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Dear Chump Lady, Is there a middle path?

Dear Chump Lady,

Is there a third way — between fully reconciling and divorce? I am a chump, more than two years past Dday, and am still married to my husband. Shortly after Dday, I threw him out of the house and he was out for several months. During that time, he worked to assure me and our three children that he was truly committed to our family. We began marriage counseling about a month before he moved back in, and it continues to this day. As a result of his affair, my husband has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, along with the anxiety/OCD that we already knew about. He admits to being narcissistic as well. He is now on meds and under the care of a psychiatrist and a therapist specializing in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). He has made great strides in improving his mental health.

So why is he back home? I’m not madly in love with him and don’t pretend to be. I haven’t forgiven him and don’t wear my wedding ring any more as it has lost its meaning for me. I’m not throwing kibbles — in fact I told him I was not his mother, therapist, or groupie and I work hard to enforce those boundaries. We are polite and friendly, and even go on dates or walks together, etc. (meaning not just a show for the kids).

We are together for two reasons: 1. I wanted to try one more time to give my children an intact family. 2. Because we have three kids together, we will have some kind of relationship for the rest of our lives, and I wanted to see what the best possible relationship that could be. If there were no kids, there would be no marriage, and I have made that clear to him.

When I agreed to let him back in the house, I articulated 3 non-negotiables that are requirements for me to remain in the marriage: 1. No more affairs. Duh. 2. Be a complete partner in the home and family — be reliable, consistent, dependable, and take initiative for the work it takes to raise a family. (Prior to the affair he was really checked out in terms of responsibilities at home and because Things Needed to Get Done, I did them.) 3. Take total responsibility for his mental health. Violation of any one of these three is grounds for my leaving the marriage immediately. Basically he is on probation for the remainder of our marriage (however long that it) and he knows it.

One thing I am not doing is monitoring his every move. I told him that it was not because I trust him — I don’t trust him — but that it was because I refuse to live my life as the marriage police. That’s not what I want for me and my precious free time. He was spending a lot of time trying to reassure me that he wasn’t cheating and I think he was stunned when I told him and our marriage counselor that I didn’t spend any time worrying about whether he would have another affair. My reasoning is that we only worry about the things we are afraid of and I am not afraid of what would happen. I already know what it is like, and I know that I would leave and that my kids and I would be OK in the end.

One thing I do struggle with is this: if mental disorders such as bipolar are truly illnesses (as I believe), would I have left my husband if he had cancer or some other chronic and challenging disease? He is working to get his mental health issues under control, he has apologized to me, to the children (who all know that he had an affair), and to my family. I appreciate that not all narcissistic bipolar people are willing to do this work. It is not glamorous and it is expensive, meds come with side effects, etc.

Our family is doing well. We have had honest and painful conversations with ourselves and with our children (therapy for everyone! Merry Christmas!). We are close and loving as a family, even as we have two children moving into high school and displaying the normal teenaged crankinesses.

Early on, I started in on the books and reconciliation websites, and was truly offended by the implication that I bear some responsibility for his affair. Yes, it is true our marriage was not perfect, but my errors were not equivalent and mainly stemmed from intense resentment that my concerns were never addressed or that he made half-assed, short-term attempts to change. He had many options before him, and the affair was the one he chose. The RIC websites/books that proclaim “My husband’s affair was the best thing that ever happened to me!” enrage me and even now, there are times when I see him voluntarily doing the dishes or making a grocery list I think, “Why did I have to go through all that pain just to get the dishes done?”

What I read on your site resonates much more with me, but you’ve made it clear that you believe there is only one sane way out of this mess. Is it possible there is another path or am I just overdosing on hopium?

Sign me:

Still a Chump

Dear Still a Chump,

Why don’t you consider yourself in reconciliation? Because you haven’t arrived at a recovered marriage? Personally, I don’t know what that looks like. You say he’s on “permanent probation” and maybe, sadly, that is reconciliation. You don’t trust him. You don’t wear a ring. People stay married that way, of course. I don’t recommend it.

How do you expect this to work — if you don’t monitor him, how do you know if he’s adhering to any of your non-negotiables? Why are you not afraid he’ll have another affair? (As you said in MC.) Because he’s got a diagnosis for mental illness? You say you know what you’ll do if he screws up, but then you don’t seem very invested in wondering about or monitoring if he screws up.

Look, I get that no one wants to be the marriage police. But IMO early days of reconciliation demands it. Otherwise, you’re making yourself terribly vulnerable to his fuckupedness. Why not get a postnup? Some tangible insurance that you can get out of this cleanly if he does screw up?

I realize the monitoring is a no win. If you’re all hypervigilant that he not cheat on you, I love you so much! Where the hell are you?! it feels like giving him kibbles. On the other hand, if you don’t monitor, or take an interest in him proving to you that he’s not cheating, you risk sending the message to your cheater of WTFever. I’m not on guard. Which he could take as a green light to keep cheating without much interference from you.

You’re kidding yourself if you think you’ll just know. Ask the chumps here who wasted years being duped how that worked out for them. You are there in the marriage. Your presence signals that you WANT to be there trying to make this work, as does your showing up for MC each week for two years. Don’t delude yourself that you’re all WTFever, you’ll be okay whatever happens. Your actions say you are invested in this working and him getting better.

You didn’t mention how long his affair was, or if it was his first. Or how it ended. My guess is that if he’s truly a bipolar narcissist this isn’t his first instance of acting out.

Instead of framing the question as how much damage he’s done to you and your family, you’ve framed the situation as one of mental illness and perseverance in the face of that. And you’ve omitted details of his sins. Which puts a rather sympathetic focus on your husband (poor fuck up trying hard to be better) and a unkind focus on yourself (how long will she be untrusting?)

I’m sure that’s probably how it feels in your head, and that’s why you put it to me that way. But what about you? You matter. Is this sort of marriage acceptable to YOU? You won’t always have kids at home. You’ve said yourself if it weren’t for them, you’d be gone. You’ve also said you know everyone would be okay if you left. So what keeps you there? Do you want to invest years in a guy who’s just a tolerable movie date? Are you going to have a rethink on this when you aren’t raising kids? Then what? The grandchildren need us?

I think what keeps you stuck is that he appears to be trying. You don’t OWE him anything for that. You are allowed your deal breakers. Infidelity is a deal breaker for many people, and many religious faiths as well. He broke the contract of the marriage. NOT you. Saying you can’t continue this doesn’t make you a bad person or a quitter. Asking him to get better on his own time, while you get on with your life is a perfectly valid option. Recovery from his major issues (assuming recovery is even possible or manageable) is a big IF.

Do you feel responsible for him? That without the carrot of his wife and family he wouldn’t try? Then how meaningful is his change, really, if he won’t do it for himself? Without the quid pro quo —  what do you think he would do?

The issue of mental illness is a red herring. He isn’t schizophrenic. He still has moral reasoning and knows right from wrong. He had enough awareness to hide his activities. I don’t think his diagnosis gives him a pass.

I left my first husband over an untreated mental illness. I dragged him to get help and he tried CBT and meds sporadically for a few months and then quit. The call to leave was easier — he was very clear he didn’t think he had a problem. And wasn’t going to seek treatment for a problem he Did Not Have. My son was an infant then, it took me several more years before I actually left.

I too wrestled with sickness and health, and what if this was cancer?

It’s very hard not to take mental illness personally, because it is expressed personally. My then-husband raged at me if I so much as threw out a moldy sponge. He got a PO box so I wouldn’t touch the mail. I had to constantly pick up after his clutter and he was furious with me about it. (Hoarding being a kind of OCD. Bad Things Would Happen If I Touched His Magic Objects.)

I could tell myself it was the illness — he was a man having an emotional hallucination. But it was still a person shrieking at me for throwing out a moldy sponge.

My compassion gave out and my self preservation kicked in.

I think it’s time for you to act with more self preservation and less compassion. Get a postnup. See how that goes over. (Sorry is as sorry does.) Direct your compassion at yourself. Marriage requires commitment — and some people either through lack of character, or issues like mental illness or addiction are not capable of it. You cannot hold up a marriage by yourself. This isn’t a finite situation — an illness that has to be toughed out, and he would do the same  care-taking for you. These problems — his narcissism and his cheating — are who he IS. He can manage an illness like bipolar, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a good husband — someone who can be present for you.

Yes, there is a third way between reconciliation and divorce — it’s called limbo. You’re in it. People on probation don’t stay on probation forever. They either go to jail or are freed. I vote for freedom. I think you’ve done enough community service. How about a rehabilitated life without this guy?

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at [email protected]. Read more about submission guidelines.
  • My heart goes out to you. You clearly persevere in the face of terrible circumstances. But IMO an “intact” family is not worth the price you’re paying for it. You, your spouse, and your children all deserve better than a home held together by a sense that Things Are Tolderable For The Moment. You all–even your husband if he has truly reformed–deserve a home filled with love. That home might include a new partner for you someday, or it might just be you and your kids. As CL has pointed out, single-parent households ARE intact families. From your letter, it appears that you can’t ever have such a home with a man who treated you the way your husband did. Don’t feel bad about that. It is an appropriate emotional response, and one that most of us on this board have with much anguish accepted.

