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‘I Still Have Nightmares About Her’

Dear Chump Lady,

Long story short, my (now) ex-wife is in the military and was stationed in a highly populated city within our state (which included sleeping in a hotel Monday-Friday) to issue COVID tests. During this time, I found out she cheated on me with a fellow soldier in her hotel room. I found out later that this all happened in late March of 2021.

I heard that the military takes this stuff very seriously, but I guess that’s not actually the case. They swept it under the rug and moved on. Because ya know, they don’t want to lose rank or any of their perks, or make the military look even remotely bad. I have been told to report them, but I have realized that’s just more effort on my part and it probably wouldn’t result in anything, nor will it benefit me at all, even though I have proof.

After finding out about the affair, it was the worst few months of my life. I couldn’t eat without getting sick and dropped about a pound of weight every day for roughly 3 weeks as a result.

We were friends throughout high school and dated for 5 years afterwards. Then we were married for nearly 5 more years. In total, we were romantically involved for over 10 years and when I divorced her, I was 28 years old.

I blocked her and all of her family members on every social media platform, as well as blocked their phone numbers. Maybe I’m just not that experienced in relationships because she was the only real dating experience I have ever had. I truly loved her and her family and enjoyed spending time with them. It seems like a cliche, but I never thought she would cheat on me. I suppose no one dates someone “knowing” they will cheat on them.

When we first started dating, she always told me my parents’ relationship was “too healthy” while her parents cheated on each other all the time and are currently miserable. When she joined the military, she told me all about the horror stories of the high divorce rate and rampant cheating. It turns out she became the exact thing she hated.

Anyways, on to the point. It has been just over half a year since I divorced her. I realize now she wasn’t good for me. Thinking about her makes my skin crawl, but I still have nightmares about her.

My question is this; how do I officially move on? We were best friends for the longest time. How do I really get her out of my head? How do I start seeing new people?

Isaac

Dear Isaac,

You are moving on. By the power invested in me, as Chump Lady, I declare it Official.

You were decisive. You divorced her. You’ve gone total no contact. Now you’re grieving, not just who you thought she was, but the future you thought you were investing in. It’s been 18 months, and that 18 months has coincided with a global pandemic.

Isaac, has it occurred to you that you’re a badass?

You might not feel like one, but you are. And that’s rather the trick to getting through shit like this — do the right things and the feelings will follow. You get her out of your head by getting her out of your life. Eventually your new life will eclipse your old life. And every day she’ll become, and feel, less relevant.

But it’s a process and it’s not linear. Some days it will feel like you’re carrying a bucket of toxic slop on your head. Some days you trip and it goes splat everywhere. That’s totally normal. And you know what else is normal? Buckets of toxic slop. Many people in this world are balancing invisible buckets of grief. You’re not alone. You’re a human going through some shit.

About those nightmares. I have a theory about this, based on my own chump experience. I think it’s because you’re safe and because you’re no contact that your brain is still processing this trauma as a nightmare.

When you’re living a nightmare, it’s just all adrenaline. Fight! Flee! Legal fee! But when you’ve escaped, you now have the mental space to begin sorting it out. Even if you don’t want to. Even if you RATIONALLY know “she wasn’t good for me.” The brain is like: WE ESCAPED DANGER. DISCUSS.

Years, years after I left the cheater, I still get nightmares. It’s generally some variation on the same theme, that he’s moved in next door to me, he’s spying on me, then he’s hunting me down and is going to kill me.

As I was living it, I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the enormity of the transgressiveness. Like eating an elephant one bite at a time, my brain is still chewing.

And yours is too, Isaac. I think that’s pretty normal. The important thing is that you wake up, shake yourself off, “Whoa, that was a trippy dream,” and get back at the business of your life.

How do I start seeing new people?

Uh, swipe right?

Actually, just go see new people. Not necessarily as dates, but go throw yourself at someone you enjoy, or try things you think you might enjoy. Go be where your best self lives. Doing stuff you’re good at makes you attractive. If you’re not good at anything, well, there’s a challenge.

All starts begin with bravery. Isaac, you’ve ALREADY demonstrated bravery. What could a dating app or a meet-up or an awkward coffee date throw at you that you haven’t survived worse?

If you don’t feel ready yet, okay, honor that feeling and don’t rush. You’re 28! But as I’ve written here many times, don’t let a cheater be the last thing you invest in. Don’t give her that centrality. Your brain may blip and feature her in a dream, but okay… You could dream of turquoise sea monsters selling savings bonds. It’s a figment. An undigested bit of dinner. Dismiss it like you dismissed her.

