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Dear Chump Lady, How long must I be paranoid?

Dear Chump Lady,
 
My husband and I have been married for almost a year, together for a little over four. In the beginning of our relationship, we had a an issue that wasn’t exactly “cheating,” but I would definitely categorize as “treading on the slippery slope.” My husband was somewhere in the beginning stages of an internet porn addiction. (I’m generally okay with a little bit of porn here and there, but it was getting to the point where it was interfering with our emotional and sexual well-being as a couple.) After a little snooping one day, I found out that he had also been sending messages to some of the girls on amateur porn sites and “hook-up” sites, mostly involving some sexual talking and the like (what they would do for each other, asking for pictures, etc). I was pissed and hurt, and confronted him about it. Confronted with the evidence, he obviously copped to it and I left him for awhile, because to me this was unacceptable behavior, and I don’t have very lenient gray area as to what I consider cheating.
 
Here’s the thing. I ended up taking him back. To his credit, we sat down and talked at one point and he laid everything out: every message he sent, every email account he had used, and how far the interactions went. He ACKNOWLEDGED that he was a shitty person, and that he had made ME feel shitty in return. He began getting help, setting goals for himself, and started doing things for me because they made me happy, not just for himself. He has made his internet activity an open book to me. He swears up and down that he never met a single person face-to-face and never exchanged phone numbers or real names, and I believe him. I think I may have been lucky in finding a profoundly self-aware asshole.
 
Fast forward to the present, and there have been no incidents since then. I love my husband, and one of the things I’ve always loved about him is that he is a planner. He planned out how he would get better, set goals for himself and for our relationship, and made sure I was involved and important in his life. However, three years later, I still get this overwhelming feeling of paranoia. I WANT to trust him, to rid my mind of this burden, but I can’t.

I go through periods of contentment, where I don’t think about it much and I’m simply happy with our life together, but then sometimes I freak out and I need to play “Nancy Drew” (as my husband so lovingly named me). I spend hours tracking emails, internet traffic, key strokes, phone records, the mileage of his car, bank statements, etc until I feel FUCKING CRAZY. I just panic and think “this is the time I will catch him and then I will look like the ultimate chump for taking this fool back.” I am a worrier by nature (everything is always 100 times worse inside my own head) and have an active imagination, and I will literally see that his lazy ass carelessly left his boxers on the floor and this track starts playing in my head: “Why are those there? Why aren’t they in the hamper? Did he take them off in a hurry? Was he too busy fucking some bitch from adultfriendfinder? shit shit shit shit shit shit.”

For the most part, my husband is pretty supportive of this, reassuring me the best he can and telling me he understands that it’s his fault I’m like this in the first place, but how much is too much? It’s like I’m climbing a never-ending staircase and I can see this trusting, worry-free marriage at the top, but it’s just out my reach. Another part of me is arguing that it’s a good idea to be proactive, to avoid not being duped, and yet another part of me tells me it’s destroying my sanity and I just need to “let go.” (I tried that visualizing shit where I “release” the paranoia and insecurity and let it fly away over the ocean. That shit doesn’t work.)
 

At what point is this still his problem and his fault and when does it cross over into my own mental shortcomings? While I feel like, yes, he created the problem and he has to deal with the consequences, he has also started to express to me that he feels like he’s done all that he can to show me that things are different and he isn’t sure what more to do at this point. Does the paranoia start to slowly drip away as time passes? Do I need to see a shrink that will certify me as “crazy?” Or did I forever doom my self by reconciliation? I’ve gotten a lot of input from friends, who have been very supportive, and while they have agreed that they have gotten a lot of good vibes about the progress of my relationship, one friend also told me that, basically, if a person is the kind of person that is going to cheat on you, they’re going to do it. No amount of snooping or worrying about it is going to make them a non-cheater. This makes a lot of sense to me, but doesn’t exactly ease my mind, either.
 

All of this long-windedness brings me to the ultimate question. I know I’m crazy. But am I crazy for clinging to the past and paranoia, or crazy for staying in the first place and putting myself in this situation?
 

Any guidance is appreciated.
 

On a crazy train to Crazy Town

Dear Crazy,

[Sigh] Your letter sadly illustrates exactly why I think even Best Case Scenario reconciliations are doomed. Here’s your problem from where I sit — You don’t want to ever “let go” and drop the hypervigilance. Yet to reconcile, and not make yourself insane with worry, or drive your remorseful cheater away (enough already! I’m sorry!) — you must let go. But! If you let go, it probably feels like you’re eating a big shit sandwich. And you fear being chumped again.

You’re kind of light on the specifics of what he did to get help. You talked “at one point” (just one?) and he confessed. And he’s been transparent and understanding ever since. And near as you can tell, he didn’t get physical with anyone.

Crazy… here’s a rabbit hole I’m NOT going to go down — how much worse he could be compared with other cheaters. At some unicorn reconciliation sites, they might tell you — hey, it was sexting, no physical stuff, he’s sorry, you weren’t married, he’s textbook, he’s doing all he can — implied — what the fuck is wrong with you that you cannot get over this?

I will just point out that you don’t sound like you feel SAFE in this marriage. That’s how you’re acting (hypervigilant) and that’s how you’re feeling (paranoid, worried, distressed). So Crazy, why not just take a deep breath and LISTEN to yourself? Since you discovered his hook-up sex chats and porn problems, you don’t feel safe in this relationship. And you’ve spent three years beating yourself up for not feeling safe because he is Doing All the Right Things.

