Stay in Touch

Check out CL's Book

Sparkles The Magnificent Dry Drunk Unicorn

unicorn_cheaterDear Chump Lady,

I am currently in limbo while I get the finances in order and fully decide what I will do. He wants to reconcile but I am leaning toward breaking up because after what he’s done I don’t think I will ever trust and love him the way I want to be able to trust and love a husband.

In the meantime he is being the great guy he used to be and I have my boundaries firmly in place. I keep wondering though if he is genuinely changed (all of his actions are in line with unicorn status) or if he is hoovering. He seems genuine, but I am reminded that he was also every bit as convincing when he was being an asshole for several drunken years.

My question is, how long can the average cheater get by without dropping ANY red flags? I am so picky now I analyze everything he does to make sure I’m not being conned, while healing myself. Suddenly sounds like double work for me, again. What a fucking surprise that is. At least I’m not harboring resentment 🙂 and besides he does mow the lawn and help with the childcare and housework. Wait, did someone just shout “Hopium!” at me? Anyway, his behavior checks out fine right now but at what point would I really know for sure? Can they fake actual nice for years? I’m already nervous enough about the alcoholism coming back up later on.

I read online that it’s recommended to give the behavior a year to see if it is hoovering. It has been four months so far. It will be about a year from now before I can truly afford to break it off if I decide to. So far I am keeping my emotional connection at friend level because I don’t want to get hurt again. Limbo sucks like we all know.

I am leaning toward getting out because all of his alcoholism and cheating and lying bullshit wasn’t and isn’t my problem and it’s all dealbreakers in my original book anyhow. But then I will sometimes feel like I am better off giving this a try for the children because he was great for many years like he is now and besides who’s to say I won’t pick another seemingly nice guy who will turn into a jerk later. As I am writing this, however, I am angrily wondering if that is my con right there — a shit sandwich for me and another try at this relationship for Sparkles the Magnificent Personality-Changing Dry-Drunk Unicorn. I think part of me would rather risk becoming a bitter old lady who gardens and whose company consists of her children and possible grandchildren, a few friends, a dog, and her principle of eat no shit.

Obviously, I am confused. Any clarity you can impart will be much appreciated.

Gratefully,

Hawk

Dear Hawk,

Well personally, I aspire to grow old (and bitter) gardening. So that’s hardly a terrible fate in my book. Compared with nursing Sparkles the Magnificent Personality-Changing Dry-Drunk Unicorn through sobriety and monogamy 12-step, I’ll take the hollyhocks any day.

You didn’t give me much to go on with Sparkle’s miraculous 4-month transformation other than he mows the lawn and notices his children. Is he in AA? Therapy? Has he pressured you for reconciliation?

I would think if Sparkles was serious about getting his shit together, he would not pressure you to reconcile with him. His sobriety should be his first focus, not ensuring that you hold his hand through this lest he fail. And it sounds like he has two impulse control problems — booze and fucking around. So he needs 12-step on at least a couple fronts.

Here is what I know about addiction — it’s often a life-long struggle, relapse is common (if not expected), and support is essential. Recovery is a lifestyle for many — weekly meetings, the support of sponsors, avoiding triggers and temptations. It’s not a poof! I’m suddenly a guy who does housework kind of transformation — it’s a slog. A struggle. Replacing shitty coping mechanisms with healthy, not-so-fun ones.

Frankly, I’d expect a guy who is truly in AA recovery, or sex addict recovery (or whatever stop whoring around looks like) to be rather a sullen, self-involved grump, if he’s doing it right. If he’s sparkly and magnificent? Yeah, that shit would give me pause. I would suspect he’s hoovering.

I am always suspicious of cheaters whose self improvement is contingent upon you staying with them. I mean, shouldn’t their lust for self-improvement go beyond you? An indication of a cheater getting it, IMO, is losing the entitlement thinking. Ergo, they’d lose the notion that they’re entitled to a reconciliation, or your continued support. They would accept the consequences of their actions and make amends in tangible ways that are not housework.

What do I mean by tangible ways? A fair, uncontested divorce settlement. A commitment to addiction recovery regardless of your presence in their life. A moral inventory where they own what they’ve done and don’t blameshift any of it to you.

If you really want to stay married to this person, I’d want to see accountability in the form of a generous post-nup so you’d have a ready-to-go divorce in case they fall off the wagon.

Sorry to me does NOT look like you assume all the risk and they’ll try harder at this sobriety, fidelity thing…. maybe.

What’s wrong with just getting on with your life, divorcing the man, and he gets better (or not) on his own time? He can always decide to date you sober again later. But I suspect after some time away from the chaos of living with him, you wouldn’t take him up on it.

Because Hawk, twitchy is no way to live. I am so picky now I analyze everything he does to make sure I’m not being conned, while healing myself. 

You cannot heal yourself at the same time you’re being hypervigilant that he’s not a screw up. Analyzing everything he does is NOT soothing. It’s trying to control the uncontrollable. It’s a sign that you feel very unsafe in this relationship.

So listen to yourself — you don’t know if he’s genuine, because he’s seemed genuine before at you got played. You spend a lot of time untangling his skein and playing marriage police to assure yourself that you’re NOT being played. In other words, you just don’t trust the guy. And with good reason.

When that trust is gone, IMO, your relationship is dead. Can trust be regained? Theoretically, yes, but it’s that unicorn I write about. It’s a slog. It’s not months, it’s years. It requires you investing heavily in his potential. And he’s already proven himself to be a bad risk.

People aren’t roulette wheels. Ooh! We hit on a good spell! He’s not drinking! Wheel turns. Uh oh, he’s cheating. Wheel turns. Shit, he’s drinking again. Wheel turns. Oh hey, he mowed the lawn!

You don’t want to lay all your money down that you’re going to hit red 7. You get up from the table and go find a more stable source of income than gambling. You surround yourself with reliable, consistent people who demonstrate good character over time. You invest in yourself and put the focus back on your own life. THAT is what healing looks like. You have some agency here. Not everything depends on him and his fragile state of monogamy and sobriety. You have “original deal breakers”? Enforce them. Start controlling you and walk away from what you don’t control — him.

