Just a note that today’s blog post letter is being answered by fellow chump Chris DiRico while I’m away from the blog for a couple days. As much as I’d like to perform a unicorn deconstruction, Chris has taken that job today.
Hi there Chump Lady,
I am a big fan of your blog. I found you while searching online for resources to help my best friend, a fellow chump. I guess I am a chump, too, to a degree. Some might call me a unicorn? But, my reconciliation is certainly interesting, if you can even really call it reconciliation. It feels more like a “do over”. I just wanted to share my story with you.
My husband cheated on me with a former flame. The affair lasted probably a year or so. He initially exposed/admitted the affair to me. We went through some counseling, blah blah blah. He was really just eating cake. At the time we had two small children and I was extremely hesitant to separate or divorce, so I was adamantly committed to working it out. I thought we had put everything past us, but I could never shake the feeling that I was his “second” choice.
I was not happy and I did not feel loved. I am strongly committed to principle, so I chumped it and carried on. Until the fateful day I discovered the affair had never ended. At that moment and in an instant, I threw him out. Figuratively speaking of course. I calmly called the OW and asked what her intentions were. I told her she could have him and then I proceeded to share with her every negative and unflattering intimate detail only a married person could share about their spouse.
She was married with small children herself and had no intentions of leaving her family to be with my husband, although at the time that’s what he was hoping for. She promised to end things, although I did not take her seriously. Then I contacted her husband and shared with him every detail about the affair I knew about. The affair effectively ended. My husband was initially more devastated to lose her than he was me and our children. It was all heartbreaking. Yet, I did not file for divorce. In fact, I even remained willing to go through counseling. But I absolutely refused to do the “pick me dance” or allow him to eat cake.
We tried to go through some more counseling, but I and the counselor could both tell he was just not getting it. He was entangled in a tightly gripped storm of narcissism, blame shifting, and fuckupedness. I did not feel sorry for him, or feel in any way that it was my job or duty to fix him or “be there” for him. I was wise enough to know the affair had nothing to do with me and everything to do with his character and integrity. Just because he ended the affair did not mean another would not happen, and I was not willing to play marriage police either. I knew that if he did not change what was broken in his soul, that the cycle would repeat.
Cheating behavior and affairs are usually symptoms of bigger psychological issues. Neither one of us wanted a divorce and he wanted to come home, but I would not budge. I knew that he needed to do the work and I knew that if he was serious, I would see the change. So, I marched forward, and I did the only thing I knew how to do. I prayed. Two years passed and no change. I finally came to the place where I felt like I had given everything I could. I had gone to counseling for myself and I was ready to file for divorce. When I shared this with him, something seriously snapped. (Keep in mind, we were completely separated for two full years. Neither one of us dated anyone else nor did we ever share a bed during this time. Fortunately, children and finances were amicably managed).
Suddenly, this man who had gone to counseling and “tried” for two years to get his family back together understood that it wasn’t enough. He started attending a men’s group at a local church. He sought out and paid for his own personal counseling. He started to do all of the things you would expect to see a serious man do who had fucked up his marriage and wanted to make amends. He started to change and he got better. At this point, it was too late for me. I had already hung on for two years and I was ready to close this chapter of my life. At that point, I had given up, yet I struggled with the idea of divorce. I saw the changes in him but I did not trust him. I was crippled by fear of the unknown.
This is where things get a little more unbelievable; TWO more years of separation (and celibacy) passed. My husband absolutely refused to agree to a divorce. He wore his wedding ring religiously and sent flowers for anniversaries and holidays. He stayed in counseling. He was helpful, he stepped up his dad game, he brought little thoughtful gifts constantly, he demonstrated honest love. Yet, he wasn’t perfect. I found plenty of flaws still to capitalize and focus on. Everyone, and I mean everyone, thought we were crazy. “Move on already! It’s been four years! It’s not healthy to be in limbo!” That’s what both of us got from friends, family, and clergy. They were right, too. I found myself visualizing my life as a fast moving river. I had come to a fork and I could not see where either path would take me. But I was stubbornly refusing to make any kind of decision. Like I was hanging onto a tree root and the river was swallowing me up. I needed to let go and trust God, no matter the outcome.
