So, here’s what I’m mulling over at the moment.
I’m on the path to divorce, having totally separated my life from my soon-to-be-ex husband. The house is sold. I’m comfortably settled into a new apartment. I’m moving forward, making peace with myself, working on getting a life. Still up and down emotionally, but the momentum is forward-moving, so that’s good.
Often, reading your site, people mention being fooled by their cheating partner again and again. That was me, to a point. I was pulled back into his web many, many times. Almost 3 years passed between D-Day and the day I left it behind for good. So I was “fooled” many times.
But here’s an extra catch: I don’t really think I was fooled, in any real sense – at least after D-Day. Once I figured out that he had been sneaking around behind my back for a year, I did a LOT of digging and found a LOT of information about how deep a betrayal this really was. He told lies about me and to me repeatedly. He had a DUI under his belt, knew that I was petrified that he would drink and drive, so he would use that fear against me by telling me he was staying a bit longer at a friend’s house when he was really with his girlfriend. He used my trust and love against me. The handwriting was on the wall. And I saw it all, clearly when the shit hit the fan.
What’s more – he never really broke anything off with the girlfriend for those 3 years after D-day. And I knew it. Not just in my gut: I saw the evidence. I saw the correspondence over a couple of years. I saw the receipts for flowers and chocolates sent to her. I saw her thinly-veiled references to him on Twitter. I heard the messages from her on his phone. I was not fooled by him. I was 100% aware that it was happening, but unable to make a move.
I want to understand now what it was that kept me in place. I want to know if I’m the only person who experienced this weird paralysis. I did eventually get out of it, and that feels great – but I feel like I haven’t fully processed the major denial that kept me in that painful existence for an extended period of time.
So I guess my question is: How can you explain the irrational behavior of chumps who see exactly what is happening but keep working to maintain the status-quo, no matter how awful it may be?
So I had this friend who was a white South African spy (for the ANC, before apartheid ended). His name, honest to God, was Rocky. Anyway, Rocky was a spy for nine years but then he got found out, and when he got found out he was tortured.
He was very matter of fact when he talked about this. Because you see, he’d had training in military camps for the ANC. And he said they tried to prepare you for the experience. Some people have higher pain tolerances than others, and other people don’t have very high tolerances at all. But the take away from the training was — don’t worry which one you are — eventually everyone goes into “the wild blue yonder” and you’re in shock, you pass out.
He said the worst part about being jailed wasn’t the torture. It was the solitary confinement. He was in solitary for 13 months, and that was what breaks people, he said. Being alone.
I give you this grizzly story to observe a few things about pain. First, some people can endure a lot of punishment before it pushes them over the edge. Second, take it from a guy who was a pain professional — what everyone fears most is being alone.
You ask why were you “working to maintain the status-quo, no matter how awful it may be?” You endured a lot of pain in those three years of “status quo,” but you did it, I imagine, because you feared a greater pain — being alone.
And like someone in confinement, I think you believed you didn’t have a lot of choices except to accept the pain and numb yourself to it, lest your jailor banish you to solitary.
Perhaps you don’t like my example. Maybe you think it’s heavy handed. Here you are a woman with agency. No one arrested you. No one forced you to tolerate that situation. I’m comparing you — a free woman — to Rocky, a man who was powerless in the face of abuse by his captors.
And that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? You GAVE your husband your power during those years, as if he held the key to your life. Will he drive drunk? Will he come home late? Will he call the OW? Is he really this person I discovered he is? Is he still cheating on me? You put all your focus on what he was doing, or might do, or had done. All your drive and energy went there. For your efforts, you were rewarded with terrible pain. Yes he was betraying you and endangering you. The only energy you had left for yourself, you used to manage that pain with denial. To numb it. Vicious cycle.
Why not stop it? Because you didn’t want to step outside yourself and admit you were CHOOSING pain. The bargain goes like this — okay he’s doing those things, but he still comes home to me. I’m not alone. We’re not divorced. I can manage this. (You cannot manage it.) You go numb.
The pain was your price of admission to not have to deal with yourself. To not ask yourself is this ACCEPTABLE to me? If not, what am I going to DO about it? Who am I without this fucktard in my life? Can I create another life? What are my values? Am I willing to step out on them? Is alone really that scary? Because there are other people on this planet to love me. And maybe being alone isn’t as bad as this crushing pain and disrespect.
I’ve outlined before why we stay stuck with cheaters, the hope, the embarrassment of admitting to ourselves that we made a mistake of something as fundamental as choosing a life partner. But another reason get stuck is that we reject our agency. Our ability to assert ourselves. We allow our lives to winnow down to this one contest — keeping this marriage alive, keeping our partner with us, as if our whole life depends upon it.
That’s our cage and we make it. Allowing that man to keep cheating on you was not a life, but for a time you thought it was. Being a chump isn’t the whole of you. There’s a LIFE out there and it’s not a solitary void — it’s a FULL LIFE — one that you get to create. During those three years, you were not creating a life, you were creating a FRONT.
That’s very different than creating a life. And the funny thing is, fronts are way more painful. That thing you fear — the new life — is so much less painful than covering for a man who keeps cheating on you.
LilyBart, you’re not the only one who has experienced paralysis. In fact, I think paralysis is the norm. Everyone is shocked at first, but some are energized toward self-protection sooner than others. You don’t spend three years in shock. You spent three in denial, choosing that over a daring escape plan.
Not many people field marshall themselves out of this mess immediately after D-Day. Most of us need a bigger dose of poison before we’re cured. We need the multiple D-Days, the hopium crashes, and withdrawals before we say enough. Before we trust that they suck.
Stepping into the unknown is a matter of faith. You have to believe that better is out there, but more than that, you have to believe that you deserve better and can create better. You have to put all your energies back into yourself, which means redirecting those energy away from him.
LilyBart, you DID leave. You did find that moment where you’d had enough and you chose yourself over him. Please keep your eyes on the prize — a new life. Forgive yourself for those three wasted years. You needed that time to summon up the courage in yourself, and now that you’ve found that, don’t look back. This new LilyBart is the real you. The paralyzed LilyBart was a girl in a cage. You set her free. That’s the important thing. You set her free.