This column ran previously.

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at info@chumplady.com. Read more about submission guidelines.
  • Hawk, where are you? Did you kick that cheating sparkletwunt to the curb? Are you happily working away on your bitter garden?

    I hope you got out, worked on reclaiming your life and are happy now.

  • CL nails it again!
    The church I led divorce recovery groups at is very supportive of 12 Step groups. Before the Covid-19 shutdown 43 groups met there every week. We had a lot of participants via Al Anon. Hawk’s story is typical. The cycling through sober and active using and the wreckage left behind. We would listen and sympathize and also encourage them to keep up with their Al Anon groups. If substance abuse is or was part of your marriage you should be in Al Anon. Even if you are divorcing or are divorced, Al Anon can help you recognize how your thinking and behavior has been twisted by being in relationship with addiction. It will carry forward into your future and your children’s future unless you deal with it now.

    • 12 step groups are not good for everyone… that should be the preface. Since there is no oversite, it could be over run with highly disordered individuals. In fact “AA is not a hotbed of good mental health” is often the deflect said by members who are shown horrible acts by fellow members. No accountability. A lot of victim blaming.

      My prolific cheater (men, women and exposing himself in public) was an AA superstar… took me to his “birthday” meetings and proclaimed in front of the room that he “loved me”-when he was screwing people in the room. And everyone in the room knew. Somehow I had to “look to see what my part in it was” (RIC anyone?!) He told me that to “understand him” I had to go to Alanon… which was the weirdest group meeting i ever went to… and had a woman hitting on me the whole time (fresh blood) . I’m not the quickest learn, but I knew whatever was going on in this room was batshit and I never went back.

      Before anyone jumps on here and starts saying “AA worked for me” I’m glad that it did. All I know is a group of people who were supposedly “working a program of honesty” supported and fawned over a known liar. His years sober were more important than his actions – but hey I’m supposed to “keep my side of the street clean”. A cult response/deflect for every criticism.

      SO Hawk, just know that AA is not the only way to deal with alcoholics. Narcissistic sociopaths are narcissistic sociopaths- drunk OR sober.

      • I’m in AA and my recently ex husband is an addict who was off and on in the program. He would trumpet how much he loved me at meetings. Meanwhile, he was cheating.

        However, my comment to you is this, regardless of AA – I am NOT looking at my side of the street and what I did to contribute to the mess. I had NO part in him cheating on me, or in him continuing to use drugs.

        I agree that AA and 12 step programs are not for everyone and if anyone tries a meeting and discovers that it is run by disordered fuckwits, then there are always other meetings. There are people who drink the kool aid and fall for the disordered superstars who hold themselves up as success stories, but in my book a success story in recovery is owning my own mistakes, not harming others and looking at your own behavior to make sure you aren’t harming others. If I see that I’m doing something harmful, or could be harmful, then I have to see why I’m doing it and STOP whatever it is. People in recovery need a lot of support and need to be called on their bullshit. Honest people don’t turn a blind eye on dishonesty.

        • Agreed….it’s not Well People Anonymous, but it’s currently one of the best tools we have. It’s the real world full of all kinds of people…predators too. Thankfully it’s a cult that doesn’t want your money and it doesn’t chase after you and you get to define the spiritual part of it, or you can be an atheist. Having a great therapist in recovery herself who specialized in addiction and all the requisite attached crap really helped me to take what worked and leave the rest.

          There will always be pros and cons, bad and good, whacked and well, in any organization of people.

          • AA is not one of the “best tools we have” science has proven. AA and it’s members gaslight new members by saying “it’s not religious” “when it ends with an “Our Father”?

            • Cactusflower, with all due respect,
              I’m not sure why you’re attacking me.
              You said above if AA had worked for anyone you’re glad that it did. I’m sharing my experience here, with the intention that it might help someone else. Your experience isn’t the only experience, it hasn’t been mine personally, and I have seen things in 12-step programs that you mentioned. I am not guilty of those behaviors and know many who aren’t as well. There’s a lot of critical, sarcastic condescending comments. If you meant to hurt you succeeded.

              As of today, alcoholism is an incurable condition. I’d be interested in hearing your proposed alternative.

              One of the things I have appreciated about this site since I showed up in 2017 is that I rarely, rarely, rarely have seen members attack one another like you did me. That would indicate to me that it was very well-moderated.

              Take what you like and leave the rest.
              Have a good evening.

              https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/03/11/alcoholics-anonymous-aa-helps-people-stay-sober-longer-study-finds/5008835002/

              • I think people should know of what the dangers could be before walking in those rooms.Google will also help with that.

                Personally I don’t believe in faith healing. “praying away the gay” does not work. I’m sorry you find facts and statistics condescending.

                You yourself admitted that these bad things do happen. I was just trying to point out to people that have not ventured into a room to be aware.(Google google google!) Most times you end up in these rooms in a distressed situation and you are not clear headed, desperate for help, perfect pickings for predators. Or narcissistic sociopaths.

                Chumps already have broken pickers, and smoke a lot of the hopium pipe. I’m just suggesting when you’re in shell shock coming out of a cheating relationship, with your head spinning, not fully on your game, these rooms could be dangerous.

                Yes there is “good and bad in everything” – you got sober. Other women get raped. I’m just speaking for those other women.

                I stand with science. (And what a week to stand with science!)

                Peace and stay well-

        • “People in recovery need a lot of support and need to be called on their bullshit. Honest people don’t turn a blind eye on dishonesty.”
          Yes, a thousand times yes!
          Number one deal breaker for Therapists and “friends” for me nowadays. Stop saying to me divorce/cheating is 50/50. Stop victim blaming.

      • Cactusflower, I understand where you’re coming from, but please note that there is a huge difference between Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon. Al-Anon is about working on ones own self, which is something that many of us who fell for addicts/alcoholics neglect to do. We’re always trying to save our significant other. In my case, I also began to focus so much on my ex’s shortcomings that I didn’t see I had plenty of my own problems. Codependents Anonymous was immensely helpful for me, and gave me the strength to leave my ex. Unfortunately, I fell for another “codependent” – who actually turned out to be a massive narcissist. “I just give and I give- and I never take time for myself”, he liked to say. So yes, some of these groups attract people like him- people who just want an audience, and are seeking vulnerable people to victimize. BUT, wouldn’t you know, I was able to see behind his mask rather quickly, and I owe a lot of that to the strength I gained from my meetings. And I’ve seen so many lives changed. So I can see why others recommend them. I definitely do.

