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Dear Chump Lady, Now she forgets?

Dear Chumplady ,

Some sage advice please. Twenty years ago, I got involved with a woman who had been a long time friend of mine and my family. I was going through a divorce, and she made herself very available to me. Being vulnerable, I fell…hard.

What ensued was four years of toxic, cheating bullshit culminating with her going into recovery for alcoholism. Upon her release from treatment, it was very apparent that she had gotten involved with one of the men in her program, and was lying to me about it. I ultimately read her program notes (yes I snooped) and found that she had been cheating on me for virtually every day of our “relationship.” With several men, including an old boyfriend who had beaten the shit out of her. At that point, I unceremoniously dumped her. After a couple of months of NC, she calls me and says she wants to go into therapy with me and try and put our relationship back together.

I agree, and we work with a therapist for more than a year, and eventually marry. Flash forward 16 years. I ask her casually about the ex-boyfriend and what I had read in her meeting notes, and she claims she doesn’t remember any of it …what meeting notes???…that she never did that stuff, and she doesn’t even remember having the AA workbook. Needless to say, I’m gobsmacked totally. WTF? Major gaslighting?


Dear Geoff,

Ye-ah. She sounds like a winner. I don’t mean to be unkind, Geoff, because I am a super chump myself, but the problem here, my friend, is you. Did you want a reality check? Yes, she is gaslighting you. I don’t think you’d forget a little thing like her years in rehab and therapy. Or the ex-boyfriend she screwed. Of course she’s fucking with your head. Why does she fuck with your head? Because she can. Because it works. Because Geoff, you’ve stuck around TWENTY YEARS letting her fuck with your head. No consequences for fucking with your head. Natter, natter, natter… maybe he’ll go away and shut up, she probably thinks. I can say anything. I’m Richard Millhouse Nixon. Wake up. Next day Geoff is there.

Has it been a happy 16 years post-therapy, Geoff? I’m thinking not, because thoughts of her YEARS of serial cheating still run through your head.

Geoff, it seems to me you made the classic chump mistake of betting your future on a cheater’s potential. You got a nice diagnosis to pin all her crap behavior on (alcoholism) and you not only stuck it out a year in rehab and therapy with her, you rewarded her with marriage, and invested more in a life together. Noble, and very self sacrificing of you, but also an absolutely dreadful gamble on your future happiness.

I have some familiarity with addiction, because my brother went through it (he’s been sober about 8 years now). And one thing they tell you in recovery is not to date anyone who hasn’t been clean at least a year. The addict’s addiction recovery is supposed to be the major focus of their life, and relapse is pretty common. You made her problems your job. You supported her in rehab and in therapy, after she had gutted you with four YEARS of “toxic” (your word) cheating and lying.

The healthy thing to do then was dump her and let her stay dumped. Not hold her hand on the road to recovery. You fell for the Knight in Shining Armor ruse. Sticking with her then wasn’t helping her, it was enabling her. Yeah, even if she was in recovery — Doing All the Right Things. It wasn’t your job to reward her for doing the right thing and getting help. YOU matter too. You can “detach with love” as they say in recovery-speak. Support her recovery, wish her well, but at a great distance.

Okay, 16 years has elapsed. Woulda coulda shoulda. But Geoff, it’s never too late to learn. First red flag — you met her when you were vulnerable from a divorce. So you recognize you didn’t have the best filters. It’s so important to heal up and not self medicate with other people, and do the hard work on yourself before you date again. I know that’s hard. I fucked up there myself, even years after my divorce. I think part of why I fell for a sparkly NPD is that single motherhood was hard and lonely and while I did shrinkage, I never addressed how chumpy and codependent I was. I put up with a lot of shit I shouldn’t have.

You did too. Four years of her bullshit, and still you married her? Geoff, that’s on YOU. Get yourself some therapy and figure out why you allowed this cheating, addicted woman to be the best person you thought you could find.

Is she really different now, after therapy? I think not. Where is her accountability? She’s gaslighting you. She sounds like someone who has deep character issues that go beyond alcoholism. Recovery is a lifelong process, I’m told. Apparently she hasn’t been in AA, because gosh, it was so long ago she doesn’t remember!

