Hi Chump Lady,
This is about my kids so I will try to give a brief overview: January 20, 2014 (MLK Day), 11:20 pm (school had already been canceled for the next two days due to snow) my husband says we need to talk. After a lot of mumbo jumbo this came out: “I have been seeing someone for six years, I don’t know if I love you, don’t know if I love her, don’t know if I can love anyone. I don’t know if I want to stay with her or stay with you. I don’t know why I did it, maybe I am a sociopath”.
After that nothing else he said that night really mattered, he wasn’t apologetic, definitely in that fucked up fog state I kept reading about on infidelity sites. I went to bed that night feeling like I had been hit by a Mack truck. He got up the next morning and headed off to work leaving me home with son (11) and daughter (13). I managed to hold it together the first snow day but early the second morning my daughter caught me crying at the computer (probably Googling sociopath) and I just couldn’t lie to her.
She is incredibly insightful and empathetic, she would not have let up on me until I told the truth, I know that. But I was also so angry and broken, I would never cover or make excuses again so I told her that her Dad had a girlfriend of six years, someone he had met at work when we lived overseas for his job. Of course he had just spent the week and a half before Christmas in her country for “work” (God, he sucks hard) and my D picked up on this right away. She was angry, devastated, you name a bad emotion, she had it. She and her Dad had always been so tight, even when he could barely stand to look me in the eye (geez, I wonder why?) the two of them would spend quality time together going to museums, hiking, etc.
After this news she shut him out, would go to her room when he came home and not come out, refused to speak to him, etc. I, being the chump, would insist they go off on shopping trips or whatever to “rebuild” their relationship. She would go along if I forced it but otherwise she did a 13 year old’s version of no contact — who knew she was so much better at boundaries than I was?
In the meantime I contacted the school counselor right away and went in and told her everything — I could barely speak I was crying so hard. The counselor was awesome, she took on the responsibility of telling teachers and others who needed to know so I was spared that awfulness. I also got her in to see a therapist right away, she had seen someone when we first came back to the United States for adjustment issues so we already had someone we trusted. Her therapist was awesome also, reinforced D’s boundaries when I was pushing to have her Dad come into therapy with her so they could rebuild their relationship — that never did happen.
Within two or three weeks of Dday I found pictures of the two of them on romantic cruises (gross), receipts for other sexcations and expensive presents. Even more important, I found a journal page he had written (out of guilt?) after I told him I thought he had given me chlamydia and he needed to tell his girlfriend to get tested. It was two hand-written pages of woman after woman, prostitute after prostitute, Ashley Madison hookups, random bar hookups, work hookups, you name it, it was there. It started when I was eight months pregnant with my second child and never stopped. I was so thankful for this discovery, it went pretty quickly from “what is wrong with me?” to “what is wrong with him?” My D knows nothing about this other info but you can imagine I was not the most stable person at the time. I did my best not to say inappropriate things but I know I slipped every now and then, I’m human and I was traumatized.
So, fast forward, D, now 14, no longer lives with us. She made the decision, and I supported it, to move to another state and live with her aunt (husband’s sister who has been truly amazing) and 13 year old cousin. She didn’t feel emotionally safe here (I can relate and probably wasn’t helping the situation either) and needed separation. My husband, who will be my ex eventually, and I are still in the same house so our son can finish sixth grade at his beloved elementary school. What about S, you ask — as far as we, his sister, his school counselor and D’s therapist can tell, he knows absolutely nothing about the OW. He is having one of his best years that I can remember now that the chaos of unknowingly living with a hardcore cheater and then the initial discovery has worn off. Our house is actually pretty peaceful right now and H is spending more time with S than he has in years. We have made the decision to let him have this year of innocence and ease him into the idea of divorce when it gets closer to happening.
And now my question/dilemma — my husband, after a couple of months of being a complete dick that included overtly texting the OW while looking like a sullen teenager, the silent treatment, disparaging me during phone calls with the OW (yeah, I eavesdropped) and other nasty behavior, has done a 180 degree turn around. Once I got a backbone and told him what I expected to get in the divorce (lots of money and full custody) he had a “moment of clarity.” Whatever, what matters to me is that he is walking the walk and wants to do what’s right for our kids. He has cut it off with the OW and has listened to me when I needed to rage at him. I know his anger towards me is still there, I see it every now and then. He is especially angry that I told our D and I have to admit, now that I see how traumatized she is I wonder if I have really messed her up. Please, don’t worry, I know that his actions are what messed this whole thing up but I wish I could have done things differently — I don’t know how, just different.
I am going to visit my D this month and I don’t know if I should talk to her about her Dad, let it go or push her to open up. I want to apologize for the trauma she is dealing with now and whatever part I had in it. I also want my D to have a father she can like and respect — I know that is blown out of the water right now but hope they can rebuild something. When she first moved away in July, H would call and leave messages for her all the time, asking that she call him back. After a couple of weeks his sister and I told him he had to stop, it felt like stalking and caused her a lot of anxiety. Since then he has respected that, she has talked to him a few times on the phone and skype but really limits contact. This is tearing me up, being a chump and all, and I do see he is really trying. Just don’t know what my role in this is anymore. Any advice from others in the same type of situation would be appreciated.
Sorry this is so long, none of this is ever brief, is it?
I’m just going to take this point by point, because we have a lot of ground to cover. There are so many alarm bells going off, I’m going to just triage with the DO THIS FIRST item, okay?
1. SHUT UP. Once I got a backbone and told him what I expected to get in the divorce (lots of money and full custody) he had a “moment of clarity.”
