Dear Chump Lady,
First, I’m a long time reader, commenter and fan.
Here’s my story — my ex-wife went through a midlife crisis about three years ago. Started with girl’s nights out and ended up with an affair. I caught the affair fairly quickly and filed for divorce ASAP. We were together 15 years and have two young kids.
The hardest part of the infidelity for me was the betrayal of my “best friend and partner.” For a long time I felt like something was wrong with me in that I picked someone who could do such a thing to me and our kids.
I got most of what I wanted out of the divorce (custody/financial) and at this point, I’m getting close to “meh” about my ex-wife.
I don’t regret the divorce — I’ve met a lot of great women who offer a lot more than my ex. I’m just nervous/scared/anxious about opening myself up again emotionally. The pain from the cheating was immense. I just don’t know how to let someone else in again. (And yes, I’ve been in therapy).
I’ve been dating for the past year or so. About 6 months ago, I started dating a woman who is everything the ex isn’t — honest, stable, thoughtful and mature. Things are progressing well and she is someone who I could potentially see a long-term future with.
Now here’s my question for Chumpland: How do you let yourself be open again? I’ve done my Amazon homework on recovering from infidelity, but I’d like to hear from some of you on how you did it — not just platitudes from a book or HuffPo article.
Keep up the good work,
Gee, I was just going to dust off my hard-bound copy of Moving On Platitudes. You mean I can’t say “you’ll find someone when you least expect it!” or “It’s always darkest before the dawn” or “A smile is just a frown turned upside down”?
Oh well. Walt, here is what I predict — you will open up, emotionally, sexually, spiritually, financially, cosmically — because that is who you ARE. Your cheating ex did not change who you are. Your core being. You’re still there, being Walt, every day. You don’t really have a problem. You just think that you do.
Yes, this shit shook you and nearly destroyed you. Except that Walt, it didn’t. There you are, getting up each day, going to work, being a good dad, and investing in a new relationship. Helloooo? Walt, you are opening up! You’re doing that thing that you didn’t think you could do. You’re not curled up in a fetal position on the sofa. You’re not living in a bunker playing World of Warcraft. You’re not some troll on HuffPo saying all women suck and no one should ever marry. You’re not that guy! You’re a guy writing to Chump Lady saying, hey, I’m meh about my ex and I met someone I can consider spending the rest of my life with. Walt — you ARE a success!
Except that you don’t trust that you are. You admit, like a lot of chumps, for awhile you wondered (as we all do) what was wrong with you to make your ex cheat.
NOTHING. You didn’t make her cheat. She didn’t appreciate what she had, and she didn’t have the guts to admit it and move on from the relationship honestly. Or commit herself to the relationship and fix it before she cheated. Her infidelity is no reflection on you, and your worthiness. You’re still internalizing that.
Here’s something I think you’ve learned from infidelity — you’ve got the smarts to realize New Lady is GOOD for you. She is “honest, stable, thoughtful and mature.” And you’re too much of a gentleman to say this Walt, but I bet she’s better looking than your ex and hotter in bed too. You just traded waaaaaay up. And you know it. Keep trusting your senses, Walt. Keep noticing when New Lady is honest and true, and her words match her actions.
That’s how you’ll know if you’ve healed. When you attract a giver and you begin to think, yeah, this is nice. This is reciprocal. I deserve this. This is sooo much different than what I had before.
I don’t like to blame chumps for choosing cheaters, because look, a lot of us were dumb and young when we met our exes. I don’t even have that excuse for my cheating ex (I was 38, however, I do have that excuse for the first horrible ex-husband). I was attracted to the sparkly guy. He seemed normal and solid enough. But now I have a whole new set of filters that I didn’t have before. I — very early on — accepted lopsidedness. I did dump my cheater ex once when we were dating because he kept breaking our dates, despite his professed ardor. THAT should’ve been a red flag. After he begged, I took him back and he was good as gold (NOT. He just took it underground…) until I married him, and moved — and then he let his Mr. Hyde abuser side out.
But there were signs of how selfish and shallow he really was. And signs of his easy frustration, anger, and his narcissism. I spackled. And — truth be told — deep down I probably still felt a bit unworthy. Chumpy. Grateful for kibbles. I was a single mom for years. That shit is hard. I was lonely. I didn’t filter like I should’ve. And at that point in my life, I had not been cheated on (to my knowledge anyway…. I am an epic chump…) I didn’t know what the signs were.
I do now. And you know too. This is VALUABLE knowledge. You know what it is to be devalued, to be gaslighted, to realize that words are not matching deeds. You know all this because you were married to it. And now you’re out.
So you have a whole new kind of litmus test for New Lady. Does she value you? Is she honest about the little things? Does she do the things she says she’s going to do? Is she reciprocal? Does it give her honest to God pleasure to do for you? Does she delight in making you happy? Can she cope? Does she shoulder her burdens in life and work hard? Can she apologize when she’s wrong?
Look for these things. These are green lights that you can be open with this person. When you start healing from a cheater, it’s important to realize that not everyone is a disordered wing nut. There ARE good people out there — bone up on recognizing them.
When I was dating my husband, it was VERY clear very early on that he was different. I hadn’t dated anyone like him before. That I felt so comfortable and secure with. He never did anything to give me pause. His attention was direct and honest. He pursued me — and not in a sparkly, narcissist, sweep you off your feet way. (But I do like to say that he sweet talked me all the way to Texas, because he did. He’s incredibly persuasive. Trial lawyering will do that to you.) It just built, slowly, from a friendship into something more.
I like to think of it as a game of catch. When he threw the ball at me, I always picked it up and threw it back. And then he picked it up and threw it back immediately, and further the next time. But he ALWAYS threw the ball back. He didn’t hide the ball. Or pretend I hadn’t thrown a ball at him. Or pretend that he hadn’t thrown a ball at me. It was an honest game of catch.
And then I caught him. Or he caught me. Hard to say which it was. Because it felt so mutual.
You’ll know, Walt, when you have a good one. Love is risk. Love makes us vulnerable. I don’t worry that my husband will cheat on me (he’s a former chump too). I do worry now, in a way I never worried before, what I would do without him. My life is so interwoven with his now. I feel a new sort of fear and vulnerability. I finally have a partner and I never want to lose him.
You don’t get to love somebody and not have fear. But if I didn’t accept that fear, I wouldn’t have this amazing man in my life. That’s the price of admission (well, that and having to live with his bad Texas art and polka pimp t-shirts). If the worst were to happen — I lost him — to death or betrayal, I know that am I a strong person. That’s another gift from infidelity. I’m forged steel. You are too. I would reinvent yet again. Because that’s who I am. And that’s who you are too.