If she remembered, she should recall the Step on doing a moral inventory and apologizing to the people she’s hurt. In my opinion, she never did the hard work, Geoff. And you’ve got no obligation to stick around any longer and help her get it.

Ask Chump Lady

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  • Geoff, my heart hurts for you. I did basically the same thing you did…… I married a man even though I KNEW I was making a mistake. I married him because I was more frightened of being alone, and I figured he was the best I could do, and well, I did love him.

    We were married for twenty years. He cheated on me CONSTANTLY, he lied, he gaslighted, he was emotionally abusive, he devastated us financially. A friggin’ nightmare. Though our divorce has been final for over a year, I am nowhere NEAR recovered from the years of abuse and quite frankly, I doubt I ever will entirely be healed from marriage to a diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder.

    Geoff, I’d suggest you talk to a therapist about your own issues and needs. Make a decision on what is best for YOU. CL is right, your wife is fucking with your head and knows she can get away with it. I am not saying this to be cruel, but with her history, it is guaranteed she has been cheating on you all along.

    Time to do what is in your own best interests. You don’t mention children, so hopefully you don’t have any with this woman. That makes it easier.

    • This sounds exactly like my first XW. She is a “certified spiritual counselor” and director of the women’s program at an upscale CD treament facility. Yet, she has never done the 9th step.
      When I ask her why her journal recounted her desire to “stop having sex with strangers”, she just ignores the question.
      When I asked her why she described, in detail, the body of a man she had spent the night with to me, she said she thought I would be interested in how in shape he was,
      Bottom line, a great many addicts are personality disordered and they lie and gaslight.
      Bill W , himself, continued serial cheating on his wofe long after he stopped drinking. He was a NPD, clearly.
      Geoff, you will never get the truth from your wife. She knows exactly what she did, but will take the truth to her grave.
      Best to exit and have no contact.

  • Ok I read your letter and CL’s reply and I’m just alittle confused. (this of course is not hard for me to get to this state) 20 yrs ago you hook up with this woman during a vunerable time in your life. She is an alcoholic, cheats on you, lies to you etc.. You wisely back off but then get back with her, go to counseling and get married. Ok I am following this so far. 16 years later you “casually” ask her about an old boyfriend and she acts like she doesn’t know what you are talking about.What made you ask? Do you suspect she is back to her evil ways? Are you the kind that forgive but never forget and keep bringing up the past to needle the woman? Is she drinking again? Maybe if you keep bringing up the past there is nothing she can do to erase it except to act dumb so you stop. Just a thought.

    • Without a lobotomy, I cannot imagine any BS ever forgetting this. Forgiving, maybe, but not forgetting.
      And, acting dumb seems like a strange way to address the concern.
      This is gaslighting, a further form of abuse. A BS has every right to make inquiry into concerns re this, regardless of the passage of time. All information should have been volunteered by this woman long ago. Iexpect that if she is like a lot of addicts and PD people, she used well honed skills to deflect and evade back then.
      These are time honed skills of the personality disordered and very effective on a recently traumatized betrayed spouse.
      Why would a truly remoseful cheater ever try to evade questons?
      I read this letter that i expect many of us have seen posted, “Joeseph’s Letter”. It seems to explain , very well, why a BS needs all the info.

      • My only thought that this is 16 yrs later, why beat an old horse. If you are happy and secure in your present place in the relationship why bring up the past. It won’t change what happened and will only serve to bring it back into the relationship. obviously he chose to forgive her past. Why suddenly the concern about this is my question. Where is Joeseph’s Letter in the archives. I don’t remember reading it.

        • I found it on some defunct BAN message board by Googling “Joseph’s Letter.”

          • Thanks will try to google that tomorrow gotta get some sleep tonight

        • Very true Janet – I just don’t like historical rewrites of any kind. It’s really a form of personal denial and very much a discounting of my experience.

      • Thanks Arnold. I had not seen Joseph’s Letter before. I love the puzzle analogy and if I had a shot at R that would have really clarified my thinking. It drove me absolutely crazy at first that my wife wouldn’t tell me anything or admit to anything unless I proved I knew it already or at least bluffed (I did a lot of that). She still acts like it’s none of my business or that I just want to know so I can humiliate her or hold it against her. Now I just want out.

