Is Mental Health the Real Wealth? — In an exclusive interview, Dr. Nadine Macaluso opens up about her eight year marriage to the infamous Wolf of Wall Street.
Before Dr. Nadine Macaluso became a marriage therapist and received her PhD in somatic psychotherapy, she was a 22-year-old model named Nadine Caridi, who found herself falling emphatically and deeply in love.
The man who swept her off her feet was Jordan Belfort, the finance fraudster who thrived on a lavish lifestyle in the late 80’s and 90’s, and whose notorious story would eventually rise to international fame in The Paramount Picture film The Wolf of Wall Street. Famously portrayed by Margot Robbie in the film, the Nadine in real life would eventually marry Jordan for eight years and have two children before splitting off.
At the beginning of their relationship, the novelty and opulence depicted in the Wolf of Wall Street was very real for Nadine and Jordan. There were many romantic dinners, expensive gifts, and lavish parties that her younger self could have only dreamed of. As she reflected back on her relationship, she recalled the exhilaration of new romance, the anticipation of adventure, and the innocence that comes with young love.
However, not long after being swept into the uproarious world of the wolf, she began to realize there was something more insidious behind his elaborate persona.
She could not have predicted the heartbreak that followed. Once they were successfully bonded, Jordan’s ‘mask’ began to slip and acts of infidelity, narcissistic abuse, and drug addiction became a painful reality for Nadine. Once Jordan was arrested in 1998, Nadine was finally able to break free from the relationship.
Against the odds of her traumatic experience, Nadine cultivated a new life of resilience and healing for herself and her family. She went on to marry John Macaluso twenty two years ago and create their beautiful blended family. Nadine found herself hungry for knowledge and was drawn to the field of couple and family therapy in her late thirties, where she learned how to help others develop healthy relationships and heal from relational trauma.
Now, she’s more professionally known as Dr. Nae, working in private practice as a licensed marriage and family therapist and relationship expert helping others overcome adversity and reach their full potential.
In an exclusive interview, Nadine sat down with Alexa, a staff therapist at About Relationships, to discuss how she was able to overcome the traumatic relationship she had with Jordan. After escaping the wolf’s den, there’s much she had to share about her journey to self-discovery and how you, too, can find your own light at the end of the tunnel.
You have such an captivating story. In your book, “A Therapist’s Guide for Healing from Traumatic Love” you share your own experiences and giveactionable advice to help readers recognize and heal from trauma bonds. For those that haven’t had the chance to pick up your book yet, could you describe what trauma bonding is and why it’s so hard to break it?
Trauma bonding is an unhealthy attachment pattern in a relationship. They’re highly dysfunctional and abusive. [Excerpt from No More Trauma Bonding: Trauma bonds can occur in relationships with a power differential. There’s often a breach in trust, too. The connection is made fast and very intensely, which can beaccompanied by excitement and passion. There is electricity—maybe in a way you have never felt before. Then, the pattern begins by a personbehaving in caring ways for their partner, followed by a gradual onset of periods of mistreatment. As the relationship unfolds, you begin to feel more isolated and alienated from your friends. Your lover only wants you to see their perspective. You see subtle signs of deception, manipulation, or sexual promiscuity. Still, when you question your partner, they are shocked and get extremely defensive. Perceived small kindnesses from them set the emotional tone for letting down your guard.With traumatic bonding, you feel sorry for your lover and develop deep empathy and forgiveness for their abuse. The harmful dynamics that play out in trauma bonds are also referred to as intimate partner violence, (Macaluso, 6.) ]
My relationship with Jordan started this way. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. In the beginning he was giving me all these luxurious gifts, we traveled, we had amazing conversations, great chemistry, and he was really charming. We had so much fun. I thought I was safe with him. Because I thought everything was going so great, I didn’t realize the subtle behaviors that I know now were abusive. In the beginning, he would get really angry about things and I wasn’t used to that. An example was our engagement. After seeing my parents split when I was so young, I wanted to wait until my thirties to get married to make sure I was ready. Six months into our relationship, Jordan threatened to leave me if I didn’t marry him. Then once we were engaged, he told me wouldn’t marry me unless we had kids right away. He got so angry it scared me. I had never even been yelled at before. I rationalized it at the time that he acted like that because he cared me. It left me confused and I felt pressure to go with what he wanted instead of what was best for me. It left me with this feeling that I was never enough.
