Ferne Kotlyar

Surviving Betrayal 

Alex was pretty sure his life was in perfect order. He had good friends and a great family, and everything in his professional life was going just fine — sure, he was a little stressed, but that was nothing a romantic getaway to a cottage with his girlfriend of three years couldn’t solve. To make things even better, Alex invited his lifelong best friend to the cottage as well. There the three of them would unwind, rest and relax.

Of course, this all changed the moment Alex walked in on his girlfriend and best friend in a compromising position in their cottage bedroom — a bedroom owned by his parents, no less. Alex immediately left the cottage and spent time processing his devastation alone. Now, after witnessing the two people he cared most about in an act of infidelity, Alex is wondering: “How should I proceed?”

Welcome to a very specific form of emotional distress: romantic betrayal. When infidelity of this severity happens in a serious relationship, it can feel so heart-wrenching, painful and visceral that some describe the experience as though someone close to them died. Romantic betrayal shares commonalities with PTSD and other trauma disorders: people who go through these sorts of experiences often deal with flashbacks, hypervigilance, anxiety, depression, trust issues, insecurity and more.

What’s the right move for someone like Alex in a moment like this? While a good number of (well-meaning) websites and love columnists recommend working through betrayal in order to arrive at a better place in one’s relationship, that’s not what this article is about.

This article is about moving forward. By taking into account everything he knows about his values and beliefs, we can offer Alex the kind of guidance he needs to move on with his life in a way that is healing and restorative. 

Surviving infidelity

When romantic betrayal happens, it can feel like everything in your life’s been turned upside down. It’s similar to getting fired from a job, experiencing a chronic illness, losing a loved one or entering a period of financial insecurity. And, much like all of these experiences, when it comes to romantic betrayal, there’s never going to be a way to “go back” to how things were before the event happened. 

That means the only thing to do is move forward. For Alex, that means looking at his major dealbreakers in life and deciding if what has happened is one of them. If I were Alex, I would say that the kind of betrayal he experienced at the hands of his best friend and girlfriend is absolutely a dealbreaker. There’s hardly any trust to be rebuilt after witnessing something this heinous, and the process of rebuilding that trust — with both his partner and best friend — would be excruciating, time-consuming and painful. 

This goes for anyone in a position like this. Think about what your dealbreakers are, and then stand by them. What must you absolutely have in your relationship to feel safe, secure, grounded and happy? Can you have all of those things after experiencing the kind of trauma and pain you’ve gone through? If the answer is no, it’s unequivocally time to move on. And even if the answer is yes, there’s going to be a lot of work cut out for you moving forward. Things can improve, but they’ll never be exactly the same as they were before the betrayal occurred. 

With Alex, the right move here is to cut out those who’ve betrayed him and move on. But his work doesn’t stop there. After taking the necessary steps to remove himself from a toxic situation, he needs to examine what forgiveness looks like for him. Because the truth is that holding onto this festering wound forever won’t help him find new friendships or love. Alex doesn’t have to accept what happened, but he does have to let go of the situation. 

In order to do this, it’s important that Alex doesn’t blame himself for the way things ended. Even if he was the worst boyfriend in the world, that doesn’t mean it was okay for his girlfriend or best friend to do what they did. If his girlfriend felt neglected or unhappy, the right move was to break up with Alex. And even if his best friend was attracted to his girlfriend, he should have avoided putting himself in a potentially compromising situation with her. So, no matter what Alex thinks about the situation, he shouldn’t blame himself for any of it.

How to get over infidelity 

Past his breakup, it’s up to Alex to make it clear that he’s no longer going to communicate with either of the people who betrayed him. And then it’s time for him to move on and look for relationships that serve him better in life. This is going to be a tricky period: it’s going to take a lot of soul-searching for Alex to really uncover the kinds of people, relationships and experiences he wants in his new life. If he fails to really interrogate his beliefs and values, he might end up with someone unworthy of his time again.

There’s an old saying (you’ve probably heard it) that goes: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” It’s up to Alex to understand that just because he was rejected by meaningful people in his life, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a healthy, stable, wonderful relationship. Alex needs to ask himself what he wants in a partner, and then cultivate the kind of life that attracts a person like that. By coming to peace with what he thinks he deserves, the people Alex wants to be with will naturally migrate to him. 