        • Arnold, I agree…..if I thought my marriage had a shot, I would have wanted to know more details, as explained in Joseph’s letter. But, as in your case, my spouse only admitted to what he thought I already knew, and was fiercely adament that the rest was none of my business. I want out, too.

            • they also deny and destroy evidence for another reason, so you can’t use adultery in your divorce and so they can continue to play the sweet/whatever BS persona they always play in public. Last ditch I gave marriage counseling we were told to write a list/a contract, my now ex wouldn’t respond to mine. When I asked why, my ex actually said this: “I won’t agree in writing not to see OW, you only want me to do that so you can use it as proof of my affair in court”. Seriously.

      • Just googled it and read it… I was tempted to stop reading at “I’m going to ask you to view my reality through my eyes”

        Because if a cheater cared about anything from the partner’s perspective, surely they wouldn’t have cheated in the first place? 🙁

    • Dear Geoff,
      I am so sorry for your pain, but like Janet said…I’m a little confused too? I mean if you let it go so long ago ( and believe me there is stuff that mine did years ago and I AM NOT excusing it) is there something she’s doing now that brought this up? Or has it just been eating at you all these years?
      I finally realized that if he was talking he was lying. I was almost grateful when I saw it with my own eyes. I wish you well and hope you can find the strenghth to do what you need to do. I know it’s not easy but I’m glad I did. Black IS black, even if he says it’s white…

      • “I finally realized that if he was talking he was lying. I was almost grateful when I saw it with my own eyes.”

        My experience, too. In my case, it wasn’t until I saw obvious cases of lying that I truly realized the extend of it. For that, I am grateful that I saw the obvious ones because it validated why I was feeling so “off” about his stories (=lies) and behavoir.

        If I hadn’t see the obvious lies (about a year’s worth, to be exact) I would have stayed with him much, much longer. Believing that he was truly forgetting, and letting his gaslighting take me for a (painful) ride.

        • Whole lot of forgetting going on isn’t there? I remember there was an “incident” that happened years ago, and I brought it up periodically when we’d argue. He would swear UP and DOWN that he has no idea what I was talking about. Then towards the end, he forgot EVERYTHING, unless it pertained to his welfare. You know, like child support (please pay) his phone bill (please pay) and on and on and on. Isn’t it amazing how may people have amnesia?

    • Hi Janet – actually, she made mention of the guy first. I followed up with a question about their earlier relationship. No, I don’t bring this up to needle her – I think it’s the first time I’ve even thought much about it in 16 years. That’s why her answer to me was perplexing.

    • Janet – not sure if my first reply posted, so here goes again: Actually, my wife brought up the old boyfriend in a conversation we were having. I followed up a day later with a question about their earlier relationship, as I knew this guy too, which led to her perplexing replay. As an aside, I do not bring up the past to needle her, no. As a matter of fact, that’s probably the first time I’d even thought about that stuff or mentioned it in 16 years.

  • Geoff,
    You need healing. Please get into therapy asap. Please love yourself and support yourself through your own therapy for recovery from decades of mind-fuckery. Please find a right support system (your family, parents, siblings, some very dear friend or your grown up children, if you can be friends with them) to see you through your lonely pursuit of recovery through therapy and healing. And, please please please….as much as you can…refrain from dwelling on your cheating spouse’s activities, behaviors and most of all talking…may I say, she knows how to hypnotize you for her selfish ends…otw, how can chumps like all of us in this forum, continue to get chumped, mindfucked for so long that entire lifetimes seem to have been a waste…u aren’t alone in this…all of us are here, sharing our agony of being used and used over again and again for years!
    May you have a peaceful life ahead. If yoga and meditation appeals to your personna, they are great ways to heal and recover. I say this cos they worked for me 🙂

  • Just sounds like she may have refused to answer this stuff years ago and expecte the mere passage of time to be enough for him to get over this. It does not work that way for a lot of people,
    I can understand,when dealing with a disordered spouse, ho Geoff may have been adverse to engaging her before now. It is brutal dealing with these folks and they really hurt you when you try to hold them accountable. I can see gathering strength and knowledge for 16 years before getting up the resolve to confront. These folks are really scary.

