Imagine you know from the credit card statement that your husband purchased two Valentine’s Day cards and something from a jeweler. You smile and anxiously await the day meant to celebrate your love for each other. Valentine’s Day arrives, and at breakfast your husband announces he has a dinner meeting after work and unfortunately won’t be home until late. You think, oh, that’s why the two cards and piece of jewelry. Then he hands you a card from his briefcase as he leaves for work. You open it to find it’s not addressed to you but to his lover. What would you do?
Valentine’s Day, known as Black Friday for divorce lawyers, is supposed to be a celebration of the love you have for your partner. Unfortunately, it’s often the catalyst for ending the relationship. Research has found that Valentine’s Day is often when an infidelity is intentionally or unintentionally discovered. Further, while people may ponder throughout the year whether they should file for divorce, Valentine’s Day solidifies the decision.
Over the last 30 years of representing heartbroken people in divorce, I’ve heard the refrain, “How could I have been so stupid?” repeated thousands of times. And I’ve had occasion to repeat it myself. Falling in love is a feeling of enormous excitement and a steep high while being betrayed by the person you love causes a plummeting low.
If this has happened to you, you are in good company and a member of an international community of people who have been through the same thing. What’s important is that you take time to heal. If you’d sustained a broken leg when broadsided by another driver, you wouldn’t try to run a marathon on it. When you’ve been blindsided with a direct hit to your heart by the person you have trusted with it, you have to give your broken heart time to heal.
Since being rejected for another is a shock to your self-esteem and self-worth, feelings of shame often make you want to hide. Don’t. It’s the worst thing you can do. Recognize that you are particularly vulnerable during this time, and you need to surround yourself with people who see and will affirm all the good things about you. This will help neutralize the sting of feeling used and discarded. I also advise turning to a therapist who specializes in the areas of divorce and separation.
Divorce and separation are often compared to experiencing the death of a loved one. You may feel loss, grief, anger, shock, and denial. While I agree there are similar feelings when experiencing a death, the difference in separation and divorce is that the loved one who has left the relationship is still alive. This often causes the person left behind to carry a torch of hope that the other will realize they made the biggest mistake of their life and come crawling back on bloody and bended knee. This fantasy is perfectly normal but not particularly healthy for emotional recovery. It also sets you up for your heart to be used as a pawn by them in the bargaining and negotiation process of divorce.
When my clients have had difficulty accepting the death of their relationship, I often advised they repeat the aphorism: “You either conquer something or be consumed by it.” This mindset breaks the string of intrusive thoughts about what happened or what they could have done differently and helps you stop fixating on trying to get the other person back.
When clients waffled about whether to attempt reconciliation or go through with the divorce, I would ask them what was the one thing that bedeviled their relationship, the thing that never got resolved (since there’s one in every relationship). Then I asked if trying to resolve it felt like going into McDonalds and banging on the counter demanding a steak. Sometimes I’d get a complete look of understanding and other times a puzzled one.
“What I’m saying,” I’d explain, “is you’re asking for something that’s impossible to get where you are. So, you have to decide if you can be satisfied with eating hamburgers the rest of your life, or you need to go to a place that serves steak.” Restated, there are only two choices at this point: accept things as they are and always will be or realize you’re fortunate to live in a social age where you have choices other than being stuck in an unsatisfying marriage.
As painful as a divorce is, it also can be an opportunity for growth and new, more fulfilling relationships. There’s no question, it takes hard work. But ultimately, it’s worth the effort.