I’m glad he’s doing the right things. I truly am. He may be the most reformed, perfect guy. And I can see how you would hesitate to throw that away, a man you’ve invested so much in. I don’t think it will help you a bit for me to snark, or predict, or say — yeah, he’s just looking for his next chance to hook up at SkanksR’Us. Let’s assume he’s on the wagon and it’s real.

It’s still okay to dump him. This may be a deal breaker for you, and you gave it an honest college try of three years of R, but you don’t want to go further. You sound young, maybe you’re considering children. You’ve got a jumping off point before you commit deeper. You need to be true to yourself. I think you’re freaking out because your gut senses something is off with him, no matter how transparent he appears — when you wrote to me, you wrote in PRESENT tense “I found out that he has also been sending messages to some of the girls” (I edited to past tense, had). The gut is a powerful thing. And it’s seldom wrong, in my sad personal experience. OR, this crap from three years ago broke your trust in him and you’re realizing years into this, that its never coming back and you can’t make it.

You can learn to live with that. I’d advise you not to.

These are your options as I see them — stay with him, and “let go.” Know that if he fucks you over again, that you’re a tough person and you’ll survive and reinvent. But the stakes will be higher. More years. Kids, perhaps. Mortgage. But you’ll have to accept the mental gymnastics of reconciliation — daily life and intimacy with someone you know is capable of betraying you. You know he is capable, because he DID it. He was sexting other girls and he hid it from you.

Or you can leave. Maybe you fear your paranoia will come with you. Maybe it will, I think it won’t. I think you’re situationally crazy. I think you could love again and have a clean slate with someone you CAN trust, because they haven’t already proven themselves unworthy right off the bat.

All love is risk. All love makes us vulnerable. You can’t do real intimacy without vulnerability, and I think you’re missing intimacy in your relationship by being Nancy Drew. (Who wants to be intimate with Nancy Drew, any way? This cannot be attractive.) I’m not talking about sex, I’m talking about a deep, comfort and safe feeling with someone. IMO, he’s not that guy. He may want really badly to be that guy again and you gave him a gift of three years trying to prove it to you. But some things are not overcome. Your deal breakers are yours and yours alone. Other people might be able to roll with it. You aren’t other people. You’re YOU.

It’s okay to lay the reconciliation burden down. I think your gut is screaming at you, and you should listen and obey it.

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at info@chumplady.com. Read more about submission guidelines.
  • I should mention that you need to be sure not to bring this into your next relationship, if you have one. My fiance broke up with his last girlfriend (let’s continue the metaphor and call her Nancy) because of that. Nancy’s husband cheated on her, she dumped him, she began dating again. But she didn’t deal with the scars he left.
    Come home ten minutes late:
    “Who were you with?”
    “No one, I just went to the store and got dinner on the way.”

    Don’t want to have sex that night:
    “Are you sleeping with someone else?”
    “No, I just not in the mood.”

    She would check his computer, his phone, show up at his apartment (they weren’t living together) at random times, including on a few occasions at 2 or 3 in the morning, to make sure there wasn’t another girl there, show up at his work to make sure he was actually at work, etc.

    He broke up with her, then about a year later we got together. He asked if I would be his girlfriend, I agreed, then he gave me all his user names and passwords to my confusion. That’s when I learned about his previous relationship problems.

    I’m not saying you’re paranoid, but it can be easy to fall into this trap. So be careful.

  • So sorry you’re dealing with this…it’s not fun, I know! Been there, done that. The only way I was able to get past it was to think, “what he does, is between him & God.” I wanted kids so bad, and that’s just what I did; got busy raising my kids. Fast forward, 23 years & two kids later, he leaves because he’s fallen in lust with a younger woman at the gym. Not saying this will happen to you, but as CL says he has shown you who he is. It didn’t matter that he was in a committed relationship, he felt entitled to get what he wanted. IMO, if you stick it out, be prepared to go it alone. Have the kids, but have automatic withdrawal funds go to college account, have a degree & a good job, keep all your friends, and family close by, and remember who he is.

    • Lori
      I have to agree with you regarding his taste in sex / porn have been exposed. These kinds of desires do not go away because someone wants them to – they are implanted in his mind as a positive experience and at some point in the future he will succumb to them. It might be when he gets bored or stressed or the right woman / site comes across his path. Now that one has that information, one has to decide where the boundaries are – start a family and hope for the best but have a back up plan in place or get out before there is too much time invested.

      • I agree have a back up plan just in case.

        Sadly, internet porn addictions among both men and women is rising rapidly due to easy access via the internet.

        Just ask any divorce attorney who will tell you gleefully that the internet has improved their bottom line exponentially.

        So, sadly you are dealing with something that is not going away too easily.

        Ah the paranoia, too. I am surprised a counselor hasn’t yet informed you that you have post infidelity PTSD.

        The anger and paranoia will NEVER go away.

        You should have been told this.

        You will forever be triggered by some event that reminds you of the infidelity or the porn addiction, and your anger will FOREVER BE AS INTENSE as it was when you first found out.

        The best you can hope for is a much longer interval between triggers, but NOT a lessening in intensity, when triggered. Your husband needs to be informed of this and also informed that his behaviors caused it.

        Didn’t your shrink tell your husband this? He/she must. If not, he/she is incompetent and not keeping up with new insights in their field.

        Should you divorce him due to the porn?

        Well, If he didn’t actually have an affair and he is trying to work on himself that’s up to you.

        But I do think that more and more men and women are becoming addicted to porn, so your situation is not all that unique.

        Lastly studies show that porn addictions change the brain chemistry in a way that makes it more likely that the porn viewer will need to graduate to an in person affair partner rather than a sex chat due to the need for more and more heightened stimulation.

