You were one of the mighty chumps. With the universally understood truth that it is the cheater who should leave the comforts of hearth and home, you told your philandering husband to hang his hat somewhere else. And yet despite his brief lost-puppy act of dialing friends, he instead decamped to your living room for the night. So you changed online account passwords, packed a week’s worth of clothes, and at 3:00 a.m. slammed the front door so hard behind you that your teeth rattled.
Or perhaps, instead, you recognized your own weakness. As the sun set on your third D-Day in two months, you saw your wife’s innocent face and knew you were susceptible to her manipulation. Your best course of action was to get away from it, or else be drawn back down the rabbit hole. So you threw your bags in the car and remained stoic as she turned on the waterworks.
Or maybe you chose the nuclear option. You cruised the Web’s affair “survival” forums, some of which recommended exposure as the fastest way to extinguish cheating’s illicit excitement…with the only risk that your marriage may not survive the blast. Then you ensured maximum fallout by moving out yourself and children while your husband waited in the airport for his parents to land for a weeklong visit. You left a Dear John on coffee table for them to peruse upon arrival.
Whatever the reason you left, you did it. You took this painful step, and you’re wobbly-legged…but standing. With the benefit of a separate space, you can consider your next move. Congrats!
The only problem is that you were thinking like a chump, not a cheater. You thought your leaving would scare your cheater awake, and show him what he was about to lose. But your cheater — skilled in impression management — has only one thing to say in response to your taking one of the most difficult steps of your life: By moving out, you’re the one who’s ending our marriage.
How many of you heard iterations of these classics?
- “Marriages have problems; running away doesn’t fix problems.”
- “I’m here fighting for us. Where are you?”
- “You left me paying our bills all by myself.”
- “You took our children away from me, which turned them against me.”
- “You abandoned me at a time when I was mentally and emotionally unstable.”
- “We all have a fight-or-flight response. Guess which one is weaker.”
- “We agreed, for better or for worse.”
- “I thought we were strong enough we could work through this; I guess I was wrong.”
(I only heard seven of these, given my ex and I didn’t have children.)
Before you find yourself removing your fist from a fresh hole in the drywall, take a deep breath. And then begin another process of acceptance, on top of the pile you’ve undertaken so far.
If you’re like most of us, your cheater beat you to ‘most every punch. He (or she) was the first to claim that there were “problems in our marriage.” He told different versions of his betrayal to his support network before you even knew you were a chump: a docudrama about “growing apart and making a mistake” for his parents, a romance novella about “living like roommates and then discovering a new connection” for his superficially spiritual sister, and a low-budget porno of “sexless marriage and biological needs” for his bro-buddies.
Accept that he’s still one step ahead of you. He’s accusing YOU—the betrayed spouse—of giving up on the relationship because you moved out…or started talking to a lawyer…or moved half the money someplace safe…or were the first person to utter the dreaded “d-word”!
Your cheater is taking you on guilt trip, in desperate hopes that you’ll literally and figuratively return, chastened. You’re a chump, after all, so you have a propensity to take responsibility for situations beyond your control. Your cheater instinctually knows this. He’s got your number; always has. Look, cheating is a terribly selfish and destructive act, for which ending a marriage is an entirely reasonable response. So, he’s gotta do his best to deflect some (or all) of that responsibility onto you!
What can you do?
Simple. Clench your teeth, and then accept it.
Accept that your cheater has twisted your act of self-preservation into an attack on your marriage. Accept that some of your friends, and likely his family, will do the same. Accept that it sucks. This is Blame-shifting Survival 101. Take a seat and eat that sandwich. Now spell it with me. A-C-C-E-P-T. There is no other way to pass this class. The sooner you accept that you can’t control who blames you for the end of the marriage — whether he’s just trying to get you back or simply trying to save face for the outside world — the sooner you can get out of here.
Then remember that your act of self-preservation took more guts than your cheater has in his tiny pinky, that your defiant decision salvages what is left of your dignity, and that friends and family worth their salt will respect you more for leaving a cheater than for staying with one. Moving out kick-starts whatever is next (which, BTW, should be calling a lawyer, even if you still think you married a unicorn). Instead of dealing with arguments, lies, and low self-esteem inherent in living with a cheater, you can focus on the legal process, your new goals, eating (and sleeping, and exercising) enough, and figuring out how to pay all the bills that used to be paid with two incomes.
With that focus, the next time he accuses you of ending the marriage by moving out, own it! Respond, “Yes, I moved out. I’m comfortable with my decision. I am confident that it was right for me, and I won’t entertain a conversation re-examining that choice or what you claim it led to. Is there something else you want to talk about? No? Good. You’ll be served on Friday.”