Better days ahead, Isaac. ((Hugs))

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.
  • I second CL’s theory about now having space to process the trauma. I’ve seen/heard of many instances where when you can breathe is when you can break.

    • Last night, I had an unpleasant dream that X was manifesting as invasive plants, which smelled like vodka, that were taking over my cactus garden.

      Do you know what that dream means??
      It means I was asleep. Period.

    • So true.

      I wish I had in real time really understood better what I was experiencing. I am so happy there is CL and a few other warriors out there fighting for baby chumps.

    • Beside her endless wisdom, we are lucky that Chump Lady writes beautifully. Always precisely spot-on and yet so funny. This letter was another pearl imho 🙂

  • Hi Isaac and welcome to CN,
    Chump Lady is brilliant and dude you are a badass. Do as she says and live!!
    Thanks CL, I needed this today.

  • Nightmares (all dreams in general) are a proof that you are healing and processing the trauma while you sleep. I still get nightmares about my EX although it has been two years. It all revolves around the same theme. In these dreams he is usually cheating on me and I am finding it out and asking him why (questions that never got answered because I went NC 5 days after D-Day).

    • Yes, I just finished the book Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker. It’s fabulous. But he’s got a section in there about PTSD, as they relate to Veterans. I think it’s still applicable to Chumps. He talks about how REM sleep is needed to start processing and forgetting about these traumas. Sleep in general, is needed to remember things, but sleep is also needed to forget traumatic events, too.

      Don’t take sleeping pills – he talks about how sleeping pills prevent REM sleep, and it’s the REM sleep needed for your mind to start forgetting about the trauma (the Ex). He mentions other drugs that may help, that don’t prevent the REM sleep. But not sleeping pills.

      Personally, I would just recommend relaxing nighttime tea, and enduring the nightmares. They won’t last forever – trust us longer time Chumps. But it’s like the saying “when you’re going through Hell, keep going”. You need to go through it, in order to get over it.

  • Isaac, I highly recommend “Now What” , by D.S.O., you will love it. I can be sure, because your story sounds like mine. Take control of YOU.

    • I concur. I think Isaac is has already done the heavy lifting and it doesn’t sound like he has kids so hopefully this helps him for future reference.

  • Hi Issac! Listen to CL, getting over someone takes time and you are doing it one step at a time. The other thing I want to point out is you need to educate yourself on boundaries and redflags so in the future you can set boundaries and stay away from people like this. Your ex gave you redflags but you didn’t see them or even know they were, in fact, redflags. Example: she told you your parents were too healthy and all she knew was her parents cheating/lying on each other. Sadly, she told you right there what you needed to know about her. In a nutshell, she was saying “all I know is lying, cheating and unhealthy”. And when that’s someone’s normal, they create that unhealthy dynamic in their lives. When she told you your parents were TOO HEALTHY she was saying to you….”that makes me feel uncomfortable because I don’t know healthy”. That said, you can’t change these type people. You can only change yourself for a healthier life. I hope that helps. Big hugs!

    • And more important than witnessing her parents abusive marriage, she didn’t work through that trauma in counseling before she went into the dating world as a young adult and then married.
      Healthy Relationships with Self and Others should be a required course in secondary school.

      • I third that idea. I can only imagine how much better I would have handled so many things if I had known something other than the crap my parents taught me! High school should offer Life classes: Dating; Self-Identity; Marriage; Children; Community; Citizenship; Money. I guess they used to call that Home Economics, but all I remember was sewing an apron, making a cherry pie, and taste-testing different brands of peanut butter. None of that helped me protect myself from the massive fuckwittery that came my way. But I buy some good peanut butter.

        • When I was in junior high, all the boys and girls had to take home economics, wood shop and metal shop. A pillow and some recipe, a cutting board and then a simple metal box.

  • Way to kick ass!
    You might need some Dr Suess to remind you of all the hard work have done and distance you’ve moved.

    And it might feel like you’re in the waiting place, but you are still moving and becoming something better.

    Date. Just don’t fall in love (or be careful). Every thing will feel better than you’ve experienced (b/c it is!), but it’s not necessarily love.

    Or sit quietly and feel down. That’s moving forward too. You know why? B/c it’s not being stuck back with her.