        That is why you need to find a competent sex addictions counselor who will explain to your husband that you have PTSD and you are NEVER going to stop being Nancy drew.

        BTW, nor should you stop.

        • Sara8, while I believe post-affair PTSD is a real thing, I also think you’re doing a disservice to Crazy to say her anger will be FOREVER as intense. Triggers fade, even if you’re reconciling, and no one can maintain hypervigilance and anger forever. What does stick around, IMO, is anxiety, which sounds like C has in spades. But we aren’t shrinks here. We’re sharing our experiences and what we’ve seen, and our opinions. We don’t know she’ll feel paranoid in this way FOREVER.

          I do agree, she should get competent help, if her husband is interested in maintaining therapy. Also, keep in mind the diagnosis of “sex addiction” is highly controversial. Not every mental health professional believe it exists. Good article here http://thehumanist.org/july-august-2012/you’re-addicted-to-what/

          • Hi Chumplady:

            You are right I am not a shrink.

            I am only quoting the literature and what was told to me by my shrink regarding PTSD.

            If I find a link, I will post it.

            My brother also has PTSD from the war and the VA basically told him the same thing about triggers.

            I can say, at least in his case, the VA seems to be spot on. Each time he is triggered the intensity of the anger overwhelms him, by his own admission to the same degree as the day it happened.

            But you are right being too definitive is not healthy for anyone, maybe even if it comes from an expert. There is always hope, right. Hope is a good thing, IMO.

            • Just wanted to mention regarding PTSD that I had it as a result of a rape. For years. Random things would trigger me, I would have flashbacks and I could literally FEEL what had happened. That’s the problem with PTSD. It’s not a memory at that point, it is experienced as a present situation that is very difficult to rework.

              Years later I went to therapy and my shrink tried EMDR therapy with me. I no longer had flashbacks and night terrors. I could walk down the street past men I didn’t know and not have a complete panic attack (which is good since I live in a city). It didn’t fix all my issues, and I ended up dropping therapy for other reasons and picking up again (just talk and CBT years later) to deal with the rest of my issues (anxiety and depression mostly, which existed before the PTSD but were obviously intensified due to it). All I really wanted to say is that it can get better for some people with the right approach. PTSD isn’t always an intractable condition.

              • EMDR helped me a lot with PTSD from the domestic abuse coupled with the cheating. When I told ex I wanted a divorce he attacked me, he got me arrested and ultimately he brought a gun in while drunk, basically I went through a suicide/homicide situation with the him. he didn’t want a divorce, he wanted me to continue to take care of him and allow him to have OW.

                I will say that EMDR seemed to be a miracle to me until recently as my PO is about to expire and I’m working on a renewal, now I’m triggering and going down the rabbit hole, the one I thought I’d filled in. That’s actually how I found this site today. Unfortunately right now I cannot afford to go back to eh EMDR therapist because I have to pay a lawyer to help me keep the PO in place. You see I know that as soon as it expires he’s coming back.

          • Sex “addiction” is bullshit IMHO.

            It’s about as valid as “I want what I want when I want it” addiction.

            You’re a shithead, not a victim.

  • My husband was also into porn which morphed into chatting, sexting, which he kindly left open on MY laptop 7 years ago. He swore that’s all it was.
    I believed him.
    That isn’t all it was.
    The reason that you’re paranoid is that once that trust has been broken, it is gone. And for good reason. Statistically, its unlikely that he will never cheat again.

    Oh, and when he says that he never met up with anyone.

    BULL FUCKING SHIT!!!!!!!!!!
    If he was on hook up sites. He hooked up. beginning. middle. end.

    I found out 5 years after the first incident, that he had had numerous affairs. All the while, he wouldn’t touch me. Didn’t want to go out, was unemployed for a number of years. so sexy.
    I’m really sorry honey. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. I know of lots and lots of guys who put on a good show of “getting help.” Again, what led him into this kind of deceptive situation? Its a man who lacks empathy and a lot of other things that you thought he had but he does not.
    You can’t put back what was never there to begin with.

    Its not always easy. And I haven’t gained a life– yet. (still very fearful), but at least I left the mother fucker. Huge step for me. Now, he’s free to have all the fucking fun he wants. Just stay the hell away from ME!

    I hear in your words, the rationalizations that I and so many of us try to make ourselves believe, but as CL said… you are not really safe and on some level, just beneath the surface you do understand this. That is where the anxiety comes from. I’m so sorry. If it were me, I would make my exit plan and asap. xo ~ L

  • Just my two cents, Crazy

    You’re a newly wed (pretty much). Assuming you are young with no children, shouldn’t this be an amazing, intimate special period between the two of you?

    Even from the start, he was bringing others into it. You said in the beginning of your relationship he was hitting up other women. The beginning. When you should be madly infatuated with each other. He’s never going to be more sexually attracted to you then at that time. Think about that for a minute.

    I recently just tried to be in a relationship with someone who could not shut down a similar sort of behavior – I did not try as long as you, but the insecurity wore me down to a nub. I tried to be “cool” with it. I tried every rationalization. I am honestly not a possessive, needy or jealous person, but suddenly I became one.

    I wonder why you took him back. I can understand the motivation. There sure aren’t a lot of prospects out there. The thing is, guys like this can be honestly great in many other ways. They can be intelligent, funny, warm. Behave themselves in front of you – no problem. So it’s easy to hang in based on those other qualities. Only you know what your heart is telling you.

