Several people sent me the HuffPo article that ran recently “4 Huge Mistakes I Made As a Wife (Now Ex-Wife).” On the shallow face of it, it’s a woman owning her shit. That her marriage broke up because she wasn’t her best self.
But then it nosedives at:
And while I’m still hurt that my husband chose to solve our problems in another woman’s bed when some conversation and counseling might have helped, I absolutely know that my behavior was part of what pushed him there.
If you work from the premise that cheating is abusive (I do), then this is a cringe-inducing confession. She may as well outline her sins and then say, “And that is why Bob had to bash my face into a door.” Of course, I’m still hurt that my husband chose to solve our problems by bashing my face into a door, but I know my behavior was part of what pushed him there.
Hey, Sloane — codependency 101 here — you are NOT responsible for other people’s behavior. You do not MAKE people DO anything. That’s on THEM.
Yes, you are responsible for your own behavior, but even your most abhorrent behavior does not compel someone to abuse you. Abuse is a choice THEY make.
Before I put this article through the patented Universal Bullshit Translator, I would just add that narratives like this are particularly offensive to chumps because they solidify the exit affair storyline. The reason people cheat is that the chump is so horrible, the cheater has to take refuge in another person’s bed. Versus the reality of cake-eating — affairs tend to go on for ages, there’s usually more than one of them, they’re part of a larger pattern of entitlement and lopsidedness, and cheaters prefer multiple kibble sources (affair partners and spouses, even post-divorce you can stay friends!).
Now, I know exit affairs do exist, but those aren’t caused by rotten chumps either. They’re caused by cowardice and crappy character. This whole blame-the-victim nonsense is especially awful when it’s coming from someone who’s suffered betrayal. It’s buying into your own oppression, and putting it on display like a chump minstrel show.
Now for the UBT.
At first it was easy for me to point every single finger and toe at my husband for obliterating our 10-year marriage. He’s the one who cheated and walked out without looking back. And long before that, he repeatedly shut me out, choosing to bury himself in his work to avoid what was happening to us at home.
Blame was my coping mechanism to get through the first difficult months of our separation, and “how dare he (gasp!)” was my mantra. I rallied an entire army of supporters who, like me, were totally, utterly and completely aghast at the nerve — the gall — of this man.
Because obviously being a lying, cheating, family abandon-er trumps anything I did to our marriage in the past decade. Right?
They are not causal effects. You did not make him abandon you and his kids. You might actually suck, but that doesn’t excuse (or cause) his cheating.
He had a whole decision tree of available options — not “shut you out” and get counseling. Speak up. Have honest conversations. Divorce you honestly and not humiliate you or endanger your health with an affair.
I deflected any and all culpability in the failure of my marriage for months, holding on to the picture I painted of myself as the gentle, selfless and long-suffering wife. It wasn’t until I found a therapist who called me out on my bullsh*t that I was forced to take a long, hard look at my shortcomings.
It wasn’t pretty.
Sloane, it’s good to own your shit that you weren’t your best self in this marriage. That’s admirable. But that is different than saying you caused your husband to cheat on you. I’m sure you would like to find meaning in this, and it’s often easier to look at ourselves and determine that We Control This, than to face the terrifying reality of vulnerability. We don’t control all outcomes and people can betray us. Even people who promised to have our backs.
Here’s what I now know actually screwed up my marriage. May it serve as a warning to you. Before it’s too late.
1. I put my children first.
It’s easy to love your own children. It takes very little effort, and they adore you no matter what. Marriage is the polar opposite: it’s work. And whenever my marriage started to feel like work, I would check out and head to Build-A-Bear Workshop or the science museum with the kids in tow. I’d often plan these adventures when I knew my husband couldn’t go (and spoil my good time). I told myself it was OK because he preferred to work anyway and always seemed grouchy on family outings. I chose most nights to cuddle with them in our bed, blaming his late-night bedtimes and snoring for the sleeping arrangement. As a result, we were hardly alone together and never had kid-free date nights. Well, maybe once a year on our anniversary.
How about your husband did not put his family first? Children ARE work. They’re a shitload of work. A good marriage isn’t that hard, Sloane. It’s a pleasure, because you’ve got a partner helping you with the “work” part. You didn’t have that.
Also consider that your husband wasn’t joining you and was grouchy on family outings because he was already in an affair.
Also consider that you were seeking comfort in your children (not a healthy dynamic) because you weren’t getting your emotional needs met either.