So I let go. And do you know what happened? We reconciled. My husband proved himself to be trustworthy and devoted. He loves me, and I know he really loves me. He will tell you how absolutely insane he was back then. The affair was actually quite easy to get past when compared to the core of the crazy. It was all that messy brokenness that led to the affair that was the most difficult to work through. Now, I will not sit here and say, “Oh! Our life is a fairy tale and perfect and full of flowers and chocolate!” No, our life is good. And, yes, better than it was before, but far from perfect. It’s as good as any realistic couple can hope for. There has been forgiveness and healing. Our children are happy, and we are happy! Our home is peaceful and loving. It’s been one year and a miraculously smooth one full of God’s grace.
In retrospect, I certainly don’t think it should have taken four years. But genuine, healthy reconciliation doesn’t happen overnight either. I find myself in agreement with most everything you write about. Unfortunately, there are severely disordered people out there and I am in no way trying to compare my story to others. I just wanted to share a rare example of a real unicorn. It can happen, but only if the offending partner can get serious enough to get real help at the core. It also helps if the offended partner can get in touch with the real reasons they chose someone so broken to begin with. I know I did, and it helped me. My husband has done some incredibly hard work on himself and I want to give him big credit for that. We are much healthier emotionally and spiritually today as individuals and as a couple than when we were first married 10 years ago.
My best friend did not have the same result. At first, I encouraged her to hang in there and not rush into a divorce. Unfortunately, her husband was not willing to let go of his OW and I completely supported her decision to divorce. It’s been a rough road for her, and I have sent her many encouraging words from the Chump Lady. She will be fine. So, good job, Chump Lady. Just know that there are stories like mine out there and it is easy for us to want others to experience the same. I did not know Chump Lady when I was going through the worst of my separation. I’m glad I had some good sense, though, to demand some respect. To not give cake. To not do the “pick me” dance. I drew clear boundaries and made the rules. But, I’m also glad I didn’t rush to divorce, I gave things time, I focused on myself and the children, I prayed. I did not try to fix things, or allow myself to be distracted by the romantic interests of others, nor was I vengeful. I made some mistakes, but I grew, and I healed. And though I never ever ever ever would have thought this outcome would be part of my story, I reconciled. Yes, Chump Lady, unicorns and miracles are real.
I don’t think you’re taking into account the method to Chump Lady’s madness. The reason that the Unicorn analogy is so apt is because the chances of true reconciliation occurring are slim. Cheating doesn’t always lead to the collapse of a marriage. But then again, smoking cigarettes doesn’t always lead to lung cancer. But just as I wouldn’t recommend smoking, I wouldn’t stake your emotional stability and especially your future on a man who has cheated.
Your marriage as you described it was an absolute cold war for four long years post-DDay, complete what you call a “tightly gripped storm of narcissism, blame-shifting and fuckupedness.” Even your marriage counselor thought your husband was a dunce, and marriage counselors are usually the fucking kings of cheater handholding and spoon-feeding.
You went through all of that, filed for separation, and then you went through the absolute mind-fuck to end all mind-fucks, something Chumps rarely experience: Your cheating husband decided to do the “pick-me dance.” Once he saw that you meant business, he showered you and your children with gifts, went to counseling, and demonstrated what you call “honest love.”
But was it really honest love, TS? Sounds to me like a barrage of “I’m sorry” gifts and pre-divorce damage control in order to stop the bleeding. Sounds to me that he only got off his ass and started working on his own marriage once you finally drew a line in the sand. Where the fuck was this honest love while he was grieving the loss of the OW? Where was this honest love when he was blame-shifting and gaslighting you during marriage counseling? Did he at least buy you an “I’m sorry” gift once his affair was exposed? Oops! No he didn’t. He carried on the affair until you blew the Marriage Police Whistle contacted the OW and her husband. Most importantly, why did it take you pulling the Four Word Ace (“I want a divorce”) out of your back pocket in order for him to finally realize that he fucked up his marriage?