    I can only say, that I feel a thousand times better since I finally told him to fuck off. I thought it would be hard, but it was the easiest thing in the world and I felt light as sunshine. Sure I’m lonely, I miss some things about him, but, damn, it’s great to have my sanity back. And now I have a world of possibilities open to me, and I own my mind again. People actually tell me I look different. I

    It really, really is a great feeling.

    • Ananda, you bring up a good point that I left out. It’s a bad sign that this “slippery slope” cheating stuff happened at the honeymoon stage of the relationship. As you said, the time when you should be “madly infatuated” with each other.

      Marriage only gets more challenging and demanding in time. Sure, there are rewards in that — but if you lack the maturity and stick-to-it-iveness when times are good, it’s very hard to see how things could feel safe in ordinary, or hard times.

    • Ananda:

      I agree with you whole heartedly about the prospects of finding a man who doesn’t visit porn sites being tremendously slim, these days due to the internet and sex chatting.

      That is why I advocate remaining single, if you don’t want to play Lois Lane to some degree in your next relationship.

      The first mistake all chumps make is being too trusting from day one. IMO, no spouse should ever be trusted.

      We always need to be vigilant to some degree. Most chumps biggest mistake was they gave their guy/gal too much freedom.

      IMO, one clue to a guy that’s trouble is one that claims he doesn’t know when someone is coming on to him. They know. Don’t you know?

      I always know when someone is flirting with me and acting inappropriate.

      Someone who is too flattering and sparkly turns me off. Someone who sends me inappropriate flirty emails or pictures of themselves is definitely flirting in my book.

      One thing my ex used to claim is that he wasn’t aware that certain women were acting inappropriately in front of him or me.

      Sending a pic of yourself to a married male or female friend is definitely inappropriate and crossing a boundary. Why would they want your picture? Why would a man or woman want to sent their solo picture to a married man or woman unless she wants him to think about her.

      My ex received emails with pictures and I stupidly allowed it because he claimed he didn’t know that it was flirtatious. C’mon. Is he eight years old.

      A neighbor was acting all giggly and flirtatious in front of him and me, and he responded kindly, instead of walking away, and then claimed he didn’t realize she was acting inappropriately, when I mentioned it.

      Back then, I let it go, but going forward I would be a fool to accept that excuse from a person I was in a serious relationship with.

      If a guy used to flirt with me in front of my ex, that guy would get the cold shoulder.

      So going forward watch out for these guys who claim they are clueless about women acting flirty in front of them or you. That’s a clue that they are gaslighter types.

      • Oh good grief — no spouse should be trusted? That’s not the brave new world I want chumps to reach on the other side of this infidelity nightmare. Sure, take your time and watch ACTIONS before you trust someone, don’t just give it away. But NEVER trust again? Hell to the NO! If you want to stay single and not risk it, that’s fine. That’s your path.

        My feeling is that unicorns are rare. I haven’t ruled out trusting even a cheater again if they did the Hard Work (as we say), I’ve just seen scant evidence of it. And even then, you can have the Crazy problems outlined above. But a new relationship? Yes, hold out for trust and intimacy. Love is risk, and it’s a pretty poor life indeed if we go around hypervigilant determined to not let anyone in. Just trust yourself and your own boundaries.

        As for men — sure, I’d say most guys (I would never say all, they’re not a monolith) look at porn. They’re visual. That’s a FAR CRY from saying the majority have a problem with it, don’t know how to have vanilla sex, or engage in sexting. There ARE good people out there with good boundaries. There are good MEN out there, many of whom post on this site. Please don’t tar guys with the same brush.

        • Chump lady:

          All excellent points.

          I didn’t, however tar ALL men. I said the chances of finding a man who doesn’t view porn are SLIM.

          The internet has made porn viewing into a whole knew unexplored realm of easy sex chatting and viewing porn that is ever more out there.

          It’s not just my opinion that porn viewing and addictions are outrageously rising due to the internet. There are experts who agree.

          • To add, I also noted that porn addictions for women are on the rise, too. Not just men.

            My ex’s ow was porn addicted and viewed porn, sent it to my ex, and got lap dances at strip clubs from both men and women.

            Okay, maybe she wasn’t porn addicted. She was just a ‘ho, what do I know.

    • I whole heartedly agree with Ananda. The period during the first years of marriage or a relationship are just you and your beloved. It was the most amazing and happy and fun time! You have two incomes if you are both working, maybe you purchase a home, take some vacations etc. You have time. ALL of that changes after a baby. I felt like a zombie for 18 months after our son was born because I was so sleep deprived. Babies are WONDERFUL and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything but I would strongly say that if you are having problems BEFORE you have kids- don’t have kids!

      The problems really revealed themselves when I became pregnant. My husband was trying an ill thought out business venture (which ended up in expensive litigation and failure) He engaged in excessive drinking and nights out while I was pregnant. All this continued after our son was born. Unbeknownst to me he started an affair at the office with a new hire assistant who he told me, “was very good looking.” I had some suspicions that something was going on but couldn’t believe he would cheat on me. Well he did and it was an affair that went on for 8 months. I was absolutely devastated!

      Get OUT of this relationship before you have any kids- seriously! DO NOT think about what could be. Here I am divorcing my husband after 16 years of spackling and although I don’t regret my kids I DO regret having kids with him and not having a enduring marriage after vesting now 22 years of marriage with him. Once you start spackling you just spackle more and more until you don’t do see anything objectively and it just a hell of a lot of work.

      Do yourself and your husband a favor. End the relationship NOW. You could probably do a collaborative divorce and it will be so much easier and cheaper.