    • “It is brutal dealing with these folks and they really hurt you when you try to hold them accountable. I can see gathering strength and knowledge for 16 years before getting up the resolve to confront.”

      I agree wholeheartedly with this!

      As for her not remembering. Actually, I think that its quite possible that she truly DOES NOT REMEMBER! Hard as it is for us to comprehend, but again, we naturally are giving her powers of normal cognitive functioning which she clearly does not possess. And God only knows that if she’s an alky on top of everything, that she’s probably burned out a good portion of her brain. so, is she intentionally fucking him over? I truly do not think so. This is what makes it so unbelievably CRAZY! How can someone recover from something that they have no idea what on earth you are talking about? Still… the end result is the same.

      I also think that betrayed partners share in a kind of cognitive dissonance of our own. Before our D-Days we might *feel* that something’s amiss– for years, even, but we can’t let ourselves go there. In retrospect, we kick ourselves for not seeing the truth, but I see it as actually a form of self-preservation.

      The truth is exceedingly traumatic, which brings us back to Arnold’s statement of gathering the strength to face a reality we simply cannot allow ourselves to face.

      • You know Laurel I was thinking the same thing; maybe she doesn’t remember. If she was an alcoholic she may have fried more than a few brain cells. Maybe she didn’t do the 12 steps. Revisionist history. Maybe she just want to forget. My husband is an alcoholic and when he has been in bad shape he truely does not remember. Or he is so embarressed to be such a jerk he denies it ever happened. No sense in trying to get the straight story out of him.

    • Precisely my situation, Arnold. I expected the passage of 16 years to make this a non-hot button conversation. Evidently, I was wrong, and her rug sweeping response was how to cancel any further discussion.

  • Based on what I have observed , I do think it is possible that they really do not remember.
    Now, bear with me, as I really have little sympathy for these folks. But, some of the things that have happened to me in the last few years make me believe that it just might be possible that they have suppressed this stuff. Thie rminds do seem to “work” significantly differently than normal folks.
    Right now, both my Xw’s , occassionally, want to engage in some banal conversation, and they act as if they did nothing wrong. Thye will try to chat about the weather or something like that, joke, laugh, etc as if everything is forgotten.
    It is mind boggling. If I had ever done what they did , I could not ppull this off. Iwould be incredibly uncomfortable,
    I have seen both approach others who they have alienated and been mean to for years, and try to just act as if they are old friends.
    MY first wife, whenever i would take my kids out east to visit my famiy, would always tell me to greet my family for her. She had no clue that they hated her for what she did.
    It was unbelievable.
    As we would rive off , she would say “Bye, Arnold. Bye , boys. Makese sure to say hi to x,y,z etc for me>”
    I don’t think she was acting. She actually repressed her serial cheating(I think).

    • Hmm, Arnold, I don’t believe they forget. They simply don’t feel they did anything wrong, and tend to rewrite history to make themselves as the innocent victims. They know they screwed around, but see it as the CHUMPS fault, not their own, and they feel entitled to cheat. Having no conscience or remorse makes it easy for them to casually shoot the breeze with their chumps as if nothing bad ever happened. But they REMEMBER what they did. They just don’t see it as any sort of big deal, and if YOU feel bad about it, they would consider that to be your problem.

  • My ex will deny stuff that he has previously admittted, knowing I’ve seen emails, etc. It’s funny now but used to make me crazy in the early days after dday. Honestly, Geoff? Leave. I can’t imagine staying with this person.

    • Nord – I used to feel crazy, too, in the early days, when my STBHX would do this. However… that I *know* he is doing it, it is much easier to deal with. I can see the denials for what they are, and, if needed, I can call him out on them. He rarely will retrack his denials, but, regardless, it feels much better emotionally for me when I don’t buy into his mind-fuck games.