Lastly (and this part is tough, because it takes a lot of time), Alex needs to really count his blessings going forward. Romantic betrayal is always awful, but there are some silver linings to this situation. First of all, Alex’s girlfriend demonstrated her infidelity and unfaithfulness before their lives became further intwined. He never committed to marriage with her, nor did they have children together. And although Alex’s best friend turned out to be unworthy, that doesn’t take away the good experiences they’ve had up until that point. Alex can appreciate the good moments he’s had with his best friend while still knowing it’s time to sever that relationship. So while ultimately it’s awful what happened, things could have been worse. 

Moving past infidelity 

Of course, thinking of all the silver linings and moving forward is much easier said than done. It’s hard work, and it’s not going to happen overnight. That’s why I’d recommend that Alex keep a journal while he’s working out his issues. By writing down every aspect of his healing journey, Alex can track progress against his goals and more accurately see how far he’s come. Journaling will show Alex what he needs to do to keep moving toward the life he wants — more than that, the process of journaling can act as a therapeutic tool that lessens anxiety, depression and other distressing symptoms of trauma. 

So — as far as Alex’s situation goes (and for anyone who’s also experienced romantic betrayal) — the message is clear: Alex needs to clearly define his dealbreakers, use that information to sever toxic relationships, create a life that attracts the kind of relationships he wants, and hold himself accountable by journaling. By doing that, Alex will slowly but surely work toward a better future for himself and those in his life.

What happened sucks, but if I could talk to Alex, I’d also tell him: congratulations. Why? Because this terrible thing just opened up his life to so many new possibilities. He’s free from people who’re going to hurt him, and now he’s got all the time in the world to really create a life that speaks to his true values. I’m excited for Alex, and in time I know he will be, too.  

Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Kim Ades:
Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I'm the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching™ and you have just joined The Frame of Mind Coaching™ Podcast. Today is Fridays with Ferne and Ferne's here. She's my daughter and she's here to share a case with us.  

Ferne, welcome.  

[00:00:22] Ferne Kotlyar:
Hello! Thank you so much. It's always a pleasure to be here. Are you ready for your case today?  

[00:00:27] Kim Ades:

[00:00:29] Ferne Kotlyar:
All right, here it goes. So today's case is about two best friends called Alex and Boris.  

[00:00:36] Kim Ades:
Are they men?  

[00:00:38] Ferne Kotlyar:

[00:00:40] Kim Ades:

[00:00:41] Ferne Kotlyar:
And so they're best friends, they've been best friends ever since they were like six years old, you know, and they did everything together. They cheated on their first test together, went to their first party together, drank for the first time, met girls for the first time, you know, experimented, tried all the things.  

And so Alex has been dating this girl for three years now and she's very friendly with Boris and they all got along. And so now they're in their late 20s or so. And so Alex and his girlfriend are heading to the cottage for the weekend to spend with Alex's family. 

And the night before they go he gets a call, Alex gets a call from his best friend, Boris. And as I said, they've been best friends since they were six years old. Super super close. And he says "you know, like, I've been super stressed at work and this, this, and this happened" and, you know, he gives him a whole laundry list about all the reasons why he's stressed and upset. 

And Alex says "well, you know, like, I totally get that. Come to the cottage with us this weekend. You'll have some time to relax, de-stress, breathe a little and then you can go back and maybe you'll get to clear your head and take some time off". And so of course, Boris accepts gratefully, and they go to the cottage, all the three of them to visit Alex's family. 

And so when they get there, you know, they hang out and Alex is talking with his family and he notices that both Boris and his girlfriend are gone. So he goes to look for them and he finds them in another room, and he finds them in a very compromising position, having sex at his parents' cottage while all he was trying to do was support both of them. 

And so his girlfriend and his best friend, they were together, you know, his girlfriend cheated, his best friend lied and Alex was devastated, very, very devastated. And he didn't know what to do because he felt like literally two of his closest people, you know, his best friend and his girlfriend of three years screwed him over, you know? Stabbed him in the back.  