      • I’ve never been to AA. Celebrate Recovery is the substance abuse program of choice around here, and I attended faithfully for a year, even spending six months in the Step Study. The last meeting I attended was about a week before the step study ended. The speaker was a guy who was in recovery from alcohol abuse and “a troubled marriage.” He stood up there on the altar of the evangelical church that housed our meetings and talked about how Celebrate Recovery had saved him, saved his marriage.

        As he recounted the incident that was apparently his personal turning point, he told about how he found himself on top of his wife who was on her back on the floor, his hands squeezing her neck until her face turned blue. “I had no business doing that,” he said, “But she provoked me.” He went on and on about how she had “cussed at the kids” and “cussed me out,” painting a picture of a wife who had gone out of her way to prove him into violence. He “should have been a better person,” but “She provoked me.” This did not sound to me like a man taking responsibility for his actions.

        I spoke to the CR leader who was present, and he didn’t seem to understand my problem with the guy’s “testimony.” So I contacted the area program director who was another guy who also didn’t get my issue. Here is a man who is supposedly recovered, who actually leads another Celebrate Recovery group, who is blaming his choking his wife until she turns blue on HER. It’s HER fault. SHE provoked HIM. He’s not taking responsibility; he’s still blaming the wife.

        The male leaders and the male program director absolutely did not get it — they blamed my complaints on me being “triggered” and shined me on with a vague “we’ll talk to him.” I doubt that ever happened.

        I have never been back to Celebrate Recovery. I attended in the first place because my therapist encouraged me to go to help me to recover from Narcissistic abuse.

    • There are conflicting views on AA, or rehab, or any therapeutic technique. Some things work very well for some people; but are hazardous to others. Let’s keep the dialogue respectful, please.

  • Don’t wait. Get out and protect yourself financially. It’s said here all the time and it’s TRUE TRUE. (If he is a unicorn, he will continue to show you after you physically and financially remove yourself.)

    He’s the most compliant he will EVER be to what you want NOW and that mood and good grace has an expiration date…much sooner than you think. Get the postnuptial or separation agree,ent strongly in your favor.

    Mine was contrite and wanted to “make things” right. I heard that and tried to save my family, when I should have just tried to save myself and my son. Suddenly when my grief cleared just enough for me to fight for myself financially, all “deals” were off and I was just the B trying to steal HIS money and what he did, he realized, was no big deal.

    Quit caring what he thinks of you.

  • The picture of “the bitter old lady alone with her (cat/garden etc.) the OP mentioned is the prejudiced view of coupled women and men. Yes, there are bitter old ladies, but there are also very happy old ladies who thank God everyday for everything they do have, including freedom from less than ideal entanglements.

    Like Hawk, I feared being alone for the first couple of years after DDay. Now I am SO HAPPY I am not coupled. (I do not feel alone). I look at all of the spackeling so many of my married friends do, even with non-cheaters who are simply disrespectful, or obviously wishing they were with someone else. No thank you.

    For all of you fearing being single, it really gets better and better over time. One more point for women, the majority of us end up single anyway since we outlive men by quite a few years.

    • I’m 68. I have gardens. I have cats. I live alone. I’m not bitter. I’m happy. And that happiness doesn’t depend on externals. Like everyone else right now, my life is upside down in the coronavirus era. There are people and events and activities that I miss like I would an amputated limb. But happiness is an inside job. For me, it was a matter of learning to feel pain, fear, grief–the hard emotions–and ride them out until they were resolved. And to notice and begin to amplify ordinary, happy moments. I’ve been seeing the same therapist for years (and she is a jewel in this tough time); when I was stuck in anger and depression, I told her about a moment when I walked out of a used bookstore with a bag of inexpensive books into a spot of sunshine and felt… happy. Books. So we began to build on my ability to notice and feel these ordinary moments. Digging in the garden to plant black-eyed Susans. Mowing grass. Petting a cat. Making cookies. Doing something mighty, even small mighty like straightening out a billing problem with the garbage company.

      I would never, ever stay in a marriage with an addict again. And Jackass had what he called a “drinking problem” that he quit years ago. But he was still a liar, a cheater, and a hollow man. Why is making a wonderful life for yourself without a partner less desirable than living with a drunk who lies and cheats and isn’t in therapy? Why would that be?

      Even if those in Hawk’s situation decide to stay, all of us (men and women, single or coupled) should be all about making our own individual lives happy, healthy, and meaningful. I learned as a small child that even young, happily married people can have their lives change in an instant when my cousin was left with 3 kids under 5 when her husband died of cancer. And of course, we are getting a powerful lesson in human mortality right now.

      Stay or go. But whatever chumps choose to do about a relationship, the focus should shift from saving that at all costs to building their own great big life. Even SAHPs should keep up credentials for work. Every person should maintain meaningful connections with extended family and friends outside the nuclear family. Every person should have activities (gardening, making quilts, restoring cars, baking) that bring joy and satisfaction. So if someone is stuck in the house with a cheater right now or wants to wait to see if that’s a unicorn in the recliner, this self-work can be a central focus. Not surprisingly, narcissistic types are not going to be happy with chumps shifting focus away from them. That alone is a good test to see whether someone is remorseful: do they support your gaining a life, inside or outside of the marriage?

      • LovedYa…Thank you for these insights. I needed them today. I never, ever thought that at 61 I would be facing divorce because of an unfaithful spouse who said I “emotionally abandoned” him and was “unhappy.” News to me and our 2 adult daughters…exposed the infidelity 3 months before older daughter’s wedding last June. I have been in intensive therapy…2x a week….My therapist keeps telling me I need to focus on MYSELF and MY happiness…I have been trying so hard to find out what that means…what it is. I am 13 months out from DDay…total NC with STBX…as our my/ our daughters. I teach at a university…have had the same job for 30 years… I guess its still too early in the process to really know who I am or in what/ where my happiness lies. Your words bring me hope and comfort.

