Dear Chump Lady,
I stayed in a marriage with a serial cheater/sex addict. I know I should have been out of there thirty seconds after the first discovery but unfortunately I just emotionally shut down ten seconds after that first discovery. I stayed and ignored obvious incongruities and lies. I stayed and became immune (or total victim?) to manipulations and gas lighting because he was just such a great guy — he couldn’t possibly be what I imagined he was. I stayed and stayed and stayed. I was a long-time chump.
Until I left.
Now I am very slowly regaining the self that I lost. Trying to restore my life to one that honors the values that once meant so much to me — honesty, trust and respect. And I am getting so much closer to Meh about him and what he did.
So my question is — how will I ever forgive myself for staying, and spackling and trying to untangle the skein and all the other things I did as a chump? How do I own what I did to myself, stop beating myself up for it, and move on? Is there a proven process for that? Is there a way to attain Meh for me?
Looking for my own Meh
Great question. And it’s the right question. Instead of directing your focus at your cheater — how do I forgive him? You’re asking, how do I forgive myself? There’s so much pressure out there for chumps to forgive cheaters. That this forgiveness is ESSENTIAL. That we are failing our God if we don’t do it. It’s so often cast as this Selfless Thing We Do For Others. Forgiveness as taking the high ground. Who we are, the damage that was inflicted on us, is incidental. Oh, forgiving the cheater is good for us too! Whatever benefit to a chump conferred from forgiving a cheater is a byproduct. An afterthought. And we’re stuck in that same goddamn chump pattern we lived — What Is Important Here Is The Cheater. That they are forgiven.
If you forgive your cheater doesn’t interest me. I’ve written about this and I think forgiveness is simply acceptance. I don’t wish you dead. There, consider yourself forgiven. If chumps want to forgive in some higher altruistic sense and it helps them? More power to them. I would never presume to tell someone they MUST forgive their cheater. It’s a very personal thing.
The greater question, the one you posed, is how do we forgive ourselves for being chumps? For valuing ourselves so little that we ate those shit sandwiches year after year? That we did not assert our worth. That we spackled and colluded in our abuse? How you get over THAT is the journey to Meh.
As a chump, this is a hard thing to write about, because I never want to come off blaming chumps for acts of infidelity. We get enough of that shit. Chumps don’t make cheaters cheat. Those offenses are all on them. Whatever the crime there is in being a chump, it pales next to the crime of being a cheater. There is no moral equivalence here.
But we must ask ourselves the hard questions of why we tolerated the intolerable, especially after infidelity was discovered. It’s one thing not to know — so many of us were in the dark for a long time. But we put up with the neglect, the verbal abuse, the gas lighting. We often did not assert ourselves as we should’ve. We set a very low price on our value. We chased. We pick me danced. Harder still, is coming to grips with why we stayed AFTER we knew about the cheating. We can dress it up a noble. That we stayed for our children, that we are loyal, we still loved this person who wasn’t behaving lovingly toward us and We Are the Better Person, that we were virtuous unicorns on the road to reconciliation.
We shy away from looking at the dark recesses of our soul. That we were afraid. Of judgement. Of losing our status. Of being wrong. Of losing our financial security. Of starting over. Fear made us cling, and fear made us reach for the hopium pipe.
Until you really start to unpack those issues, I don’t think you can get to Meh. It’s not enough to have the absence of the cheater. You need to take a good, unvarnished look at yourself and go — Christ, I’m not living like that again. I know my worth. I don’t miss that. What the fuck was I THINKING? Wake up from the chump spell.
I think that begins when you discount your cheater’s perception of you. Their judgments of your worth, and you start paying attention to your own true worth. I’m a loyal person. I’m kick ass at my career. I have a loving family. I raised three beautiful children. Whatever it is you love about yourself, you start nurturing that and you choke off supply to cheater thoughts. That you suck at sex, that you weren’t enough, that your thighs are fat, and your head is bald, that you’re lovable, but Not That Loveable. Whatever they said — doesn’t matter. Shift your alliances away from that person and back to yourself.
I made mistakes. I directed my gifts to someone who did not appreciate them. I tried to control the uncontrollable — if this person would betray me again, if I could extract an apology from them, if I could make them love me. Catalog your sins, look at them, and then forgive yourself. You did the best you could and you’re not perfect. Now you know better. Be different next time.
Being cheated on sucks. The pain is a motherfucker. But it’s one hell of a growth opportunity.