Dear Chump Lady
D-Day for me was Aug 12, 3 weeks after our 20th anniversary. He admitted, after I basically squeezed it out of him, that he had had 2 affairs, one with a work colleague — whom he says turned psycho and he no longer talks to — and one with a woman out of town. At one point, the two overlapped. While he swears he never had sex with the work colleague (just fooled around a few times) and that he only hooked up with the out-of-towner 4 times, these affairs went on for at least 3 to 4 years (he is fuzzy on when they started), although the texting and emotional component go farther back than that.
I wasn’t totally clueless, I told him several times that I wasn’t comfortable with the many “friendships” he had with women friends new and old, who I didn’t know and who weren’t our mutual friends.
He never made much of an effort to include me in most of these friendships and so I when I told him, repeatedly, that I wasn’t comfortable with them he always managed to flip this scenario around and make it about how I was insecure because both of my parents were cheaters too. Thus, he gaslighted me about the out-of-town affair when I tried to confront him about it many times.
This man has been in therapy for many years. His therapist told him to fess up but he never did — not until I told him, in couples therapy, that I would simply assume the worst if he wasn’t willing to be honest. I was furious and shattered when he finally admitted it. I truly think he was shocked by my response.
At first he was a little indignant and felt somewhat justified, as he was convinced that we were on the edge of divorce at the time and he wasn’t getting his emotional/ physical/ etc. needs met. But now, after 3 months, I can see he is truly sorry — even mortified by his own behavior — and trying to work on himself, on our relationship, and to rebuild trust.
We have a teenager at home and one in a freshman in college. I am staying and trying to work on our relationship because of the kids and the fact that for some reason I do still love him. But I am haunted by the years of lies, the gaslighting, the disregard for my feelings, the many women I knew he’d had friendships with that excluded me and maybe the ones I didn’t know about. I was broken for weeks, lost weight, barely got through the day. Now I am in therapy, on antidepressents, and pissed as hell.
Can a man like this truly change or am I totally deluding myself and wasting time? I’ll admit that I’m terrified to be on my own, as we have been together for more than half my life. But is all of this pain worth it?
Pissed Off in California
Don’t ask yourself if he can change. Wrong question. Ask yourself if this relationship is acceptable to you. Theoretically, sure, people can change. By putting all the emphasis on the probability of that happening (we’ll discuss the odds in a moment), you’re giving him all your power. Naturally, that pisses you off, because that’s a very unsafe, scary place to be. This man has grievously betrayed you.
Instead, put your energies where they’ll be better spent — yourself.
Now, I know that feels shaky too — especially after you’ve been gaslighted. Can you trust your own perceptions of reality? Of him? But you’re a far more honest broker than he is. Decide what your values are. Decide what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t. Not just going forward — but in the relationship’s entirety.
For some reason, after infidelity, we’re supposed to have this tunnel vision about our options. Look ahead! Better character on that distant shore! I see a narwhale!
No. Look at the WHOLE of the thing. (What you know of it anyway.) Could you ever trust this man again after so much mindfuckery? After years of devaluing?
The emphasis does NOT have to be on his Potential To Change. It can be No, This Is a Deal Breaker.
In fact, it’s an expression of grotesque entitlement that he’s there ASSUMING you must invest further in him. Where’s the contrition? Where’s his assumption that this SHOULD be a deal breaker?
Why did you have to play a cat-and-mouse game for YEARS for some trickle truth “confession”? While he was risking your health and family life? If he’s truly questioning his behavior, he’s not “mortified” — and he’s certainly not blameshifting — he’d be DOING something. Signing a post-nup, a generous divorce settlement, telling the children what he’s done and not making you out to be crazy. Really, Pissed, anything quite other than wanly sniveling on a shrink’s sofa.
I’ll admit that I’m terrified to be on my own
That’s a problem you can work on. That’s a situation you can IMPROVE. THAT you control.
I am haunted by the years of lies, the gaslighting, the disregard for my feelings, the many women I knew he’d had friendships with that excluded me and maybe the ones I didn’t know about. I was broken for weeks, lost weight, barely got through the day. Now I am in therapy, on antidepressents, and pissed as hell.
That’s what staying looks like. That knowledge never goes away — that he’d hurt you like that to get his dick wet. He can’t undo it, and you can’t un-know it.
There’s invest in this further and hope (I’ve written about the odds here) — or cut your losses and leave.
I’m sorry, I know it feels like your choices suck.
One path puts you in the driver’s seat and the other path puts him in the driver’s seat. Who would you rather have behind the wheel?