And he feels very betrayed and doesn't know kinda what to do, how to move on. Like, does he just cut them out and what kind of his next steps are?  

[00:03:04] Kim Ades:
Yeah, he definitely moves forward. He definitely... you know, there are some betrayals that are kind of deal breakers and Alex has to decide if this is one of them. It sounds like for him, it's a hundred percent a deal breaker and I could see that. Right?  

So for Alex, yes, he needs to move on, he needs to cut them out, he needs to move forward and he needs to decide at what point... we teach people how to treat us. And so when two of the people we love most cross a line, then we have to say "Hey, this is not right. This doesn't work for me".  

And so for Alex, yes, he has to move forward. And at the same time, you know, at some point down the road, what does forgiveness look like? Forgiveness looks like "you've done what you've done. Can't turn back history, but I'm done. Like, this friendship can't really be resumed the way it was, and certainly this relationship with my girlfriend can't pick up where it left off, but I'm okay for you to be the way you are and how you are and who you are, but I'm done with you". Right?  

So how does Alex-- yeah, what's the question?  

[00:04:32] Ferne Kotlyar:
He cuts them out completely? Both of them, just like that, cold turkey?  

[00:04:36] Kim Ades:
Cold turkey.  

[00:04:39] Ferne Kotlyar:
How does he do that? I mean, he was living with his girlfriend. Like, these two people were his whole life, basically.  

[00:04:46] Kim Ades:
Yeah, and sometimes that happens, right? Our whole life gets turned upside down. Many of us have experienced a form of that, one way or another. Through a divorce, through a death of a loved one, through an illness, through... you know, we lose our jobs or our companies explode. We have that. We've experienced that. Our whole lives get turned upside down.

And the thing is for Alex, it's very important for him to take the time to recover, to talk things through, to kind of look back at what happened. And at the same time, it's very important for him to kind of get to a place of "okay. Wow. I didn't see that coming and there's a bit of a silver lining in this. She was my girlfriend, not my wife. This happened before marriage, before kids. I got off lucky".  

And so we want Alex to start thinking that way. Obviously that's not going to happen immediately, but it's important for him to understand that this happened, and in a way it was a saving grace for him to learn about this in advance. You know, one of my concerns for Alex is, will he beat himself up? Will he feel like you know, people don't care about him, people don't love him and people treat him poorly?  

Will he feel like, you know, "oh, she likes Boris better". And you know, will he use this to run himself into the ground, to beat himself up? And I think that's very important for us to circumvent or prevent. So for Alex, he has to realize he deserves better, both from his friend and his girlfriend. And he needs to go find better.  

[00:06:47] Ferne Kotlyar:
Yeah. But I definitely think it will be a shot to his confidence. The two people that loved him most didn't treat him well, and his girlfriend went for his best friend. Like, maybe he would've felt like he wasn't good enough or that maybe there was a reason, you know, they did that or...  

[00:07:05] Kim Ades:
A reason? No, no reason. There is no acceptable reason. And I'll even go one step further. There is no acceptable reason, especially at Alex's parents cottage with his parents around! 

[00:07:20] Ferne Kotlyar:

[00:07:21] Kim Ades:
No acceptable reason.  

[00:07:24] Ferne Kotlyar:
That maybe he wasn't being a good boyfriend?  

[00:07:27] Kim Ades:
No, even so. Even if he wasn't being a good boyfriend. If that's the case after three years, the girlfriend should say "I don't want this relationship anymore". Right?

[00:07:42] Ferne Kotlyar:
Yeah, definitely. 

[00:07:43] Kim Ades:
So on any level, there is no level on which that behavior was acceptable.  

[00:07:52] Ferne Kotlyar:
But I mean, when it happens to you for the first time, I think it's hard to kind of reconcile. You don't understand how these people could do that to you, how they could betray you like that. So you kind of come up with reasons as to why. 

[00:08:07] Kim Ades:
Well, we can help him understand why, you know, Boris was struggling, he was having a hard time, the girlfriend comforted him, you know, she meant well, she got in over her head. We can give him all kinds of reasons. It doesn't really matter, it's still not acceptable.  