    Don’t sell yourself short. When chumps say “It gets better,” they are talking to you. If only you will accept that change requires us to let go of our painful pasts.

  • Chump Lady gave you a sensitive response. As for me, I understand your logic, but the fact is, people don’t change.

    They can modify their behavior or habits. They can grow. They can learn. But fundamentally, they are the same person, and unless they are doing those things for themselves, there is no permanency to imposed sanctions.

    My ex-husband and I argued over this belief. He disagreed whole-heartedly. But as he was leaving, he cryptically said without context, “You said yourself people never change.”

    I found out just what he meant.

    He may have a diagnosed mental illness, but that is not a free pass to make poor decisions that negatively impact those around him. That includes your children.

  • My h has been bi-polar for decades. When I assumed that might be the root of his cheating evilness his shrink wheeled around in her chair (yes, he had been keeping the cheating from her too) and with glaring eyes, said, “Being bi-polar has NOTHING to do with knowing the difference between right and wrong.”

  • Yes ! of course there is always a middle path, one of bland mediocrity & self doubt .
    Many couples accept that .
    Those pre-high school kids will start to have a life of their own, they will pull away from you, as all normal , well adjusted ones should.
    If you have lived with the kids being the centerpiece of the marriage , what will your marriage look like when you are a “semi-retired” Mom ?
    The fact you are seeking validation from this forum tells me you aren’t quite ok with the “go along to get along ” approach.
    Can you ever really forget ?
    Do you enjoy his company, would he be a friend, a person in your life if he wasn’t your husband ?
    Will you be bitter or better if you stay ? Your decision to make.

    • SAT, that is a great question, whether you enjoy the H’s company and friendship. Reconciliation is a healing process and very hard work. If your only working on trying to get over the pain of the A and not enjoying your spouse as a person why even stay? For me, it’s not just love that kept me with him, I really enjoy him as a person, and he made the choice to sign the postnup, and do the work of helping me heal. Sounds like with the bipolar diagnosis, your having to help him more than you. After 10 mo of reconciliation, I still check his phone on occasion, but I don’t police him, mostly because he’s home after work, and asks me to go to the store with him like before the affair. He’s laughing again, petting the dog, talking sports with the teens again. This is not stuff I bring up, it’s what I’ve observed. ( it’s the actions not words that show TRUE reconciliation) Now the BS of “its better than before the A ” I’m not buying into. I think that’s just a book selling ploy. But in my case, I decided to reconsile for a future with him, not just for the kids, and that’s what he wanted too.

  • This post scares me because:
    1. If we had kids I feel I would definitely have stayed
    2. My IL have a history of mental illness

    The last paragraph sums up the advice I’d stand behind. You either can try to love your husband again or you can find love with yourself or someone else. Love is a beautiful thing that you’re choosing to live without.

  • Just wanted to mention that ocassionally a person with Bipolar will be unfaithful because of the illness. However, it’s pretty easy to see whether it was the Bipolar or the narcissisms/lack of character that were at play;
    – if it was a bipolar ‘thing’, it will have happened ONLY when they were quite severely manic, which means they were also barely eating, barely sleeping, and doing other stupid impulsive grandiose things (crazy gambling, crazy shopping, wild work projects are common). If the person never had a full manic phase, just hypo-mania, this would not be enough to overcome their morals – assuming they had any to begin with.
    – if it was a bipolar thing, there will have been a very impulsive flavour to the affair – someone they barely knew, or someone really inappropriate, a fling, risk-taking. Long-term or emotional entanglement, or repeat affairs, that’s NOT bipolar at all.
    – if it was a bipolar thing, they will have been horrified when the mania wore off or they were medicated out of it. This kind of behaviour is often actually the reason somebody finally admits they have a mental health problem, and gets diagnosed and treated.

    But aside from that, I agree w/others here; unless you can see a path towards this becoming a loving, caring relationship, then what about YOU and YOUR life? And what kind of message are you sending your kids? It’s OK to stay in a marriage where you don’t trust your partner, never really let your guard down, don’t expect love or true companionship, and will probably split once the kids are grown? Blergh! I just realized this is what I did for the last 3 years of my marriage!!!!! (At that point, not because of infidelity, but because of his selfishness and negativity.) It sure didn’t work for me, and it wasn’t making the kids happy either.

    So get out of limbo, appraise your situation realistically, and either work towards real reconciliation, or towards a divorce that works for you and the kids.

    • i-polar has NOTHING to do with knowing the difference between right and wrong.

      Get it?

      Capable of murder too, but they don’t do that. They know it is wrong. They don’t steal, they know it is wrong. They don’t beat their spouses. They know it is wrong. They cheat because they can. And they do.

      • Actually they do sometimes steal, gamble away their houses, insist on speaking to the President to the point of getting arrested … and a friend of mine bought a large cockatiel, moved into a posh hotel (couldn’t afford even one night there!) and lit almost 200 candles in the room. They are way too happy to murder or beat somebody. But those are the most severe manias (usually ending up in hospital, often manic to the point of psychosis).

    • I think it all comes down to suffering. If you love someone who has cancer and they are suffering, you want to do everything in your power to ease their suffering. If you love someone who is BPD or has any mental illness and they are causing you to suffer…well you have weigh up whether you deserve that. Especially if they are capable of making choices. Quite frankly I would leave someone with cancer if they were cheating on me…and I’d probably be hoping they suffered!

      • My h is bi-polar and is recovering from cancer surgery, chemo and radiation. He has suffered terribly. I would not wish that on any other human being. When he is better (it is now a year) I will leave him. One must have a plan. I also principled and always keep my word, as “n sickness and in health.” So I will stay until he can begin taking care of himself. I have a feeling you probably would do the same.

              • So I will stay until he can begin taking care of himself. I have a feeling you probably would do the same.

                Nat1 December 14, 2013 at 2:43 pm
                Would he?

                Yoder December 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm
                Who cares what he thinks or does? It is me I have to live with.

                Nat1 December 15, 2013 at 5:49 am

  • Dear Still a Chump,

    There is no middle ground. You either forgive him and reconcile OR divorce him on the ground of adultery. Either his infidelity is a deal-breaker or it’s not. To stay in limbo isn’t fair to you or him. Not forgiving him and living together is hell on you both. Forgiveness, to some extent, requires the offender to share the burden of the pain he/she caused. It seems your husband is doing that. It’s possible to have a very good marriage after an affair, in this case you are one who needs to decide if you want to. The book After the Affair by Janice Spring is pretty helpful if you BOTH want it to work. This isn’t a book written by the industrial reconciliation complex. It’s an honest workbook for both parties with a slight (though not heavy) bias towards reconciliation. You aren’t even giving it a shot. You are putting him through cheater’s purgatory. No one would fault you for calling infidelity a deal-breaker and ending it. If you want to, go ahead. Just decide. Given your situation, your kids will, most likely, be better off if you stay together (that’s based on lots of research) and not a popular opinion on this site. I think Chumplady is the best, but I disagree with her strong bias towards seeking a divorce after infidelity, especially when there are kids involved. I agree, many people who cheat are not worth staying with. My ex was one of those. Maybe your husband is worth it. Maybe he’s not. You decide. It’s OK either way.

    • I’m sympathetic to part of what Theoden writes. I wonder if this really is an intact family and a good marriage to model to the children. It seems like it’s limbo: a sort of cold war marriage. Is that healthy? There may not be any fighting, but I would think that the kids pick up on the lack of trust/intimacy, and is that what one wants to model? Of course, everyone makes their own choices. I just wonder what we mean when we say “intact family.” Is that a family where the parents live under the same roof, don’t yell or fight, but one’s on probation and the relationship the parents have is pretty cold and distant. Is that “intact,” or does it just look that way?

    • Theoden – I have to disagree that the kids would definitely be better if they were together… I don’t think you can make a blanket statement like that. They won’t be better off if they sense their mother hasn’t forgiven and possibly doesn’t even like their father. Still a Chump doesn’t even wear her wedding ring. If they know about the cheating (which it sounds like they do), it’s going to affect them no matter what the solution (I am curious about what the therapist has to say about it). The only way they are better off with the parents staying together is if she somehow figures out a way to trust again and be happy. If they are basically staying together for the kids and she is still angry, it just sounds like they are just killing time for 4 years and probably modeling some unhealthy behaviors at the same time.

      Not only that, I feel that belief that you have to stay together for the sake of the children kind of puts the blame (again) on the chump. THE CHEATER was the one that risked the family through their actions. I feel like these statements are a guilt trip to the party that is the most likely to feel guilty and who actually does care about others – ie. the chump.

      I’d say given her situation, she needs to think seriously about leaving. If she cannot honestly forgive or at least accept and move on to trust and love him again, then I’d say chances are high that he cheats again. Nobody wants to live on probation, especially a cheater.

      Her kids should see her as a happy person again… and that sounds it’ll be a long time coming in the current situation. Limbo is the shittiest of all places to be and it’s probably affecting the entire household. She’s been there a long time now… I say she needs to pick a side.

