Dear Chump Lady,
I too am a chump. I discovered my husband of four years, partner for nine total, had had several affairs during our relationship. His sexual extracurricular activities included prostitutes, interns at work, acquaintances, and I don’t know what else since typical to a cheater, as I’ve learned from you, he has only copped to the dalliances I know about for certain. Yes, he’s a narcissist and the signs have been there all along. I just chose to ignore them.
I left his sorry ass in a couple months ago, leaving my entire life behind too, but have had a hard time letting him go for good.
True to cheater form, he’s not truly remorseful. He’s apologized, sure, but has not done anything to make the situation better, like therapy or even a superficial display like love letters or flowers. He makes weak, halfhearted attempts at getting me back but mostly we fight on the phone.
From my parents’ basement a few hundred miles away, I have been agonizing about him since leaving. We talk every day and when he doesn’t call I get withdrawal-like symptoms and can’t eat. I know I should be off celebrating that this loser is out of my life but I just can’t get up the strength to do it.
I had wanted our time apart to prove to him that I’m not a chump, that I won’t put up with his nonsense, and that he can’t live without me. Well, none of that has happened. He can live just fine without me. It’s me who has the problem now.
I thought I was stronger. I really did. I am a feminist. I like to even think of myself as a major hardass. I don’t put up with crap from anyone … except him.
Now I’m stuck in limbo. Every time he pulls away, I ramp up and chase him down again. I just can’t stand the thought of letting him go for good, even though I KNOW going back would only end in disaster. I’m simply delaying the inevitable because I don’t feel strong enough to do the right thing just yet.
I see a therapist. I’m on antidepressants. I’ve given this a lot of thought. In fact, this is all I do or think about. I can’t figure out why — even though I know for certain we’re totally wrong for each other and that he’s a major douche — I can’t let go.
I just feel old. I’m 36. I want kids. And I can’t stand the thought of this successful and handsome (yes, he’s both those things) man replacing me with the sexy 23-year-old girl of his dreams while dumpy old me is watching reruns of Law and Order alone on a Friday night.
Truthfully, there was never anything good about our relationship. He is dreadful in bed. He spends his money faster than he can make it. And he’s a narcissist with serious rage issues. He has zero communication skills and freaks out anytime I bring up anything he’s done wrong. He looks awesome on paper and is a huge charmer and flirt. But behind the facade he’s a monster.
Still, this all feels so hard. I’d have to get a divorce, find a job in my new city, find an apartment, make new friends. The list feels endless and I’m too depressed to tackle any of it. I’m so disappointed with how my life has turned out.
I know I could go back and pick up where we left off. But I was so miserable with him. I don’t know what’s going on in my little screwed up brain. Intellectually I know he’s a horrible bad person and that I’d be much happier without him. My heart just hasn’t got the message yet.
Reading your story, I know you hung on for another year after you learned your partner had been cheating. I’m sure every day you wish you had that time back, that you’d left sooner. I know one day I will too, that I will look back on this and question why it took me so long to do the right thing. Until then, I’m hanging on like the chump I am.
Do you have any advice for a pathetic, spineless person like me?
Sad in Seattle
Yes — stop thinking of yourself as pathetic and spineless. You LEFT him — that’s a big start. Do you know how many chumps die by inches in limbo for years? Most of them, I reckon. Some never leave. When I was leaving my scary, serial cheating narcissist I had not one, not two, but SEVERAL protection from abuse orders. I’m a smart woman. I’m worldly. I’m educated. i’m a feminist — and I took that abusive bastard back more than once, Sad. It’s completely mortifying, but it’s true. And when I was in the throes of the fear and the mortification, my very wise, bad ass publicly appointed lawyer told me that it takes women an average of SEVEN times to leave an abuser. SEVEN. I felt pretty good I got in under the average (four).
Narcissistic rage? Been there, done that. Mine told me that if I told anyone about his cheating, he was going to “hunt me down” and burn down my house. He wished his ex-wife dead for speaking to me. He wished her baby dead. He was going to “piss on her grave.” He told me if I left him, he would join forces with my son’s father to take custody away from me. (A threat he later made good on, but it failed.) He use to call me 24 times a day. My lawyer didn’t even believe me until I brought in the cell phone bills. He constantly monitored my whereabouts. When I got a PFA, that bastard came home and ripped it up in front of me while I called 911 — when the police showed up, he flipped his sociopath switch to “charm” setting and acted like I was crazy, and didn’t understand my hysterics. And then they found an unregistered hand gun in the wheel hub of his car — Sad — YOU feel pathetic? I took THAT guy back. So don’t try to out-chump me — I own the title.
That nightmare feels like another life time ago, another person. The best I can tell you, is you’re under a spell. This idiot has you beaten down and feeling like he is the be all and end all, and you’re nothing without him. The first thing you MUST do is STOP SPEAKING WITH HIM! You cannot heal until you go completely and utterly no contact. You are kicking a drug, and you MUST go cold turkey on this. Block his number, his email, give your parents your cell phone and tell them to not let you have it — whatever it takes. Every bit of contact is poisoning you and poisoning your resolve to move forward — so STOP it. No contact is the single most important thing you can do to get over him. If you do nothing else I advise next, do no contact. Focus on it completely, and the rest will follow. If you get weak, post here, and your fellow chumps will bolster you. But do NOT talk with him!
