Dear Chump Lady,
My husband cheated almost three years ago. Since that time he has been remorseful and been the husband that he was before cheating and more.
Three years in… I’m at a loss. I feel like I have wasted his time because I’m seriously thinking of leaving. Last time I had a bad nightmare the other day and he hugged me and apologized. Something snapped in me. Husbands and wives should apologize when they hurt each other, forget to fill the gas tank or forget a birthday. Infidelity is something that he should not have to apologize for because it should have never happened.
My question is am I an asshole for wanting to leave three years later?
Three long years
No. You’re not an asshole for wanting to leave. He’s an asshole for cheating on you.
I’m sure it’s hard to feel that way if he has done All The Right Things. And honestly — good for him. I’m glad he’s done the hard work. I’m glad he’s strived to be a better partner, to have more empathy, to be the sort of person who will hold you and feel bad when you have a nightmare. It’s good that he’s changed as a result of what he did.
But you don’t OWE him reconciliation. You never did. It was your choice and it’s not compulsory if he’s Good. If this is a deal breaker for you, it’s a deal breaker, even three years later. Even 30 years later. You tried hard, bravely, in the face of great pain to heal this and you have the choice to throw in the towel if you want to.
Your letter, like a recent one, underscores some perennial problems with reconciliation IMO. Even a successful reconciliation, where the cheater isn’t cheating, does the therapy, finds the empathy and soldiers on. The trust is shattered. You can learn to live without it, I suppose. In that –oh, hey, anything can happen. People are shits. That’s human nature. I embrace the chaos — sort of lowering of expectations. But I don’t think it’s possible to live that way and be truly intimate with someone.
Or you can really let it go, assuming that is possible. Trust them again. Or try to. Eat the shit sandwich that this happened, and put your faith back in the person who betrayed you. There’s no doing this, IMO, without accepting the shit sandwich that he “gets away with it.” The “consequence” is his self improvement kick, a set of qualities that frankly, he should’ve possessed all along. You let that go, you accept the “new and improved” spouse and live with the mental gymnastics that this person you trust is capable of intimately betraying you. It’s a lopsided trade. He keeps his marriage. You live with the gymnastics, and get to keep the marriage. And try not to resent him for it.
This may surprise a lot of chumps, but I think a reformed cheater (yes, I believe that is possible) deserves a relationship with trust and intimacy. If this is a deal breaker for you, if you cannot get past it, despite three “long years” of trying? he deserves a clean slate someday with someone who can trust him because he hasn’t betrayed them.
I think infidelity destroys the relationship you’re in. I don’t think it has to destroy future relationships. A lot of chumps hold on to this thought — shit! He’s all IMPROVED and now he’s going to go be PERFECT for someone else! Ack! He’s going to be perfect for the OW! Must. Die. Before. That. Happens!
In my case, I had to realize that it didn’t matter if he was perfect for someone else. I had to let that go. He wasn’t right for ME. (And this was not a hard thing to take on faith, ultimately, as he wound up on cheaterville and apparently is still fucking around on people.)
A lot of chumps have the virtue of stick-to-it-iveness. We’re not quitters. We go the extra mile. So to “give up” puts us in a real conflict with our core values about ourselves. But I think you need to give some of your other values greater weight. This is your life. You only get one. You don’t have to live with this heart sickness, this internal conflict forever. You can invest in a new life free of that.
You haven’t wasted his time. You’ve given him a gift of reconciliation, but perhaps one with term limits. I’m sure you’ve learned a lot about yourself and relationships in these three years, so it’s not been a waste. But you may be borrowing time from a different future you want more than this marriage.
I can’t say what you’ll do — it’s totally your choice. But you’re not, and you’ve never been, an asshole. I’m sorry you were put in this position.