    If you let the feeling do their work, you’ll bloom.

  • Both these things are Chump Nation truisms and can exist simultaneously: there will be PTSD, steps taken backwards, and nightmares (etc) and better days are both here and ahead.

    I’m years out of it and I still have nightmares about FW, his mistresses, and his family. I still get a cold chill when No Contact orders have to lift and we have to talk about something (even though the parenting software) and I will never feel good or comfortable or not nauseous around him ever again. *At the time*, I am also living my best life and doing great and exciting things. My days are so great, even with the albatross that is FW trauma tied around my neck, that I look forward to waking up each morning.

    I live with both of these feelings every day. Some days the pendulum swings more to one side than the other but both sides are still present: FW memories/trauma/anxiety and depression and FW-less exciting personal independence. I’m still on this journey but I have faith that, in the fullness of time, the pendulum will stop swinging so far into the side that houses things like trauma and nightmares.

    Until then, I’m enjoying every drop of the other side. The side where it feels good to get up every morning.

  • You are making all the right steps… and unfortunately you can’t skip one. Ex military spouse here. The military only takes things seriously when forced too or its in favor of them doing so. If they really did anything for soldiers cheating they wouldn’t have a military left. In all honesty if they enforced half the things in UCMJ my ex wouldn’t be looking at promotion as a field grade officer but instead time at Leavenworth… but that isn’t how the world works. All you can focus on is being a better you and letting karma take care of the rest.

  • I agree with CL that your brain is sorting through the feelings/trauma that were too overwhelming initially. But nightmares can be exhausting.

    Get more exercise, even if it’s walking and listening to absorbing audio books or podcasts. Avoid alcohol/drugs to allow the brain’s neuroplasticity healing ability to take place. Replace routines/traditions/experiences with safe memories.

    If you awaken during the night, remind yourself that your life is yours to fill. That makes it immediately better than when your ex was secretly determining your future. Try some “get back to sleep” youtubes and if it doesn’t work, just get out of bed.

    Your ex is living a real life nightmare where her own character and life choices follow her.

    • this is sound advice, Almost Monday. night time is difficult. the waking, the nightmares, the ruminating.

      i listen to podcasts and meditate, too. i often listen to the same movie as a form of conditioning, and it lulls me back to sleep.

    • I’ll add to that excellent advice a free podcast called “Get Sleepy”. One advertisement at the beginning and the rest is almost an hour of the most soothing voice lulling you to sleep in a gentle fashion. If it doesn’t get you to sleep, it is still a nice way to spend some quiet time.

  • You remind me of my brother. He and his very young kids were abandoned overnight by his ex. He grieved terribly and then got angry. He got full custody of the children, got promoted at work and dated. He called because he was blown away by the very assertive women who let him know they wanted to date. He went at it gangbusters until one day he realized that wasn’t him. He was a homebody who like being married and a father. He was introduced to his new wife. Had more kids but sadly died too young from an illness he had most of his life. He told me how much better his life was after the divorce. There had been lots of issues he ignored and was so thankful they were not in his second marriage. Give yourself time.

  • I also get nightmares almost five years later. I think it’s your brains way of saying “never forget”. It has to be healthier than suppressing those memories, right?

  • The nightmares will subside but will pop up every so often (usually during a stressful period) and then you wake up with enormous relief that it was just a dream/nightmare and they are not in your life.

  • CL is right… when we’re in the middle of the suffering, our minds are often too overwhelmed to process everything so it waits until it is safe. My cheater was dead 3 months before I started to really process the fact that I had lived in abject abuse for years.

    I also had dreams (nightmares) for years but they have tapered off.

    You are early in and all this is a process.

    My husband (a great guy) was dumped by a wife who thought there were greener pastures out there (she was wrong). He didn’t date for YEARS and I was his first serious gf in 12 years after his divorce.

    In contrast, I started dating 6 months after being widowed. (My first attempt at inviting a man to dinner left me summarily rejected FTR).

    Honestly with us each at extreme ends of the “how long to wait” continuum, we were both equally dorky and damaged and had to work our shit out but managed to do it and love each other at the same time.

    Selfish cheaters come in all genders but truth… these days a kind, monogamous, decent 28 year old single guy has high stock… in fact I have a 25 yr old daughter (oh, sorry… this isn’t the place).

