Dear Chump Lady:
I’m a friend of a Chump. She is married to a proven emotional cheater. I think he’s currently having a physical affair — he’s lost 40 lbs and has improved his appearance tenfold. I think she’s in 100% denial. I’ve given her platitudes along the way for fear she’d shut me out and I want to be a supportive friend and show her she has a soft place to land when shit hits the fan. I’ve peppered our path along the way with realisms and my feelings on the subject and I do it with a velvet glove. But mostly, I’ve been supportive and just let her talk about it.
She has bent over backwards to make things work, but it’s forcing a square peg into a round hole. Things are coming to a head and it’s getting nasty. There’s children involved so she is hesitating to dump him. She’s told him twice she wants a separation as a means to work things out and he’s called her bluff both times. She never followed through so she’s all bark and no bite. He’s in it for her two boys’ social security benefits due to their father dying (he adopted them after their dad died). They both work, but she’s the meal ticket; the social security is quite a large monthly stipend. He’s an only child with HUGE entitlement issues. He spends money on himself like it’s water and pulls a Bart Simpson-as long as there are blank checks in the checkbook, there’s money in the account. She separated their accounts, but she always ends up bailing him out.
While I’ve been the supportive friend, I don’t feel like I’m being a true friend because I have so many things to say to her about the truth of the matter. Sometimes I think she can’t see the forest for the trees, but maybe she can, I don’t know. She’s a roller coaster. Everyone can see the relationship is OVER. Stick a fork in it, he’s done and doesn’t want to be with her. I want her to have dignity and pride in herself when all this is over and the way it’s going now, there’ll be none.
How do I deal with my opinions about the HUGE DOUCHEBAG that is in her life? Maybe not at all? Because it’s not about me; it’s about her. Do I just swallow it and continue to be the supportive friend?
I’m going to disagree with you on one point — “he’s done and doesn’t want to be with her.” On the contrary, he refuses to leave for the very incentives you point out — she is his meal ticket. Your friend is still of use to him, so no, he’s not done at all. He will use and abuse her for as long as she lets him.
You just see the obvious douchebaggery. What you don’t see are the intermittent rewards — when he appeases and charms and makes promises and seduces. When he shares a few kibbles with her to keep her in the chump cycle. I’m sure from the outside whatever he’s doing looks like very little reward indeed — and you’re right — but she doesn’t see it that way. She believes He Will Change and puts inordinate value on the few kibbles he throws her way. Moreover, I’m sure she fears being alone again. Her first husband died, and being with an epic douchebag isn’t great for one’s self esteem.
So what do you do? You take the velvet gloves off and let her know she has the power to change her circumstances. When she starts to bend your ear about how dreadful Mr. Douche is you say, “And what are you going to do about that?” She says, “I’m going to ask him to separate!” And you say, “And how did that work out last time?” And she complains that he didn’t listen to her. And you say “So what are YOU going to DO about that?” (Hint, file for divorce, hint, change the locks.)
Keep reminding her she has agency. She has choices. She might think her choices suck, but choosing him is the suckiest choice of all. She cannot control him. She only controls HERSELF.
Unfortunately, same goes for you. You can’t control her, you can only control yourself. You can wave all the warning flags you want, you can try and bitchslap some sense into her, but at the end of the day, if she wants to walk this self-destructive path, you don’t control that. You may need to detach from this relationship if it gets too painful to watch.
You may worry that speaking to her honestly about her continued relationship with this wing nut will offend her and end your friendship — and it might. But I encourage you to be honest with her anyway. When I look back at my friendships during the Troubles, my dearest friend always told it to me straight, “He’s an asshole, leave him.” She never sugarcoated it, she never wavered in her opinion of what I should do. She was compassionate, but it got to a point where she didn’t want to hear anything more about him. Why? Because I was just complaining, spinning my wheels, I wasn’t DOING. When I was doing? That woman jumped into action — she financed my escape.
Basic business really — incentives and disincentives. She incentivized my healthy choices and discouraged my unhealthy ones with her Let’s Change the Subject.
Letting your friend complain on and on about Mr. Douche is not helping anyone. It’s not helping you — it drives you crazy. It’s not helping her — she stays stuck and vents to you. I think you can say to her honestly, “Friend, I love you. I can’t stand to see you in this abusive relationship. But you have choices. You can defend yourself against this abuse, you can stop enabling him. And you won’t. So I will discuss anything else with you — shopping, gardening, Olympic figure skating, but I won’t discuss HIM and this situation any longer.” Draw a boundary with her. Let her know you’re still her friend. But it pains you to see her with him.
Finally, if you’re taking off the velvet gloves, you might try this tack as well — her children. They lost their father — do they really need to lose their social security benefits too? She’s placing douchebag’s welfare above that of her own children. Call her out on it. Her children need her. Douchebag doesn’t need another new set of golf clubs or whatever the fuck he’s spending the money on. (Other women, undoubtably.)
People often hesitate to be honest with people who are acting destructively, because Oh No, It Will Just Throw Them Together, and Unite Them Against You. Seems to me, the worst has already happened. Douchebag has already united her against you and basic common sense. She has chosen the crazy.
Throw her a lifeline. I hope she takes it. If she doesn’t, hey, you did your best and that’s all you can do.