  • Ok I googled Joseph’s Letter found it and read it. I tried to understand the motivation behind it. In my own situation I have had a few discussions regarding the affair, the when and where the details and came away with some tidbits but I am sure not the full story and quite frankly my dear I don’t give a damn. Knowing doesn’t change a thing. It just gives my poor tortured brain something else to ruminate on. To me the details are not important. You can’t undo yesterday and tomorrow well who know what is going to happen. All we very have is the moment we are in. off to do the laundry and enjoy the beautiful spring day we hare having!

    • Yeah, some folks do notwant details. Others do, as they want to know exactly what it is that they are forgiving. I think gettting the details also serves to humiliate the cheater, sometimes, which is good. They need consequences.
      Essentially, it is my position that the BS gets to make the call on this, not the cheater. The cheater calls no shots in reconcilliation, IMO.
      My Clithead wife tried to call the shots. She is a complete labiabutt.

  • I agree with GladIt’sOver….odds are, she is re-writing history. My cheating-narc husband used to do this *all* the time. He would say and do insensitive, mean things and then act like it never happened. Act all happy….”Ha, ha, I don’t know what you’re talking about, I never said that”…. and why don’t we go out for ice cream? It was gaslighting. Sometimes I think he did it on purpose to test me, to see if I would call him on it, which I usually didn’t (my bad) because that was emotionally draining, too. When I did call him out, he would say “I’m just joking, don’t take it so seriously.” But he wasn’t joking, he was emotionally shoving me, sadistically. When I would bring up things he did in the past (including the recent past) he would re-write history and act like they never happened. This was very hard to live with. I was pained and hurt by his actions, and he wouldn’t even *acknowledge* they happened at all!

    In the beginning, I used to think that my husband was actually forgetting things (maybe he was a little bit crazy, or so I thought), since he would deny things he said the *day before*. How could he possibly forget that conversation? Well, he wasn’t forgetting. He was re-writing history. I’m not going to untangle the skein of fuckdupness as to exactly why cheating/npds re-write history. I’m just going to see it for what it is. It’s emotionally horrible to live with.

    If he could, my STBXH would eagerly be re-writing history about his affair, too. Thankfully, due to witnesses, he can’t. But he is trying to re-write the details around it. “I wasn’t sleeping with you during that time.” Yes you were, liar! “I was living separately from you at that time.” Um, nope, you were living right here in our home, wearing your wedding ring, giving me valentine cards, parading around with us on family events as was convenient for you, and having sex with me. I’m not letting him re-write history on that one. He may convince other people, but I’m not keeping silent on that re-write.

    Geoff, think about the big picture, too. Re-writing history does *not* build a healthy intimate relationship. In a marriage, you have a shared history with each other. When your spouse re-writes it all the time, you don’t have this history anymore. This isn’t a little deal, this is a BIG deal! This is compounded when your spouse conveniently obfuscates events which were significant (and painful) for *you*. It denies your basic right to be *validated*, seen, heard, and believed. It puts emotional intimacy in the toilet.

    • Aaahhh DIL,
      Mine used to bait me constantly, then tell me “You’re so easy” (as if he’d been joking all along) while laughing at me. I mean ALL THE TIME…it got so bad that we barely even spoke towards the end, I would avoid him by staying in the bedroom and reading
      I’d been doing that for awhile actually, because the bastard used to turn the TV up just a “little” louder in the living room every once in a while till the level got so loud I had to close the bedroom door just to read. I thought his hearing was going??!!! Now I think the asshole was just “gaslighting” me. Why why why would you get pleasure from torturing someone? I really think he is one sick bastard…..

  • Duck, I know exactly what you mean. It is crazymaking. It is standard operating procedure for the disordered.
    Funny, the only time I would have auditory hallucinations was with my XW. I imagined her saying and doing all types of things. Weird how this never happened with anyone else.

  • CL and everyone – thank you so much for your insights. You have all given me a lot to consider, and I’m grateful for your time and thoughts. A few additional thoughts – I did not meet my wife when I was going through an earlier divorce. I’d known her since she was 13 years old, so there was a lot more history there than just our romantic relationship. At any rate, I’ll keep you all posted. And CL, your Richard Nixon analogy had me spitting my coffee all over the computer screen. Thank you for your insight and some much needed humor.

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