    Someday your next partner will say to you what I said to my husband “I’m so sorry she hurt you but her worst mistake gave me the blessing of you”

    • I think similarly of my present wife (of 38 years) . Had my ex wife not been so infinitely stupid careless and selfish I’d have never met my perfect partner.

  • “Eventually your new life will eclipse your old life.”
    Trust CL. More than any therapist, friend, world leader, next door neighbor or wise guru- she knows more than anyone else when it comes to this. You’ll get there! I’m nearly 5 years post Dday. And while it took 4 1/2 years (my Tuesday was last March), I got there. You will, too. Sending hugs.

  • In my opinion, the reason you are having nightmares is because you want to be in a romantic relationship again, but you’re afraid of getting hurt like you did the last time. Going to see a counselor and figuring out why you fell in love with her to begin with will really help you move on. At least it worked for me.

    Good luck and here’s hoping you find someone who’s as much of a bad ass as you are.

  • Sorry, there’s no fanfare or medal for what you’ve accomplished, even though you deserve them. All you get for all your suffering and efforts is a new cheater free life. You just won a fresh barb wire monkey hole in your life, which you need to re-shape before you can fill it. Closure won’t be that clear cut for you, like for any of us at CN. There won’t be a heartfelt apology from the cheater. It will take more time and work from you, but no one is rushing you, and it won’t be a straight line. It’s OK though, things are already better, even the nightmares are a good sign. Have new experiences, start making your new life, embrace the new smarter, wiser and freer you.

  • I’m so sorry Isaac. We are innocent victims and being cheated on is deeply painful. It’s still relatively fresh for you so it’s not surprising that you are still reeling.

    You could consider therapy: it’s possible that processing this experience by talking about it more might allow your brain to deal with other stuff when you’re sleeping.

    I agree with the exercise suggestion too. Even daily walking (no need to train for a marathon – unless that idea excites you) is a good way to deal with anxiety. Taking extra good care of your body really does help the mind. Do whatever kind of exercise that doesn’t feel like a boring chore to you.

    And many people are not ready to date this soon after divorce. Just because some people dive into it even during separation doesn’t mean that everyone should get going that fast. Joining a group or club now might be a better plan: doing something you enjoy with other people who enjoy that too is a great way to socialize. You might meet a potential dating candidate but that’s just bonus and not the primary reason for getting together with people who share an interest of yours.

    You’re going to be OK! As CL says, it gets better. It really does! Hang in there.

  • Wait — but it hasn’t been 18 months, right? It’s been only six months, since it all happened in March 2021? With this pandemic, I have to keep checking what year I’m even in.

    If the divorce was “just over half a year” ago, then it must’ve been immediate. This is all very, VERY new. Very. New. It’s a head-spinning pace, and grief is just not a quick thing. It really does take time and space. Grant yourself some space, Isaac, and don’t worry about meeting anyone else right yet. It likely wouldn’t go well anyway, until you’ve had a chance to heal some.

    • I noticed the same thing. Only 6 months later. That is super fresh no contact and divorce. Still going through the “first holiday season without FW” and first (fill the thing in the blank here) without a FW. The adrenaline is just shutting off from that tornado he was through. It’s early. Focus on the GAL and those nightmares will start to decrease.

  • I’m ex military and saw this kind of thing all the time

    Isaac, you are a badass. You cut her out of your life and don’t have kids with her.

    You’re 28 and in your prime. You have many options for women your age who will appreciate a stand up guy.

    Your ex is seen as the unit tramp….I’ve seen it many times. She’s the trash you fuck on deployment or in hotel rooms and the one that hops from guy to guy in the unit. Guys take turns but they all know she isn’t wife material.

    There is a sexist element to this in the military because there are a lot more men, so low self esteem trashy woman have a lot of opportunities. It’s a huge ego boost to them because they’re too stupid to know that a lot of these guys don’t have many opportunities and will pretty much bang anything available.

    That’s what she screwed you over for….the opportunity to be the unit tramp. Your future is much brighter.

    • ⬆️ This

      A former neighbor that lived in the flat behind me was a female Marine getting her undergrad degree. The married man who was paying her rent drove up from time to time to pork her. Plus other men mistook my door for hers. I think she may have been a sex worker.

      • My kids father was career Navy. He used to tell me about what they called the ship whores….the guys would literally stand in line and wait for their turn.

        The military is pay dirt for cheap sluts.

