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?
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.