Dear Chump Lady,
I found the treasure trove of emails between my husband and his old girlfriend from 20 years ago. Some were of the sexting variety and others had him declaring his love and devotion for her, saying that he’s never forgotten her and how he always wished things had worked out between them all those years ago.
I’m embarrassed to say that I found those emails by snooping through his cell phone. Like so many others here, he was on the damn thing all the time and he seemed so disengaged from the family… mostly from me. My spidey sense was triggered and I went looking for evidence. This was before I found your column, so I did all the wrong things. I confronted him immediately and went batshit crazy. Screaming. Throwing things. The whole nine yards. He admitted to having an email relationship with her but says he never actually had a face-to-face meeting.
A year later, I found more emails. In these, he apologizes for “going off the grid” and says he was “terrified to lose his children” and that he was “getting through each day the best he can by focusing on being the best dad he can be.” I went ballistic again. This time, he swore that he would never contact her again. Ever. For any reason. He has been very attentive around the house and he’s never texting on his phone anymore. He seems truly remorseful, saying he loves me and that he is truly sorry that he betrayed my trust. We’ve gone away on short weekend trips and he seems completely normal.
Here’s the problem: I can’t trust him. And I can’t stop playing “marriage police.”
I look through his telephone every chance I get. I even do it right in front of him. I look through his emails, including his work emails. I watch him like a hawk at all times. While I want to believe that he’s being true and that he’s really sorry, I keep wondering if he’s found a way to keep his little email fling underground and that, if I just dig harder and deeper, I’ll find out that he’s a lying sack of shit who is still in contact with this woman.I don’t want to call her and ask (although I’ve been sorely tempted) because I’m afraid that if I blow up her life, she’ll have nothing to lose and she and my husband will just run off together.
I admit, I care about “appearances” way too much. We have a nice life in a good community of people. I want things to go back to normal and it seems as though they have. But I can’t stop the snooping and I still harbor so much distrust. To make matters worse, my husband travels for business quite a lot. I solve this problem by either going with him (which is boring and exhausting) or calling him and staying on the phone with him the entire time he’s in his hotel room. That means either hours of sitting in a hotel room while he’s at meetings or hours on the phone talking about the kids, friends, whatever. Anything to keep him on the phone so I know that he’s not calling her or, worse, there with her!
Is there any way to move past this? I have no evidence that he saw her or that it was a physical affair (although the emails were so raunchy or so lovey dovey that seeing them was bad enough). I keep hearing his words to her in my head and I can’t help but feel like I’m second best.
He agreed not to contact her, so I win…..an unhappy husband who doesn’t want to be here. Yay me! Will I keep snooping forever or will these feelings of suspicion ever go away? Do you think I should throw in the towel or should I give it more time? Living like this is not fun. Honestly, he does whatever I want because I think he’s afraid that I’m going to blow up and he knows he did something wrong and feels guilty about it. But every nice thing he does is colored by my feeling that he’s only doing it out of guilt or fear that I’m going to take the kids and kick him out of the house. Chumps, help me figure this shit out.
Boy, you really paint a cheery picture of reconciliation. Sounds like you (rightfully) have your husband on a short leash and neither you nor your husband is happy about that. You’re not happy because you fear he “doesn’t want to be here,” and it totally sucks to be the marriage police. And I imagine he’s unhappy because he lives under the threat of divorce and misses his cake.
Hypervigiliance is exhausting and it’s unsustainable. You can’t shadow the guy forever, or keep him on the phone for hours like you were a hostage negotiator. And yet, it is completely understandable why you do that — because you don’t trust him.
So the question comes down to — can you live in a marriage that has no trust for the sake of “appearances”? If I were of a unicorn bent, I’d ask you if you think trust can be regained, but I think in your case that’s especially tough. You gave him a chance to right this, and then a year later you found he’d betrayed you again with more contact. Worse you read all that crap where he essentially describes you as the great consolation prize so he can see his kids. (Who, let’s point out, he was quite happy to ignore for his cell phone once upon a time.) I’d feel like second best too! Who wants to be with someone who only “commits” if you hold a legal gun to their head?
I think you’re questioning yourself because you don’t have evidence of a physical affair. Are you overreacting to his sexting and professions of love for another woman? No. A cheater usually only cops to what you have on them and nothing more. You discovered sexting, so of course he’s going to say that’s as far as it went. He travels for work? And the sexting went on for over a year? My guess is it did go further. Grown ups don’t invest a lot of time in sexy talk unless they’re looking to get laid. Sure, there’s kibbles in an emotional affair — but a man who is in an emotional affair, IMO, doesn’t worry about losing his kids. A man who is fucking around does.
Left out of your letter is what exactly he’s doing to regain your trust. Why do you say he doesn’t want to be there? Is he acting that way? Resenting your company on trips? Is he in therapy? Reading any self help books? Or is the entire focus on When Is NC Going to Get Over This? Let’s wait her out!
I suppose you could just do the thing he fears — lawyer up and make custody arrangements — and see exactly how deep his remorse is.
But I think NC, the answer to all of this is not what your husband’s motivation are. You’ve put all your energy in What Is He Going to Do Next. You’ve been the goalie guarding home from his hockey pucks of chaos. Affair? Thwarted! You will NOT score!
This is not a marriage, it’s a power struggle. It’s time to ask yourself what YOU want. Is this relationship acceptable to you? It may be that he straightens up and flies right (IMO odds are long, judging by the letters I get from chumps, but that’s my cynicism) — and even then you’ll never be able to shake the distrust.
You ONLY control YOU. The shit sandwich you eat when you reconcile is that must live with the knowledge that this person could betray you again, and you can’t control that. No amount of vigilance is enough. If he wants to do it, he will do it. You have to know you’ll be okay wondering, and you’ll be okay if it happens again.
If you need more time to decide, I think you could set some conditions for reconciliation beyond don’t contact her. You could see a lawyer and find out what your rights are in a divorce. You could get your finances in order (especially if you are at all dependent on him). You could get a post-nup. You could get in some counseling for YOURSELF and demand that he do the same for himself.
In other words, NC, you could start calling the tunes – by stating what YOU need to heal. That’s very different than being in a reactive pose (what will he do next?!) See if he makes any effort to step up to the plate. He balks? You can bail without the what ifs.
Also know that it’s perfectly okay to divorce even when someone is doing the right things. You don’t owe anyone reconciliation. Trust is essential, and it’s not easily put back together. If it’s gone? Give yourself permission to admit that and leave.