Well, usually this is hers. However, sometimes it could be his.
Critical Mass: Core Meltdown (His) defines “critical mass” and “core meltdown”, so I would highly encourage you to go read about it. This is what you need to do right now.
When you reach critical mass, and a core meltdown in your relationship occurs, you’ve experienced so much betrayal trauma, it is difficult, not impossible but highly improbable, to recover. Your relationship can survive, but it is forever changed as you knew it. Everything hinges on both of you doing whatever is necessary for relationship recovery (rebuilding) to heal. Your Partner is busy doing damage control while you’re busy trying to mitigate the risks. For now, let’s focus our attention on your betrayal trauma recovery.
So, the first question you have to ask yourself is “Now What?” There are so many scenarios playing out in your head as you wonder how you’ve managed to find yourself in a situation that is beyond your control, that you had no say in, because decisions were made that had an influence and impact on your life without so much as the common courtesy to include you in them. It is for this reason that I tell Partners this:
“Any decision you make, and that decision has the propensity to influence or impact another person, then you have a duty, obligation, and responsibility to share that decision with them.”
As you try to figure out whether you are coming or going, as if watching it all unfold from an out-of-body experience, remember, you didn’t create it. Your Partner did. Now that you have a fundamental understanding of where you are, let’s break it down into manageable pieces.
For brevity, these only highlight that which you need to consider first upon reaching “critical mass.” For the scope of this discussion, we will restrict it to the things you need to focus on right here, right now:
Discovery or Disclosure ~ Did you discover your betrayal, or was it disclosed to you? Disclosure is most promising unless it was spawned by a desperate reactionary response to discovery. It’s “you caught me, so this is all that I have done” when it doesn’t even begin to reflect what was actually done. It is high on rhetoric and short on substance. There’s a rhyme and reason to disclosure which will be featured later in Rules of Engagement: The Anatomy of a Disclosure. If there is a discovery, and denial ensues, then we have a different set of problems to deal with.
- Safety ~ Generally speaking, this should have been first, but it was important to address the discovery/disclosure question as a prerequisite. The single most important question(s) concerns your personal safety:
- Are you safe?
- Are your children safe?
- The rest of your family and friends safe?
- Is your Partner predisposed to stalking you?
Is there any imminent DANGER or THREAT of abuse (spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse) whatsoever to yourself or those around you? If so, set this aside for now, and contact the resources you will find HERE, immediately, right now, to HELP you:
Additionally, you may want to consider these countermeasures:
- If you need a SafeHouse, do not hesitate for a moment to locate one and use it. There is no point in time, ever, that it is appropriate for you to tolerate and accept abuse from another person. These locations remain completely anonymous to protect their inhabitants. Your Partner WILL NOT find you.
- If you are terrorized and in fear of your safety, or life, take out a court order of protection, a restraining order, that legally prohibits your Partner from coming within close proximity to you. Violation of the court order will result in your Partner’s immediate arrest and contempt of court.
2. Security ~ Has your Partner engaged in any illegal activities (Barring illegal sexual activities involving prostitutes which we’ll address momentarily)?:
- Possession, distribution, or production of any child sexual abuse imagery (aka child pornography)?
- Inappropriate video or picture recording, without permission or knowledge, of anyone in any state of undress where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy such as a dressing room, changing room, restroom, or private bedroom?
- Inappropriate sexual solicitations or exchanges, texting, sexting, or otherwise with a minor?
- Inappropriate sexual contact, or attempts to do so, of any kind with a minor?
- Sexual assault of anyone?
- Rape of anyone?
- Manufacture, sale, or distribution of Illegal substances?
- Participation in any gang or mafia-related activities?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, you should take appropriate countermeasures to secure your property, person, and mitigate your risks. It becomes highly advisable to seek the counsel of an attorney, not to cause more harm to your Partner, but to protect yourself. DO NOT get law enforcement involved unless an imminent danger or threat exists for you. Doing so severely exacerbates an already very volatile situation. Evidence suggests and supports that legal consequences, unless absolutely necessary, only serve to completely destroy another human being rather than help them. It’s the difference between a punishment and a consequence. Any quality of life post legal consequences is at best, severely compromised, and worst, deadly, as suicide often appears to be the only solution for individuals subjected to it.
Nonetheless, it is prudent that you take measures to protect yourself. In addition to seeking counsel, you should also consider:
- Mandate that your Partner leave the premises and find another place to stay or do so yourself.
- Change all locks on all of your doors.
- Install a security/surveillance system.
- Sweep your domicile for the presence of hidden electronic surveillance equipment.
