I read your book and I divorced my cheater, but I still feel like I’m not gaining a life.
I’m a very busy cardiologist in a small town. In July 2018, I discovered my wife of 15 years (we had known each other for 25 years) had been having an affair with one of our friends for 10 years. This spanned the birth of both of our boys (currently ages 8 and 3). I filed for divorce the next day and was granted this 2 months later based on her infidelity.
This wasn’t her first offense. I found a letter between her and her boss in June of 2015. She denied that anything intimate took place, only that her boss propositioned her and she declined (she later admitted to sleeping with him because she was extremely drunk). After thoughtful consideration at the time, I agreed to give her a second chance to repair our marriage. A week later she informed me she was pregnant with our second child (you can imagine what my initial thoughts were).
Two months later while we were living in a different city, during my final year of training, she decided to move back home as she was “not happy” away from her family and support system. (She later admitted that her lover threatened to kill himself if she didn’t move back home). She took our son with her (he was 4 at the time).
I flew home every 2-3 weekends to see them. She wanted nothing to do with me, just laid in bed all the time and made me sleep with my son. Yet I was completely invested, taking her to the ER on Thanksgiving due to dehydration, racing home when she went into pre-term labor, and racing home again when she delivered.
I met with her in the spring of that year for dinner to ask if she was “all in” to repairing our marriage. She said she was 100% all in, so I purchased a 5000-square-foot home that I planned to raise my family in. After moving back home and starting my cardiology practice, I thought my wife would seriously try to repair our marriage, but I never felt like she was sincere in wanting it to work. Nor did I feel like she was truly trying (I now know why, because she was cheating). She never wanted to be intimate. We tried couples therapy, individual therapy, and separated for awhile. I ultimately moved back in the home, but we only coexisted, as I was simply hanging on to a failed marriage for my children at that point. Then I found out about the 10-year affair.
I get that she is a terrible person as a serial cheater. She’s a narcissistic sociopath and has major character flaws. Who the hell starts a family with someone when they’re having an affair??? But I can’t seem to get over her (or at least the idea of the person I thought I married). I miss my partner, my best friend, my confidante.
And I do realize it was a farce — that she really wasn’t those things because deep down she didn’t respect me. Co-parenting with her is not easy. I want her to be miserable, not happy. I want her to demonstrate remorse for what she did. But she hasn’t. At this point I honestly don’t believe she’s capable of feeling empathy or remorse.
I’ve had both of my sons paternity tested and they both are mine. I’ve been tested for STDs and am completely clean.
Her family blames me for this. They don’t know the complete truth because she refuses to tell them. They only know she “slept with someone else.” They have called me an absentee husband and an absentee father. I admit that medical school and post-graduate training took up a lot of my time, but I still managed to attend major events and holidays. I was doing something honorable and admirable to better my family. She also knew I wanted to go to medical school when we were dating and engaged.
It’s very clear that I will never trust her again. Also, the thought of being intimate with her disgusts me. I divorced her because she betrayed, deceived, and disrespected me. But not because I stopped loving her.
I’ve been in 2 short-term relationships since the divorce, but each has ended because I didn’t feel ready. I felt like I needed more time to get over my ex-wife. It’s as though I have built a wall around my heart that is preventing me from fully letting someone else in. Why do I feel this way? Why can’t I move on? Why does she still have power over me?
How do I get to “meh”? How long is this going to take? When will I feel happy again? When will I “gain a life?”
It’s bizarre — I fix “real” broken hearts for a living and I love what I do, but I can’t fix my own…
The Cardiac Chump
Dear Cardiac Chump,
Just because you believe something is true doesn’t mean you accept it.
That’s where you’re at. Here’s a heart analogy. You can tell someone they have heart disease, and to manage it, they’re going to have to take meds and change their lifestyle, or have an operation. And they believe you. (They’ve got reasons they’re seeing a cardiologist.) But it’s a big, scary reality to wrap one’s arms around. Heart disease? Me?
I have to change? I have to eat leafy green vegetables? I have to exercise? Worse: I have to go under the knife?
You nod. “Yes, yes you do. If you don’t do these things, your heart is going to kill you. We must fix it.” And you explain that while their hearts may be damaged and scarred, if they do the right things, there’s a very good chance they’ll live a longer, healthier life!
Winning, right? No. Because even though that patient believes you, they may go out an eat a Big Mac anyway. They believe but they don’t accept. The idea is there, but the internal acceptance isn’t. It hasn’t translated to behavior change.
