Hi Chump Lady,
I’m 28, married to a wonderful man, and expecting our first child in a couple of weeks.
My dad is a great guy, and we have always gotten along pretty well, probably because we’re so much alike. He and my mom got divorced when I was 12, and both parents are remarried. My dad and my husband chat on occasion and I like that they get along well also.
I recently found out that my parent’s divorce was caused by my mother’s affair with her current husband. Unfortunately, I found out because my husband told me, after my dad told him the story assuming that I already knew. I spent 16 years not knowing the truth, 6 years living with the OM (the cause of my parents’ divorce), and I spent the entire time listening to my mom talk trash about my dad while my dad never said a thing.
My mother has many narcissistic traits, and I am not speaking to her while I work through the anger and resentment I feel toward her for behavior unrelated to her affair. But this revelation about her affair has me feeling even angrier and more betrayed, and it don’t know what to do. I find myself in a situation where I want to talk to my dad about it, but I don’t know how to start the conversation, or even if I should bring it up.
How would a “chump” feel about being asked about the betrayal by his adult child? Is it even any of my business at this point? I really want, maybe even need to know, so that I can cope with it, too. I feel like I was never given the opportunity to deal with the reality of the situation. I’m just so confused and don’t know what to do.
Boy, you’re a 28-year-old poster child for disclosure. Your predicament is exactly why I advise chumps to tell their kids the truth about divorce. “Mom cheated.” Leave off the editorializing (“Mom is a whore!”) and just the facts. Relationships have deal breakers. Choices have consequences.
Please don’t fault your father for not telling you. There is so much advice out there to do exactly what he did — never speak of this. I would assume that he ate the shit sandwich and took the high road for your benefit — to not poison your relationship with your mother. Also understand that being cheated on is deeply humiliating, and there is a gender divide on disclosure. A lot of men probably would not publicly admit that they’d been cuckolded.
The reason I tell people to give children the facts is, I don’t think it’s kind to gaslight your own children, even with the best of intentions. Oh, we grew apart! No, Bob had nothing to do with the break up of our marriage! Of course children still love their cheating parent — but at least they understand something of that parent’s character. And they will know that divorce isn’t this nebulous thing that Just Happens. Kids have guts and intuition too, and I think they deserve the truth told to them in age appropriate ways. They need to know that dad (or mom) is sad or angry or finds it difficult to be around the affair partner for a reason.
You didn’t have the truth for 16 years. I can understand why you’d want to talk to your parents now. It’s your story too.
I will take your word for it that your mom is narcissistic and was the cheater. There’s always a chance that your dad isn’t telling the truth. (Cheaters often turn the narrative around that it was the chump who cheated.) But the fact that he didn’t bad mouth your mom and kept silent for 16 years, sounds like a chump move. So I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here.
It sounds like, even without knowing about the cheating, you have a good working knowledge of your mother’s character and you find her difficult. If it were me, I would approach your father and ask him what happened. Let him know that you just learned about the affair from your husband, and no, you had no idea. (He may be working from the assumption that your mother told you. Cheaters lie.)
I’ll let the other chumps weigh in on this, but I think most chumps would be relieved to tell you what happened.
If you ask for your mother’s side of it, please know that if your mom is disordered, she’s going to spin this. She may insist that you knew and were okay with it. She may deny it. She may demonize your father and say he drove her to it. Please don’t base any of your healing on getting some admission of guilt or remorse from her.
It’s really tough to have a narcissistic parent, but there are good resources out there. (Check out the books in the Resource section on this blog — “Why Is It Always About You?” and Dr. Simon’s books would be great reads for you.)
It’s your choice what kind of relationship to have with your mom. My advice to you, if your mom is a narcissist, is to settle for a very superficial one and have strong boundaries. Don’t share your vulnerable underbelly with her. Don’t ask for compassion or support from her. Anything that requires empathy will not be her strong suit. Shopping for cute baby outfits? Fine. A good therapist can help you figure out how to manage this relationship without losing your soul as a kibble dispenser.
Best of luck, Ashley and congratulations on your impending motherhood!