  • I’ll go along with CL. Something’s happened that makes you feel the marriage isn’t on safe grounds. The other option is that you’re not able to get past his past, as it were. You have options for both.

    If you think you’re needlessly paranoid, and if you haven’t been working with a therapist, you need to do just that. Take your husband with you. If there’s been no therapy since your chat about his internet porn, then again, therapy is needed. Certainly that you’re feeling this freaked out is going to pose a problem for the marriage, whether or not there’s current basis to feel that way.

    If you want to check out whether he’s legit, get a keylogger or otherwise monitor his online activity when you’re not around. You can install a vehicle tracker to see if he’s really working late or if he has some unscheduled stops. Remember that if you catch someone once, and if you let them know you caught them (and just how), they’ll get better at hiding their tracks next time. Chrome allows for “private browsing,” which is the favored way for internet porn addicts to cover their activities. See if your spouse has his options set to private browsing. Mine does on his cell phone, and I’ve thought about turning this off for 24 hours to check his internet usage, especially after I found out that he was watching porn–which he’d always mocked for as long as I’ve known him.

    The other option you have is to realize that for you, his past was a deal breaker, but it’s only now that you are coming to terms with that fact. My late grandmother used to say that where there’s no trust, there’s no marriage. She’s right. It’s why CL thinks that true reconciliation is as rare as unicorns. The Betrayed Spouse never knows if the cheater has truly reformed unless the BS plays Marriage Police. It’s why I realize that my marriage is irrevocably broken. Even if my STBX threw himself on the floor and cried about how much he loves me, I could not trust him again.

    I told him once about 5 or so years ago that I never needed a White Knight in Shining Armor to rescue me. I’m a very capable, independent person. What I needed was someone that I could trust absolutely. Someone I could rely on when my world fell apart. He has absolutely failed me in that respect, and that’s why I can’t bring myself to consider reconciliation, though in my more fanciful weak moments, I think about it, but I also know that this is fantasy. The reality is that I wake up every day knowing that he’s cheated on me.

    I’m so sorry that you’re going through all of this.

  • I can’t and would presume to tell you what is the right thing to do here. However, please realize that any marriage is going to have its ups and downs, even if the best case scenario. Further when you have kids, your body changes, your sex life changes and your life does become more stressful. So in making the decision about what to do, you have to remember that you are going to go through some very challenging times in your marriage and it is going to suck immensely if you feel like you can’t trust the person you are with. So whether you stay or you go, I wish you the best. But please please please examine in a brutally honest manner what is causing your unease and whether you can go the distance with your husband. I love my kids more than life itself and because of them, i wouldn’t change anything I have done. But if i had to do it again (and they weren’t in the picture) i would have run before I invested fifteen years of my life.

    • Agree with you very much, Pearl. My serial cheating STBX turned to women when life got tough. As the therapist said, he’s like an alcoholic: he may be on the wagon for long periods of time but when things are at a low point instead of reaching for a bottle he reaches for a woman.

      None of us can tell you what to do but your relationship is relatively new and if this is the sort of behaviours he’s exhibiting now then I would be very leery of what could happen in the future.

      I thought there had only been one affair. It turned out there had been a minimum of half a dozen. This went on for much of our 20 years together. He cheated on the woman before me as well. Some people just aren’t wired for fidelity or truly intimate relationships. When I found out about the one affair I nearly left but he convinced me it was a one off, I hadn’t been giving him enough attention, blah blah blah….and he did all the right things to keep me with him. We had kids and had been together for a long time and had been through a lot together so I thought it was worth it to fix things.

      You know what I found out happened? Six months later he was screwing around with some woman at work. Even after the affair ended they kept in touch and flirted madly online and were about to have another hookup when everything came to light.

      I really don’t know what to tell you but after my experiences I would tell anyone that is confronted with a cheater of any sort to leave, particularly if it’s early days in the relationship.

  • Dear Crazy,
    Despite what I may say, I truly wish that all of this ‘isolated’ or ‘resolved’ or ‘past’ incidents really were in the past when I was with my X. I STILL want to believe that people can change, I want to believe that I was worth it, or that my love was worth changing for..it wasn’t.
    I went through the same thing, not with the internet but with real live women that I knew, several times. No matter how he lied, and said I was wrong, or they/I was crazy I always knew deep down that it was true, he was having sex with them. But I wanted to believe SO bad.
    And then the real fun would start…the resentment and pain and suspicion would build up and I would explode and then feel tremendous guilt for “doing this to him”…because you see I was a “crazy drunk bitch”, only having enough courage to confront him after I’d had several drinks, or just snapped all on my own.

    And then the guilt would set in till that faded and the cycle would start all over again.

    But guess what? THIS “Crazy Bitch” was dead on right about every single OW, every single time. And those are only the ones I know about. Now I know why he never left me and why he never even took his things. He wanted his cake and to eat it too, all while telling the world what a bad person I am….my mind may be messed up still but at least THAT particular spin cycle is off!

    Good luck to you, keep us posted …

  • I wish you luck, Crazy. That is a hard position to be in. You *want* to believe he’s being honest and trustworthy, but due to his past actions, he tipped all the water out of his “trust bucket” and now must fill it up, drop by drop.

    My situation began much the same way, although I didn’t have knowledge of his activities. I only found all this out after we had been together for 18 years, 14 married, and 2 kids later.

    He was raised in a very strict religious household where sex or sex education was never mentioned and frowned upon. He learned about sex in college from other guys and from looking at porn. He participated in “circle jerks” watching porn with other guys friends (ewwww). All of this I knew before we married, but I chalked it up to his inexperience, his upbringing, and being “curious” in college.