And so for him, it's, you know, he has to prevent himself from A) taking the blame or blaming himself for this happening. And B) he has to watch out feeling so desperate to be in a relationship with these people that he comes back and accepts a relationship of betrayal.  

So those are the two things that are at play here. He either feels like he's responsible for this outcome. "I shouldn't have invited Boris. I should have seen the signs. Why doesn't she love me?" All those things. Right? So that's part A, that self berating, beating up part. The other possibility is he says " okay, I forgive you", but then he lives with this discomfort, this uneasiness throughout the lifetime of this relationship. And so, you know, none of those scenarios are good.  

[00:09:27] Ferne Kotlyar:

[00:09:29] Kim Ades:
So we have to help Alex not take responsibility and really be sure about what he wants moving forward and understand what he deserves, because he might say "I deserved it". 

[00:09:44] Ferne Kotlyar:
And then what would you tell him?  

[00:09:46] Kim Ades:
Well, I would say, you know what? Even if you were the lousiest boyfriend in the world, you know, imagine that that's the case, what you deserved is a breakup in that case, not a betrayal. 

[00:10:02] Ferne Kotlyar:
Fair enough. 

[00:10:03] Kim Ades:
Right? So, we have to help Alex process and make sure that he doesn't take on, what's not his to take on. And make sure that he comes to a place of relief over the turning of events, over the outcome. And we also have to help Alex, point him in the direction of "so what do I want now? What kinds of relationships do I want? Who do I want in my life? How do I find those people?"  

[00:10:34] Ferne Kotlyar:
And how does he find those people?  

[00:10:36] Kim Ades:
Well, for starters, you know, we always find people around us that match what we believe we deserve. So the first work that he has to do is really try to understand and describe and come to peace with what he really thinks he deserves. So that has to be cleaned up first. And once that's clear, and once he feels better about himself, those people will naturally migrate to him. 

[00:11:05] Ferne Kotlyar:
So, if you were to give Alex one last piece of advice, what would it be?  

[00:11:10] Kim Ades:
My one last piece of advice is I would say that really sucks and count your blessings. In other words, sometimes we have to go through a very dark period before we are able to see the light, and before we're able to look at that dark period as actually a gift. 

And so for Alex, the gift is "I didn't commit a lifetime to this person. I only committed three years and I was relieved of this relationship before it was too late. And it gave me the opportunity to move on to other better things". It's hard for him to see that now, he'll see it later.  

[00:11:54] Ferne Kotlyar:
Yeah. But I'd say he committed almost a lifetime to his best friend. 

[00:12:00] Kim Ades:
Well, and it was good for the whole period of time. Right? And so at this point, you know, best friend maybe was desperate, maybe, you know, he was at his wit's end, still doesn't make what he did correct or right. And it doesn't mean that Alex has to erase his whole lifetime of friendship, but at the same time, it doesn't mean he has to carry on. Right?  

There's a saying, right? "People are there for a reason, a season or a lifetime". So it sounds like perhaps the season's over.  

[00:12:34] Ferne Kotlyar:
Sounds like it. Well, thank you so much! This has been maybe not helpful to me, but hopefully any of the Alexes out there.  

[00:12:42] Kim Ades:
Yeah. You know, sometimes things are a little black and white. They're not so shades of grey. We feel internally a sense of turmoil for the things we are experiencing. But when we think about what's important to us, who do we want in our lives, what's okay, what's not okay, where is the line completely crossed, then it's easier to make decisions based on that. And in this case, the line was completely crossed. So it's easier to make a decision about what's right and wrong for you.  

Thank you for yet another case that was interesting. That was challenging. For those of you who are listening, if you have a case that you want to share with us, please reach out to us.  

Ferne, how do they find you?  

[00:13:33] Ferne Kotlyar:
Please email me fernekotlyar@live.com. And I'll add it to the show notes.  

[00:13:45] Kim Ades:
Yes. And Ferne will take your cases and create podcasts out of them. So please send them her way. And if you want to reach me, it's kim@frameofmindcoaching.com.  

For those of you who are listening, please like, please share, please comment. Please give us feedback, do the thing you do on Google or YouTube or Apple Podcasts or wherever you do it. But please, we're looking for feedback. We love to hear from you and we will see you next week. Have a great week!

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