        • So sorry your daughter’s wedding had that D-Day shadow over it.

          One thing that helped me was to look back into your early days to see what you’ve let go over the years that you loved. Did you make pottery? Did you bake bread? Did you dream of restoring a vintage car? Did you always want a cat or a parrot? What dreams or hopes did you let go to be a wife and mother? I ended up playing on my first sports team at age 62–and we won the championship! It was a shining moment.

          And remember…while I do recommend recovering what you’ve lost,” happiness can’t be found looking back,” to quote a George Strait song. Do whatever you need to do to keep your mind on the present moment. (I have a whole Pinterest board about the present moment!) That sudden ray of sunshine can only be experienced right now.

        • PennState,
          I totally get the confusion and emptiness of trying to find meaning and direction. My meaning came from building family. My family being imploded has left me rudderless. I simply don’t want anything at the moment.

          I’ve taken to saying to myself, “I-know who I was, now I need to find out who I am.”

          We all change over the years and when we’ve been so distracted by focusing on others, especially the cheaters that we could never please, we stop checking in with ourselves.

          I am absolutely not whole, and there is a lot of my former self still around, but I have no idea how to figure out what to do to have meaning in my life now. But I am still trying to figure it out… most days.

          • Fearful & loathing, it is hard, isn’t it? I absolutely loved bringing up my children and being their mother. The finding of self will happen … for me it has been/is incremental in small steps. Remembering things I used to do well and trying them again … slowly internalising as true that it is ok to do things just for me – and just as important, NOT do things others might seek to impose on me, even (or might I say sometimes especially?) family members.

            A big part of your life has been removed, and that naturally leaves a feeling of emptiness, of loss. I prefer to look on it as space now, space I can fill with whatever I choose. Also my exhusband was a hoarder so space is something I crave rather than must fill immediately😂. Accepting, observing and feeling that space is quite an interesting process for me.

            When we have been immersed in building family to the detriment of our sense of self, that in itself is a bit of a red flag for one person putting in most of the effort. If you think back on it, often it most likely has involved a lot of spackling up cracks and papering over problems. And of course the old favourites, tiptoeing on eggshells between constantly moving goal posts!

            You are still building family, but a different family, one that can be honest and can openly deal with problems and differences now. That is what I have found. I have expended a lot of energy, time and thought in being honest with my five grown children (now 17-27, at the time of separation 14-24) and listening to them also working through all the harmful, dishonest stuff from our earlier family life. Once I started being honest, they did too. I discovered that the “Dad” they remembered was largely a creation of my own wishful thinking and me making it possible for him to be that Dad. This often involved spackling up the less attractive aspects of their dad’s behaviour to them. The crappy family dynamic is now ok to discuss without fear, and that is healthy and healing beyond belief.

            Your children will recognise the deficiencies at their own pace and in different depth and extent … they are all unique individuals who experienced the family uniquely. If there was a favourite of the other spouse, they will have had a different experience from the underdog or the scapegoat. Let them acknowledge their own experience as it was/is for them, rather than try to explain everything. That has been tremendously freeing for me, not having to make everything seem right.

            Left without me as a buffer and go-between in the parent-child relationship, without exception the father-child relationships have foundered and now none of them appear to be in contact with him to any great degree, if at all. I stopped taking any part in brokering the relationships when I left the marriage, and refrained from comment as far as possible about their father to them. The “cool”, “bummer”, “uhuh” thing worked really well, along with learning to segue to different subjects of conversation even if I was dead curious to find out what was going on back in the old house.

            My longest response is probably “Well, you have plenty of evidence to know what he is like, so base your relationship with him on that. Not on what you want it to be, but what is likely to work best for you. Predicate your intereactions on observation and past experience.” The number of times they go back for another slap is up to them really.

            So persevere, you are still so important to your children no matter how old they are, and you will find your feet and your self again, but it does take time and effort and it is not a linear progression. ((hugs))

      • Thank you Lovedajackass. I love reading your comments and this one in particular gives me hope. My divorce from the addict husband was final on March 12th. I’ve been grieving and crying and trying to look forward and wondering when the happiness will start to appear. I am in therapy. I love my therapist. I’m also in AA for my own drinking and have found it to be a huge well of support while going through this. But what stood out in your comment is the small snippets of happiness that you encountered to build bigger hope and self love. I agree that happiness is an inside job.

        • Granddaughter and daughter of alcoholics/alcohol abusers. Nearly every man I ever dated either was actively using or “dry” without doing the real work. After D-Day, I vowed “never again.”

      • Doingme, I’m 61 and am alone too, and you know what, I love it. Sitting here alone in my home due to the coronavirus lockdown and hearing the neighbours scream at each other brings it home to me just how good I have it. I don’t really understand it but I have no desire to couple up ever again. I certainly won’t live with anyone ever again. It’s nice to be content in my own company.

        • I would love to be like you, Attie. I really do not like being alone (partnerless). Still miss my last partner (not my abusive ex-husband). Glad you are happy!

      • LAJ,
        I wonder if you remember me from CL, Woodlandlost. I too had an alcoholic, cheater wife. I gotta say, I wish I followed all the wonderful advice you handed me last year. I did manage to let her go for a while, and I fell into the classic trap of feeling compassion for the alcoholic and invited it back in, which led to further destruction and more D-Days. She never came back home and I still have my DD. Although now we are having custody isssues and perhaps having to deal with this in court. It is so brutal. Alcoholism is a horrible thing and destroys so much and so brutally. The partner in any alcoholic marriage needs to really examine the only two options carefully. Stay or go. If you stay, you have to become the most detached human on the planet, if you leave, you are also detaching but you are letting go. Either way, the greatest fear is losing the person and that is hard and is likely what keeps me attached on many levels. Back a few months ago, when this was a forum of a different kind, a person recommended the getting them sober volume of books. Those were a game changer for me. I am reading one now. To all who have been subject to the madness of alcoholism and infidelity, I send out the biggest hug to you all.

        • I do remember you. And while I’m sorry you got sucked back in for a while, that is the most normal thing in the world. Just as the addict has trouble quitting the substance, we have trouble quitting the addict.