    After we started dating, we watched porn a few times together, but it always ended up being a turn off for me (so fake and felt degrading to women), so we didn’t continue. He never mentioned it again to me after that.

    The porn became a slippery slope. Apparently, he couldn’t stop watching it. He started watching online porn daily, though I never had any clue. When that wasn’t enough excitement, he started visiting strip clubs. Then started getting lap dances. Then started online chatting with hookers. Then started visiting hookers. Then started rating them on the internet like products and having convos with other male pervs who clapped each other on the back and raised the bar higher and higher for each other. They had a little “club” where they would evaluated the girls and would “take one for the team” when a new one showed up on the street to make sure she wasn’t an undercover cop. They had sex parties together. All the while I was clueless, and we had a healthy satisfying sex life and family life (so I thought).

    This went on for our entire marriage. When I found out, I was devastated, and knew I could never trust him again. He didn’t want to divorce, but there was no way I could ever have him touch me again. I could not stomach growing old with the neighborhood pervert.

    Hindsight is always 20-20, but at least here, you have some other people’s experiences to guide you. If you are here at this site, your gut is telling you that something is off, something isn’t right. It’s okay to step away if that crosses your line. Trust your gut.

  • I’ll take a stance contrary to everyone else for a moment and say that if he really never cheated and you have had no evidence since, than it’s possible that he really just made a mistake. And while he may have thought of cheating, he never went through with it. We discussed on a post “what do you consider cheating” how some people don’t ever cross the line even if they are on a slippery slope.

    • I would agree. But I would also call it a red flag. My ex-husband (papers final since March 1!) did a much more innocent thing back about 5 or so years into our relationship. I knew this girl was flirting with him and stuff and I’d told him that fact (which annoyingly I think once I planted that thought in his mind it had the opposite affect with him than I thought… gave him even more of an ego boost instead of getting him to pull away from her) and at one point he did try to have a private lunch with her and he attempted to hide it from me. My gut told me something was up and I found out about it before the fact and I told him that was not cool, not to go, blah blah. He listened and backed off from their friendship.

      So, stopped that way early. I don’t think anything else happened (could be wrong, but 99% sure… alright the more I think about it the less sure I am, but it does me no good to really go there at this point). I didn’t give it much thought at all after that. He seemed completely loyal to me. I was completely trusting, etc. Fast forward 7 more years and here I am today after his affair.

      It wasn’t a BIG DEAL (assuming nothing did in fact happen), but it was a sign that his boundaries were fucked up. And that he was willing to lie to me and sneak around.

      • But did he meet with anyone? Did he set up Skype sexing or whatever it’s called? Plenty of people talk online, but few are prepared to go through with whatever they say. It seems like he was boundary testing, maybe in the beginning he didn’t think it was as big of a deal or whatever.

        I don’t know. And her gut may be telling her something, picking up on clues that she doesn’t consciously notice so didn’t tell us. But I don’t think I want to be judged for my whole life by something I said online years ago.

  • I agree with CL. Whether or not he REALLY cheated, whether or not he’s 110% reformed from crossing those boundaries, if you can’t trust him and you’re still playing crazy detective, maybe this is not the right relationship for you. You deserve to be happy and feel safe with your husband. But you can’t MAKE yourself feel safe even if he is doing everything right. You can only feel what you feel. Don’t force yourself to stay in something that feels wrong to you, even if a lot of people might not understand or think what he did was a big deal, etc. It’s your life and you’re the one that has to be married to him.

    • Thanks. You said it better than I could’ve. That’s exactly how I meant it.

      I totally see GreenGirl’s point, and I tried to work from that place — this is your best case scenario. Nothing physical happened and he’s been sorry for years and done the right things — you still have to listen to yourself. If it was a deal breaker for you and you TRIED (for three years!), honor your feelings. Accept that this isn’t the guy for you.

    • AE, I think you’re right.

      I would also add: Make sure that crazy detective stays put in this relationship. If crazy detective follows you out of that relationship and intrudes on other relationships going forward, then you’ll never be at peace.

      We can never know for sure what others are or are not doing, but we should trust until we’re shown we can’t. If we make others pay for the sins of those who have come before them, we’re cheating them and we’re cheating ourselves of happiness.

      But that’s because I can’t imagine wanting to be crazy detective, that can’t be a happy way to live and to me would just be another way to try and control the uncontrollable. That’s a no-win scenario.

      I wish you so much luck as you try to work through this.

  • If you do not feel “safe” in a relationship, chances are that you aren’t.

    Have you been paranoid about things other than this- What are those things? Are they general things or things on which your well-being depend upon? If you are a normal person, not being “comfortable” is a sixth sense. Not ignoring it would be a good idea.

    At least don’t invest much into this relationship, till you feel “safe”.

    From my personal experience of my ex sharing all his internet-ids post first first time discovery and my Nancy Drew episode, I can tell you that 1) Most probably he is creating a fog with id sharing 2) No amount of Nancy Drew-ness can protect you as there are so many good ways to cheat. When the cover is gone, it looks like real “crazy”!

    • “If you do not feel ‘safe’ in a relationship, chances are that you aren’t.”

      I would put a slight twist on this: “If you do not feel safe in a relationship, chances are it’s not sustainable–regardless of whether you are safe.”

      Shift the focus from trying to predict the future actions of your partner to what works for you. If you’re not happy in the relationship, despite your best effort at reconciliation, it truly in your best interest and even the best interest of your reformed partner to end the unhappiness. We all deserve a chance at being connected and happy, after all.

