Dear Chump Lady
I have been reading your site for weeks now after discovering (after several years of suspicion) that I am an enormous chump and finally plucked up the courage to ask for help.
I don’t know what to say to my two children when they are crying because they feel that their family is “falling apart and maybe was never even a family”. Their pain breaks my heart all over again every time. I asked my husband to move out a couple of weeks ago. I am trying to muster the courage to file for divorce, but I am wavering because he cries and says it is not what he wants when he comes to see the children. They cry when I ask them if they’re OK.
I feel like I’m the ‘bad guy’ for trying to make this decision and I am constantly second guessing myself. I have tried to write lists of pros and cons for staying married or divorcing. So far they are full of cons and no pros. Here is my embarrassing chump story:
D-Day #1 was in 2006 when our son was 2. A couple of days after his 2nd birthday in fact. Husband came home from work and announced he was leaving. It was so out of the blue and such a shock that I threw up (I thought that was a fake thing on films). He was gone for 4 months while I pleaded and begged and made myself look amazing to try to get him to return.
A few days after he left, his itemised phone bill came through. Hundreds of pounds instead of the usual thirty. I felt sick when I saw it was the same number over and over, so I called it. Surprise. A woman answered, turned out she worked with him. She put the phone down pretty quickly. The whole 4 months he insisted she was helping him by talking about our marriage problems. He came home after 4 months saying he’d made a mistake. After a slow start, things were fabulous and I was expecting our second child. A few weeks into pregnancy I found a letter in his wallet — D-Day #2 — from this same woman — making it quite clear they’d slept together. He said she was crazy. I was pregnant, jobless, and terrified. The whole pregnancy was spent interrogating him. He denied it convincingly every time. I almost threw him out at 7 months pregnant, but he begged me not to make a decision whilst hormonal.
Fast forward to 2011 and D-Day #3. I found a birthday card and Christmas card amongst his clothing along with receipts from Christmas 2010 (things for me). Yes, you guessed it, they were from the same woman. He couldn’t understand how they had got there, admitted they’d been talking and texting, even though he’d sworn in 2007 he’d never speak to her ever again. I made him change his number. I searched everything and found emails and messages between them and the most sickening email written by my husband, that goes on for 3 pages, about how jealous he is she’s got someone else, how they should cease contact, how he has loved her so much for years.
He said he wrote it when drunk one night after a row with me and that none of it was true. So I emailed her asking what was happening and what had happened in 2006. “Nothing! Please don’t torture yourself, nothing ever happened, we were just good friends.” We had marriage counseling, although husband managed to somehow change that to just me having counseling by convincing the counsellor I had some childhood issues that even I didn’t know existed.
Our daughter was very ill in 2012 and this took my mind off the marriage issues, although every so often I would question him, we’d argue, he’d get angry and ask when I was going to get over him ‘talking to someone he shouldn’t have talked to’ so that we could just be happy. Over and over again he looked me in the eyes and swore nothing had every happened. Oh, and I’d really like her if I got to know her.
In 2015 he suddenly announced (after what I thought was our best holiday for years) that he didn’t love me anymore and 6 weeks later left again — D-Day #4. This time for 9 months. Then mysteriously decided yet again he’d made a mistake and we could work it out. I was very unsure this time and took 6 months to tentatively decide to let him back in.
Things haven’t been great, there was so much for me to get my head round, but because I so desperately wanted my children to have an intact family I have plodded along and mostly managed to push it all to the back of my mind. Until this Easter. This Easter I received an email from a man I’d never heard of but the title was OW’s name. It was her husband (she wasn’t married to him in 2006 though). He found a hotel receipt from 2015 and sexting up to 2016 — D-Day #5. He got her to speak to me and admit they had been ‘together’ for 6 months in 2006 (meaning they were still at it when he came back to me).
Husband said she was lying at first, then admitted it. It has taken the rest of these weeks for them to both admit they have continued to sleep with each other on and off ever since the 2006 affair. It has been trickle truth for weeks. One of them admitting something, the other one denying it. It’s pathetic. My world has imploded. My entire history of the last 12 years has been a lie. So now I sit here, wondering how I could have been so stupid as to believe his lies for 12 years. Wondering what I’m going to do and if I can really do this to my children. They are heartbroken and say it’s not the same without Dad. I have told them why this is happening. My son is 13 so understands what an affair means to some extent but my daughter is 10 and is confused because I don’t want to go into too much detail, but she knows dad has done very bad things that you’re not allowed to do when you’re married, and hurt me very much.
I’m just not strong enough when they cry about their family falling apart. I’m not strong enough when husband cries and says he will never do it again. He has said that over and over so I know it would be stupid to believe him again, but I just don’t know if I can go through with it and be the one breaking my children’s hearts. I have her husband messaging me, she’s messaging me, I feel like it’s all on me. Please help me.