          Some of that is guilt. I think some of that is confusion about what love is. I think some of that is being a “rescuer” (another word for codependent). Quitting the addict requires us to love our own lives, to live our own lives. To fix ourselves first. I still struggle because I worry that XH the substance abusesr is lonely, unhappy, angry and so on. But he was all of that when we were married.

    • WonderNoMore,

      I am glad that your life is getting better and better. My husband left 5.5 years ago; my beloved last partner (boyfriend/guy I thought was my friend for 30 years) left 2.5 years and shortly afterward happily married his amazing young work subordinate. For years, I have felt as though I am on a very steep downward slide. If my husband hadn’t been so abusive, I would have tolerated his disrespect and infidelity (as his ‘roommate’) so that at least my kids would have been in decent financial shape. Not being able to pay for food and shelter as a fifty-something divorced mom is no fun!

      Perhaps you were trying to make us feel better (?) by saying that most women end up alone anyway as on average we live longer, but the fact that most of us end up alone for years actually makes me feel worse.

      I think that LAJ’s view–that ‘happiness is an inside job’–is something good for us to keep in mind. Will try to be upbeat, no matter what externally is going on. LAJ, to answer your (rhetorical) question of why someone would stay in a marriage with an adulterous, addicted spouse–financial survival. If you don’t need a spouse’s income/support, then more power to you. However, some of us, try as we might, cannot support our kids on our own, and even child support doesn’t always make ends meet, even years after divorce.

      • RockStarWife,

        I hear you. Financial survival is not a much talked about topic.
        Hardly ever the reality is faced that one may not find a job, that there may be no jobs, or no jobs in one’s area, that one may not be able to move, that one may have to care for some family member.
        Please know that you are not the only one in your way of thinking.

      • Financial survival is a key worry for many people, whether coupled or not. Our economy is very fragile and most of us go pay-to-pay. It’s especially hard for single parents, those taking care of the disabled or who have disabilities themselves, and older people on fixed incomes.

        But Rock Star, how is it helping you to call your abusive XBF “beloved” and his new wife “his amazing young work subordinate”? I’m not talking about being “upbeat.” I’m not upbeat as a general rule. I just understand that putting my attention on things that are toxic doesn’t help me.I don’t think about Jackass other than to note what a mistake he was when I write here. I was in the “his amazing young MOW” stage 6 years ago. He wrecked her life too and now has “his amazing younger wife” and she’s going to be the target of his rage at some point. So the fact that if we were still together and I would be more financially secure in that event is nothing I think about any more. It’s a moot point. He’s gone. And if he hoovered back, I’d just be allowing a monster in my life.

        You were brave to leave your abusive but wealthy husband. You’re brave to take care of your kids. But I hope you stop re-telling these stories as if the other women were something special. You were dealing with abusers. There are plenty of men who are not abusers. And if you don’t encounter one, there are plenty of women in your situation and maybe that’s where you find some financial strategies–a blended household, maybe, with another single mother struggling financially. But please, no more “his amazing young work subordinate.” Kick that pair out of your mind. You don’t need to be upbeat. You need to patrol your mental boundaries.

  • Yeah, that sounds a lot like me, a year and a half ago. Fortunately, I realized exactly what CL says here – with the help of some 2x4s from various members of CN – namely, that being twitchy is no way to live, and that I’m never going to heal fully if I keep living with STBX. It’s a tough pill to swallow, esp. if you have kids and strong values around monogamy and loyalty. I feel great sympathy for those people who wear themselves out trying to reconcile, because they’re just trying to preserve a decent life for themselves and their kids. even though I now see that it would take a minor miracle to come out the other side with a genuinely healthy relationship.

    I certainly don’t know any unicorn personally, defined here as someone who has stayed with their partner and been really “happy” after serious betrayal. That was one of the really shocking and hurtful things about STBX’s affairs – people in our social circle (mostly academics and “woke,” queer folks) don’t tend to f*ck around like that. My overwhelming impression of STBX now is that she’s just easily confused about concepts like polyamory, which is not uncommon in our group of friends – and I can’t trust someone who is so confused!

    It sounds like Hawk’s husband – I hope, ex-husband by now – was tuned mostly to the charm channel. My STBX likewise switched almost exclusively between the the charm and self-pity channels after DDay #2. I imagine it would be easier to see one’s partner as toxic if they switch to the rage channel from time to time – but for those of us who don’t see rage, eventually those other channels also will likely come to feel toxic and manipulative, esp. when our partners repeatedly fail back up their promises with action. I now feel nauseated by STBX’s charm and little-girl-lost act, and just wish that people like my mom wouldn’t get sucked in by it. Oh well – I can only control myself! 🙂

  • I really like bitterness – bitter vegetables (artichokes – yummy), bitter lemon (especially with gin) …

  • “becoming a bitter old lady who gardens and whose company consists of her children and possible grandchildren, a few friends, a dog, and her principle of eat no shit.”

    Where do I sign???

    I have three glorious new camellias to plant, a cat, some excellent friends, books to read, a worthwhile job, and my own place. And space. And freedom.

    I have no children, though, but I can live with that.

    Does any of this sound bitter to you?

    • Our culture needs to re-evaluate some of our old tired notions and stereotypes. Alone does not mean lonely– I was more lonely in a loveless marriage. I wonder how many people stay in bad relationships because they believe they must be part of a couple?

      I remember day dreaming about being a widow. I wouldn’t have to explain anything, and I would not carry the social burden of being divorced. I was so closed in by false cultural narratives that I was afraid to follow my instinct and just get out.

      If anyone has ever seen a group of older women who belong to the Red Hat Club on an outing, I defy their ability to describe these fun loving women as bitter old ladies.

      I also have a cat, who is a wonderful companion. I have had both cats and dogs, and I find them to be more fun and more loving than any Ex I have ever known!!!

  • I didn’t even start to heal until I started thinking about my own life with no reference to him and figuring out what I wanted. I had to pull my thoughts away from him a thousand times a day, because the assignment from my helper was “Think about your own life. What can you do to make your own life better, now?”

