Dear Chump Lady,
I am new to your blog, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to have found it. I have been married for 34 years, and have three intelligent, gorgeous daughters all in their 20s. They were devastated when the truth came out about the asshole they have for a dad. Deep grief over not being the fun, close, intact family admired by all. I filed with their support.
Now STBXH is texting them like a teenager (often) and telling them he wants me back, and he’s so sorry, and he wants our family together again. Said he made a mistake. (Like he got a traffic ticket.) But the truth is he’s been cheating on me for 34 years…that came out in a counseling session. As a mom, I want to make things right for my kids, and what’s more right than to provide your kids with an intact family? I know how fucked up that sounds, but is being divorced and your kids going through life saying “my parents are divorced” really better than living under the same roof with a liar and cheater? I’m growing weak. Make me stronger, please!
I am just having a bad night tonight. Father’s Day is the first holiday. The girls are going to see him briefly, and I get it, but I can’t stand it. How can they see him, knowing what they know? I have been super strong so far, but this is slaying me. STBXH is telling the girls that he really needs them now. That hearing their voices keeps him from doing something dumb…that the book he is reading has changed his life and he sees his mistakes now….he just needs another chance. All lies and manipulation. When they stopped working on me, he came after the girls.
One one hand, the kids see through it, but on the other hand, they want it all to be true. And really, sometimes like tonight, so do I. I just left a restaurant with six couples and me. It sucks to be out, and it sucks to come home to no one. Did I mention I’ve been married for 34 years??
But I know I could never, ever trust him. With the cheating also came a whole host of NPD problems too. How do I get over my kids still talking to him? He doesn’t deserve to see their beautiful faces or get a freaking card. He sucks as a father. How do I handle this now and forever?
Okay. Take him back. Live the lie. Be that “fun, close, intact family admired by all.” Accept his 34 years of infidelities and accept that he’s not going to be faithful to you. Arrange an open marriage and use protection. Or resign yourself to a life of being the marriage police… and use protection. Oh wait. I left out unicorns. He read that book and after 34 years of serial cheating he gets it now. He’s going to be different. He really means it! That guy he was for 34 years? That’s not him. No, really he’s a guy transformed by a book! (Or maybe it was a chapter.) Anyway, it was a really, really transformative chapter and he’s all better.
Do you really believe that? Do your daughters believe it? If not, how’s THIS for a Father’s Day present — “hearing their voices keeps him from doing something dumb.” WTF does that mean? Give him kibbles or he might off himself? Or does he mean dumb like, he’s going to tattoo “I’m a serial cheating douchebag” on his ass? (Tramp stamp!) Whatever, it sounds threatening. So if you don’t buy his bullshit (charm and “remorse”), he’ll resort to emotional blackmail. Oh THAT sounds healthy. Boy, who wouldn’t want to have Sunday bacon and eggs with that guy?
Let’s unpack this, shall we?
Fun. Was living with his “whole host of NPD problems” fun? Was learning of his infidelities fun? Was telling your daughters dad is a serial cheater fun? I mean, other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how’d you enjoy the play?
Close. He cheated for 34 years. Jimmy Carter was president 34 years ago. That’s quite a lifespan of infidelities. You have shared history, Patty. But how close are you? Do really love your life with him, or the idea of “intact family”? How are you going to square your marriage knowing that he betrayed you for 34 years? Do you want to live with those kind of mental gymnastics? You didn’t cheat on him for 34 years. That makes this pretty freaking lopsided. Are you okay with that?
Intact family admired by all. Bingo. You miss what you thought you had. Normalcy. Admiration. More than passing as normal, you were enviable. Top of the heap. Part of the better class of Intact Families who don’t wear the shame of divorce. You got reflected sparkles from your NPD. You were his front, his gorgeous family with the gorgeous, intelligent daughters. You belonged. How nice to be inside the circle of coupled people, instead of outside it with your nose pressed against the glass — divorced. To be pitied. To be the odd numbered person at the dinner.
