is completely different from coming to the slow realization that you are not compatible after methodically analyzing the information you gathered over multiple rounds of playing 20 questions with someone. The key distinction being that you were blind-sided by the harsh reality that the picture you had been presented with was a complete mirage, and hits you like a Mack truck that quite literally takes your breath away and leaves you feeling shattered.
It is not easy to recover from such a blow, and you most certainly won’t bounce back overnight. Just as you would seek medical help after a car crash, you need to find people you trust (including professional help) to help put you back together, and quite literally take it one day at a time.
For years I have recommended to my divorce clients that were betrayed the book, “Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life” written by Tracy Schorn. It is a self-help step by step guide to taking back your power. She starts by identifying common mistakes that people make right after the discovery, which she calls “D-Day.” Next, she encourages people to find your lifelines, including a good therapist that can guide you through the emotional rollercoaster you will be riding for some time, whether you want to or not.
My job the past two decades has only focused on quickly performing an amputation to end all unnecessary legal and financial entanglements after D-Day, so that each party can move on to the next chapter in his/her life. But the reality is there are many who do not opt to sever all ties, and instead choose to work on repairing the relationship, including rebuilding trust and respect. I imagine a lot rides on a cost/benefit analysis that takes into account the duration of the relationship, whether kids are involved, the extent of your ties, including owning a house or business together, and the level of economic dependence between the two parties.
There are huge risks involved with staying, just as there are plenty of unknowns associated with the choice of leaving and starting over. Ultimately, each person will need to make an informed decision that best suits his/her needs, but hopefully they are not making the choice based on fear. As Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt said in 1933, at the peak of the Great Depression, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself– nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance in” our darkest hours.
Sadly, right now as a nation we are all facing a great terror with the COVID-19 pandemic that has already claimed over 60,000 American lives in the past three months, which is more fatalities that what we suffered during the Vietnam War. And as we grapple with what the “new norm” will look like while we contemplate lifting the shelter in place orders to avoid financial ruin, the reality also is none of our personal relationships will ever be the same, especially for all those couples that have now discovered things about one another that are cause for concern.
How you choose to address your D-Day aha moment is entirely up to you, but you cannot just stick your head in the sand or wallow in self-pity suffering from paralysis. Let the truth set you free– free to forge a path to a more authentic life moving forward that is true to your beliefs and values. Take this opportunity to take the deep dive to figure out your priorities and find your inner strength that will allow you to make sweet lemonade out of life’s lemons.
By Regina A. DeMeo