    Within a few weeks, I knew I was getting out. And I did. Now, despite the pandemic, I’m stronger every day. Even the bad days.

    A day totally alone, confined to my home with nothing but a cat and a high-risk condition, is better than a day with him.

    And one last thought about him: I spent over a decade trying to help him change. He seemed to work at it briefly, then slid gradually back through dealbreaker after dealbreaker. It was a complete waste of time.

    • “I didn’t even start to heal until I started thinking about my own life with no reference to him and figuring out what I wanted. I had to pull my thoughts away from him a thousand times a day, because the assignment from my helper was ‘Think about your own life. What can you do to make your own life better, now?’”

      This is one reason why “untangling the skein” and pain shopping and ruminating about what the cheater has done or is doing is so destructive. They pull us away from thinking about our own life “with no reference to” the cheater. Very well said.

      • Hear; hear! Excellent question: ‘What can you do to make your own life better now?’ I might add (to my list), ‘What can I do to make others’ lives better now?’ Instead of focusing on feeling angry and sad that I don’t have a partner and won’t have a decent, or any, partner for years, if ever, now that quarantine is under way, I am going to focus on trying to find ways to improve the world. I might not find a cure or vaccine for corona virus, but I might be able to make someone a bit healthier and happier in some way.

        • Rock Star, start with you. Start with letting go of catastrophizing. Stay-at-home orders won’t be forever. You don’t know you won’t have a partner for years. Or that it will never happen.

          This is what I mean by happiness is an inside job. If you tell yourself terrible things, you can’t be happy. And you can’t give to others what you don’t have. Put on that life jacket for yourself. No reason not to reach out to others, but it’s not a cure for what ails you. The desperate need to be in a couple? I did that from age 21 to age 61. Damn near ruined my life. When I let that go, started focusing on my own needs and my personal responsibilities to myself and to building my own life, all the other good stuff followed.

          I’ve been dating a good man for 3 years or so. He lives in one place. I live in another. No idea if that relationship will survive the Great Social Distancing. But I can’t hang out with him and risk not being able to support myself, do my job, care for myself when I’m sick or take care of my pets. Job #1 is being responsible for myself. If I lose a relationship over that, well, too bad.

          This current situation is very challenging, emotionally and psychologically. It’s key to put brakes on ruminating–about partners we don’t have, or jobs that might go away, or the lost of money in 401Ks. We can do nothing about any of that TODAY. What we can do is live today as best we can. So I’m going to order takeout from a fave restaurant and work in the yard and read my students’ work and put clean sheets on the bed and walk on the treadmill.

          Tomorrow I may go out in my car–with my homemade mask– and try to photograph the eagles in the local park. Love the world as it is, right now. It’s all we have. Send that into the world. Take it a minute at a time if you have to..

  • ‘I don’t think I will ever trust and love him the way I want to be able to trust and love a husband.‘

    This says it right here. It takes back the power. Not, ‘can I trust him again?’, but can I trust and love him the way I WANT to be able to trust and love [my] husband.
    That may be fairy tale thinking, but I need to be able to respect the man I choose to be with. I WANT to respect, trust, and appreciate the innate integrity the man I have a close relationship with. Those things lacking, it’s a deal breaker. I spent 3.5 extra years hoping I could I feel that way about a man who couldn’t conceive of the meaning or value of those qualities. When his phone revealed he had not changed, I was finally DONE and relieved that I had given it my all. Looking back, I could have possibly saved 3.5 years, but that can’t be changed. I do wish I was 3.5 years younger as I rebuild my life.

    • And why do chumps (and others) assume that rebuilding the trust is the job of the CHUMP? That’s the job of the person who broke the trust. What would they need to do to become trustworthy? To earn the right to be trusted? That would be a lot more than just saying “I’m sorry” and “pass the salt.”

      • “And why do chumps (and others) assume that rebuilding the trust is the job of the CHUMP?”
        Chumps tend to be the fixers and that is the biggest mistake. We fail to see how really bad these defects/cheaters are due to carrying most of the weight. Many years ago while I was engaged to a sociopath (also big time cheater) but didn’t even know what a sociopath was at the time I was speaking to the new girlfriend of a friend of ours. I didn’t know her very well but I liked her, she was smart, no nonsense and ambitious. I was agonizing over something sociopath did or didn’t do, can’t even remember what but this woman said something to me that stuck…..she said you put too much energy into trying to get sociopath to do the right thing….you should sit back and do nothing. Start letting him take care of his life and let him do the work on your relationship. DO NOTHING. I listened but of course did not follow through with her advice at that time. However, it is true chumps jump through hoops, we police, we accommodate, we provide, etc. for these defects. Exhausting.

  • I’m in recovery (35 years in October….Al Anon, ACA, AA, and therapy).

    I met him in AA and we started dating in 1990.

    We married in 1997.

    We started a business in 1998.

    We had a daughter in 2007.

    We started therapy in 1990 when we decided to exclusively date….my request. Preventive maintenance, learning how to have a healthy relationship….we both came from violent alcoholic families. I did not want to repeat, which is what we do unless we intervene. Hard work but worth it! He went. It was part of our life on a weekly, bi-monthly basis until I found out he was cheating in October of 2017. For my 20th wedding anniversary. Until that day, I thought I had an awesome nice guy, in recovery, and a solid marriage with garden variety relationship issues, a partner I could work through issues with, awesome dad. Someone honest, open-minded, and willing.

    He turned into a stranger before my eyes in a split second.

    I actually had married Bernie Madoff’s long long secret son. Liar, cheater, thief. Who knows how long he had been screwing around. Lying about his sobriety. Massage parlors. Hiding money for 20 years. Craigslist. Tinder. Hooking up. Who knows what else. If he said the sky was blue I’d have to check for myself.

    Two years out, he is still lying and laying the Nice Guy behavior on thick for all to see. He is a con artist. I will never ever feel trust and safety with him. AND NEITHER WILL THE WOMAN WHO CHEATED WITH HIM. She’s just too dumb to read the memo.

    An old Al Anon saying:

    If you want a fixer-upper, buy a house.