  • Wow, Still, you are in a tough situation. A friend said to me during my bogus reconciliation with my now-ex, “Sometimes you just can’t put the Jack back in the box.” I think it’s often like that after infidelity. Sure, you can stay together and try to restore the marriage. But sometimes the cracks are always there, the broken edges show and the pieces never quite fit back together again. For some people, that’s okay and they are willing to stay in a broken marriage. For others, that’s simply not acceptable. Only you can decide which way you feel. I don’t think either choice is wrong, it’s simply a matter of what you feel is acceptable for YOU.

  • Still A Chump, I admire your strength and resilience, but unfortunately you’re trying to have it both ways. You almost seem to be pretending that you’re not doing the very things you’re doing and pretending not to be emotionally invested in the very things that you’re emotionally invested in. In fact, the tone of your letter was awfully dry and clinical; you seem to be side-stepping your emotions altogether! In short, as your pseudonym reveals, you’re still a chump.

    Here are my thoughts:

    1) Your letter painted your cheating husband in an entirely sympathetic light. Like super-duper sympathetic even by Chump Standards. You’re preaching to the choir here because we’ve all got our own stomach-turning tales of strapping on our Spackle Utility Belts and trying to play SuperSpouse to our wayward cheaters. Your letter is short on the details on what your husband actually did but awful heavy on the details of his mental instability.

    2) I sense an intense emotional pain that you’re trying to mask with coldness towards your husband (wedding ring off, I’m not in love with you…actually I don’t give a fuck what you do…but there are consequences if you do it) while at the same time describing your family as “close and loving.” Is THIS what “close and loving” looks like to you?

    3) I also get the sense that you’re taking a very passive-aggressive approach to (what’s left of) your marriage, establishing the appropriate ground-rules but also subtly waiting for the other shoe to drop and feigning indifference to the next affair that hasn’t happened yet. In short, you’re setting your own heart up to break again.

    4) Both of the reasons you gave for why you’re still together mentioned your children and not much else. Using children to prop up a relationship, especially one plagued by infidelity and heartbreak, is a recipe for disaster. And last I checked, he’s married to YOU. Not them. How do YOU feel about this? I respect your willingness to give your kids an intact family, but your current living situation as you’ve described it in your letter sounds catastrophically broken. If your kids are approaching high school age, then they’re old enough to notice that Mommy doesn’t wear her wedding band anymore. Read CL’s past posts about modeling dysfunction.

    4) This one really got me: “I think he was stunned when I told him and our marriage counselor that I didn’t spend any time worrying about whether he would have another affair.” What the FUCK?! Okay…so if you don’t give a shit, then why are you in marriage counseling? Why are you still married to this man? I’m sorry but as a fellow Chump I’m calling bullshit. You’re way too sharp and mentally engaged to be this indifferent. Sounds to me like this is your passive-aggressive way of getting back at him for the betrayal. You have every right to be upset and to say whatever comes to mind to get a reaction out of him. But take it from a fellow Chump: Provocative button-pushing is an exercise in futility, and will only deepen the resentment between you two and will only break your heart even more.

    5) So you don’t wear your ring, you’re not in love with him anymore, claim not to care if he cheats again, and even went so far as to say that if you didn’t have children then you wouldn’t be together. Yet you still live together and even go on dates and walks together? Are you trying to be married AND divorced at the same time? You seem like a very intelligent woman but I’m not at all following your logic. Nor can I wrap my head around what you’re trying to accomplish for either your family and especially for yourself.

    6) You’ve been living like this for two YEARS? I would understand if he just moved back a few months ago, but you’re now in YEAR TWO of this “mess” (your words) of living with him post-DDay, not being in love with him, yet going out on dates and attending marriage counseling? How’s that workin’ out for ya? What’s changed in the last two years? You still sound like you’re in intense emotional pain about all of this, a pain that’s probably only deepened by your husband’s presence in your home.

    Honestly, SaC, it sounds like your marriage is irrevocably broken. You know it. Your husband’s cheating has reduced your marriage to a pile of dogshit on the rug. And while you’re not mean-spirited enough to rub his nose in it, you’re content to let the steaming turds harden on the rug so your husband has to step over them. It’s almost like you’re daring him to slip and fall right back into the mess he himself created.

    Again, is THIS what an intact family looks like to you? Is THIS how you want to spend the rest of your life? You’re not changing diapers anymore. Your kids are 4-5 years away from adulthood. What then?

    The only thing I can offer you is that you can’t get half-pregnant. If you’re so intent on emotionally detaching yourself from him, then you need throw his ass out and do it for real. If the only way you can communicate your heartbreak to him is by removing your wedding ring and feigning indifference to whatever the fuck he does or doesn’t do, then I really can’t see how ANY reconciliation is coming out of this, a reconciliation you don’t even seem to want!

    You need to get real about this situation and what’s it done to your heart. You didn’t say a word about your OWN feelings and seem to be almost indifferent to your OWN heartbreak. In fact, the only reference you made to your own feelings was to mention that you get pissed when he does the dishes because of what you had to go through just to get him to get off his ass. If you resent him that much that him doing chores pisses you off, then it’s time to take a different look at this situation.

    I really think you need to look inward on this one and concentrate on piecing your broken heart back together. But first you need to acknowledge your heartbreak and then decide what steps you’re going to take next. Because honestly your marriage as you’ve described sounds like the exact same kind of toxic dysfunction that my ex-in-laws had: Still together after 30 years, but could barely stand to look at each other, let alone be in the same room together.

    Is that how YOU wanna grow old?

    Keep us posted. *hugs*

    • Chris, I’m just handing this advice column thing over to you. Well done on the response! Especially #2.

      • Don’t you think emotional numbing is a protective device? I know I was numb for many years. The numbness protects you from the fear and pain until you’re strong enough to face your deepest fears.

        From Wikipedia: “Emotional detachment in the second sense above is a decision to avoid engaging emotional connections, rather than an inability or difficulty in doing so, typically for personal, social, or other reasons. In this sense it can allow people to maintain boundaries, psychic integrity and avoid undesired impact by or upon others, related to emotional demands. As such it is a deliberate mental attitude which avoids engaging the emotions of others.

        This detachment does not necessarily mean avoiding empathy; rather it allows the person space needed to rationally choose whether or not to be overwhelmed or manipulated by such feelings. Examples where this is used in a positive sense might include emotional boundary management, where a person avoids emotional levels of engagement related to people who are in some way emotionally overly demanding, such as difficult co-workers or relatives.”

      • Chris,

        You really brilliantly expressed some misgivings I share. This does sound like a kind of passive-aggressive approach to punishment that threatens to drag out forever, with the kids having a family that may be mathematically intact, but that seems kind of cold, desperate and distant on the inside. Well said!

        Of course, everyone can make their choices, but it would worry me in this situation that I’d be modeling a kind of cold relationship to my kids as if it were normal, encoruaging them to settle for something similar some day.

        • Wow! Chris, great reply.

          Still A Chump, You need to get out of marital counseling and into individual, trauma counseling, ideally with an exceptional counselor trained in Somatic Psychology/Counseling. I have an exceptional counselor who might be able to recommend someone in your area. Not sure how to connect with you.

        • Still A Chump, If healing comes, a great deal of the healing for the betrayed arrives because of the hard, consistent work of an empathetic betrayer. I’m wondering if your mentally ill husband is up for that. Is your husband an empathetic person? Does he have a history of empathy with you?

          I don’t believe the statistics on intact families and children is based on solid studies comparing the right things. If you stay for the children, and once they get everything straight in their adult heads, 10, 15, or 20 years from now, they tell you they would have preferred you left, or you see poor behaviors in their adult lives you can trace back to your staying, how will you feel then? You really can’t KNOW your staying is the right thing for your children. You can only come to know, through counseling (see my earlier post), what is right for you. You are the healthy parent in this relationship. Your children need your very good example. That very good example may involve leaving, and it certainly involves getting deeply in touch with what you need, not with what everyone else seems to need.

    • It appears like she’s trying to fall in love with him again, but it’s not coming. Now she wants to know if that’s OK. I say it’s most likely not going to ever happen especially doing it this way. You are in Limbo Land.

    • Chris, that is incredible advice! Wow!! I just wanted to keep reading, we’ve all been there doing or pondering doing echoes of what Still A Chump is going through.

    • Chris:
      Wow – That was a clear and incredibly insightful analysis.