2. I didn’t set (or enforce) boundaries with my parents.
They were at our house frequently, sometimes arriving unannounced and walking right in. They’d “help out” around the house doing things we never asked them to, like folding our laundry (incorrectly, of course). We’d vacation with them. They’d correct our children in front of us. My own fears of upsetting my parents kept me from drawing a line in the sand and asking them not to cross it. The few times I did stand up for my family’s autonomy, I didn’t hold my parents to the same standards in future. My husband, quite literally, married my entire family.
You didn’t make him cheat and your parents didn’t either. In many cultures your last sentence would make no sense whatsoever. You DO marry entire families. We are generally package deals with our extended families, unless you married an orphan.
Boundaries with families are good (I live in Texas), and this is certainly fodder for marriage counseling, but desiring family togetherness isn’t a sin. You can have a marriage AND family vacations.
How could you imagine fixing this? Jettison the family and kids and make your husband your sole focus? Sure, your relationship should be primary, but you also wrote he didn’t make time for you. Do you fault yourself for not chasing harder?
3. I emasculated him.
I thought love was about honesty, but we all know that the truth hurts. As we grew more comfortable (read: lazy) in our relationship, I stopped trying to take the sting out it. I talked smack to my girlfriends, my mom, my co-workers. All. The. Time. “Can you believe he didn’t do this?” and “Why in God’s name did he do THAT?”
Instead of building up his ego, I trampled all over it. I belittled him often, saying his job was unimportant and dismissing his friends as “hangers-on.” I berated him for doing things wrong when, in all honesty, he just wasn’t doing them my way. At times I spoke to him like a child. I controlled the family finances and grilled him over every single penny he spent. And in the bedroom — yup, you guessed it — he was doing that all wrong too, and I wasn’t shy about telling him so. As our marriage crumbled, I found myself constantly looking for faults and mistakes so that I could justify my superiority. By the end, I had zero respect for him and I made sure he knew it and felt it every day.
Well, I admit this makes you sound like a righteous bitch, but seriously Sloane, “emasculate“? Is this some kind of right-wing stand by your marriage shit? Did his balls shrivel up because you controlled the family finances?
This all sounds very muddled to me. If you were verbally abusive — yes, you suck. But again, that doesn’t give him carte blanche to then abuse you with infidelity. The whole dynamic sounds toxic.
And I have sympathy, Sloane, I really do. I look back on my first marriage and realize I too was a raving bitch at times because I didn’t respect my spouse. But you know what? He was behaving in ways that diminished my respect for him. That shit (untreated mental illness, hoarding, hiding money) was real. The way I coped with it was entirely wrong. I should’ve wised up and realized that his behavior was a deal breaker for ME. Instead, I kept trying to control it and him by being shriller and more insistent that he Change. (See my codependency 101 point above.)
We only control ourselves, Sloane. You don’t like being a verbally abusive person? Fix that. Realize what your values are, what’s a deal breaker in a relationship, and realize you don’t control other people. Get out honestly before you feel the need to belittle and nag.
4. I didn’t bother to learn to fight the right way.
I know it sounds odd to suggest there is a right way to fight. But there is. I tended to keep the peace in our house by keeping my mouth shut when things were really bothering me. As you can imagine, all the small things that drove me crazy grew into a giant suppressed ball of anger that would erupt occasionally in a huge, really frightening fit of Hulk-like rage. And by rage, I mean rage in the clinical, mental-health definition kind of way. After the fact, I’d justify my anger by saying that a woman can only take so much. Looking back, I was one scary b*tch during those episodes.
See my points above, Sloane. And know this — it takes two to fight the right way. When your boundaries are violated, yes, SPEAK UP. But often we don’t speak up, because we know from painful experience that when we voice an objection, we will not be heard. Our concerns will be rejected and ignored.
So we co-dependently snark and nag. Or it builds up and we explode.
All of that tells me that your husband was sending you a very clear message for years — that he did not Give a Shit. And you refused to receive that message, and instead you nagged and raged at it.
I write this mea culpa not with the hopes of winning my ex back, or even wanting his forgiveness. I write this because I can’t believe how long I kept my head buried in the sand. I hope other women out there will yank theirs out and take a good look around. And while I’m still hurt that my husband chose to solve our problems in another woman’s bed when some conversation and counseling might have helped, I absolutely know that my behavior was part of what pushed him there.
You didn’t push him there. He was already there. You were just chumped. Welcome to the club.
This column ran previously. Consider it my strike for International Women’s Day! Wear red y’all!