4. Health ~ In the midst of the discovery or disclosure, was there any evidence of physical infidelity?
- Affair partner
- One night stand
- Friends with benefits
- Massage parlors
- Strip clubs
- Swingers clubs
- Threesomes, Foursomes, & Moresomes
- Intravenous drug use 1
If so, you need to take immediate precautions to protect your health. Make an appointment with your physician as soon as possible. DO NOT take this lightly or for granted. Treat it as though you were directly exposed yourself. Your physician has assuredly been down this path with other patients before. Specifically, you need to be screened and checked for these health risks 2:
- Hepatitis (B & C)
- Genital Herpes
- HPV (Human Papilloma Virus)
5. Sanity ~ TAKE CARE OF YOU FIRST.
You need to acknowledge and accept that you are in the midst of Betrayal Trauma. It is defined as a trauma perpetrated by someone with whom the victim is close to and reliant upon for support and survival.3 Not necessarily. Betrayal is deliberate, malicious, and self-serving in its intent, and once it crosses the threshold into terror and fear, it becomes Betrayal Trauma according to Dr. Patrick Carnes, author of The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships. In more severe circumstances, Betrayal Trauma results in PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
You’ve become emotionally compromised because of your betrayal. Instead of fighting it, embrace and accept it. This is your new reality. This is your new normal. Everything you knew to be true in your life was built upon a foundation of lies. Once you face that reality and acknowledge it, you can begin to take measures, or countermeasures, beyond your safety, security, and health, to help you get past the trauma and into recovery.
Consider these as a necessary component of your recovery and take care of you first:
- If you are a person of faith, religion, or spirituality, don’t ignore it. Fall back on, and be submissive to it. It is very therapeutic to the injured heart, mind, and soul and is embraced by all reputable treatment facilities in the world.
- Locate and join a 12-Step Program to help you process your Betrayal Trauma such as BTR (Betrayal Trauma Recovery [Group]). It is welcome support from so many others who are experiencing many of the same exact things that you are. These are anonymous allies all with a common goal.
- Find a local support group and join it. These groups often times are orchestrated throughout the community at local churches. Alternately, you may find a phone support group that works just as well.
- Join an online forum that provides help and guidance for victims of Betrayal Trauma. Proceed with caution as some participants premature in their recovery, including trolls at times, sometimes disrupt the community providing inappropriate, inaccurate, and/or malicious information.
- A Sponsor or Accountability Partner is also helpful as one who is immediately and consistently available to reach out and talk to often at a moments notice.
- Your local pastor can be most helpful. They are good at listening, but not always coaching, counseling, or consoling, so proceed cautiously.
- Go see a therapist. Not just any therapist, but one who specializes in the trauma that you are experiencing. Look for CSAT (Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist) credentials when pursuing a therapist. Additionally, unless you are codependent, make certain that your therapist follows the Betrayal Trauma Model and not the Codependent Model.
6. Publicizing it ~ Be careful who you talk to. Yes, while your story is yours to tell, so too is your Partner’s. Otherwise, feel free to talk to anyone you feel that you need to, but remain cognizant of these things:
- Be careful when you talk to family members. They likely already judge you on your past decisions in the first place when they have trouble keeping their own house in order.
- If you have a lot of friends, I guarantee you nothing good will ever come of it if you tell them. It only provides fodder for gossip.
- Even if you have a short list of friends that you can count on one hand may be unsafe to disclose the betrayal and addiction. Whether or not they are safe stems from whether or not they have the ability to keep their mouth shut. Pick one, two at the most, and confide in them if you must for support. Make unequivocally certain that you can trust them. This is your life. Not theirs. Vet them very carefully with this one important question:
“Is it safe for me to tell them my story?”
- Disclosing addiction and betrayal to anyone is subject to the law of rumors or Rumor’s Law 4 as I affectionately like to call it. That is, for each person you tell, the risk or exposure rises rapidly, so each time the information is disclosed, it likely doubles. By the time disclosure repeats itself 10 times, 500 people already know about it. Keep it to those who bring value to your situation on a “need to know” only basis.
- Nothing good will ever come from telling anyone anything for the purpose of embarrassment, guilt, or shame. They are already actively experiencing it. It is malicious, spiteful, and only serves the purpose of inflicting harm as a source of revenge. Don’t do it. It says nothing about them but speaks volumes about you. Promote positive change, abstain from punishment and embrace consequences.
7. The Betrayal ~ The opportunity cost, and this is only a glimpse, of your Partner’s addiction and your betrayal trauma that has riddled through you like bullet holes is staggering.
It’s like Death by a Thousand Cuts. Here are just some in a compromising list of all that you find questioning about yourself that is by no means complete:
- Values, Dreams, & Goals
- Identity (loss of self)
- Trust (your Partner and others)
- Family & Friends
- Colleagues & Acquaintances
As you process this as your new reality, and you migrate from a state of denial into your very own episode of The Twilight Zone in which you have the leading role, your emotional state is all over the place like throwing darts at an Emotional Color Wheel as a dart board. As you wrestle with your emotions, and none of them good, you experience these feelings of (being):
- Betrayal (beyond your wildest imagination), Cheated on, Doublecrossed, Devastation, Trustworthiness (of your Partner)
- Sadness, Hurt, Pain (Mental, Emotional, & Physical)
- Exhaustion, Sleeplessness, Frustration
- Abandonment, Isolation
- Depression, Anxiety, Overwhelmed
- Inferiority, inadequacy, insignificance, ugliness, worthlessness
- expendable, rejection, unwanted, unloved
- Stupidity, Ignorance, Obliviousness, Confusion, Bewilderment
- Embarrassment, Guilt, Shame
- Anger, Hatred (rage), Resentment
- Unsafe, Scared, Insecurity, Fearfulness, Terror
- Helplessness, hopelessness, Discouragement, Despair
Understand that the depth of your betrayal runs deep.
