Dear Chump Lady,
I was in a relationship for 15 years, married for the last five. I’m not wired to be jealous over sex — I like it when pretty people do things to each other. Sensing he wanted to wander, though, I’d negotiated three rules: he could do whatever as long as it was safe, I knew about it in advance, and I had the option to veto. He broke every rule. I stumbled into a pile of Craigslist-enabled sexual affairs and other, more troubling habits.
I was told that it’d been going on for about six months, but learned it began even before the supposed virgin and I got together. The more I searched for certain screen names, the more profiles I found. All very polished. He explained that sexual shame made him do it.
But I read books about ethical non-monogamy and conflict resolution. I snorted Thich Nhat Hanh. Had calm conversations and then tried yelling and threatening. Got him into therapy. Declared amnesties — you’ll never have a better opportunity to be truly seen and accepted, blah, blah, blah.
I tossed people in his direction, thinking it would sate him, but it just made him hungrier. The day after a hookup, he’d need a social event. And those weekends, he’d stay out until 6AM drinking and going to strip clubs. It never satisfied him — it’s as if giving him permission insulted him, but most guys tell me they’d kill for that kind of freedom within an otherwise-stable, long-term relationship with a decent spouse.
I know I have to go, but I’m still addicted. I don’t understand. Generally I’m disciplined, but this one guy is the key to my life and if I can’t have him I’m not even sure it’s worth living, and the cosmic order depends on redeeming this relationship. I don’t understand why I’m weak for someone who can’t even bring himself to admit that he enjoys sex with strangers.
So, why am I so chumpy? I can see everything so clearly, but on long, lonely nights I just want him back and am willing to sacrifice everything. What does that last step into freedom look like? What is missing here? Once you know the awful truth, that you’re not feeding someone’s stomach but tossing everything you value into a bonfire, what keeps you from living it out?
You can live without him. Trust me. Although you don’t feel this way now, your world will not crumble without a deceitful, Craigslist-stranger-fucking asshole in it. You’ve got 15 years of sunk costs and it’s scary to face the unknown. But the unknown is a lot better than whatever’s in the Petri dish after his STD swab.
(Speaking of which, get yourself tested, pronto.)
Cheating is NOT a monogamy problem. So all the trendy books on ethical non-monogamy aren’t going to help you — you’re dealing with a cheater. A cheater is someone who breaks the terms of consensual agreements. One such agreement is monogamy, another such an agreement is an open relationship with boundaries. All it takes to be a cheater is to break the rules unilaterally without regard to your partner. Rules the cheater voluntarily (and deceptively) entered into. This is a character problem, not monogamy problem.
You did NOT consent to having your health risked. You were generous and open with him, then forgiving, and all this got you was more endangerment, more disrespect, and less kibble value in his eyes. Abort mission.
Got him into therapy. Declared amnesties — you’ll never have a better opportunity to be truly seen and accepted, blah, blah, blah.
Barebear, you need the acceptance work here, not him. He’s A-OKAY being a Craigslist-stranger-fucking asshole. Truly SEE who he is (a Craigslist-stranger-fucking asshole) and ACCEPT it. That’s what his actions are telling you. His mouth spouts a whole bunch of stupidity — virgin, toxic shame, WTFever — to keep himself in cake. (Your kibbles have some value. But one doesn’t restrain oneself for appliances.) Quit giving this fuckwit your power.
So, why am I so chumpy? I can see everything so clearly, but on long, lonely nights I just want him back and am willing to sacrifice everything.
You’ve already sacrificed everything — 15 years of your time, your dignity, your shared finances, your health — AND IT DOES NOT SATE HIM. Why would you give him one more minute?
When someone devalues you, it’s very human (but stupid) to look to that person for MORE validation. Hey, if I can win over this unappeasable person, I will be a kibble SUPERSTAR! We center our focus on fuckwits, instead of asking ourselves the obvious question — WHY?
Why are you chumpy? Well, because you bond. You’re normal. But if you stay chumpy, you probably have some issues to explore because that pleasing the un-pleasable power person dynamic feels comfortable. Any narcs and chumpy orbiting satellites in your family? Book a therapy appointment.
The important thing, Barebear, is to get OUT OF THERE and protect yourself IMMEDIATELY. You can do the emotional work later. Right now, free yourself and go no contact. The longer you stay no contact, the more the “I can’t live without him” spell will break.
You’ll later regret wasting another minute after the first D-Day. You have value. You matter. But the longer you stay, the more you debase yourself. Your love and commitment are precious gifts. He shat on your gifts, which is why he can’t have pretty things. So take your pretty self elsewhere.