      Still A Chump:
      I can relate so well to what you described, and Chris articulated some of this so well. What I have come to realize after my own experience with my husband’s betrayal and infidelity is that my pride and self esteem have been badly damaged . It is natural for us to attempt to feign indifference when someone has done something to hurt us in such a personal way. It is a normal way that we protect ourselves. “You can’t hurt me anymore because I don’t care what you do now.” is that about right? That is what I think you are suffering from. Your pride is keeping you trapped right now. You are also not allowing yourself to make a decision based on what YOU feel, what YOU want, what is best for YOU. I think you also feel somewhat stuck and obligated to stay stuck because so many other people in your life know about the situation. You family knows – I assume that means your parents and any siblings you may have. And your kids know. You probably have many close friends that know as well. I understand the reason for including your kids and your family because what he did is wrong, it effects them, and you need the support of other people you love to get through this. However, I sense that you are now put in a position where you don’t want to be the “bad guy”. You don’t want to be the one that says – “This is not okay with me. I will never look at you the same way again and I am done with this relationship.” You don’t want your kids to feel like you dumped their dad when he was doing his best to repair your relationship. And, you don’t want your family to believe that you abandoned your husband in his time of need. (I know unbelievable – But some people may see it that way. And, they have probably said that to you. Which makes this even more difficult to deal with.) That is the downside in having other family members knowing. We can inadvertently put ourselves (the people that have been victimized) in a position where we suddenly have to worry about what other people in our lives think about our decision to just say “It’s over – I’m done – I have done everything I am willing to do here. Your betrayal and infidelity damaged our relationship too much for me to get over it and stay with you.”
      I believe you are doing something similar to what I did when I stayed with my husband for three years after I first found out about him cheating. I believe you are trying to WILL yourself to feel love again for this man. You are trying to FORCE yourself to stay in this relationship because you have convinced yourself it is the right thing to do for your kids and because it makes you a better person somehow for being strong enough get through it. I did the same thing. I was so used to the habit of being married to him and the habit of thinking that I loved him that I had trouble figuring out what my TRUE feelings were after the cheating and betrayal.
      Still A Chump – I think you need to dig deep into your heart and soul and really try to figure out if you love this man. Do you want to spend the rest of your life with this man? Look at him and see who he is TODAY. Would you choose to MARRY him TODAY knowing everything you know now? Figure out what your TRUE and HONEST feelings are. What were your true feelings toward him before you discovered his infidelity and betrayal? Is he someone that you respect? Does he respect you? Do you feel emotionally supported by him? Do you have a true partnership together? Do you feel safe and loved when you are with him? Did you used to feel safe and loved when you were with him before the cheating was discovered? After you get to the root of what your TRUE FEELINGS are, I believe you will be able to make an authentic decision for yourself about what is best for YOU. That is exactly what I had to do. I put myself in a position that made me feel like a martyr trapped in a cage. The cage was my marriage. I thought I had to stay there because I was so used to believing that I loved him, I actually thought I did. Until I dug deep enough within myself to figure out that I actually didn’t love him anymore. The damage he did to our relationship was too great. The trust was gone. The feelings of safety were gone. The one person in the world I should have been able to trust and rely on above all others was no longer that person for me. He was a person that discarded me, lied to me and used me daily for years. He hurt me worse than anyone else ever could. When you really love someone, I do not believe that you can be so calculating about deceiving them on a regular basis. Cheating requires planning and deliberate actions. He made the conscious decision to cheat on me each time he did. He made the choice to come home and pretend to love me each time he did. His lack of morals and lack of integrity was astounding.
      When I discovered what my true feelings were, I realized that I no longer loved him. Not the way I need to be able to love someone I am committed to. It gave me strength to recognize that I didn’t love him anymore. It also gave me strength to give myself permission to say to him “I don’t want to me your wife anymore.” Those are powerful words I said to him and I felt very clear about it when I said it.
      When you get to a level of real clarity within yourself, you will know what to do.
      I hope you can find the inner strength you have inside of you to do what is best for YOU and for your life. Only YOU really know what is best for YOU.
      Take care and best wishes,

      • “When you really love someone, I do not believe that you can be so calculating about deceiving them on a regular basis. Cheating requires planning and deliberate actions. He made the conscious decision to cheat on me each time he did. He made the choice to come home and pretend to love me each time he did. His lack of morals and lack of integrity was astounding.”

        Rebecca, I have saved more of your comments than I can count. Thank you.

      • You are exactly right. I don’t have anyone to talk with about this because even though I do have friends and family that know, they don’t really understand.

        • Nobody can even begin to really understand what you are going through unless they have experienced their own betrayal. That is what is so wonderful about Chump Lady and this amazing group of people here. This blog has helped me more than I can even begin to explain to you.
          You are not obligated to love him and stay with him. You need to give yourself permission to get off the Chump Train if that is what you feel is best.
          One of the things I said to my husband during the reconciliation period was “I am willing to put all my effort into getting through this and rebuilding our marriage with you, but if I get to a place where I realize that being with you is bad for me, I am going to have to go.” That is what you need to ask yourself. Is staying in your marriage bad for you?

      • Rebecca, I SO agree that in this kind of situation, you need to LOOK at this person, with really open eyes, and at what life is and will be with them. Then ask yourself if you actually like them (love is something else, much more complicated), and would chose to stay with them if they continue to be just as they are now.

        I was finally able to leave my cheating ex when he cheated the second time, not so much because of the cheating per so, but because with that he just proved to me who he was. And I did not want to be with a person like that.

  • My X has a mental illness too. I’m pretty sure it’s Borderline, but his brother was a massive hoarder, so lots of problems in that family tree! I left my cheater. It was really hard, it took me almost four years to go, partly for the reasons you give. My sons are adults, but it’s been horrible for them anyway.
    I’m with the group that believes you go, let the screw-up fix the problems by him or herself, and then they can see if there’s a way they could fit back in your life. This just felt right to me. I refuse to give a pass for mental problems, in my case it’s because of the lying, sneaking, and manipulating two women that he did- there’s NO WAY that was out of his control! If he improves himself someday, who knows? Only time will tell, but meantime, I’m not being emotionally abused now, and for once, I can be in charge of myself, thank Goddess! (And of course CL and the gang)

  • Thanks everyone.

    A couple answers to some questions:
    1. Yes, his affair was in the midst of a complete manic episode, and he wasn’t very good about hiding his tracks because of that. I was on to him about a week into their inappropriate relationship, and fully uncovered the affair about a month into it. As you might suspect, the mania was not confined only to the affair, but manifested itself in lots of other ways too. During that time, he was a complete shit to me. I didn’t mean to sugar coat the affair at all in my letter to CL; it was more that the specific details weren’t worth hashing over at the moment. He wasn’t very inventive — lots of what he did fits into the experiences of others on this site: younger blonde slut (who lives on my street!), gas lighting, using the kids as a cover story (setting up play dates with her kids, etc.), the list goes on. Blah blah.
    2. He is substantially more present in our home and lives than he ever has been in the course of our 20 year marriage. Honestly I think he checked out around the birth of our 3rd child 8 years ago. He is home now, engaged with the kids and the household, and even with me, in a completely different way. This is part of why I don’t feel like I have to check up on him. And if I ever do have a moment when I want to see his phone or computer, I just ask him to give it to me and he does.
    3. Regarding my feelings — they are very complicated. I was and, to some extent still am, angry and very very hurt by all of this, not just the affair. That’s why there are 3 conditions for the marriage, not just one. I really struggle with what is the right thing to do here, both for me and for my kids.
    4. I work in the field of at-risk youth and I see the studies that you reference, Theoden, and that IS one of my primary drivers. I truly don’t mean that as a judgement on anyone with kids who has divorced their spouse. I fully accept that this may be me some day too. But the data says that kids are best off in two-parent households, and so I wanted to see if I can give them that. I may not be able to, but if I can’t, I wanted to know that I tried.
    5. He has made real and authentic changes. I could list them out, but that would probably only make him seem “more sympathetic” LOL. I didn’t know at the start of this if it would be enough or if I could even forgive him. Maybe I can’t and maybe what was broken can’t be repaired. Reading over my letter makes it sound like we live in a state of cold war, and that is my error, because we really don’t. We are friendly and get along well, for the most part. What is missing is deep emotional intimacy. My husband has made it clear that this is what he wants. I am not sure if I can give it to him or if there is too much scar tissue there.
    6. When I said close and loving, I meant as a family, not as a couple. We are very close with our kids, and do spend a lot of time together as a family (sit down dinner with all 5 every night, family game nights 1-2x/month, etc.). We all cherish the family unit now, I think, after what we have all been through. It was so very traumatic for our children (and ME!) to have them come home from school one day to find that mom evicted dad. We have each spent time in IC and FC to address that trauma and let the kids express their hurt, anger, fear, and betrayal.

    How long do you try to heal? That is what I am trying to figure out. Someone asked what will I do when the kids grow up. I am wondering that myself. I don’t know what the future holds, and I certainly could not have predicted how this journey would go. If you had asked me 15 years ago what I would have done if my husband had an affair, I would have said unequivocally that I would divorce him. But here I am. Wondering what is next.

    • I don’t know about these statistics. But I wonder how about the reasons why people leave marriages, and it’s often over infidelity, addiction, and mental illness — and where are the impact studies on what those things do to children? Is it the divorce that harms children, or the issues that lead to divorce?

      And how do you quantify the effect of modeling a marriage where there is no emotional intimacy? That love is a truce. A “permanent probation.” Game night can’t spackle over that shit.

      People write to me whose parent’s stayed for the kids, and they really wish they hadn’t. Those studies, to me, invalidate the many, many successful people I know who were raised by single parents, those parents, and the loving, blended family I have experienced.

      If I had stayed with the father of my child I cannot imagine the misery and fuckupedness. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all fits about moldy sponges. We co-existed together just fine without much drama (he really wasn’t that prone to it, just more seething passive aggression). Had outings, dinner guests, a life.

      But it sucked.

      How much better for my son now to have a loving marriage modeled to him. To see deep connection and two people who genuinely care about each other.

      I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t left.

      I believe it just takes one sane parent. I hate the guilt that chumps feel to stay for the kids.