TS, you seem to be under the impression that Cheater Cake can only be served in chumpy, “Pick Me!”-sized portions, such as losing weight, self-blame for the affair, dressing and looking sexy, lots of emotionally charged sex, and other forms of self-improvement in order to “prevent” the next affair from happening. But there’s plenty more Cakes on the menu at the Cheater Bakery.
Your husband sounds like he took an Everyday Above Ground approach to your marriage post-DDay. You didn’t slide the divorce papers under the bathroom door while he was having his morning shit? Great! Everything’s cool! You didn’t castrate him in his sleep? Yey! My balls are still here! TS can’t be that pissed off! You didn’t passive-aggressively use the laundry detergent that makes him break out in rashes? Fuckin’ A! My clothes are clean and my skin doesn’t itch! It’s a great day for America! I wonder what’s on TV…
Your post-D-Day situation reminds me of that old Jay Leno joke that he told at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Bill Clinton was celebrating his birthday that summer, to which Jay quipped: “Of course, First Lady Hillary Clinton is giving the President a great birthday present this year! She’s letting him live!”
You’re right, TS. You didn’t pick-me dance or blame yourself or go into Marriage Re-Builder Overdrive. But you didn’t divorce him and you let him live. To some cheating husbands, that’s about the most delicious cake a Chump can whip up. Your letter describes a husband resting peacefully in a slumberous Cake coma until you held the smelling salts under his nose via your Four Word Ace. Only then did he snap awake and realize what he was losing.
It’s really important to tell the truth and call a thing a thing, TS. In my opinion, your husband only “snapped” because you threatened to take his Cake away. There’s really no other away around it.
Here’s the key passage in your letter, TS, a passage I can’t let you off the hook for. You may think you’ve found the Unicorn, and you spent the better part of your letter insisting that you weren’t a typical Chump post-DDay. But then you wrote this: “The affair was actually quite easy to get past when compared to the core of the crazy. It was all that messy brokenness that led to the affair that was the most difficult to work through.”
I’m sorry, TS, but that’s Chapter 1, Verse 1 of the Cheater Bullshit Bible: “I hurt you because I’m hurt!” And you cited “messy brokenness” as the reason for his duplicitous behavior, which is a classic water-carrying Chumpline. You also seemed to downplay the very behavior that got you stuck in this murky swamp in the first place (his cheating) and instead focused all your attention on the “brokenness” that led to it, which is also a classic Chump behavior.
As Chump Lady has pointed out time and time again, no matter what kind of chaotic childhood or frenzied adult life one may have led, cheating comes down to one thing and one thing only: Entitlement.
It doesn’t matter what kind of brokenness your husband came from or what kind of emotional demons he was fighting throughout your marriage. He initiated and carried on an affair on his own volition. An affair that didn’t end even after you found out about it. Once you blew your Marriage Police Whistle, your husband turned around and blamed you for it.
Was all of this worth it for you in the end, as a wife and especially as a betrayed and emotionally destroyed woman? You cataloged four years out of your ten-year marriage that was spent dealing with a dragged-out affair, DDay, the post-DDay separation, lots of self-doubt, pain, indecision (as evidenced by your stellar river analogy), and lots and lots of prayer. That’s nearly half your marriage that you spent doggy-paddling through a treacherous current that you nearly drowned in; a river he threw you into in the first place! And he didn’t even have the courtesy to throw you a rope to pull yourself out until after you threatened divorce?! What kind of bullshit is that?
The other thing I want to offer you is that Chumps don’t divorce their cheating spouses simply because not enough flowers or chocolates were purchased. And it’s certainly not for a lack of “manning up” in the husband/father departments. I’m sure plenty of cheating husbands went into Alert! Alert! We’re Losing Her! Fuck! mode and thus started scrambling to steer the ship away from the Divorce Iceberg. Actually, that sounds exactly like what your husband did.
