Dear Chump Lady:
My story is similar but somewhat different from the many I have read on your site. My husband and I were high school sweethearts, together for 40 years, married for 33. He suddenly became ill and died within a week of (non-smoking) lung cancer. It was a shock and I was devastated…. for about two weeks, during which time I planned and executed a glorious memorial celebration for him and wrote a glowing obituary.
After two weeks, I found he had committed financial infidelity (because I could now see his bank account) by gambling away thousands of dollars a month (he made a very good salary) for 2-3 years. I had no idea. He gambled at casinos near his place of business, which was about an hour from our home. He gambled on weekends. I matched up the dates and realized he was even gambling at the casino when I was nursing my dying mother!! He frequently would just leave our home on weekends with no mention of where he was going. When I questioned him, he said he “just didn’t like being cooped up and liked driving around.” And so I bought it. He had never, in 40 years, given me reason to mistrust him.
D-Day #2 came a week later when I found on his computer (which I searched because now I didn’t trust him!) that he had gone to an “erotic massage” place years ago while he was working out of town. I was hoping it was a one-time thing, but still, I was horrified and felt betrayed, disgusted and gut-punched. Who was this man I was mourning??? I didn’t recognize him.
D-Day #3 came a week after THAT when I fired up his phone and looked at his texts. The only texts he had received since he had passed away were from an Asian lady, his “massage therapist” but the texts were not professional and seemed creepy: “Hi Tom. I’m thinking about you Tom (not his real name) and I miss you. Time for a massage?”
That, coupled with the fact that I had found the older email for the erotic massage previously, the fact he paid this woman in cash (approximately $150-200 that he removed from an ATM near to her place of business), texts from him to her that said he was “in the parking lot.. okay to come up now?” and the fact that he barely ever mentioned he was getting a massage and would “forget” to tell me he had one or just mumble things about going to get his massage on the way out the door, made me realize he had been continuing this practice (of erotic massage), now nearer to our home, on a once-monthly basis for years and lying to me about it.
I was inconsolable and felt like I had been run over by a train. This well-respected, generous guy whom everyone loved was actually this secret-keeping, deceitful and betraying stranger. I have even wondered whether keeping these secrets for years may have led to his increasingly poor health and early death. He had trouble with alcohol use/abuse. He frequently seemed stressed, preoccupied and angry. And now I know why: keeping two very big secrets from your wife for years can really do some damage emotionally and probably even physically.
My question is: I have two children. My daughter is 30 and she does know about this because I uncharacteristically blurted it out to her in a moment of near-total emotional breakdown. My son is younger (28) and does not know anything…yet. At first I thought I would never tell my son, because I wanted him to love, respect and grieve his father in the normal way. It helped me keep the good part of my husband still alive in my son. I didn’t feel that these things reflected on my son’s relationship with my husband, and I did not want to hurt my son by telling him. I certainly didn’t want to hurt him simply in order to relieve my burden of the secrets I was now keeping.
Now I’m wondering if I should tell him, and how much I should tell him.
I have told everything to some very close friends and a therapist, but I find it excruciating to be around friends who knew me and my husband but with whom I’m not as close, because they frequently say how much they miss him, how much I must miss him and what a great guy he was, what a great marriage we had, etc. They have no idea of the pain and anguish I’m feeling which has even surpassed the grief at this point (he died 2 months ago).
This happens also with my late husband’s family (whom I adore, as did he). I can barely be around them without needing to excuse myself to vomit, I have so much anxiety about it all.
I guess I’m wondering how to deal with this. It’s not like he had a regular “affair” so I can’t just say to people briefly: “my husband had an affair.” It seems to require more explanation, but the explanation is seedy and cringe-inducing and awful. I have gotten a good and loving response from those I have told, and I’ve realized it has been a huge burden taken off of me, but I’m wondering how far do I go with this telling people? Who exactly should I tell and from whom should I keep the secret? My son? My late husband’s family?
Dear Midwest Chump,
This problem isn’t nearly as uncommon as you think. We have several chumps of dead cheaters on this blog (unicornnomore, HeatDeath), where discovery came while cleaning out the estate. You aren’t alone.
Please tell. As you yourself wrote, keeping big secrets can really do some damage emotionally and physically. You already told your daughter. If you don’t tell your son, you’re enlisting your daughter to conspire against your son with a Great Big Secret. Why?
To perserve his sainted memory? As I tell all chumps — you aren’t the cheater’s PR agency. You got fired from that job when they cheated. If it’s not so bad to do it, it’s not so bad to talk about it. Apparently your dead husband felt perfectly entitled to cheat and steal marital resources for YEARS at your expense. Do you think talking about this is an equivalent sin? Worse?
How about framing this as you’ve been dealt a trauma. HE left his affairs (I pun) in this order, because he was a liar and a cheat. He defrauded you, and you have no way of processing what was real and what wasn’t real about a 40 year relationship. Why should you be denied not only support, but REALITY? That is what happened to you. Period. It isn’t your fault.
I wanted him to love, respect and grieve his father in the normal way.
He didn’t have a normal father, and there’s no “normal” way to grieve. We all process death differently — who this person was, and what they meant to us, good and bad.
It helped me keep the good part of my husband still alive in my son.
Here’s the mindfuck of being betrayed — you don’t know what were the good parts, and what was fake. It’s all suspect after such a discovery. Everything is tainted with What Else Don’t I Know, and Who Else Was In On It?
Your son is absolutely entitled to his own memories of his father. But YOU are the living person he’ll be having a relationship with. Does Phantom Good Dad outweigh Chumped Real Mom? He may well wonder why you don’t want to reminisce about Dad, or are angry at him. He has zero context to fit those thoughts into.
I didn’t feel that these things reflected on my son’s relationship with my husband, and I did not want to hurt my son by telling him. I certainly didn’t want to hurt him simply in order to relieve my burden of the secrets I was now keeping.
I’m sure it will hurt him, but I think there’s a way to share this discovery without editorializing. (i.e., “He’s a bastard and may he burn in hell!”) Here’s a suggested script, and I bet others at CN can help you with things to say too.
“Son, I just wanted to be honest with you, because your sister already knows this and I don’t want there to be secrets between us. While going through your father’s estate, I recently made some really alarming discoveries of financial and physical infidelity. I’m grieving your father, who I thought he was, and I’m also grieving learning of these betrayals. So, if you’re wondering why I may be acting differently than I was earlier since Dad died, that’s why.”
If he wonders what any of this has to do with him (maybe he’s not super empathetic), I’d say:
“I respect your relationship with your dad, and your memories of him. How you think of him is your business. But please understand that I’m feeling quite confused and upset now. I wanted you to know why I’m not grieving in expected ways and have a context. I respect you and I didn’t want to lie to you, even with lies of omission.”
And then leave it there. If he has questions, answer them. You aren’t vomiting your grief and despair on him, you’re making factual statements. Financial and physical infidelity are TRUTHS of what happened, and you’re leaving out the ugly details. (“Happy endings” in massage parlors, Asian prostitutes, etc.)
As for his family, I’d use the same script.
If you don’t want to tell, that’s also your business. I take from your letter, however, that you do. That telling the few people you have, has relieved you of a terrible burden and given you a source of support and comfort. I would add that it’s NOT your kids’ job to comfort you from the knowledge that dad was a predatory creep. Leave that to the professionals and support forums. But I do think you’re within your rights to say what happened. That’s YOUR story and you’re alive to tell it. He’s not alive to keep you from the truth of your life anymore.
Big hugs to you. And I hope he was well-insured.