Trauma bonding can be hard to discern — especially with the intensity of theromance and the newness of the other person at the beginning of a relationship. How did the trauma bond develop with Jordan? Was there anything that contributed to it?
As I reflect back, I can connect my relationship with Jordan to the neglect I experiencedas a child. My mother was a single mom working full-time in Brooklyn. She had the soleresponsibility to provide for us because my father, who struggled with a gambling addiction,wasn’t around a lot. Although she did the best she could, I was left alone a lot. Looking back now, I realize that I was trying to find the love and safety I needed and craved as a child, in Jordan.
There are also red flags that I can recognize now, that I didn’t know about then. Jordan was great at love-bombing me. [Love bombing: Speed seduction. Your partner showers you with excessive attention, affection, flattery, trips, and gifts during the love-bombing phase. You are overcome with whirling emotions of too much passion far too soon, which is mystifying. Your partner swiftly seduces you to win your trust, so you overlook the red flags that slowly emerge. Macaluso, 7] And mirroring me. I liked Italian food, he loved Italian food. I liked tennis, he liked tennis. But it wasn’t actually real! Narcissists mirror the object of their affection. [His deceit about personal taste is called twinship—your narcissistic partner purposely mirrors your likes and dislikes as a manipulative way to imply that they truly understand you. Having superior cognitive empathy is another way they create the illusion of bonding, Macaluso, 8]. Then there was the criticism, anger and gaslighting.
What was the hardest part about being in a trauma-bonded relationship for you?
The more I became the docile, pretty,and the acquiescing partner I felt I needed to be to be loved by Jordan, the more disconnected I became from myself. I didn’t know what boundaries were or how to set them. There were many times I voiced how I felt and was met with yelling or my feelings were steamrolled. I realized later that I don’t think he was capable of truly seeing and hearing me. His need for control and to be seen as powerful and charming kept us in inauthentic roles that left little, if any room, for true intimacy.
A time that stands out the most to me is at the end of our relationship- we were out for sushi dinner. I decided to
listen to my inner voice that told me to speak my heart. I told him how much his drug addiction and abuse had hurt me throughout our relationship and about how much pain I was in. His reply is something that I’ll never forget. Instead of empathizing, he gave a scoff and said, ‘Oh, come on, it wasn’t that bad.’
The invalidation was so shocking and painful, I felt my heart close to him that night. Whatever hope I had for our relationship dwindled right then and there. At the end of the day, Jordan always believed that he was the victim in the situation. The lack of accountability was hurtful, when all I craved was honesty and to be seen.
I had been emotionally detached for awhile before I finally decided to leave the relationship. Leaving him later felt like freedom. I don’t know if you’re too young for this, but it was like Risky Business. You know that movie when he dances in his socks and underwear? I felt like that. It was relief. And that’s when I was able to start healing.
Society also gets a lot of mixed messages about love. [Cue the the infamous scene from The Notebook where Noah jumps onto a moving ferris wheel to gethis crush’s attention, hanging on by one arm and threatening to let go unlesshis crush agrees to go out with him.] Do you think that media/pop cultureplays a role in unhealthy love and trauma bonding?
Undoubtedly, yes. I mean, it was all so new to me that I didn’t know what I was experiencing was abusive. I grew up with a single mom watching romance movies from the 80s! I thought I was just falling madly in love, that somehow, what I was experiencing was normal. At the time, I didn’t realize that the quick pacing, gift giving, and mirroring were actually ways to gain control.
Firstly, we live in a patriarchal society, which gave me conflicting messages about what it meant to be a woman — especially in relationships. Women are socialized to be more relational. In my early twenties, I grew up with unconscious programming that I had to be agreeable. I had to be beautiful. I had to be nurturing and accommodating.
Plus, our culture tends to celebrate codependent love in movies and TV.
Those were some of my references for my own experience. Movies normalize the high highs and low lows in chaotic relationships and behaviors that aren’t always healthy or even functional. A lot of things have changed since then but there’s still a lot of progress to be made.
When The Wolf of Wall Street movie was screened, it must have been brought up a lot of feelings for you. What was your perspective on it? Was there anything you wish they showed or didn’t show about the emotional experiences you had during that time period?
I think I handled it well, considering I didn’t know what to expect. My husband and I watched it in a private screening for the first time. I had no creative control, nor did I receive any compensation, so the way the world perceived it was out of my control. I practiced radical acceptance and let it be. Of course, the movie was entertaining in some ways but it certainly wasn’t fully accurate. For one, the nursery scene never happened, nor did the water in the face scene.