8. The Life Cycle of Grief ~ The perception of what you had versus what you thought you had in the relationship has changed.
Your prior relationship with your Partner is forever lost. That’s the bad news. The good news is, you don’t want it back. It was shrouded in secrecy, lies, and deceit. It is as if a part of you has died. Don’t fight the grieving process. It is normal. Embrace it.
- Memories ~ Relish them. Even the bad ones, for those, are the ones that have shaped and molded the person you are today. “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” If it weren’t for our failures in life, we wouldn’t learn much because of the incorrect assumption that failure is not an option.
- Opportunity Cost ~ See #7 above.
- Denial ~ This is your alternate reality. It happened. But accept the things you cannot change, change the things that you can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. It’s a paraphrased version of the Serenity Prayer.
- Anger ~ An important part of the process, Anger is an acceptable emotional response. Wrath is not. Just make sure you focus your anger in the right direction, and not at those, especially your children, that had nothing to do with the situation you find yourself in.
- Bargaining ~ If you think you can bargain with God, think again. Besides, you have nothing to bargain with. As for bargaining with your Partner, don’t. There is no reason for you to bargain, as your Partner has nothing to bargain with you either.
- Depression ~ While you will experience this as a part of your grief recovery, make certain you utilize whatever tools are necessary to maintain your sanity. Everything you’ve experienced up to now exemplifies insanity. Refer to #5 above for help with it.
- Acceptance ~ This is where real healing begins. The realization of the situation you are in has set in and solidified. You know where you’ve been (the past), you know where you are (the present), and now have everything you need to know where you need to go (the future). You get to define your destiny and write the end of your story.
9. Am I Enough? ~ You are beautiful in body, mind, and spirit.
Your Partner’s addiction is not about you. It never was. Even if he makes excuses, blames you (gaslighting), or denies it, it is not about you.
Your Partner is an addict. As such, he has a brain disease. It is a dysfunctional malfunction in the way his brain has been programmed and wired from years of abuse. And you may never be able to convince him of it, for he must determine and realize it for himself. He must own his addiction in as much as his addiction owns him. You cannot fix it. It is beyond your control. So focus your attention on fixing the damage his addiction has done to you first. Any time, energy, and effort you have left over, you can invest it in relationship recovery. But don’t put the relationship recovery ahead of your betrayal trauma recovery, for if you do, you will fail miserably at both.
10. Boundaries, Rules, & Consequences ~ This one is HUGE!
It is also last because as you consume so much information tantamount to drinking water from a firehouse, it is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself, invest in your recovery, and incentivize your Partner to change. As it is entirely too much, here is a synopsis of it:
- Relevance ~ This is an important detail because it is why the Boundaries, Rules, & Consequences you prescribe are important to you. Not that it matters to anyone else, but it matters to you. When you decide upon a boundary, make sure you include why that boundary is important to you whether it is because of religious, moral, or personal conviction. You and you alone are the author, judge, jury, and executioner, of the Boundaries, Rules, & Consequences you create.
- Importance ~ Boundaries, Rules, & Consequences are important because:
- It helps set, explicitly as opposed to implicitly, the boundaries, ground rules, and consequences in a relationship
- It circumvents any misunderstandings about what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship. It removes any potential excuses.
- It provides a means of drawing a line in the sand, the rules governing that line in the sand, and the consequences for violating the rules, thus crossing the boundary.
- Empowerment ~ It is, for the first time in your life, a set of written guidelines that you find acceptable to live with, not only by your Partner but other potential Partners in your future too. The difference is, now they are no longer implied. They are now explicitly disclosed so that there is no misunderstanding, or the spirit of the meaning, of them.
- Boundaries ~ Explicitly spell out what you are and are not willing to accept in the relationship. It is not ultimatums, control, or punishment to your Partner.
- Rules ~ When boundaries are violated, create specific rules governing those boundaries to protect them.
- Consequences ~ When boundaries are crossed, and thus rules are broken, define the consequences for violating your boundaries and breaking your rules designed to protect them.
- Execution ~ Execute your Boundaries, Rules, & Consequences. Do not deviate from them, else your Partner will not respect them. Enforce them without prejudice.
Look for the companion to this article Critical Mass: Core Meltdown (His).
- While it isn’t necessarily infidelity, intravenous drug use is included as it contributes as much to the health consequences as does physical sexual contact.
- Courtesy CDC (Centers for Disease Control), Atlanta, Georgia & Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.