    • I’m personally way happier on the solo gardening child pets friends do whatever the hell I want for a longlonglonglonglong time path. I personally can’t heal and stay married to someone who can do something intentional of this magnitude. Game over. I need to make my decision based on WHAT IS….not WHAT COULD BE. No one would buy a CAR under those circumstances; why are we so willing to gamble on a situation even more critical
      and even more completely out of our control?

    • Science has proven AA’s success rate is less than quitting on your own. I don’t expect gay people to “pray away the gay” knowing that it does not work. I’m all for group therapy. I was a weight watchers member , but if my WW counselor told me I would die if I didn’t come back, I would think she was on the crack pipe.
      I just think there are better places to work on dealing with an addict/addiction than in rooms full of narcissistic sociopaths, court ordered criminals, and “sponsors” who tell you not to take your antidepressants because then you are “truly not sober”. Yes “these things aren’t supposed to happen” , but they do, ALOT, and frankly not safe for women. No policing because no one DARE change the words of evangelical, misogynist, 1930s drunk Bill. Lying for addicts is a way of life, why change what’s working for them. HAWK don’t get your brain scrambled by AA rhetoric like I did for 10 years. They have a slogan for all their bad behavior.

      • I thought I just read something about AA that surprised me–about a long-term study or something that supported the AA idea and AA itself because of the data from the study. Did anyone else see any reports like this? I bet nobody will see this because I’m always late to these threads. Will google.

  • Nothing tastes as good as what a bitter ol gardener lady With a dog can grow. Look, living with a drinker is hell. Yeah yeah. Disease but it’s one that hits the fan for generations. Escape while you can. So make him earn his keep for the 14 months until you can dump him. Let him think he’s got a snowball’s chance. Then drop those divorce papers on his head like an anvil. And yes. They can fake a New leaf marriage for twenty years. Mine did.

  • When you’re carrying a spouse who is an addict you’re also carrying the burden of their addiction. As long as you’re carrying that burden, they don’t have to.

    For your own health and safety, and that of your children, you have to put down the burden of their addiction, which means you must stop carrying them as well.

    My ex was an addict when I met him. Because he stopped using, I thought he was “cured.” Throughout our 35 year marriage, he struggled with addictions of various sorts, although for most of that time I never thought of him as an addict. I had all sorts of phrases to describe his behaviors and personality to deny that reality: “addictive personality”; “addictive tendencies”; “addiction issues”; “serial addictions” (sugar, alcohol, food, porn).

    It was the members of Chump Nation here in the comments section who woke me up. Once I was able to say “he’s an addict,” was I able to understand his behavior, stop spackling, and, finally, put his burden down and let him carry it.

      • Yes, and this is why my divorce has been so hard. I was carrying him, knowing he is an addict. I’ve let go and am letting him carry that now. He’s finally facing the consequences in a very big way. All on him and his choices. He’s currently sitting in jail. He’s been there since March 6th. He wasn’t there for our divorce on the 12th. This is the longest time he’s been clean (presumably clean, since he’s in jail) for a very, very long time. I pity him. I wouldn’t want to be him. But it is his fight now, not mine.

  • There aint no such thing as unicorns. The hell is he going to change in four months that he didn’t in 7 years?

    If you have to analyze their every move and you don’t trust them, you’re not looking at a unicorn.

    Also, helping around the house, noticing his own kids, and mowing the lawn isn’t unicorn behavior. It’s being an adult. To him, that’s gold-star behavior. To the rest of the world it’s bare minimum standard. You don’t get magical creature sparkles for doing what he should do anyway.

    Hope you went with your instinct and left. Gardening with your grandchildren is infinitely more appealing than settling for some dry-drunk’s bare minimum.

  • One of the things that is hard for many of us to accept is that, with most of these people, there is no “being the great guy he used to be”. He was never a great guy…that was a lie. And it’s a lie now. Who he is really is a manipulative, cheating, self serving, narcissist. The “great guy” is a fake out, a cover. It’s not true.

    When you can accept that fact, then it’s easier to leave (at least emotionally) because why in your right mind would you stay with someone like that?! But, to accept it you have to question your reality. And that’s scary. It’s a lot easier to think he was a great guy who had some lapses in judgement than that he’s a terrible person who’s been faking you out. But accepting the truth is freeing.

  • When I was a child, the only information I had about alcohol was the overheard whispers of the adults. One side of my family were non-drinkers, but they practiced toxic Christianity. The other side lived in a bad relationship, an alcoholic/co-dependent type. I had no idea what “normal” behavior looked like. I felt loved and cared for, I was fed, and clothed, and sent to school, and saw the doctor and dentist. But the goals set for me by my parents were not realistic, and they put me under pressure a child should not have. If I made 4 A’s and a B on a report card, I was not praised. I was asked why I had made the B. I was considered inadequate if I was not perfect, and I was being held accountable by people who were far from perfect, but that subject was off limits for conversation.

    I was in my late 20’s when I started therapy. I was married to a functioning alcoholic. One drink was too many, and another was never enough (thank you Joe Diffie). He drank almost every day, sometimes to excess, but he got up and went to work. He apologized (faux remorse) for his worst transgressions. He lied, and cheated, and hid money, and wasted marital resources. I spent 20 years with him and had 2 sons. From 24 to 44, some of the best and worst times of my life.

    During this time, I learned what alcoholism was. My grandfather was a drunk by any standard, my father was what they call a dry drunk, and I was his oldest child. My mother rejected the toxic Christianity of her father, but she didn’t find any direction to replace those guidelines. She is a smart, hardworking woman who loved me, but she didn’t know how to communicate with me, or what to communicate to me. We didn’t resolve the issues we had until I was away from home, in my twenties.

    The point of all this is I was born into a situation I was not responsible for and could not control. I made bad choices based on the cultural cues I had. If you want some fun reading, research characteristics of children of alcoholics. But once I became an adult, I started to address the cognitive dissonance in my life. I finally learned I was now responsible for taking care of myself, and working on my own behavior and deciding my own boundaries. You cannot change the past, and the blame game serves no positive purpose. All you can do is look at your present situation, and decide on a course of action that you think is best. You may make mistakes, so what, no one is perfect. Pick yourself up, dust off, and move forward. Study experts, choose good friends, ask for help when you need help. Do not continue to live under the influence of hopium, or think you can change someone else.

