Dear Chump Lady,
I have a problem that I am not sure how to deal with my brother is a cheater and I don’t hate him. A little background info — I am a chump. My husband of 28 years cheated for 2 years, I had 4 d-days and I finally left. I left 1.5 years ago and divorced and am really happy. (Mighty Me!) I know what it feels like to be cheated on and what happens with betrayal.
Fast forward to today. My brother and his wife are separated after 15 year. The marriage had problems, I don’t think they were happy for a long time. Neither spouse was perfect, my sister in law caused some family drama by forcing my brother to choose between her and some other family members. So admittedly I am not always her biggest fan, but I do recognize that my brother is in no way perfect either. They are separated because he cheated on her and wants out of the marriage. He and I have had some discussions recently and he acknowledges that that was a terrible thing and he wishes it had not happened, but he was not happy, yadda yadda yadda…… Unfortunately she has decided to tell everyone about the affair and why he wants a divorce, this includes their 9 & 11 year old children. I have maintained a relationship with her and like her as a person. I just can’t listen to her bad mouth my brother continuously, especially in front of the kids.
The problem is that this is my BROTHER & I love him. I do not want to cut him off. This is causing a wedge to between some family members as she is forcing them to be on one team or the other. I want to be Switzerland; is this possible? I don’t want to condone cheating, but i want my brother and his kids in my life.
This is causing a personal dilemma because I am not sure how to react. I understand the pain affairs cause, but when it is someone you care about I find I am sympathetic to the cheater. I keep going back and forth on what I feel. UGH!!!
Chump Big Sister
Well, I can’t tell you what to feel. I just decode stuff and snark. Let’s start with perfection.
Neither spouse was perfect ….I do recognize that my brother is in no way perfect either.
No one needs to be perfect. Were you perfect? Did you deserve to be cheated on? When discussing the demise of your marriage would you want the benchmark of “perfect” (and how far you are from it) to be invoked?
There’s no Perfect. There’s just what we do and how we react.
Your brother wasn’t happy in his marriage. He reacted with an affair. Not an ethical choice. Great, he admits that. Part of being a Big Boy and wearing his Big Boy pants is recognizing that he has to accept the outcome of his choice to cheat. That means he doesn’t control the narrative. His wife was chumped. That’s HER story. She can tell it. (More on the ethical bounds of that in a moment.) She is not his PR agency.
She also gets to choose who she wants in her life under what terms. You don’t have to like that and you don’t control it. She may decide that having someone in her life connected to her ex-husband is too painful. However, you still have your brother and his kids. You can maintain your relationship with those kids through him. So, really, you don’t need your chump SIL’s buy-in here. Your brother’s douchebaggery doesn’t revoke your aunt privileges.
Unfortunately she has decided to tell everyone about the affair and why he wants a divorce,
That’s her right. Her family has imploded. She can tell people why. There is no shared burden here of “it takes two” — your brother destroyed this relationship. By saying she wasn’t “perfect” is implying that she shares fault in the marriage’s demise — and in being cheated on. No one has a perfect marriage, and there are ethical ways to end relationships. When you don’t end things ethically, kindly, fairly — there is fall out.
If you want the narrative to be “we mutually decided to end our marriage” — the reality must be that this was a joint decision. Cheating is a unilateral act.
Your brother does not get to assume a mutual narrative when acting unilaterally. You shouldn’t either.
And I wonder about your brother. Is this is his first affair? Is he making demands that everyone be quiet about his cheating and fake-Switzerland-friendly For The Children?
this includes their 9 & 11 year old children.
I believe children should be told why their parents are divorcing in age-appropriate ways without editorializing. I don’t believe it’s okay to gaslight children, even with the best of intentions.
Your brother’s affair blew up their world too. I don’t think chumps should slop their grief on to their kids, or make them carry the burden of choosing between parents. But I DO believe kids should know — truthfully — why things ended. Choices have consequences, we all have agency, are important lessons at any age.
I have maintained a relationship with her and like her as a person.
I don’t get the sense that you like her — you said she “caused drama” and divided your family. And you sound uncomfortable about how she’s handling her grief at being chumped.
Consider that she might not want your Switzerland conditional kinda-like-you-kinda-freaked-out-by-you “friendship.”
I just can’t listen to her bad mouth my brother continuously, especially in front of the kids.
Yes, she should know how to read the room. And — for the record — I do NOT think chumps (or anyone) should badmouth the other parent in front of the kids.
“Badmouthing” is often in the eye of the beholder, however. I would define badmouth as “slut, whore, fuckpuppet, dead beat, loser, cheating sonofabitch,” etc. Invective. Name-calling.
I would say blameshifting is badmouthing. “Well, I wouldn’t have cheated if your father wasn’t such a control freak” or “I sure hope your mother can move past her bitterness and jealousy at my new life.”
What’s NOT badmouthing, IMO, is stating the terms of why you divorced. Mom or Dad has a girlfriend/boyfriend. Marriage is promising to be each other’s special person, and it’s not okay to lie and break promises. Mom/Dad is sad right now, but Mom/Dad loves you and isn’t going away.
Did your SIL fall far from the mark?
You get boundaries too! You can say, “SIL, I know your grief is raw right now. I’ve been chumped. And I feel conflicted because while I know what you say is true — he cheated — I can’t listen to you run him down. I know that makes me seem less than supportive, but I’m probably not the best person to support you now.”
Don’t deny her need for support. Just say you aren’t the person to give her validation that he sucks.
You CAN support her in TANGIBLE ways that matter more than agreeing he’s a cock-sucking motherfucker — offer to watch her kids. Make her dinner. Buy the kids school supplies. DO SUPPORTIVE I-love-those-kids things.
Actions speak louder than “I’m sorry my brother is an asshole.”