Or they may do the right things — diet, exercise, operation, meds — but they don’t feel like their old youthful self, before heart disease. They keep waiting for the wrong outcome. Or they’ve started to do the right things, but they haven’t seen results yet. The pride and springiness they’d feel 20 lbs lighter. Doing the Right Things is still an act of faith.
That is where you are.
You were chumped. You did the right thing — you divorced her. Your heart won’t be the same. It was abused. But hearts are resilient things. You can recover from this, but you’ve got to get your head in the game.
She’s a narcissistic sociopath and has major character flaws… I miss my partner, my best friend, my confidante.
A doctor told me I have heart disease. I think I’ll eat this Big Mac.
And I do realize it was a farce — that she really wasn’t those things because deep down she didn’t respect me.
I do realize that I can’t walk up a flight of stairs without wheezing… I have a bad heart.
Co-parenting with her is not easy. I want her to be miserable, not happy. I want her to demonstrate remorse for what she did. But she hasn’t. At this point I honestly don’t believe she’s capable of feeling empathy or remorse.
… But I keep expecting to run a marathon.
STOP WANTING IMPOSSIBLE THINGS.
If you truly believe she is a sociopath, then you will ACCEPT the diagnosis and realize that she is not capable of empathy or remorse. She’s not going to reflect on her behavior, because she does not reflect.
Every. Time. You. Expect. This. You. Set. Yourself. Up. For. Pain.
You! Not her! Wishing her to be miserable is just the flip side of missing your best friend — it’s not Meh. It’s not indifference.
Her rapturous happiness is not that much different than her deepest despair — SHE DOESN’T DO DEPTH.
Bad hearts don’t run up flights of stairs.
Sociopaths don’t co-parent well (it’s all about them, can the children be of use? Could we trade them for a Pekinese purse dog?)
You’ve got a Trust That She Sucks problem, Cardiac Chump. You trust with caveats. She sucks with disclaimers. For this to get better, you need to REALLY accept the suck. Which hurts like a mofo. It means you invested and bred with a fraud. While you were building a life together, she was cheating for a DECADE. There’s nothing to reconcile your thoughts with here, except stone cold monster.
The good news is that not everyone is a monster. But it’s harder to move on from a monster than you might think, because:
a) You’ve been in a heavy duty pick-me dance. Read up on the brain science of Intermittent rewards. You thought you “won” the last time this went south. Expecting her to be better after the “consequence” of divorce is another kind of pick me dance. You “win” a contrite her. (To watch her suffer, or to want you back.) The pick me dance is un-winnable. There is only disengaging.
It’s hard to disengage when you’re co-parenting, so work on parallel parenting and scheduling software solutions.
b) Narcissists sparkle. (Narkles?) When freaks want you to believe you’ve “won” the pick me dance, they may give you some kibbles — kibbles you over-value because you’ve been on starvation rations. No one else’s kibbles measure up, because you’re kind of mindfucked in that toxic dynamic.
So dating again and missing your ex? Maybe you miss the fantasy limmerance of the disordered?
Good people might feel weird at first. Like eating healthy food after a life time of Big Macs. Hold out for nourishing relationships.
c) This is a lot of shit to grieve. A decade of deception is a LOT to process. Maybe you should just go easy on your heart now and not date until you feel a bit more healed up? It’s not fair to new people if you’re not over your ex.
Or you could give yourself some credit for working on the new life. So what if you didn’t find a Forever Partner? You’re taking time and being choosey — that’s a good way to be.
It’s as though I have built a wall around my heart that is preventing me from fully letting someone else in. Why do I feel this way?
Uh, you were terrorized by a monster for a decade? The monster is vanquished. You divorced her. Your heart is scarred, but it CAN recover.
Why can’t I move on?
You can. First step of moving on is believing that you can move on.
Why does she still have power over me?
She doesn’t have any power accept the power you GIVE her. Stop giving her power.
Manage the channels she does have into your life (parenting software, lawyers) and BLOCK the other channels. (Her family doesn’t need an explanation about your divorce, but feel free to give them one — a DECADE of deception — and then CUT THEM OFF.)
I don’t need to tell you this, but I will anyway — Cardiac Chump, you’re a stock that trades high. A loving man with a good job. I could get a line of chumps waiting here for you that spans to Brooklyn. Your ex stole 10 years of your shared life. Don’t give her another day.