    Change is hard, and only people who are determined to change themselves have any hope of doing so. Sadly, most people who are dysfunctional don’t have the desire or the determination to do the hard work. They would rather act like a leech, and let someone else do all the hard work, while they feed off of that chump. They think this makes them smart, and all our good intentions make us dumb. The party is over for these folks when they finally die.

    Don’t wait around for a jackass to morph into a unicorn. Save yourself, you can have a different, and probably much better life. Take a chance on you, you are a better bet.

    • Beautiful, important post, Portia.

      “If I made 4 A’s and a B on a report card, I was not praised. I was asked why I had made the B. I was considered inadequate if I was not perfect, and I was being held accountable by people who were far from perfect, but that subject was off limits for conversation.” This sort of thing is so typical in families with alcoholism or other forms of addictions–this expectation that children take on roles to normalize the family. You and I had the hero role. Be the best! Get all As plus be the star in the school play and also prom queen!

      You are so right to say that we grew up approximating healthy adult behavior because we never saw it or heard it discussed but that once we’re adults, we can choose to do the work of learning this on our own. It takes time and it takes guidance from a caring professional in most cases. But it is totally worth it.

    • Well said, Portia. I love this post, and always enjoy what you have to say. Your writing is brilliant : ). Thank you.

  • Hawk asked how long does it take to know if the turned over new leaf is real and permanent?

    In my case, after DDay #2 (I know, I know, should’ve known by #2 that I didn’t have a unicorn), it was another 19 years until DDay #3. And yes, I could be fooling myself that he wasn’t cheating all that time, but MAYBE he wasn’t.

    But really, there is NO length of time of good behavior (whether addiction or cheating) that is “long enough” to assure that the bad behavior is ‘cured.’

  • i hope hawk is living a cheater-free life. I am almost 3 years out from Dday. I’ve felt very happy the last couple days even though I am stay-at-home to save others lives and my own. Importantly I am very happy to be alone here without my fuckwit. It does make me think about the last 30 years of my life with him. it’s a good thing to have to really contemplate what that was and to get to a place where I am not trying to untangle the skein. I think I realized that there’s no way that I can understand him. Without being in a relationship that is progressing there’s really no need to understand. Like others on this site I never would have expected to be alone in retirement and that he is not here with me and the family going through this horrible period of very dangerous virus that could harm our family and friends and is devastating families throughout the world. i have been thinking about him alot in time cuz I’ve stopped being busy about avoiding that. I’ve gone through some meditation and reading about forgiveness. what that means mostly for me is being free of the resentment and anger and poison that betrayal brings out in me. I think that’s really hopefully the end of the grief process. For those of you who are just beginning this process I send you positive thoughts and virtual hugs. it’s a tough one. for those of you who’ve made your way through, congratulations. The most important learning experience I’ve had through all this is to let those feelings out -the anger, the bitterness, the rage was all consuming for several months. its now easing up and I can let my rational brain to allow me to heal. All of those tools for recovery whether you get them from a 12 step program or therapist or reading or your friends are important to to utilize to their fullest extent. whatever works for you to allow you to be in touch with how you feel and express those feelings on an ongoing basis, for the duration,however long it takes. it’s different for everybody. I was fortunate that my sons were grown and on their way so I didn’t have to deal with him about childcare. I think it must be really really difficult to raise a child with this type of a person. my heart goes out to you! Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay in touch.

    • Thrive–My STBX tested positive 2 weeks ago and is recovering and nearing the end of the quarantine…mutual friends thought I should know. He had 2 weeks to ponder his mortality and reach out to his 2 adult daughters during this uncertain and scary time. He did not. He has not spoken to them in one year. If this situation doesnt make him and others like him realize that family…not me but his children….are precious and should be treasured and not taken for granted then nothing ever will. I will never, ever understand emotional disconnection and dysregulation…I guess I just need to accept it. Stay well.

  • Here’s another vote in favor of being alone with pets and gardens rather than with an abusive, conscience-free cheater.

    Even though it sometimes still feels pretty stunning to be mostly all alone in the world, I am wildly grateful not to be trapped with the ex during this pandemic. I can’t imagine anything more excruciatingly awful.

    Dogs, gardens, a nice crackly fire, books, music, peace—so much better.

  • I hope Hawk left and that others reading now who recognize their lives in her story also choose to leave. If you want a fixer-upper, but one with the divorce settlement. Remember, you could end up a bitter old lady WITH a narc spouse who needs tending. A garden is so much lovelier and life-sustaining.

  • Yes they can fake it for years. 7 years for me after first d day. Throw in a baby and a wedding during the first two of those years, and good sex, doing dinners for kids, mowing lawns, even the odd bit of DIY without me nagging.

    Cheating the whole time. Yep telling me he’d called off OW1 (first D Day) but actually only carrying on and getting dumped by her a week before our wedding two years later ;which happened to be his stag do, so I’m guessing he went round for sex or she found out we were getting married but I doubt she grew a conscience).

    I’m too much at meh to go into more details two years out from dumping him. But I will say it got worse much worse while I thought we were better than ever. Just not worth it.

    • Jackass faked a friendship for 30+ years. Looking back, I see a lot of the signs, including the coming and going.

  • I promise to share the good work of your temple once my husband return back to me, Thing don’t just work out until you make the right choice in your life, I made the right choice when i contacted priest manuka for help in restoring my broken marriage. I was having some misunderstanding with my husband and it was tearing our marriage apart to the extend my husband do not come home anymore and he was seeking for a divorce. I tried to make things work for us again but he has already made up his mind against me because another woman was already involved and he choose to settle with her.

  • From one chump to another, run, don’t walk! Living life trying to control the uncontrollable is no way to live.

  • I did long term wreckonciliation and it was a bad idea.

    Looking back, I realize that I should have served my revenge up cold. What would have been best was to wait until OW (who married the man she was engaged to the whole time she was fucking my then-husband) was married and pregnant and then tell him that I realized that he was right all along and we had nothing in common and going our separate ways was really best overall. He would have lost both pieces of cake at that point.

  • >