Leaving your husband because of his decade-plus long affair does NOT make you a “bad guy” — it makes you lucid. Leaving him is a consequence of HIS continued cheating, lying, emotional abuse, and abandonments. Sounds like we’re fuzzy on the concept of consequences over there, having had so very few of them for eons. I suggest your husband have his lawyer explain it to him. (They bill in six-minute increments.)
Why are you wearing the blame here, Distraught? Put that down this minute. Get angry. How DARE he cry to you! How DARE he try to make you the bad guy! Fuck his fake tears. Be righteously pissed — Oh, now he’s got a sadz? Now that the chump husband busted him? Where was his sniveling, naugahyde remorse when he was clandestinely fucking the OW and lying to you for YEARS? Where were his spasms of regret then? There pressed in his family Bible next to the OW’s birthday and Christmas cards? FUCK HIM, Distraught. FUCK HIM.
You need to get your head in self-protection mode right quick, lawyer up, and implement no contact. This blog is full of practical how-to’s on gray rock, minimal contact parenting, and the other divorce dark arts. Your problem is mental — you need to give yourself permission to protect yourself.
The question is not “What do I tell my crying children?” You don’t tell your crying children anything beyond what you already said — you show them. You find your strength and you start modeling self-respect and badassery. You stop accepting the blame and the shame, and you begin to act with dignity. No apologies. No second guessing. YOU MATTER. You are being abused. You will NOT accept this. You will not allow your children to witness another MINUTE of this shit-show carousel. Mommy and Daddy together again! Until Daddy decides to bail! You are DONE.
He wants to cry? Throw him a box of tissues and tell him to call his mistress. Not. Your. Job. You have a job and it’s a big important job — caring for yourself and shepherding your children through this nightmare with all your strength. There is ZERO bandwidth for him. Don’t let him steal another precious minute.
You’ve been a chump. You’ve been so terrified of his abandonment that you’ve sold your soul to some perverted notion of “intact family.” Family is NOT a grueling 10-year, pick-me dance-athon. Cue “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”
… 6 weeks later left again — D-Day #4. This time for 9 months. Then mysteriously decided yet again he’d made a mistake and we could work it out.
HE DOESN’T GET TO DECIDE. YOU decide. Is this ACCEPTABLE to YOU? There is no “we” here. That disappeared when he unilaterally walked out that door.
You’re fudging, saying it was him, he wanted back, what could you do? You have agency. It’s not all about what he wants. You are CHOOSING this. Why? You need to untangle that skein, but having been a chump, I can make a pretty good guess — spackle.
Distraught, I used to have a teddy bear named “Pooh Bear.” (Original, I know.) Someone bought it for me from a Methodist craft sale when I was about 4 years old. Pooh was a very crude approximation of a teddy bear. He was made of mustard-colored terry cloth and stuffed with women’s pantyhose. He had buttons for eyes and a felt nose.
I loved that thing. I dragged Pooh everywhere. For YEARS. I loved his face off. He even went to South Africa with me, and then to England to grad school. Yes, I was a 22-year-old history major with a teddy bear. When Pooh was nearing complete disintegration, I brought him to a dry cleaner and an elderly Greek lady sewed him a new body. She even made him an outfit. (Pooh had cavorted pant-less for years.) Gave him a new lease on life.
At some point in my late twenties, I shoved Pooh in a closet and I felt guilty about it. I imagined his feelings of loneliness and rejection. Tracy! How could you?!
I projected an entire relationship on to a moldering pile of bear-shaped pantyhose.
I felt REAL FEELINGS about Pooh bear. We had history! How could we part?! Now, what does that tell us about the chump condition? (Other than Tracy is kind of pathetic and weird and I suspect she owns an inflatable boyfriend.) We have the ability to PROJECT feelings and emotions on to just about ANYTHING. And it feels real! And it may bear zero resemblance to an actual healthy relationship!
You are projecting “father” and “husband” on to a fuckwit.
In Pooh’s defense, he never cheated or lied. He just sat there and looked companionable. I filled in the rest. Your husband is being a total shit, and you’ve excused it. You’ve filled in that void and projected decency and potential on a creature that does. not. exist. I’m sure he feels entitled to another reconciliation. All he has to do is turn on a few tears, and you’ll fold.
DO NOT FOLD.
Projecting what we want to see on to others is a very human impulse. But you MUST STOP. You must begin to operate with total lucidity and see him for who he IS — a person you can never feel safe with.
Dump him today. And if he cries? Tell that limp-dicked baby man he “must be hormonal.”
Good luck. We’re here for you.