This sends chills up my spine. Yeah, of course he had a moment of “clarity” — you just gave notice that you might be imposing consequences. Never, never, NEVER tell these fuckwits what you plan to do. JUST DO IT.
Don’t you find the timing of his 180 to be a bit disingenuous? This man had a double life for OVER A DECADE, that you KNOW of. Don’t trust a word he says! He’s broken up with the OW? Oh really? Which one? He’s going to do right by the kids? Gee, you want to take a sociopathic liar’s word on that? No, BAM, you get a goddamn lawyer and the lawyer ensures that he does right by the kids, because you CANNOT TRUST HIM.
If he means what he says? He will not mind that you got a lawyer, because he has enough insight to know he’s a cheating piece of shit you cannot trust. He will do the right thing REGARDLESS of what you do.
But you, chump that you are, think you can control this outcome. So if you’re very good, and play nice, why he’ll be nice too!
That never works. Ask us all how we know.
Never, EVER tip your hand to these freaks. Every time you rage at him, you give him kibbles and centrality. That’s bad. What is worse, however, is that you give him a big look inside your head and ammunition with which to manipulate you. No contact is so powerful because it deprives these abusers of the raw materials they need to mindfuck. Are you still in love with him? He’ll act loving. Are you threatening to take the money? He’ll get to it first. Are you going to tell the friends and neighbors? He’ll undercut you with his narrative and paint you the crazy.
For the love of all that is holy, STOP TALKING TO HIM. Lawyer up immediately. It’s 10 months overdue.
2. Get out of limbo. This is absolute bullshit that you’re staying together so your son can have a nice year in the 6th grade. I’m sorry, but discovering a treasure trove list of prostitutes, OW, and random hook-ups trumps having a splendid year in elementary school.
Think of it this way — you’re in a burning building, but you don’t want to run out because your son is having such a lovely tea party with his stuffed animals.
NO. RUN. OUT. OF. THE. BURNING. BUILDING.
Dad’s a sociopath. Says so himself. He is exposing you and his family to grievous harm. You need to protect yourself and your children from further harm. You need to DIVORCE. That never comes at a good time. We don’t wait for the stars to align to run out of burning buildings, we just fucking RUN.
Will your son be hurt? Yes, of course. That’s not your fault and it’s not going to hurt less in the 7th grade. In fact, we can argue it will hurt MORE because you’ve all kept this big secret from him that his sister knows and he does not. That’s totally fucked up. TELL HIM.
I always advise people to tell the kids in an age appropriate way without editorializing. (Dad has a girlfriend, has had many girlfriends, we must divorce. Versus, Dad is an asshole.) You’re only as sick as your secrets — and for 10 months you’ve been tip-toeing around a HUGE secret.
Will it piss Mr. Cheaterpants off? Yes, of course, but you’re not speaking with him. See item #1.
3. Your daughter is the only sane person in this clusterfuck. The only one with enough sense to run out of the burning building and go no contact has been your daughter. Perhaps it’s the therapy she got, but for whatever reason, she’s the only one reacting appropriately and not eating shit sandwiches. She’s not living the pretty lie of a continued intact family — she’s reacted in horror and gotten herself the hell away.
Let her be an example to you. Get YOURSELF away and then you can provide the kind of environment she can feel safe in — an authentic one.
4. Quit taking responsibility for your children’s relationship with their dad. Your kids have to figure out their relationship with dad, and that is their burden to bear, not yours. You cannot mediate this relationship, you can only facilitate it in the ways the courts specifies — like make sure they’re ready and available every other weekend and two weeks in the summer. How they feel about dad and how much they contact him is THEIR business.
BAM, I say this with total compassion, because we’ve all been there — but you’re waltzing with a corpse. This marriage is a dead, it’s a sham, and you’re trying so very hard to pretend it isn’t for the Sake of The Children. To give them that pretty lie of their happy, intact, loving family. It doesn’t exist. There is no “year of innocence.” You can’t make up innocence when you’re living with a sociopath.
You can tell yourself, well, we’ll “ease into it” — this death thing. But you keep waltzing with the corpse. That’s just unnatural. Your daughter sussed it out. “Eww. It’s dead. This is creepy. I gotta get out of here.” You’re still waltzing. You won’t tell your son it’s dead. Perhaps he won’t notice. Eventually, we can let him in on it. Maybe.
If this happened in January, 6th grade is over and we’re well into 7th. You’re still there. You’re still keeping your husband’s sick secrets.
This isn’t helping your kids. It’s hurting them. What’s your role in all of this, you asked? To be the sane parent. To model strength and self-respect. Your job is to be the safe haven for your kids. And they’ll know they can trust you because you’re honest with them and yourself. You’re not in that place now — I suggest you get there ASAP.
I know you’re traumatized, but it’s past time to ACT. Start protecting yourself. See a lawyer and make that escape plan. Insist he move out. File for temporary support. Get this ball rolling.
5. Trust that he SUCKS. I also want my D to have a father she can like and respect. BAM, that’s not your job. She doesn’t have to like him and he’s not respectable. If she likes or respects him is her business. Quit playing public relations for the sociopath. She’s not traumatized because you told her the truth. She’s traumatized BECAUSE of HIS truth — who he IS. She may also be traumatized because you won’t live in that truth and protect yourself from further harm. You’re sticking around for more mindfuckery thinking you can control this shit.
Quit trying to mediate everyone else’s relationships with each other — father/son, father/daughter — and focus on YOURSELF. Do you think a man who risked your health, who has been serially cheating for over a decade is someone YOU can like or respect? Do you want a continued relationship with this person? What are you going to do next? How are you going to save yourself? What kind of life are you going to build for you and your kids?
Put your energies there. On YOU. He’s a monster. We run away from monsters.