      • You know, CL, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. I don’t know the answer or have the ability to peer review the methodology of the cited studies. I could in any event imagine family game nights being a fairly bitter event for the betrayed spouse, along with a lot of other moments which should otherwise have been the stuff that builds a lifetime of fond memories. I don’t know whether pretending is truly enough, or that I would be strong enough to do it. The thought of Still A Chump’s days yawning ahead of her like that, however, leaves me sickened and cold. It seems to me a terrible sentence imposed by the cheater, who for all of his mental illness in the end sounds and acts just like all of our exes- selfish, not as clever as he thought, using the children as a front, etc.

        • Sometimes staying together can be worse that, well, almost everything. Reminds me of that SNL skit about the couple that Really Should’ve Gotten a Divorce:

      • Personally, I’m very suspicious of the stats that say an intact marriage is better for kids. I think the studies are biased. The real study, if it could be done, would not compare the kids in marriages that endured to those that broke up. Of course, on average, the marriages that last probably indicate better family relations than those that fail. But that’s comparing apples and oranges. A true study would examine the kids of failed marriages that stayed together just to…stay together. (This would probably be impossible to research since you couldn’t set up a neat control group or criteria for what constitutes success and failure in a marriage.) I suspect those situations are not very good, since that parents are often modeling “Cold War” behaviors that do not model healthy adult relations for the kids.

        Sorry if my comment sounds so elliptical, but I just think these stats are flawed. Yes, marriages that last, on average, may be better for kids than marriages that failed. But it’s not divorce per se that makes for a good or bad situation, it’s the conditions taht bring about divorce. If you try to just avoid divorce, but then wind up maintaining the conditions that got you to near-divorce, you may not be doing the kids any favors. Instead, you could string out a situation that’s bad for everyone, that leaves everyone half-committed and full of doubt.

        • “But it’s not divorce per se that makes for a good or bad situation, it’s the conditions taht bring about divorce.”

          I agree. The study brings to mind the whole correlation vs. causation thing….

      • The thing is, “on average” studies don’t tell us anything definitive about particulars. On average, men are taller than women, but we all know tall women and short men. On average smokers die earlier…but George Burns smoked his cigars a long, long time. On average university grads earn more money…but how many millionaires can we name who dropped out? So maybe kids from “intact” families fare better “on average”. Doesn’t say a thing about how my particular sons from a “broken home” will fare, nor how a particular child growing up in an intact family but “broken marriage” will fare.

    • Thanks for clarifying some of the details in your letter.

      My original comment to you was long-winded enough so I’ll try to keep this one a little more concise.

      What really jumped out at me in your comment here is the sense that your primary focus is the well-being and stability of your children’s lives rather than your own. I totally understand that and it’s completely normal to feel that way.

      However, I get the sense that you’re blaming yourself for those months when your family was fractured while your husband was away, or in your words: “Mom evicted Dad.” Umm, no you didn’t. Dad decided to make some really shitty choices in response to your marital problems and chose as a solution something that only created more problems. Mom responded like an adult and held Dad accountable for his actions. You didn’t throw him out so you could move your boyfriend in. You simply held him accountable for his cheating. Stop blaming yourself and call a thing a thing. You did nothing wrong.

      As for your healing, the only thing I can offer you is that first you have to allow your heart to break in order to get to the true core of your shattered emotional state. The family dinners, marriage counseling and game/date nights all sound like proactive solutions to your problems, but taken in the context of your situation sound more like Damage Control. You’re not going to be able to “manage” your way back in love with him. And you’re certainly not going to heal while you’re still so emotionally numb and indifferent.

      You did provide some pertinent details but your marriage still sounds like an empty shell. Without emotional intimacy, what’s left? There’s no emotional intimacy because your heart is closed. You may think you’re protecting yourself from him emotionally, but all you’re doing is further isolating yourself from your feelings and slamming the brakes on your healing.

      And I’m sorry but your living situation DOES sound like a cold war. The resentment and passive-aggression dripping out of your letter was painfully obvious. It’s understandable of course. But you need to think long-term. If you’re this numb and indifferent two YEARS into R, what’s it going to look like in another 2 years?

      You’re not breathing the clean air right now, and I don’t think you’ll ever be able to as long as you two are living in the same house. You may not be able to fathom a divorce right now (when the REAL combat starts) but I can’t describe the feeling of peace that will wash over you once the smoke has cleared and you’re finally the hell away from him. Even if you have to co-parent for another decade, you’ll still have gained a life and you’ll be in a place that may not be perfect, and may not look the way you want it to. But trust me. You’ll be content. And that’s a hell of a lot better than what you have now.

      Just my two cents, of course. You know Chump Nation has your back. 🙂

    • From what I’m reading here, he has no prior history of cheating? This affair was entirely during a manic phase?

      If so, perhaps your husband is truly repentant of what he did, and is not in further danger of cheating, assuming he continues to get treatment for his bipolar. But what it sounds like to me is you simply do not love him anymore. The affair and bad treatment during his mania killed off your love and desire to be with this man. If that is the case, I’m not sure you can bring that back. You might decide to stay with him anyway, for a variety of reasons, but that means condemning yourself and your husband to a loveless marriage. It sounds like your resentment of him is intense (for good reason) and that really isn’t a healthy environment for you, for him, or for your kids.

    • Now I’m not familiar with manic episodes, but it wasn’t like he went out and had a one night stand… it was premeditated and ongoing and he attempted to cover his tracks as most of the cheaters we discuss here do. He was just bad at it. So was my ex, that’s why his affair only went on for 4 months (I think). And I’m pretty sure they are all shitty to us during the affair. Because we can’t compete with the naughty sex they are having with the AP.

      I feel badly pointing this out, but it feels like you are making excuses for him again. It’s fine to accept what he did and choose to move on, but please don’t blame his decision making 100% on his mental illness. It might have been a contributing factor… but he knew what he was doing. And he chose to keep doing it.

      I think I should ask about the OW. Even though they are MUCH less important than our spouse (our spouses were our partners – the ones we trusted completely) but they do impact our recovery. In my case, the OW was actually the source of my marriage ending. Or rather, I ended it because my now ex wouldn’t completely cut her out of his life. She lives on your street. Your kids were friends with her kids. Do you think her close proximity is what is keeping you angry? I can see where it would be hard to really move on when you have a constant reminder so close by. If you are committed to your marriage (and I think you really need to decide if you really are committed to your marriage), is it possible to move? You could maybe even stay in the same school zone… any distance would be better than none.

      • My anger at the OWis still there, although I no longer fantasize about committing criminal acts against her. I do still run into her occasionally but she generally stays out of my way. It is a thing, though, that is always there. I look for her car when I pull into the grocery store, etc., and it pisses me off that I have to think about that.

        I do need to decide. I am feeling like that– it’s been so hard to know what I was feeling and especially while I have been waiting and trying to make it work.

        Thanks for listening, everyone.

    • My STBXH comes from a sparkly, affluent ‘intact family’- on the surface, anyway. As a child of divorce myself, I was drawn into that as a positive.

      Fast forward 15 yrs, and I now realize that my single parent childhood, while very imperfect, was honest, real and provided a foundation of independence, strong morals and ethics.

      My intact in-laws on the other hand… live a complete facade. Closet infidelity, alcoholism, denial of reality, zero real communication, lying to themselves and each other all to keep the white picket fence scenario in play.

      As a result, they have two very damaged children in different ways, and they just escape into their country club lifestyle.

      Knowing what I know now, I’d take my childhood over that any day.

      Just another perspective to consider.

      • Huh…sounds like you married into the same family I did: my ex inlaws look so perfect and nice on the outside but it’s a hotbed of dysfunction when you get to know them. They’re seriously messed up – loads of cheating for generations, alcoholism, epic manipulation, mind fuckery times ten…being pretty much NC with the lot of them for more than a year has given me a lot of perspective and I realise I got sucked in to playing the game right along with them. There was this unspoken pressure to go along with the narrative. One of the reasons I scare them so much these days is that I don’t go along with the narrative and I honestly feel like they’re all invested in discrediting me because I was in the thick of it for two decades and know the real story.

        • Nord,

          Indeed, I got sucked in as well. For the first year after D-day, my inlaws schooled me on the art of omitting the truth. They remained in close ‘concerned for me’ contact which I learned was just to keep me quiet.

          “You can’t share that, he’ll lose his job. Don’t tell so and so, they’ll get distracted from their own life goals and that isn’t fair to them. We told the family you werent at Christmas because you werent feeling well, which is technically true.”

          Oh and my personal fav- we all know he’s mentally ill but don’t use those words because they’re offensive. He just has issues, private issues. And if you just keep this contained, we’ll make sure you dont suffer financially.

          Once I stopped that bullshit, they were less concerned for my well being and no longer in contact.

  • This post is a replica of what my case is now. The only thing different is that I made him to sign an agreement giving me the house now. He is OCPD (recently diagnosed) and hyper sexuality. He looks very remorseful. He is attending a Zen temple to become in a Buddhist to learn to have “empathy”. “Still chump” has fear. I understand her plenty. I am thinking endure 5 years more and work in my self the most I could and see if there are real changes or leave. I am now more focus in what I am going to do professionally and my teens, I don’t want waste my time in romantic relationships. These 5 years will be for me to gain more economic independency. I am not crazy desperate to look for someone and married again. I work full time, I got the house and my plan is to study more because that is my passion. Now what is there is just Me and Him, we legally divided everything, now there is nothing to fight for. If he stays is because our relationship is some important for him.

