Recently, someone close to me discovered their spouse was cheating. While I hate to hear this news from anyone, it is especially difficult when it comes from my friends and family. Another’s future derailed by betrayal evokes sadness, anger and confusion, irrespective of how cliché or familiar. It hurt me because it hurt him. I began to grieve because my friend was grieving.
The shock of the news sent me into problem solving mode, but maybe not exactly like you would think from a divorce lawyer. My first instinct was for wellness resources for the person in pain, not to mount an aggressive legal strategy. This is especially true when there are children of any age involved. When you share a child with a person, the other parent will ALWAYS be a part of your life. Always. For people without children, divorce is not that terrible, because there can be complete closure. In either situation, if you do not take care of your emotional health during the trauma of a break up, you may never heal, or you may just make some of the same mistakes the next time which directly or indirectly contributed to the relationship failure.
The way I see my job at the starting line of a conversation about divorce with anyone is to first acknowledge the pain. The hurt must be recognized and discussed before ascertaining whether or not there is anything left in the relationship to salvage. Being betrayed takes the breath from a person’s lungs. My friend describes the feeling as worse than what he experienced after the death of his father.
A “Pro-Marriage Divorce Attorney” you may question: that seems unlikely. Look, lawyers get on my nerves more than they get on yours, but I also deal with them more than you do. We do not have to encourage marriages to fail, because they seem to do that from time to time wholly on their own. For the most part, divorce attorneys want the same things as you – meaning and belonging.
Like you, we want to know and be known.
Like you, we want to love and be loved.
So what did I do for my friend? Here is a list of my initial thoughts and the advice I gave:
Acknowledge the Hurt. People who confide in friends usually do not actually want the friend to fix anything. Like I alluded to above, sometimes they just need you to listen and empathize. The Bible has a good example of this in the story of Job. Remember him? He lost everything – his wealth, his family and his health. He had friends who came around him too.
When Job’s three friends… heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.Job 2:11-13 MSG
Find a Counselor. My friend did not have a counselor so I tried to provide resources so he could find one. I like to match men with men and women with women. There are some exceptions to this rule, but to me, it is just a safer choice. I also usually like for the counselor to be older than the person I am referring, and for the therapist and potential client to have complementary personalities and worldviews. Lastly, while there are great therapists who do not process insurance for a variety of reasons, many great groups do, and having insurance cover the cost of therapy is just one less thing to think about.
Get a Complete Physical. If infidelity is suspected or confirmed, the offended spouse needs to be tested for STD’s. This will be miserable and embarrassing but it is necessary. Also, you need to be aware of your health status before you make major life decisions, and it is advisable to consult with your healthcare provider about the relationship challenges you are facing. We did a great podcast on holistically dealing with stress you may find interesting. Trauma will have a physical manifestation, and being proactive about one’s health is critically important. We have tons of resources on the Wellness page of our website which you may find helpful.
Do Some Soul Work. For the past ten years or so, I have been on somewhat of a spiritual journey. I have been learning more about myself, my core motivations and how my family of origin played a part in shaping my personality. In addition to the growth of my Christian faith, I have read countless books, tried yoga, attended workshops, and even experimented with contemplative prayer, a form of meditation. I have been on spiritual retreats, made huge efforts to help other people, and have learned about the enneagram personality typing system. Right now, I am taking an online class about the science of happiness. As a part of that class, I took an assessment to identify my signature strengths, and I am attempting to make use of these in everyday life as an effort to increase my personal sense of well-being.
For my friend, even though I am not good at doing it myself, I recommended he attempt to practice writing “morning pages” as suggested by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. Obviously, the soul work looks different for each person, but during life transition, the person who is suffering has a great opportunity, if they will take it, to slow down, reflect and seek inspiration for personal growth via many widely available resources.
Slow Your Roll. I wrote a blog about Patience analogizing the 90’s song of the same name by Guns and Roses. Human survival for thousands of years has necessitated the avoidance of pain. We are really good at it, and different people go about it in different ways. We will develop strategies to survive and avoid harm during difficult seasons. It is a part of our DNA. We want the pain to stop, and the desire to make it causes us to rush through the process or seek temporary satisfaction. It is like putting Novocain on a tooth when you need a root canal. The key, of course, is to develop healthy practices to feel better. Maybe the answer is a brisk walk instead of a Xanax. Maybe taking a bike ride instead of drinking that third glass of wine. We may need a long conversation with a close friend on a regular basis instead of signing up for a dating app.
Get Legal Advice. I have written about this extensively on our website, so I will not repeat the ideas here. The bottom line is this – Getting legal advice does not mean you are going to get a divorce. You are arming yourself with information so you can make good decisions.
My friend may or may not get a divorce, but he needs to cycle through the grieving process for a while before he will be able to make a good decision about the rest of his life. I told my friend and I tell my clients that he simply needs to “control the controllables.” Everything on my initial list is within his control, and does not require the participation of his spouse. Regardless of the circumstances of the break up, I recommend a long look in the mirror as the first step toward health and wellness.
Craig Robertson is the founder of Robertson + Easterling and is a Pro-Marriage Divorce Attorney. For over 20 years, he has practiced exclusively high net worth divorce and complicated family law in Mississippi. Over the course of his career he has worked with multiple nationally and internationally known high profile individuals. He is strategic, collaborative, creative and extremely competitive. He will direct you to journey the path of health and wholeness despite your circumstances.