    • Isaac: So sorry for what you have been going through. Take some time and do not be in a hurry to meet “the one”. Learn from your X’s mistakes. I am not defending her as there is no excuse to do something that one knows will crush the person they have vowed to love forever. She could have learned that everyone does not live like her family but unfortunately she did not. She could have decided to have higher standards than her parents did but she did not. When you are ready to date again, don’t forget that it is hard to build a relationship with someone whose family of origin (FOO) is or was so screwed up. It could have happened even if they had not been so screwed up. You have got this and as someone said your stock will trade high. Follow CL’s and the other advice here that you think will be helpful. YOU have got this and there is a ton of support here for you. I wish only the best for you.

    • Some men are disgusting. Screwing a woman to get 1min of relief without regard to health, loyalty or anything else. And somehow it’s the woman who is looked down on and made fun of and called shop whore. They deserve each other and whatever PENICILLIN-resistant bugs they contract. Be free young Isaac. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

      • Seriously. Women who sleep with multiple men are called sluts. What about the men who sleep with multiple women? Oh, that’s right, they’re just men, and “boys will be boys”. Ugh

        • That’s such a different issue nowadays. I have a couple of female friends who tinder date very regularly and have this very relaxed attitude about casual sex. I would not call any of them a slut. People like to have sex and at least in some part of society its all now normal and accepted . ( the rise of STDs is another issue).
          As long as they are single, and consenting adults , I guess – anything goes.

          After my divorce a couple of guys took me out for drinks . All post divorce. And they tinder date, have bar hook ups and so on. And they find enough women who play along the same rules.
          They promised me that the time after my divorce would be full of sexual encounters and much better than married life.
          I took one look at how they live their life and what type of relationship they have with their kids.
          -> I have different values, its not for me.
          But I wouldn’t call any of the tinder scene “sluts ” or “fuck bois” which I think is the male equivalent. They make their own choices.

          • I believe slut has become a gender neutral term! Or sometimes the young-ins like to call slutty guys douches! It’s not about the number of partners, it’s about no respect for self or others. You can have one partner and be a slut or a douche. You can have many partners and be very non-douchey.

            Isaac, try to give as little energy to her as possible and focus on yourself now. I know, easier said than done. Focus on your strengths and your character, and being comfortable with yourself and full of self love.
            Many women pick the wrong guys in their teens and 20s, but come late 20s and early 30s they want and value good guys like you.

  • Yep. The nightmares. I’m very familiar with them, as most certainly many chumps are. Surely it’s just your brain catching up to reality and sorting through the cognitive dissonance.

    I’m hopeful the nightmares eventually go away. I know that mine have decreased in frequency and intensity for the most part. I’m a few years out from d-day and admittedly I still experience an occasional nightmare that will wake me up in a cold sweat.

    Here’s an embarrassing story. About a month after d-day I had to travel across the country for business at the last minute. There were no rooms available for the first night of my stay in the hotel/convention center where the meetings were taking place, so my colleague and good friend took pity on me and offered up the extra bed in his room. I arrived late in the evening exhausted from travel and fell asleep while my colleague was still sorting through his presentation for the next day.

    The next morning my colleague looked worried and kept asking if I was okay. I had hinted about the shit show I was going through at home. He said that I was screaming and calling out in my sleep and didn’t know if he should wake me or not, but decided that I needed the rest. I apologized profusely and later at lunch I explained a bit more about what was going on at home. Thankfully I only had to share a room that one night. If a similar situation were to ever arise again, I would opt to stay at a hotel across town before potentially subjecting anyone to one of my PTSD nightmares. I still cringe with embarrassment when I think about it.

    • My nightmares have largely diminished, 6 yrs later. I had them in the last few years of my marriage, had them while visiting family. My BIL heard me screaming and ran to get my Dad to wake me. They were so worried and I was traumatized, and terrified by the dream. I’m going through a stressful time right now dealing with some friends/ex drama, and last week I had another screaming nightmare around 5am and woke myself up… and realized the window was wide open and any neighbors who heard this must have been like?!? In the dream I was being attacked and was screaming for my Dad. I was slightly embarrassed, but ? what to do about that? Luckily the cool fall weather has arrived and the window is closed now. Oye.

    • I’m so sorry. There is absolutely nothing about that situation that was your fault and yet I completely understand your embarrassment. A big shit sandwich to eat.

  • Yes, the nightmares. I still have them 7 years later, during times of stress.

