I looked at your website because my dear friend (the chump) posted on her facebook a recent cartoon. It’s been over 3 years and all of us are trying to help her move on, especially for her 22, 19, and 14 year old children.
It’s awful. We knew them before they were married and my twin daughters are the same as their 22 year old. Their daughter claims to never want to marry and just be a cat lady in her old age. So dad cheated, how do we help the children not have to live with an angry, chump mom?
Thank you in advance for your response.
You can begin by recognizing that your dear friend has a right to be angry. She was chumped. You didn’t share the particulars of her situation, but given the age of her children and the timing of her divorce, she was left with three teenagers at a time in life when you really need all the support you can get. You have twins — can you imagine dealing with angsty hormonal teens, boundary pushing, and the college admissions process all by yourself? Now throw in betrayal and divorce.
It’s a time of life when you are just waiting for the finish line. You love your kids, but you long for the days when you get to cash in your chips and be an empty nester. Now you’ll have time for your spouse! Now you’ll have disposable income! Now you get to bask in the glory of a job completed! You’ll send the kids off into the world with your blessing, and hope they launch.
Now think of the kids — it’s a time in your life when you’re emancipating from your parents, but really need your parents. (Mostly, you need them to chauffeur you places until you get your license and ensure a steady supply of Hot Pockets…) You’re about to set off into the adult world. It’s exciting and terrifying.
Now imagine your world has suddenly fallen apart. Some cheating douchebag has commandeered all the drama. Forget you. Forget your dreams. Forget your needs. Dad has cheated, Dad Must Be Happy Now, all attention must be paid to the Almighty Narcissist. Everyone’s world crumbles for Him.
Now imagine being your friend. Imagine being at this stage in life, when you’ve given your youth, you’ve built a whole life together for security — and imagine being replaced. Imagine having your family stolen from you.
Imagine the humiliation. Imagine the person you trusted most in the world telling their fuck buddy intimate details about you. Or lies. How you suck in bed. How you don’t understand them. How controlling you are.
Imagine finding out how your spouse has betrayed you and lied about you, not once, but to many people over years. Imagine reading the intimate emails between them. Imagine seeing your spouse have sex with someone else, in text messages, and shared photos.
Imagine having your health risked. Imagine getting an STD test in middle age, after years of supposed monogamy. Imagine being naked with your feet in stirrups.
Would it piss you off, Chris?
No, Chris — it would shatter you.
Do people “move on” from infidelity? Yes, of course. (And that’s rather the point of my blog.) But they’ll always live with a knowledge that the smug and secure don’t live with — that everything can fall apart. That people are capable of casual betrayal. That you can unwittingly invest your life in a fraud.
That painful knowledge takes some time to wrap your mind around. Every day it’s a battle to rebuild and focus on something other than What You Thought Your Life Was Going to Be. Depending on the sunk costs, some move on faster than others.
I encourage people to move on, Chris. But the first stop on the road to Meh, is realizing that you have a right to be angry. People minimize this shit. And the cheating ex most certainly has gaslighted their chump for years — hey, it’s not what you think! Quit making such a big deal out of this!
The chorus of everyone around you demands that you instantly forgive. There aren’t a lot of safe places that chumps can go with their pain and anger while they sort this crap out.
I’m going to trust that you are writing with the best of intentions — your friend’s pain hurts you. You want to make it stop, for her and for her kids. So, Chris, here are some pointers on how to be a friend:
1. Don’t tell her she has to deny her reality to be your friend. If she’s sad, acknowledge her sadness. If she’s angry, respect her anger. Don’t demand she forgive her ex. Or “be friends” with him for the children.
Recognize the injustice of her situation.
Recognize that these conciliatory demands probably come your discomfort at her pain. Which is about YOU, not your friend.
Recognize that she’s doing the best she can. Asking how do we help the children not have to live with an angry, chump mom? implies that her kids shouldn’t have to live with her. That she’s failing them. Chris — she is THERE. The cheater isn’t. She doesn’t need your judgment about her “anger.”
2. Recognize your limits. Sometimes even the best of friends get compassion fatigue. It’s okay. Direct your friend to a place she can vent where other people GET it — here, a Divorce Care support group, a therapist. You don’t have to be everything to your friend and her kids. Just be the friend you always were, minus the cheating ex. If you enjoyed birding together, or Italian operas, or square dancing — go do those things. Go remind her that she’s still her best self. She’s more than just a chump.
3. Gift her with your presence. Most of the time, Chris, it’s just enough to show up. So many people don’t even do that. You don’t have the words to take away her pain. But you can acknowledge that you care just by being there.