Next I’m going to outline your Get Out of the Basement and Back Into Real Life plan. A step-by-step guide to leaving this fucktard.
1. Get a lawyer. You need a plan and a lawyer will help you with that. Don’t tell me you don’t have the energy or are too depressed, because nothing will give you a bigger boost than talking with a lawyer and taking a little of your own power back now. Knowing your rights and your options is liberating. You need someone to fight this fight for you, and that’s what your lawyer is for. Get that paperwork going ASAP. The best way to deal with a narcissist is GO ON THE OFFENSIVE. Don’t discuss, don’t try and get consensus, just sucker punch him and get started.
You’ll need a lawyer too to help you tie up the loose ends back where he is. As it dawns on him that his kibbles are escaping, he’ll want to be in touch about some stupid domestic detail — all communication needs to be via email through your attorney. Email is important because it documents your communication and it’s much harder for him to manipulate you. (Just hit the delete button.)
2. Consider a new shrink. I don’t know if your shrink is helping or not, but I’m a bit concerned that you’re on anti-depressants, are still talking to the fucktard, and have not moved forward with a lawyer. People may weigh in on the anti-depressant issue, but personally I’m against them. You need to FEEL this to move through it — and I know it’s overwhelming pain, really I get it. But you need all your wits about you, so to be chemically numbed may not help you. I’m not a doctor, and I know a lot of people are helped by anti-depressants — I’m just asking you to consider that part of your sluggishness might be chemical. When my husband went through this in his first marriage, his mom, an RN for 50 years, told him to stay away from the anti-depressants and get a sleep aid like Ambien instead. It made a huge difference in his ability to function.
On the therapy side — you want a shrink who is compassionate, but who is going to be BRUTALLY honest with you. You also want someone versed in personality disorders and infidelity. You cannot move forward unless you take a very hard unvarnished look at your narcissist husband and at yourself. You don’t want a shrink who is just all sympathy, you want a shrink who is going to make you squirm, who is going to challenge you too.
3. See your husband for who he IS not who you want him to be. You keep talking with him, because you’re in the bargaining stage of grief. You’re like one of those grieving parents who keeps setting a place at the table for when their dead child returns home. You’re expecting the mirage to return — the sparkly hologram of who you thought he was. The myth you bought into so completely. That’s your drug. He’s going to explain this, he’s going to be really sorry this time, he’s going to validate that you MATTER.
Stop looking to him for validation. Start seeing him for who is IS. You do matter. You are lovable. You are someone to have a family with — but he is NOT that man. And the longer you stay tangled up with him, the more time you are wasting moving forward finding someone who WILL treat you right.
You invested heavily in his image, that he’s handsome and successful and looks good on paper. And the narrative that you were the lucky soul able to snag such a prize. He is NOT a prize — he’s a freaky, rage-filled narcissist who fucks prostitutes. You do not need the reflected glory of the Myth of Him. You need to start focusing on yourself — on who YOU are without him. Your values, your career, your interests. Do you want to be a kibble machine for the rest of your life? Do you want to be used and abused? Because THAT is your future with this creep. Thank the dear Lord you did not have children with him.
4. Dream new dreams. This is a hard one, but it’s the most important lesson. We don’t get the life with thought we were going to have. And that can be such a blessing if you’re open to it. Be open to it. My marriage to a serial cheater failed. I finally left him. The marriage I invested in, the future children I thought I was going to have, the house I bought, the garden I planted, the money I threw at all of it — LOST. WASTED. GONE. I get it, Sad. But if I had not lost those things, I would not have the life I have today — which is peaceful and so much happier. If I hadn’t been cheated on, I would not have met my husband today – our lives would not have intersected. If I hadn’t been open to dreaming a new dream, I wouldn’t have picked up stakes and moved to Texas — a place I could never, ever imagine living. I would’ve lost out on so many blessing that were waiting for me, if I’d stayed stuck on those old dreams.
Imagine new things, Sad. Be open to the different ways of getting the things you want. Children and family are out there. They may not be as you envisioned they’d be — the life you’re grieving now, what you thought it would be with your husband — but they’re out there if you move toward them.
I have several friends who adopted children in their 40s. One friend went to Vietnam and had TWO failed adoptions. They put a baby in her arms TWICE and told her this was her child, and then the adoptions fell through and she never saw those babies again. All that after failed fertility treatments and a miscarriage. She didn’t think she had the strength to face it again — but she did. And she and her husband adopted a little girl from Azerbajan — who is the loveliest girl imaginable. It’s many years later and they’re all so happy. That was the girl meant for them. They can’t imagine any other girl being their girl.
Was this the family they imagined a decade ago? No. We don’t always get the life we think we’re going to have. But that often works out just beautifully, if you let it.
Let him GO — and work hard at your new beginning. You’ve been living a nightmare — don’t cling to it. There’s a good life waiting for you — start moving towards it. You can DO IT!