I get it. It’s a loss. A loss of status. A loss of who you thought you were and your place in the firmament. What you thought your life was going to be, versus what it actually turned out to be (fraudulent). I’m not saying YOU are fraudulent. I’m sure you brought your A game, tried to be a good wife, and raise good kids. He’s fraudulent. And now you’re at a fork in the road. Now that you really know who he is and what he’s been up to for 34 years, you can either leave him, or you can join him in fraudulence. You can try hard to be fun, close, and “intact” — but you’ll do that with the knowledge of who he is. In my opinion, that’s got to feel pretty hollow. No, worse. I personally think it’s death by inches. Especially if he’s really NPD.
You know Patty, I had a friend who reconciled. This shit can be done. When I had DDay 1, I hid at her house and she tucked me into bed and made me tea. She was kind and compassionate, but — I won’t sugar coat it — she was also superior. She told me she was so glad her life was “normal.” She’s married to a guy who literally runs the Eagle Scouts. They’re both magazine spread attractive. Fast forward a few years. She gets an anonymous Facebook message that her husband has been cheating on her. Turns out it was for YEARS. As i was at her house falling apart over my failed marriage, Mr. Eagle Scout was out screwing his mistress.
She stayed for the “intact family.” Well, that and the fact at that juncture she had no college degree and had never had a full-time job. And I think the loss of status was the deciding factor. She as much as told me so. Why should she suffer for what he did? Why should she lose her stay at home life and her pretty things?
At one point, when she was learning of the affair, she showed me an email he wrote to the mistress, joking about killing her. It was a video, of this bitchy blonde (who looked a lot like my friend), who was hectoring her husband about what he was going to get her for Christmas. When he takes her outside and hands her the keys to a brand new Mercedes. Overjoyed, she jumps in the car and turns the ignition. Then it blows up. Ha. Ha.
She reconciled with that guy. The guy who joked with his mistress about blowing her up. If her Facebook status of her adoring family is anything to go by, hey, she’s still enviable and intact. She also looks gaunt, emaciated, and has heart palpitations that she didn’t have before, but hey — her lifestyle is preserved.
Until, of course, it isn’t. As I pointed out to her, and will point out to you — he could up and leave her at any time. She can give him more years, those good attractive years she has left, and then he can dump her. Hide the money. Find someone younger. Just because you reconcile, doesn’t mean they won’t sample the cake elsewhere. You might not be sufficient kibbles. Don’t assume that you are.
As anyone who reads here knows, I am skeptical about reconciliation. But I do know, if you’re going to embark on it, you have to have something to work with — total transparency, honesty, sincere remorse, a generous postnup, shit loads of therapy — and IMO, a history that can be overcome. I don’t think 34 years of cheating is something I could overcome but I’m not you. Maybe you can. But you have to deal with these other factors and honestly assess — not HOPE — but truly assess if this person can give you these things, and if they’re worth the gamble.
So why don’t you try out exactly how sorry he is, if you really want him back. Sorry is as sorry DOES. Say to him, I want a divorce and I want you to make this right to me. We can talk about reconciliation after you give me my freedom and then I’ll let you win me back. But I want my security. Ask for a generous divorce settlement that leaves him something, but you most everything else.
Or tell him, you want a postnup (seeing as you’re still married) that is a property settlement with an infidelity clause — if he cheats, you get everything. Only HE controls if he cheats again, so if he’s sincere, he’s got nothing to lose, right?
Then see if he balks. See how exactly deep that remorse is. My guess is that he’s sorry, so long as it doesn’t cost him anything too dear, like his pension fund. What is he going to give you to make up for those 34 years other than a TEXT MESSAGE?
Next Patty — your kids aren’t toddlers. They’re young women in their 20s. It’s late to talk about staying together for the kids, because your kids have left home to start lives of their own. Marriages and children someday — family you absolutely can be a part of that doesn’t have to include him.
If they were in your shoes, would you want them to stay with a serial cheating husband? What do you want to model to your daughters?
He’s still their father. They’re entitled to a relationship with him, as galling as that is for you. What they’re not entitled to is playing hypotenuse to his fucked up triangle. Don’t let them be go-betweens. They got a text message from him saying he wants another chance? Set a boundary. Tell them you don’t want to hear from him, you need to go no contact for your sanity, and they need to respect that. Shut that shit DOWN. If you want him back, you know where to find him.
Hang in there Patty. I think you’re just afraid of having to reinvent yourself after 34 years. It can be done, and done happily. And it is a hell of a lot easier than living with a serial cheating narcissist.