  • SaC,

    I wrestled with the “sickness and health” for about a month. If my STBXW had cancer, she would be in pain. With BPD, I get all the pain. The more it progressed the more pain I got.

    You have a right to feel joy in life. I haven’t found it yet but, I’m not in pain any more. You really can’t find joy again while living in limbo.

    The part that bothers me the most with your story is, that as soon as you let down your guard, will he do this again? Do you want to live guard all of your life from the person who should guard you?

  • Dear Still-A-Chump,

    You will know when you’ve met your internal moral code.

    But ~ and I say this with humility ~ failure is human. Its never fun, and its the hardest teacher. Admitting the marriage is a failure is not an insurmountable obstacle.

    There is love, and there is loyalty. You can detach ~ with love. But you do not owe him your loyalty. That very well be a casualty of his illness.

    Teach your children that ~


    • My husband has affair after 40 years of marriage and the affair lasted 15 months. She dumped him after I found out he was emailing her about coming over. Now he says he loves me he has been hospitalized against his will takes pills but I wonder how much was the illness how much was his choice . How can he love me after throughing me away so easily twice he said he was getting an apartment. I think he thinks he says he loves me for at his age he has no one else. I feal hurt disrespected not trusting of him and I gave my whole life to him dated him since I was 16 years old and have always put him first eaven now I’m trying to help him see what he has done and how I feal. Is this love I don’t think so I’m just a good person. Should I divorce him.

  • Still a Chump, one other thing I am worried about is that he has admitted he is a narcissist or narcissistic. Those are people who are profoundly selfish and self absorbed, and have little to no empathy for others, it’s all about them. You said you grappled with whether you owe him something because he claims his cheating was due to his “illness.” Someone above posted that if their spouse had cancer and also cheated on them, he’d leave her anyhow, and I agree. I know a number of bipolar people, none of whom have cheated on their spouses. But narcissists, now you’re talking a whole other ball game and the odds are seriously not good for such individuals to remain faithful, and they rarely if ever truly change. My stomach lurched when I read that you announced you did not worry if he cheated and would not be checking on him. I understand the sentiment, believe me, but if he is truly NPD, that is like handing the keys for the house over to the burglar and telling him where the jewelry is hidden and when you and the children will be soundly asleep.

    What’s the bottom line? He claims his sickness made him do this, so you have to eat a really bad shit sandwich if you want to stay, and hope that’s the truth and that he’s conquered those illnesses. I hope he has for your sake. You have to remember that you must care for yourself and not allow yourself to be the martyred and forgotten person in this mess. I wish you clarity of thought and peace in whatever you decide. (((Hugs)))

  • My ex was mentally ill and I’m not going to expound on that, too complicated. It sounds like your husband is really doing the work and whether you love him or only still care for him, I see your quandary.

    But, really? How long have you known he had mental health issues? Did you ever discuss it prior to the affair? and if you did, was he willing to get help or what? You are still taking care of your husband, probably the same way you always have. How long have you done that? And who takes care of you? Does it make you happy? Your letter and your comment seem to say it doesn’t make you happy any more. Chumps feel good when they help, we also need to have someone capable of helping us in return. Doesn’t sound like you have that, sounds like you have a child husband who blames his mental illness for his character faults. I have friends with mental illness and they take responsibility for their own care, is your husband doing that? Or are you helping him alot, as in doing heavy lifting? Do you think if you broke up he would be unable to cope? Are you afraid he’d go down the drain, kill himself, maybe he’s said that? and if he has always had mental health issues but refused to deal with them until you kicked him out? The answers are yours, if the answers are yes, it’s likely that now he’s doing this for a goal, once he believes he reached the goal, what keeps him on the path? I can’t help wondering if this has happened before, but not the cheating part and you’ve enabled him to avoid treatment because he uses his illness to gain your support while refusing to deal with it himself.

    I’m trying to understand why you would stay with someone you no longer love or trust. It sounds like that awful word I totally hate; codependent…

  • The original letter does say the guy admits to being narcissistic as well, and THERE is the big crunch. Narcissists usually only change when they know there will be undesired consequences if they don’t, and then the change tends to last about as long as the sword over their head does. They behave better because that will get them what they want, not because they actually care any more than they did before about what you’re feeling.

    I’ve read that 5 to 7 years of specialized psychotherapy (either psychodynamic or CBT (for PD or Schema-oriented) can lead to more fundamental change, but also that it’s EXTREMELY rare for narcissists to stick out this kind of therapy, which is caring and empathic, but doesn’t cut them much slack.

    The selfishness and entitlement are long-term killers of love and trust. A manic episode can lead to some really stupid and uncaring behaviour, but it IS out of character for the person. When they’ve spent years, possibly decades, taking you for granted and thinking almost entirely of themselves, and THEN they do something terrible, it’s a lot lot harder to forgive and move on from the terrible stuff.

  • Still A Chump… I get you. I get it. If I’m bluntly honest with myself… If I could have the same conditions in which you seem to have, I’d want her (her, in my case) back in my life. I think your wanting to maintain the situation, and hope like hell you fall back in love, or at least have something akin to it. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place, in this limbo land, and why not double down? Nothing left to loose. It *might* work, given enough time.

    Everyone else is actually correct, though. The path is well-worn, and the others here on the blog… well they are across that bridge, beckoning, calling for us. Yet, here we are, paralyzed. Fucking sucks donkey nuts. We are on that bridge, and it’s burning down.. and all we can do is hope that by some chance, we can hang on to that one little cable (whilst cradling donkey nuts) and not fall into the lava below.

    It seems so abundantly obvious what needs to happen, what should happen, yet I get you. I get it.

    • Oh Chump Man, you’ve said it so well– I do feel like we are over the bridge on the other side, and trying to yell to you guys: “the bridge is burning….run, run, save yourself….don’t listen to that cheater who is whispering in your ear telling you this time it will be alright, this time he (or she) has truly changed, s/he is like all the other cheaters and is lying….we know that, we’ve lived that……. there is love and hope over here….there is nothing but disaster where you stand…..” But maybe in some strange spasm of Hopium I have for Still A Chump, I am afraid maybe it could work out for her, she’d be the one who can cling to the cable while balancing the donkey nuts (brilliant analogies, all Chump Man!). You remind me of one of CL’s articles about a chump in a burning house, and the chump saying “I feel fire, it is hot, my hand is starting to sizzle, let me understand this…..” and CL screams “get out of the f@cking house, it’s burning.”

    • Chump Man, excellent post. I was stuck in that bridge for over two decades. I’m glad I am on the other side, beckoning others to a better life.

  • What troubles me about your post is your certainty that, should he cheat again, you would simply end the marriage. You do not consider the horrible gut-wrenching impact of a second d-day.

    Given your commitment to keeping the family intact, you would not react with a new discovery with a meh and a shrug.

    The resulting pain of another d-day would be crushing. That is something you never need to experience that again.

    • Paula, you’re SO right about the pain still being crushing, and I know because that’s what I did. It took a few years after his first affair, but I eventually did figure out that my narc ex would NEVER do the work necessary to change himself enough that I would be able to feel safe in a relationship with him. He made some superficial changes, but the underlying entitlement was completely and totally intact. In the end he did the absolute minimum he could get away with at every point.

      So when I found out about the second affair, 7 years after the first, I actually did react w/a meh and a shrug. The affair was not a surprise, nor the heart-breaking shock the first one had been.

      BUT, breaking up the family was STILL a killer, watching him continue to do incredibly selfish and stupid things was STILL a killer, watching my kids go through this was STILL a killer. The horrible gut-wrenching impact was just as awful as it could be. I didn’t need to experience that again, and I really feel that if I could go back and re-do, knowing what I know now, knowing who he really is, I would have left him after the first affair. (Especially knowing that he wouldn’t even ASK for half of kids’ time (which in our jurisdiction he would have automatically gotten), ’cause like everything else, he wants all the benefits of having kids, but not very much of the effort or energy or time commitment that requires.)

  • I am amazed at how you all understand me so well. I have felt so alone for the past two years. You have given me a lot to think about and so I thank you all.

    • SaC, we are all here for you. In the end, this is your life so you will have to do what is right for you at that moment, and hopefully, with a lot of self-awareness, introspection and honesty. No one can tell you what is right for you but rather all we can do is offer you our experiences, our opinions. In the end, if you sincerely believe living the way you live today is what you have to do to get to a better place, then be it. Only you can know what that “better” place is for you. I am glad you feel understood and no longer feel alone. I felt the exact same way when I stumbled upon Chump Lady – and to think I googled “do cheaters change”. The irony of it all.

  • The Kids Are Better Off If the Parents Stay Together: So Say the Statistics….. And the idea that our obligations to the mentally ill are the same as those to the physically sick.

    Chump Son wants to return to this.

