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Betrayal, Trauma and PTSD In Family Law Matters

“It is said that is easier to forgive an enemy that forgive a friend.” William Blake

While there are many blogs and many articles which discuss the financial, custody and other “legal” aspects of divorce, one of the most overlooked aspects of family law matters is the traumatic impact that they have on a person. This often causes, exacerbates, or triggers PTSD symptoms in people going through these matters. Loss is very painful overall. But when loss comes from betrayal (something we perceive as intentional) it is made so much worse. It’s not about the person that causes it, it’s about the feelings and trauma it triggers in you. People going through divorce or any family law matter tend to focus on the outcome of litigation versus the real issue- why is this hurting me and what do I need to fix. Let’s be real, the only thing we can control is ………ourselves. Trauma is defined or seen as a negative trait when in reality it is nothing more than a very real impact on our brains (too real sometimes) that was bigger than something we can control. It is really no different than the other mental health or learning disabilities, or even physically disabilities that we seem to accept as a society but for many reasons, shame probably being the overriding reason, we don’t accept that things just hurt.  Family law matters generally speaking bring up a feeling of loss- loss causes pain, pain causes betrayal, betrayal causes trauma.  It’s not about being rational or logical which have everything to do with control.  Instead it’s like cancer to me- something no matter what you do right that can always compromise the person you are.

Trauma in family law matters is no different. So, my advice is generally- lay off yourself and accept that it hurts. Spouse, boyfriend, friend, or anyone that we internally know we have allowed to see us as vulnerable would be capable of causing this type of trauma. To be lied to from anyone we have put our trust and confidence in can result in a terrible feeling of betrayal. That betrayal can threaten our self-worth, self-esteem, and existence to the core. Everything we thought we knew becomes a lie in our head and whether that’s true or not, the belief itself wreaks havoc on our bodies both physically and mentally. It’s becoming aware of that pain and identifying what hurts that can make or break where you go from here.

What is betrayal exactly? While there may be a dictionary definition of betrayal, I believe it is a very personal feeling. It’s a feeling and personal only to the person experiencing it. For me, betrayal occurs when my genuine trust is violated. I don’t define “trust” by way of sharing secrets I may have told someone (If I am confident in one thing it’s that anyone that knows me knows I don’t have a ton of secrets. They may wish I did- but I don’t). I feel betrayed when my heart is hurt- when someone allows me to be vulnerable and then feels ok walking away or leaving me. It hurts. It’s that simple. When it happens, and if I allow it to happen (besides being really happy I let you that close to me), I’m completely caught off guard. I then experience absolute trauma no different than when I lost my parents. At times my heart races, my color drains, my hands shake, and sadly it’s taken me years to simply accept the hurt which ironically reduces the panic from trauma. Logic has no place in trauma. Ever.
As a family law attorney, there is no doubt that a majority of the people that come see me feel betrayed. After fifteen (15) years of seeing clients in this area of law, I assure you that betrayal triggers trauma and I know from my practice and my life experiences that trauma brain wins. I’ve learned that trauma brain can rule my response and/or reaction to anything at times. I have also learned that accepting that it hurts results in a much better outcome. You get the power to be you and move on. Holding on to what isn’t meant for us just doesn’t work. In my field, when you do that you just ensure that you are putting my kids through college not yours…..because emotions are so expensive.

No matter how hurt I feel at times (and my husband would assure you that I am more sensitive than most people would ever know and that I have more fear of people than they have of me), I think it’s so important to be open about how much trauma really does. I think it’s equally as important to stop trying to be logical about what causes you trauma- feel it! Guess what? One you feel it, maybe for hours, days or even weeks, it leaves! You get that power back.

My Dad was one of the simplest but smartest men I knew.  When I got real about what hurts me I learned that losing him took so much of my self-esteem and self-confidence away and when that happens I became unlikeable to even myself.   I forgot I was perfect-to my father that is.  I forget that “he won the lottery the day I was born.”  But the more work I have done on myself, which doesn’t come because I find it fun, but rather because I keep getting hurt and see my own ability to change from the hurt,  the more I get to see why I’m here.   I am not just a very good family law attorney (which I totally am :), but I’m also a very good friend, I’m a pretty great sister, I am one of the most loving Aunts, and I might even be a cool niece but that would depend on the Uncle you are asking.  But even with those definitions I have assigned to myself- I forgot the only one I needed- I love me.  We can all distance ourselves from our field or employment or we can face the very fear that keeps us from moving forward and  being vulnerable on every level of our life.


People can judge me and they will, even on this article.  But what I can say today as I write this article- I am more Kelli Melissa Falkenstein/Martone than I have ever been in my life and that’s because with every loss comes the chance to change and be better version of you.

“Keep It Simple Stupid “KISS”.

“Kel, why would you want anyone that doesn’t want you.” Francis J. Falkenstein

Kelli M. Martone, Esq. has been a matrimonial attorney in the State of New Jersey since 2005. Kelli has significant experience in not only high-end divorce matters, but contentious custody matters and matters involving substance abuse, abuse and neglect matters involving the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (f/k/a DYFS), as well as Domestic Violence. For a consultation and to discuss your options in connection with any family law matter, contact Kelli at 856-617-6700 or [email protected]