    I remind myself frequently that I would be living a life of hell if I was still with him

    He pretended to be my best friend but he was nothing but a self centered liar, he manipulated me to ‘keep me happy.’ And that is what it really was, manipulation. The real him would peek out occassionally, and I would explain it away blaming his bad childhood.

    Only a few years ago I spoke to his brother and learned that most of my ex’s so called childhood traumas were made up stories to milk me for sympathy.

    Get out while you are young and build new memories with people of worth. And don’t move in with or marry anyone you haven’t known for at least one full year. This is not a guarantee as many people here have pointed out, but it is still a valid plan. If someone is of worth they will not try to make you rush the relationship.

    • “I remind myself frequently that I would be living a life of hell if I was still with him”

      Yep, my fw belongs to the ages now, but I had the “advantage” of knowing pretty much how his life with whore went. Now maybe they were blissfully in love and prancing through life giggling, but if so; I sure wouldn’t have been giggling.

      Continued cheating, bankruptcy, he refused to buy her health insurance (though he had his through his job) and that is the tip of the iceberg. But, she had her meal ticket skimpy as it was. And he had available strange up until he had his massive heart attack. So I guess there is that.

      • The ex refused to put me on his company health insurance when mine stopped when I changed jobs (UK). I could not understand his reluctance. Chump that I am, I even said I’d pay any extra premium and tax 🤦‍♀️. I had forgotten about this until I read Susie’s post above. Inevitably I had a ski accident in DDay year. The NHS was fantastic for all the immediate treatment to my broken and torn knee. However I had to wait about 2 months to start NHS physio. I ended up paying for private physio because he hadn’t put me on his health insurance. The man was, and no doubt still is, a dreadful person. And I still have nightmares about him, 2 years out after 26 years. Non-chumps do not understand the width, length and depth of the betrayal. It extends to every aspect of the way cheaters live their lives. It is who they are. The ex would cheat at games, with children (of friends, we didn’t have kids), because he had to win at all cost. He would leave children in tears because of the way he played games. A huge red flag. Even the parents of the kids saw it and said ‘it’s just the way he is’, when their own kids were crying. How did one man get everyone to indulge him so much? A life mystery that the ex gf OW can spend the rest of her days trying to unravel. I don’t expect that he likes her kids very much! Wonder if she’ll put them first. As a cheater too, I expect not.

  • I watched my ex become the very thing he professed to hate too. His father is currently (openly) cheating on his mother and living with some woman down their dirt road in rural Texas from what I heard, so the cheating apple unfortunately doesn’t fall far from the cheating tree. THANK GOODNESS your family is “too healthy” — mine is too, and they were a good support system for me while I was digesting the bullshit of first trying to reconcile with a hooker-paying, self-serving, lying fuck and then trying to divorce a hooker-paying, self-serving, lying fuck (oh they stood by me and watched me work through all of that, and damn was it rough). You are emotionally separating from this fuckwit in wife’s clothing, so give yourself that time to heal. I took up boxing as a hobby (you know, that one day a week I had an evening to myself before he moved further away and stopped providing weekday care for his daughter), started counseling, made the time to visit/catch up with old friends, and eventually put myself in the dating realm with the knowledge that I don’t have to move forward in anything I don’t want to but I can meet new people who aren’t my cheating POS ex, and ain’t that great? People heal at different rates, so just make sure you stay in tune with yourself and don’t push anything you’re not ready for. You’ve already shown your mighty by saying no more and getting divorced. You are only a half a year out — be kind to yourself because you have accomplished so much. Keep moving forward. Do what you need to do for you and trust that you will get to where you want to be. The more time passes, the less you will find yourself stuck on the memory of a person who just wasn’t.

  • Isaac, as usual, Chump Lady nailed it. The nightmares are normal. I was married for 25 years and have been divorced for more than 10. I still have occasional nightmares about the ex. They are not bad and I don’t have them very often, but my brain is still processing. In the first few years after the divorce I had a lot of nightmares about him. Time and no contact are very healing.

  • 4 years out from divorce and I still have the occasional nightmare and so do my adult daughters even though we are all NC and he has moved thousands of miles away. We hate that he can creep into our unconscious brains even as we bar the door to our waking lives. But there is a small silver lining.

    Not one time ever have we dreamed of the good ol’ days when he was wearing his mask– when he was fun, cutesy dad, when my daughters were his #1 fan club and he was the love of my life. We only dream of horror, deceit, betrayal, and physical violence from him. True nightmares. I am strangely grateful for this because it means that none of us is going to fall into a trap of thinking he is anything other than evil and he needs to stay out of our lives.