Naomi also didn’t have the same style as me- I take pride in my aesthetic and I wouldn’t have worn the things she wore!! [Nadine laughs]
The movie also ended up including one of the most traumatic days of my life [the scene where Jordan grabs their young daughter and tries to make a getaway when Naomi informs him she’s leaving] but omitted Jordan kicking me down the stairs with our daughter in hand and then driving us all into the wall.
That was terrifying.
At the end of the day, I was okay with it because the movie portrayed me as a pretty woman who deeply loved her children. That’s all.
Throughout this whole experience, I love how you still maintain such a beautiful perspective on one’s ability to change. For readers, what is your opinion on people’s ability to change? Does this also apply to narcissistic traits and narcissistic personality disorder?
I do believe everyone is capable of change. However, that doesn’t mean that change isn’t hard or that it won’t take a long time. I don’t want to be the poster child for change by any means, but it is possible. Personally, I’ve healed many wounded parts of myself, but it took years of work to unlearn and get to know myself with honest reflection. Additionally, the person needs to want to change.
Also, relationships are important for healing and our growth. Healing happens in relationship with others. There was a reason I was attracted to Jordan and reflecting on why allowed me to have so much insight into what needed to be healed within myself. It’s important to own our part in every relationship we have. Then, we become empowered. We can start to think and behave differently.
I do have empathy for Jordan. He was severely abused by his father. I think that made it really hard for him to connect with me because he didn’t feel comfortable with himself. The deeper the narcissistic wound, the more difficult it is for a person to change.
A lot of our readers out there want to embark on the same path for themselves. What are three things you’ve learned in your healing process and in your current marriage that you’d want to share with others?
1. One thing that I didn’t know back then was that we all have attachment patterns that surface during romantic relationships. Whether your pattern is anxious, dismissive, avoidant, or fearful avoidant, being familiar with them can help to identify your own patterns. This can empower you to respond to the triggers within your relationship in a healthier way.
Nadine & John Macaluso, current husband of 22 years
2. Establishing healthy boundaries is also incredibly important. It’s something that I never did with Jordan, which caused me to lose who I was. When I voiced that I wasn’t ready for marriage and children, my feelings were disregarded. I didn’t realize at the time that this was crossing my boundary- I confused his manipulative behavior with passion. I’d recommend for everyone to take some time to get to know yourself first. Write downyour values and what you absolutely can’t sacrifice. Your values help serve a s a compass when navigating your relationships.
3. Finally, it’s inevitable that the connection in relationships will rupture and need repair. I always say if you don’t hate your husband at least once a day, you’re not in a real marriage. [laughs]
But in all seriousness, vulnerability, trust, and honesty are both required for true connection. I’m always working on this in my own relationship, too. We can’t open our hearts up to another person without opening them up to the possibility of betrayal. True intimacy requires trust. Ruptures are bound to happen but it’s important that both people work to repair it. I disclosed how this is something important in my marriage right now, which I discuss in my book. I want people to know I practice what I preach.
4. We’re all human. No one is better or worse than another. Overcoming shame through self-compassion has helped me work through my struggles with perfectionism and allows me to love the way I do. Self Compassion and compassion for others in the anecdote for so much of the pain in the world.
Our readers will definitely take your advice to heart. Now that you’ve shared your insights with others, I’m curious — if you could somehow
Current photo of Nadine and Jordan, as co-parents, celebrating their daughter’s wedding ceremony shortly after the interview
magically time travel back in the past and have a heart-to-heart with your younger self, what would you say?
I would tell myself to listen to my body more. Our bodies sometimes know things before we do. If you have a gut feeling, don’t ignore it or push it away. There were many times in my past where my mind said yes but my body responded no. But overall, I wouldn’t change anything about my experience because it gave me my two beautiful children. I absolutely love my children and they are truly great kids. My daughter’s getting married next month and I’m so excited! And she just became a therapist, too! My son is so kind and he’s grown up so fast. Children are our greatest gifts, and my children are my greatest joys. I’m truly lucky to have them.
Thank you so much for your time, Nadine. We’re truly lucky to have you with us today and can’t wait to share your wisdom with others as they partake in their own healing journeys. We wish you the best of luck as you help empower women to heal and reclaim the power inside of them.
Never saw Wolf of Wall Street? Check out the original trailer from 2013. Viewer Discretion is advised