      • From Nomar’s post: [ Shift the focus from trying to predict the future actions of your partner to what works for you. If you’re not happy in the relationship, despite your best effort at reconciliation, it truly in your best interest and even the best interest of your reformed partner to end the unhappiness. We all deserve a chance at being connected and happy, after all.]

        I agree. Even if she is now safe, which I do believe is a total possibility, despite my story or other horror stories here.

        Her question was: [ All of this long-windedness brings me to the ultimate question. I know I’m crazy. But am I crazy for clinging to the past and paranoia, or crazy for staying in the first place and putting myself in this situation? ]

        I think the realistic answer to the question is that no one can answer that question for her. Only she can.

        The only thing I think we can assure her of is that she is NOT crazy for feeling so conflicted. Her conflicting feelings and emotions are normal given the reality adjustment she recently had to face regarding her husband.

        Is her reconciliation doomed.

        Again. I think that depends on her.

        If her husband is acting sufficiently remorseful, has not been acting out, and she can live with the anxiety, anger and resentment that arise during her triggers, then maybe it is not doomed.

  • Crazy:

    I know EXACTLY how you’re feeling because I went through the exact same thing. And YES. My ex cheated on me with multiple guys.

    For the record, I’ve always been indifferent towards porn. Yeah, it was cool when I was 14, but unlike most guys, I sort of grew out of it.

    My ex was definitely a porn lover. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that per se, and I didn’t have a problem with him looking at porn any more than him watching Ryan Reynolds or Channing Tatum movies (hint: It wasn’t for the plot twists or characterizations).

    You had me until this quote: “After a little snooping one day, I found out that he had also been sending messages to some of the girls on amateur porn sites and ‘hook-up’ sites, mostly involving some sexual talking and the like (what they would do for each other, asking for pictures, etc).”

    I’m sorry, Crazy. Like my ex, your hubby crossed the line.

    A month before breakup/DDay, I found the Grindr app on my ex’s phone. Grindr is a gay hook-up app. Believe me. If you think straight men have a world of infidelity at their tips, it’s even EASIER for the gays. Like, deceptively, appallingly simple. That’s another subject for another time, but to put it mildly: The days of anonymous hook-ups in parks and restrooms are long, long over. If a single gay man wants to get laid, all he needs is a Smartphone and a GPS. With Grindr, he can find a date in literally minutes.

    Now…why did I explain all of that? Because my not-at-all-single ex had that very app on his phone, and I got to read the GRAPHIC messages he was sending back and forth with men he didn’t know…and the pics he sent.

    When confronted, he swore up and down he NEVER met any of the guys he chatted with, nor would he ever. It was no different, he said, than a straight guy going to a strip-club and getting a lap-dance. “Is THAT cheating, Chris?”

    Guess what, Crazy? Like the Chump that I am, went into full-blown denial-mode and accepted it.

    Know why my ex is a horrible person? Because he HADN’T met any of the guys he was sexting. He did that AFTER I busted him.

    Yes, you read that right. With my full-attention and the Universe sending him every imaginable red flag, from my confronting him to my pleas to him to not do anything stupid (politely reminding him I have a cousin who’s HIV + because his former lover pulled the EXACT same bullshit back in the 80s)…he STILL fucking went out and met guys off of Grindr anyway.

    The reason I’m re-hashing all of this melodrama for you is because I already don’t trust your husband, and I don’t know him from Adam. I’m sorry, but there’s a FINE LINE between looking at porn and actually sexting the girls who make it. And I assume this contact went beyond him talking to her via webchat on one of those webcam shows? He was actually making personal contact?

    That’s a HUGE red flag…and if I were you I’d start planning an exit strategy. He obviously doesn’t have the moral compass to draw the line between fantasy and reality.

    How come he wasn’t sending YOU dirty texts and pics? You guys are practically newlyweds?

    You sound realllllly paranoid so the last thing I want to do is scare you or make you more paranoid by sharing my war-stories. I can only speak from own truth as a guy and as a chump. Trust me, I’ve been him. I’ve paid for the webcam shows and talked dirty to the girls behind the camera and had more trashy trysts with grungy strippers than I care to remember. I scraped the bottom-of-the-barrel for meaningless sex as wel. But I was SINGLE when I did those things. And under 25.

    Your hubby seems to have not grown out of that phase, and trust me, guys are pretty black-and-white about this stuff. We’re not into “teasing”. Straight or gay, if we’re sending dirty pics/texts, that means we want sex. Plain and simple.

    I respect the fact that your hubby copped to his behavior and (by your account) opened his virtual life up to you. That’s more than my ex can say. He denied and denied until I practically dragged the truth out of him.

    Notice how your husband’s sudden forthright-ness did NOT give you any peace of mind WHATSOEVER? You call it paranoia. I call it your sub-conscious flailing its little arms and screaming at your hubby: “Well, why the FUCK did you do it in the first place, asshole?!” Your “paranoia” is really just your sub-conscious waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    You deserve to be with a man whom you DON’T have to babysit. As much as you may love him, there’s nothing worse than a marriage/relationship where you’re basically the mother who can’t turn her back for a second or else little Timmy will steal some cookies out of the jar. I know that’s parenting 101…but last I checked you’re married to an ADULT, right?

    He should’ve acted like one instead of chasing his adolescent boy fantasies of talking dirty to the hot porn star.

    One final note: I’ll never know what made my ex throw away everything we spent 3 years building. Especially since he threw away a mature, loving relationship for something trashy and self-destructive. I’ll never know and probably don’t need to know.