    We can’t control what we dream but at least through them we are reminded that NC is the only way to keep the monster out.

  • Oh yes. The nightmares.

    2 years out from D-Day. Mine usually involve him hanging around some family event. In the dreams we are somehow still together except I feel super uneasy and always wind up asking, “Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be with AP?”

    He never answers. Just gives me that crazy stonewall stare that became his go-to strategy.

    Still processing and healing. Thank God I’ve been NC since D-Day.

  • Isaac – You invested. You loved deeply and truly. She betrayed you and hell yes, it takes time for your emotions to disengage and disentangle.

    Join a singles’ social group – not with the goal of meeting someone to date in mind, but for the fun of being around single people doing fun stuff a few times a month. You have the freedom to try new stuff, meet new people and enjoy life more than ever.

    If things are really backed up in your head, see if you can find a counselor who specializes in people who have experienced trauma. In fact, do it regardless.

    You’re already a bad ass – for REAL.

  • I’m just a little confused about the dates and the 18 months. It’s been over half a year since they divorced, but he found out about affair in March of this year?

    • I’m guessing he was tired and meant March 2020, or had it confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt in March 2021.

  • I still have nightmares about my X and it was almost 10 years ago when I found out about DDay #3. The dreams have changed over the years, not scary, evil man chasing me anymore, but usually me screaming at him if he shows up. Like I go raging screaming crazy on him and he’s basically just there taking it. I think that’s my brain trying to make up for lost time.

  • I too have had nightmares. Screaming, crying and sweating in my sleep. They are normal for PTSD. But even worse for me is that I had wonderful dreams about my husband. Ones where we were walking hand and hand through the markets in Paris, or on a beach in Greece. My mind would relive the amazing things we did together. I had sex dreams and all matter of intimate dreams of him. When I awoke from those I felt 20 times worse then the horrible nightmares where I would relive him lying to me. The nice dreams would rip my heart out all over again and I’d be deeply down for several days. The main way I got over it was deciding not to let the dreams mean anything at all. Just my brain processing- nothing more. In the morning I would just let the dreams drift through my thoughts and not react to them. It helped a lot and they have faded over time. It’s total BS that we chumps have to endure so much trauma. Big hugs to Chump Nation!

  • People who minimize the effect of cheating should read these entries. Esther P., I’m talking to you.

    The nightmares! The screaming in the middle of the night! Cheating traumatizes chumps.

    And yet so many in our society dismiss cheating: “Oh, come on. Cheating happens all the time. People drift apart. What’s the big deal!” I suspect that even some “friends” who outwardly support us harbor this thought.

    It’s fucking infuriating.

    To Isaac, I just want to wish you good luck. Heed the great advice you’re getting here. Give yourself time. Healing isn’t linear. When you backslide (and I think we all do), have compassion for yourself. You got this!

    • I agree.

      Also I think the only time a person who has actually been cheated on, or betrayed can be “oh well” about it with no real damage are the ones who really weren’t invested in their marriage or partner. I think that is rare, and you certainly won’t fine those folks here. Unless it is the random worthless troll trying to stir up shit.

  • This might not be a popular opinion but, in my experience, justice is the best PTSD treatment. Want to forget them, erase them and let it go sooner? Bust them on whatever grounds or by whatever means are available.

    I was stalked and assaulted by a coworker and “friend” before getting married. The psycho was an “ally” in a harassment situation at my job when allies were thin on the ground. He was comedically gifted and made me laugh at situations that might have terrified and discouraged me. He was also skilled at playing platonic pal right up to the moment it turned out he was creepily obsessed and using the harassment drama to curry trust.

    Basically I went from having a friend to having a mortal enemy within five seconds so it had the effect of relationship betrayal. There was no adjustment period where I got gradually turned off and creeped out and distanced myself because the sexual energy was one sided. ​I had begun dating someone else and the psycho launched into full blown fury and busted into my apartment one morning.

    Neighbors thought I was being murdered and called police ,who surprisingly came fast and did their jobs. What really got me on board with the prosecution was seeing the perp start using work politics against me even while still in jail and also the surprising depth of my traumatic reaction. The asssult had been interrupted, so for some reason I expected to recover more quickly. But instead I was falling apart. I kept having horrible dreams that he was sending me bouquets of poisonous, extraterrestrial-looking, six foot tall lilies wrapped in crinkly transparent body bags. I stopped sleeping, my hands shook, I lost too much weight, my workplace was divided and I was in danger of being drummed out of my job by the psycho’s flying monkeys.