    I think these studies are fundamentally flawed because, as I said above, you are comparing apples and oranges. I think I have a way to illustrate this. It’s a bit of a simplified, hypothetical model, but bear with me….. (I’m kind of a geek with these things.)

    Let’s assume a situation of 999 couples, all of whom get married on the same day. One-third have good, strong marriages. One-third have terrible marriages. And the final third have marriages in-between, marriages that are troubled but perhaps salvageable. Dr. Chump Lady, a famous statistician, decides to study this group, which she calls the “999” over time. They all agree.

    Twenty years later, here are the likely results.

    The vast majority of the one-third with the happy marriages will be together. The vast majority of the one-third with the bad marriages with have split up. The final third, those with truly troubled — but maybe no hopeless — marriages will split down the middle. Half will be divorced. Half will still be married, struggling away.

    So, here’s the breakdown twenty years later. Half the group will still be married. This half will be made up of the 1/3 happy couples plus half of the middle group (1/6) of the total. (1/3 + 1/6=1/2) The divorced group will be made up of the very unhappy couples, which were 1/3 of the total plus 1/6 of the middling group. Now, along comes Dr. CL to study the children of these two groups. Dr. CL does her study and finds that — surprise! — the kids in the group that stayed married are actually happier! Then Dr. CL publishes her paper and says that her study proves that married couples have less-troubled kids than divorced ones.

    But this study is bullshit. She’s comparing kids from mostly happy marriages to kids from mostly unhappy ones. It’s comparing apples and oranges. The study is skewed because of bad reasoning and selection bias.

    Furthermore, the reasoning is not good. Divorce is not the cause of distress. Divorce is the result of a distressed marriage. It’s the distress that matters. If I’m driving my car and I’m running out of gas, I could just change the gas meter, just use my screw driver to open the thing up and push the needle over to “full.” The gas meter says “full.” I can always point to the gas meter and say, “Well, I never ran out of gas.” But this will not fill my tank with gas.

    In my view, just staying married to say you are married is not likely to “help the children.” You are already in a bad marriage and you have to do what’s best in that context. Comparing yourself to the happy couple down the road and saying, “I’m going to stay married just like them” is not going to help you. You have to do what’s best for your situation. Do you want to model an empty relationship for the children? And while the cheater or abuser spouse is no saint, how does it help him/her to stay in some sort of emotional limbo? In other threads, I’ve argued that in most cases the best thing a chump can do to help a poor partner is to leave. Actually, only then might the person re-examine their lives/approaches to people and maybe, just maybe change. (The truly NPD will likely almost never change, but there may be some out there who will.) Hanging around just keeps both people in the abuse-hopium cycle. Chumps are not/not counselors. We are not professionals. We are Chumps and we need to seek out folks who won’t take advantage of that fact.

    This leads me to another point. I sometimes hear folks here writing that, “My partner is mentally ill. I wouldn’t abandon him/her if he had cancer. I can’t walk out just because he’s Bipolar…..”

    Again, I would ask you to re-think this. Good psychologists and psychiatrists are trained professionals who cultivate a distance from their clients. They need this distance to be tough when they have to. (“Wilbur. You have got to stop drinking and you need to take your medicine. Otherwise, this therapy makes no sense.”) Chumps are precisely the opposite. My guess is that the Chumps who write here are likely very frequently involved in “helping” type jobs. I was a high school teacher and a coach (wrestling-my favorite sport), for example, and I still miss that. I’d bet that we have many others in like jobs. We are not good at cultivating distance. In fact, our strength is being able to get close to people and finding happiness in helping them. So, we do not have the needed distancing skills to help the mentally ill.

    What’s more, mental illness is different from cancer.

    As bad as cancer or some like disease is, it is far less likely to bring about behavioral changes that would hurt spouses or children. I have a friend who is, as far as I know, a very good father and he is struggling with a tough cancer. His prospects are good, but it’s tough. He has long periods in the hospital. But, as far as I can tell, this does not cause him to lash out at his spouse and children. His behavior is not unpredictable/weird/aggressive. Instead, his family pulls together around this tough situation. The dynamic of an illness like this is totally different than mental illness, where there are behavioral changes. So, I would not compare mental disorders to physical ones. And, Chump that I am, I would not try to fix a mentally ill spouse. I’m simply not qualified to undertake that. As a certified Chump, there some things I’m good at — helping a high school kid write her/his college essay; encouraging the young guy who just lost three wrestling matches in row to stick with the sport, to stick out the season, “it gets better;” reassuring a colleague that her/his little mistake at work means nothing to me, that we all make mistakes, etc. — and there are some things I’m not good at. I’m not qualified to help someone who is truly disturbed. I’d recommend they get professional help. And I sure as shooting wouldn’t subject my kids to such a person. As an adult, I can decide, “OK, Sheila, my wife, has those screaming fits, but I’m just going to ignore them…. After all, Sheila is a big earner, we have a nice house, and when she’s not having a yelling fit, she can be really nice…….” But our two year old daughter cannot make that same decision. Her little brain is plastic, and I have to take that into consideration, even if it’s only to explain to that daughter some day that Mommy has a problem. At the very least, I have to validate my daughter’s feelings. And, in fact, I should probably walk away.

    I know myself. I hate screaming, so in the above situation, as a certified Chump, I would walk.

    In any case, I hope this is useful. In the end, I don’t believe the stats that say marriage that lasts is better for the kids. The stats are warped. Divorce is a result, not a cause. And I’d never equate physical and mental illnesses. They are not the same thing. And they do not have the same effects on the people around us.

    My two cents.

    Chump Son

    • Thanks for tackling that, Chump Son. I love a well-reasoned argument.

      I would add with mental illness — it puts a different kind of burden on caregivers. Being with someone who is mentally ill or addicted can endanger YOUR health. Driving drunk, manically spending the retirement account, screaming and threatening because they’re having an “emotional hallucination.”

      I was talking with a friend yesterday about putting her father in hospice, who has dementia. The breaking point was when they were driving on a busy highway and he started yelling at her and grabbing for the wheel, nearly killing them both. As CS points out, this is the stuff for professionals. We are not equipped, no matter how much we may love someone.

      • Every doctor my husband has had, has taken me aside and said, “You need to take care of you. There may not be ANY assets left.” As a result of caregiving, I am exhausted. I am hoping I will not have to maintain this for much longer. I am glad I made the decision to stay until he is better, but it is extremely draining in so many ways. The anger and contempt are gone and that makes it easier, but I can see what the future would hold if I were to stay permanently and the picture is not pretty. Get out while you can.

        • My therapist helped me to reason out how X’s personality disorder was making my life hell. I may be a Chump, but even I began to realize that I deserved a good life. X was abusing me in so many areas of my life, it started to feel like all I was doing every day was putting out fires and doing damage control! Mental cases can really keep you busy! Maybe that’s their plan- if you’re constantly attending to them, or fixing things they wrecked, you never have time to think for yourself about your own life, or your own needs. That was the huge benefit of therapy for me, hearing an outsider say that what he was doing was abuse, or even domestic violence. I was too chumpy to get that by myself.

      • To ‘Still A Chump’–Tuberculosis is a disease too, but if someone had it, even someone we loved deeply, we would not let them cough in our face.
        (And if someone with TB loved us, they would not cough in OUR face!)

  • SaC, I believe that children fair best with happy, authentic parents. Do you see a path this for yourself in what you are doing? Also, I know not everyone here is a fan of Carolyn Hax but I think she often gets to the heart of the matter in being authentic with ourselves. Here’s some food for thought in a recent column that I think may apply to you:

    Also, my situation was different but among my great regrets are the loss of integrity and dignity for tolerating a “less than” relationship and the time that passed me by while not being able to be my “best self” with him and in living my life.

  • Wow. Great letter from a powerful Chump. I thinks she has done just about everything right. No, make that everything.

    The letter is a great candidate for a fun game I call, “Chumpster Whacking”. It’s similar to Google Whacking, but more useful. You read a letter to Dear Chump Lady, then before you read the reply, you jot down some of the main issues you see and try to guess what Tracy will say.

    Part of the challenge is in trying to gauge how truthy – or not – the sender is being with their story. Your results can make you more secure in your own Journey to Meh. If you have read here for a while, you discover that what Tracy has to say really sinks in if you let it. Another amazing thing I always find is that The Chumpster continues to come up with fresh ideas in her answers. She should write for “The Simpsons”…

  • Every time I read these posts I am awed by all the wisdom and experience shared!! Chumps rock! Living in Limbo Land may be necessary for some of us. I was in that place for 6 years, and despite therapy, I had a hard time sorting out my feelings. Hurt, anger, fear, panic, indifference, anguish… I thought I still loved him. He lied, and I wanted to believe him. He worked out of state and I had no way of tracking his movements. I lived with so much of an underlying feeling of uncertainty. I got stuck! He floated in and out and I let him control the situation!! Yes, I LET him, and I have to forgive myself for that. If I had had this blog sooner, I might have ended the marriage sooner. But at the 6 year mark, I found out about OW#2 and that day I realized I did not love him anymore. He left me in limbo for too long, while he selfishly ate cake and fed his own sense of entitlement and specialness. I needed a wake-up call, and I got one, and from that moment on the drama stopped. I filed for divorce, and a year later it was over. I don’t regret the years of limbo, because that is how long it took and it’s water under the bridge. I took that long to learn that I mattered, my needs mattered, my feelings were mine and they really really mattered. I had tried to swallow my feelings, carry on, be the good little Catholic (marriage is a sacrament) wife, work hard and raise the kids single-handedly. I was often too tired to take a break and look at my life objectively. But once I did, I got strong. I did what I had to do to end the marriage and move on. I feel 22 again, and excited and happy and optimistic about my life. Make time to get to know yourself, and VALUE yourself. And don’t live with someone who devalues or devalued you.