    BUT….here’s what I do know. At some point over the course of his cheating, my ex, of sound mind and not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, decided to himself that he was going to cheat on me. And this wasn’t some drunken ‘oops’ one-night stand. The Grindr app shows pre-meditation and planning. He actually went out of his way to leave the apartment we shared and go meet a guy he had been sexting on Grindr. On the way out, he told me he was going out for Girls Night.

    Somewhere between the time he left our apartment and the time he left the other guy’s apartment, he told himself the same thing he probably told himself when he downloaded the app in the first place: “As long as Chris doesn’t find out, it’s all good.”

    Well, Chris did find out after much cajoling. And it fucking HURTS. Obviously didn’t hurt him because he consciously cheated on me. Once he downloaded the app there was no turning back.

    I hope your husband does the right thing, but your diligent detective work shows that deep-down you’re just waiting for him to fuck up. That’s not a marriage. That’s a probation officer’s job description.

    They get paid to do that….

  • i’m all for the “R” word. 100 % behind it….
    Reprisal, Retribution, Revenge.

    and when I got tired of it, my lawyer took over…
    rule of law, rate of child support, right to half your assets.

    hahaha. and he said I was no fun. ridiculous.

    • More guys would be in the position to get those three R’s
      if they would scrap the old, stay at home mom paradgim.

  • Hey guys, sorry for the delayed response, I’ve been busy lately at work and then took a much needed (although short) vacation 🙂

    I wanted to thank everyone for their honest and helpful input, and wanted to give a bit of an update. When I emailed Chump Lady, I was in one of my “ruts” where I had just had a long paranoid bit and felt like I needed to get a lot off my chest before I imploded. I’ve been a lurker for a few months around here, and thought it was high time I finally contributed.

    That same night I called and left a message for a therapist that my insurance recommended to me. I have since been four times, three times by myself, and this last time my husband joined me. It’s tremendous to have the input of a neutral third party.

    What I hope to get out of all of this is the ability to make clear, well thought-out choices. I am sitting on a fence post, my legs dangling on either side, my gut telling me to do one thing one day and something different the next. I’m trying to paint a clearer picture of what exactly I want, possible ways my current relationship fulfills this and ways that it doesn’t, and to figure out my boundaries and draw that line permanently in the sand, if you will.

    I am also obviously working on a lot of my negative mindsets, especially the paranoia, insecurities, and overall feeling of “imminent doom,” and my therapist has helped shine light on some of the triggers that get these episodes going, and I’ve also realized that they don’t always stem from something that has to do with my relationship. Sometimes I find myself WANTING to feel shitty, or I start to feel shitty and kind of reach that crossroads where I could possible get out of it and decide to do something else, but I say “fuck it. Let’s do this.” I’m assuming that’s not really healthy. I have an aunt that’s really into meditation, and she’s been one of my supportive people through this, and one of the things she’s trying to teach me is how to be aware of thoughts that are creeping into your head, and consciously chasing them away or letting them just “float by” instead of taking root.

    Here are the questions I’m hoping to soon honestly answer:

    -Are good people truly capable of doing shitty, selfish things? If so, they deserve a second chance any more than truly shitty people?

    -Do I stay or do I go? While I recognize that most of the time, things seem genuinely better, am I ready to also deal with more of my “episodes?” While they have become more infrequent, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are less intense.

    -If I stay, can I master the practice of realizing and avoiding my triggers, and doing my best to MAKE myself take control of my state of mind?

    -If I go, how can I make sure to work on healing myself and leave Nancy Drew Behind?

    • Dear Crazy:
      I found two books that have been extremely helpful to me recently. I ready them last week:
      I LOVE YOU, BUT I DON’T TRUST YOU (by Mira Kirshenbaum)
      TOO GOOD TO LEAVE, TOO BAD TO STAY (by Mira Kirshenbaum) – This one is a step-by step guide to help you make the decision to stay or go.
      Both of these books really got to me, and have helped me find some clarity. If you read them, I am sure they will help you as well. They are quick and easy to read. They do not lean toward either side (staying or going) – they just help you figure out where you are, what you feel, and what you want. They help you reflect to get a true picture of what you have in the relationship. I highly recommend them to anyone who is struggling with the decision of whether to move forward in your relationship together or to leave and go your separate ways.
      I too have been sitting on the fence post with my legs dangling. You can call it waffling as well. That is the curse that we eternal optimists suffer in situations like this. We have such a hard time when we think there is a glimmer of hope. It is very hard to let go of hope. That is what has kept me in my current state – HOPE. And the FEAR of changing everything…Will I be okay? Will my kids be okay? Can I manage financially? Will I ever feel at peace and happy again?
      This infidelity stuff can make us chumps feel like we are going CRAZY!
      Good luck to you,
      Daisy

  • When I was going through hell with my now ex, I wish I had sat down and made a list of the things that are important to me in a relationship, my needs. Then written down what my SO gave me that met those needs, both the concrete and the ephemeral. Looking back I can see so clearly that so much was missing, that my life was not full or happy. I did not do that, I hope you try it. You see, when you are unhappy more than you are happy but you “love” someone, habit keeps you, comfort of the known keeps you, the thing that keeps you there most when the cons are great and the pros are not? “but I love him” keeps you. And what is love? sometimes it’s a habit, it’s loyalty that you learned as a child, sometimes it’s blind, it’s a deep seated need to be loved, it’s feeling needed by someone else. Unraveling the “but I love him” part of you is the key to staying or leaving. What is love is an eternal question for a reason.

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