For most Chumps, D-Day is followed by Reckoning Day. May not happen for months or even years post-D-Day. But Reckoning Day happens when a Chump gets out of bed, puts both feet on the floor and says: “I did not deserve any of this and I will no longer stand for any of this.” Period. Granted, sometimes the Cheaters do the work for us and hit the road with schmoopie in tow, leaving us for dead. But Cheaters want CAKE, and Reckoning Day is all about padlocking the bakery.
But wait! Hubby deleted OW’s number out of his cell phone and blocked her on Facebook! He’s home every night on time! We spend every non-business hour together! And what about the time when he was out drinking with his buddies and that cute little 22-year-old blonde hit on him and he flashed his wedding ring in her face? (Cheating men love to catalog all the pussy they’ve turned down post-DDay as evidence of their Change).
But Reckoning Day isn’t about the cheater and it sure as hell ain’t about his/her metamorphosis from a lecherous, scheming Caterpillar into a devoted, rainbow-shitting Unicorn. Reckoning Day is about the Chump politely stating: “I no longer give a fuck. The trust is gone and so is the marriage. Goodbye.”
You’re absolutely correct that your husband’s cheating had nothing to do with you. But what I’m offering you is that everything that happened post-DDay should’ve been about you and how you were going to detach yourself from a man who was no longer deserving of your love and devotion. Instead, as your letter details, what followed were several years of heartbreak, indecision, and a list of things you didn’t do because you promised yourself that you weren’t going to be a typical Chump.
You seem to be forgetting that Chumpdom is a horse of all the rainbow colors (Unicorn pun intended). Maybe your Chumpdom looked less like a crazed WWII kamikaze pilot careening into Pick-Me Harbor and was conducted more like the military forces on the North-South Korea border (i.e. one big stand-off). But it’s still Chumpdom any way you slice it.
Now that I’ve shared my opinions, let me say that I admire your willingness to share your story of reconciliation with ChumpNation. But honestly, TS, and I can only speak for myself and my own Chump experiences, I don’t envy you. With everything I’ve learned, I could never in good conscience even try to reconcile with my ex. You seem to have done that, but you don’t really need to convince ChumpNation that your husband has changed.
Our concern is with YOU: Your happiness, your well-being, and how YOU feel about your marriage. That’s the bottom line. It’s not about whether your husband cheats again. He could remain faithful or he could simply take his dalliances underground. You have no way of knowing unless you play Marriage Police.
What it all comes down to is TRUST. Once that’s gone, there’s no turning back, and that’s when Reckoning Day occurs. And the last thing any of us would ever want to happen is for you to have go through this hallucinatory mind-fuck again. Why? Because too many of us Chumps were in your shoes. So many of our cheating spouses said and did All The Right things and we still got fucked over. And while I certainly don’t want to rain on your Reconciliation Parade, the fact that your husband continued his affair after you found out about it is a rather grim predictor of future behavior.
Your intentions seem pure and you seem content with the state of your marriage. I just don’t want you to get hurt again, TS. None of us do. That’s why Chump Lady’s mantra is to LEAVE a cheater and GAIN a life. It’s not about revenge or Girl Power or Once A Cheater Always A Cheater! or Fuck You! or I’ll Show You, Asshole! It’s simply about TRUST. Cheaters squander that the first time, shame on them. They squander it the second, third, fourth and twelfth times, shame on us.
At ChumpNation we all remember that Mindfuck Moment, or what psychologists call “Flashbulb Memory.” We can remember every single detail of where we were, how we found out, how it felt, what went through our heads, and worst of all, how our worlds shattered the moment we found out that our spouses cheated. I can tell you the date, exact time, and the fucking clothes I was wearing the first time that I saw OM’s name pop up on my ex’s caller I.D.
It’s a pain we didn’t deserve, a pain we don’t get used to, and a pain that should be a deal-breaker for all relationships on general principle. Reckoning Day is simply saying: “I deserved better from you and I deserve better than you.”
Easier said than done, but it sure beats having trust issues for the rest of one’s life. Getting old sucks enough. Who the hell wants to spend a marriage looking over their shoulder?