  • Another thread that resonates, resonates, resonates.

    I feel like I am halfway across that metaphorical bridge, some days wanting to turn around and run back into the familiar, no matter how terrible it is, most days now striving to run ahead, even if it is into the unknown, trying to have faith that life will be better on the other side.

    It is hard. I have been a caregiver so long that it has been difficult to even imagine that I can come first, that my wants and needs should be considered, that it is not selfish or greedy or mean to say no. David, your post is spot on; learning to distance myself has been problematic and kept me stuck for a long time.

    My mother suffered from Parkinsons and dementia for many years, and when the time came that we needed to get her into a care facility for her own safety it was a terrible decision. I remember the social worker telling me and my sisters that we were not able to care for her now, that it was beyond our training and skill, and that we should not feel guilty. But of course we did. We all felt that if we just worked a little harder, slept a little less, thought more positively, we could fix it. And of course we couldn’t. Ironically we had learned this behaviour from my mother, who cared for my bi-polar grandmother and dementia-afflicted grandfather, refusing to get them admitted to a care facility even after several small fires from “cooking” almost ended in tragedy. My mother only finally gave up some control to her sibs to help make the obvious decision after she suffered what we now know was a breakdown that affected her health terribly.

    That same kind of energy for me went into caring for my kids, my STBX, my elderly neighbours, went into my work. It was how I knew how to deal with the world, how I had learned to be as a woman. I always felt judged if I did anything for myself, and of course STBX used that guilt to his advantage. So little self-care, so little consideration for myself, and it’s a hard thing to learn so late in life, but I am working at it. I don’t want to be my mother.

    My sister and I talk about how for years we “put up with” – the house repairs that never get done, the old car that isn’t safe to drive any more, the volunteering that we really have no desire to do, the always planning around someone else’s work, someone else’s schedule, someone else’s desires. And we justified it for the kids, or the spouse, or because at some ill-defined time in the future it will all, somehow, pay off, although we don’t know how or when.

    When Toddler Boi left, my two youngest kids (in their late teens) told me that they wished he had left sooner, that they couldn’t understand how we had stayed married so long. That started a continuing conversation with them about the pros and cons of marriage in general, and made me think about how different things might have been. But it is what it is, and I can only hope to learn from it now and make life better for me and my kids.

    SaC, it sounds to me like you are resigned to “putting up with” right now for the sake of the kids. I can tell you from experience that there will be no pony under that particular pile of manure, no matter how long you dig or how much you wish. The kids know things are not right. You know that they aren’t. It is not within your expertise to fix your husband. He needs to do that on his own. You need to work on you, as CL says, and it might just be easier to do that with your husband at least temporarily out of your life.

    Please consider everything people here have written. There is a collective wisdom in this community that you won’t find anywhere else, and a sense of support and caring that will get you through whatever your path. At least take a good, long, hard look over to the other side of the bridge, and know it is an option. I can tell you that finally I am seeing glimpses of joy through the smoke, and that life is, slowly, getting so much better!

  • It’s next to impossible to convince someone to do something until they are ready. I think it’s human nature to come up with reasons why we stay in relationships that suck. However at some point it becomes a leap of faith. You have to believe that even though it hurts and your family life changes dramatically, there is peace, love and freedom for you when you decide to leave that relationship.

    I wasn’t “ready” to leave my marriage. I don’t think I was ever going to have a moment of absolute clarity and reassurance that leaving was the best option. I would have wandered around for a long time hoping for that one sign that made it right for me to go and ask for a divorce. I think that making that decision to end my marriage was one of the most painful decisions of my life. I was terrified. But I did it anyway.

    And I did it because of a rather simple answer to a simple question. I asked myself, ” is this what you want in a husband? A person who can lie, cheat and hurt you? ” The answer was no. He could not be the husband I needed him to be. And time, distance has absolutely confirmed this.

    I hope you find your answer too.

    • I also keep waiting for a sign too, but isn’t having the OW for 2 years enough of a sign?? What more do I need to know or want, to prove to myself that I have every right to end the marriage? I struggle with this every day and I am not sure what I am waiting for.

      • Oh Annie, I so understand this! I finally filed for divorce in August 2013 after nearly two years of limbo. What was I waiting for? An apology, an explanation, a sudden personality change, waiting for him to step up and take some responsibility, for him to take some action. I pushed, cajoled, did all the legwork, wrote endless e-mails.spent far too much time trying to make him what he wasn’t and could never be. It was all about him. Then I got so tired and discouraged that the thought of taking on one more thing (because of course I kept taking care of everything, the house, the kids, job, bills) was just too exhausting.

        Two things finally did it for me: I had so many people encouraging me to git ‘er done, including my kids, and a few days after submitting the paperwork I discovered Chump Lady and read everything on the site. Toddler Boi is fighting the divorce every step of the way in his typical passive-aggressive fashion, but you know? I have grown ups on my side now, and most important I feel like I am finally moving forward!

        Everyone has their own time frame, but remember you have all those awesome chump skills. Time to use them to benefit you, and git ‘er done.

      • Annie:
        You need to find your self-worth. If you have a daughter – What would you say to her if she was married to a man that had been having an affair for 2 years? Would you tell her to stay married to the cheater and keep herself trapped in a marriage with a man that has no regard for her at all? Don’t you want something better for yourself than that? You deserve better than that.

        • 2 years is enough. It’s enough. That’s your sign. Now it’s time to trust yourself. Find your new life.

      • Annie, you no longer need any more signs. Just the courage to move on with your life. After three OWs over two decades, I left and recently ex begged for forgiveness. I quietly told him to move on. You have every single right to end the marriage because you have the right to live your life with integrity, with joy, with peace, with love, with respect and with honor. You are not dishonoring your vows by walking out. Until you realize you deserve a life well-lived, you cannot make that decision. The greatest gift I gave myself was go to counseling before my ex had the final affair. I learned to honor and love myself like never before. When the third OW rolled around, I didn’t bat an eyelash. I filed for divorce and it was final in less than four months from the final DDay. And I am not having any second thoughts of taking him back now.

        File for divorce and if he truly wanted you back, then let him EARN you back. Raise your bar. Know your worth. AND, realize you do not have to take him back. Lots of hugs, Annie.

          • Annie:
            We all understand your fear. Believe me. But, after you make your decision and act on it, you are going to feel a huge weight lift off of you. You have been walking through your daily life with a cloud over your head. Part of that is due to the fact you have known for a long time what you needed to do for yourself. You have just been too affraid to do it. When you take that step in the right direction for yourself in honor of your self respect, the sky above you will be clear.
            I wish you strength and best wishes,

            • Am I moving too fast? Dday has only been 2 months ago…am I still in a fog and thinking of the impact this will have on me and my kids??

              • Annie: he has been having an affair with anotherwoman for 2 years and you found out about it 2 months ago. Is that right? If I were you, I would starting planning how and when you are going to dump him? Does he know you know about the affair? My husband had an affair for the last two years too. When I dumpedhim he said that he loved us both. Now he is living in an apartment with her 5 miutes away from our house where I live with our kids.
                Put some money aside for you, call an attorneyand plan your exit. He won’t suddenly change into a good person.

  • There is a song called “Jar of Hearts” sung by Christina Perri, and one line resonated with me for a long time: “I learned to live half alive…” One day you wake up and you don’t want to be half alive, you want your whole life back!! All of us knew when it was time to stop the pain and find the joy. It is an individual journey. It takes as long as it takes.

    • Yes, Meg, my then 19 year old daughter was studying in Italy in the months after D-Day. One night, she texted me to download and listen to two songs, one was Jar of Hearts (the other was Hollowman by a group called Trapt–believe me a completely different genre). She said the songs were me and her father. Both made me cry, because both were true. I was living half a life with my ex, and while he pretended to be a loving and adoring husband, my ex was nothing inside, nothing at all.

  • Always a child
    Always a victim
    Always entitled
    Always sick with you but having a hell of a time at your expense
    Always immature
    Always irresponisble
    Always without empathy
    Always scapegoating
    Always superior
    Always argumentative
    Always making you their mother
    Always causing chaos
    Always dependant, while hurting you with their total independance of you
    Always dishonest, while insisting on knowing facts that they use to hurt you
    Always jealous of you, why expecting YOU to “get a grip on your emotions”
    Always saying the past is the past while committing crimes in the present to lable “in the past” Even the counselors tell you don’t dwell or bring up the past, no one gets it isn’t the past if they are still doing it.
    Always “entitled” to your entitlements and theirs too.
    Always “gone” in body, mind and emotion, and reality
    Always full of “excuses” while excusing you for NOTHING

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