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
[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.