    That’s when I got really mad and made sure the DA had all the ammunition they needed. When it turned out the perp would get time served– a wrist slap– and could have his criminal record expunged as a first time (and white, middle class) offender, I was referred to an attack dog attorney by an ex boyfriend, filed a civil suit and won. Now he has a permanent public record and his flying monkeys skulked back to their rat holes in embarrassment for pleading his innocence.

    That creep had made my bright young life very dark in an instant, had taken power over me and I realized that all the new age drivel about letting go wasn’t going to work. I needed the prescription-strength, depth charge version of letting go. It was just the perp’s bad luck. He should have chosen someone with a tougher hide.

    I doubled back all the victim blaming I encountered and reversed it on the perp. For everyone who insinuated I “should have known” (ugh) that he “had feelings for me” (ugh) or that he was dangerous, I decided that it was actually the perp who “should have known” the ugly political aftermath he was plunging me into when he first decided to perpetrate. So I also put a tax on him that the system for victim support and therapy at the time sucked rocks. If it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t have had to discover the field was filled with morons first hand. I taxed him for every victim blamer I encountered, for every time I jumped at shadows, for the strained relationships with others I thought were friends but had dumb, superstitious reactions to misfortune as bystanders often do. I taxed him for other predators who thought I’d be easy prey for the rescuer routine. I could have read all about this in books instead of living it and it was all his doing.

    Another idiot male doctor, on hearing the story, said he thought women prosecuted in these cases “for revenge.” I didn’t go into a defensive speil about justice and deterence. I just shrugged. Yeah, call it revenge if you like, a rebalancing of an imbalance. All I knew is that my hands stopped shaking and I stopped getting constant flashbacks and nightmares. When I’d encounter the creep’s flying monkeys, I didn’t flinch. I later read a study finding that, contrary to western beliefs, a degree of nonviolent revenge has concrete psychological benefits.

    A lot of chumps say they wish they could prosecute or at least sue FWs because of the life-changing and shocking impact of that level of betrayal. It feels on par with violence even if violence isn’t involved. I can attest that, even in genuinely violent situations, the actual violence and physical injuries are only a small part of the impact and general offense. So if there is any accessible legal way to rebalance the fabric of the universe in the wake of these offenses, I would recommend not pulling a single punch, whether that’s getting an epic financial settlement or subpoenaing shmoopies or reporting it to commanding officers. That is, as long as the response doesn’t damage children, blow up in your face or break the law. In my experience, justice can shorten the whole acute PTSD fallout.

    • A lot here to consider.

      I wonder why shmoopies aren’t subpoenaed all the time, Does it require a trial date and proof of monetary damages?

    • Revenge is a part of justice…it’s a legitimate reason as any to push for prosecution or file a civil suit. When someone harms you, it restores balance when they receive a comparable harm. And since we don’t literally take someone’s eye anymore, the best we can do is harm them through the legal system.

    • – Your specific example is horrific and I am sorry that you went through this.

      – I used to wish one could sue the AP for financial damages. I have a very good lawyer who specializes in litigation. I would have loved to pay her and watch the spectacle. I have used her services before for a dispute and it was like watching an angry pitbull getting loose in a chicken house. But – her fees make this sort of fun soon an expensive exercise.

      And that’s why the best revenge is to live a happy life. Get them out of your head by improving yourself. And that doesn’t even need to be anything measurable – it is just that you stop giving the ex and the AP any head space.
      I did what many people do after divorce – I worked more. That allowed me to look after my children well and keep my house.
      Here in Australia the child services department sent you a yearly assessment of the taxable income of both parents . They use that to calculate the child support .
      It is now 3 years post divorce and my income has significantly increased compared to the time when our finances had to be declared for the divorce settlement. After the letter from child service was issued to the ex and myself, her level of anger multiplied . She could not look me in the eyes at handover . She spent her free time living her best life and I spent my free time creating a new business.
      Just smile and wave.

      • “Just smile and wave.” ..”And that’s why the best revenge is to live a happy life… stop giving the ex and the AP any head space.

        Definition of meh.

        It’s not Tuesday for me yet, but hooray for you. Stories like this inspire me!

    • A little bit of justice helped me. I reported the military AP and she got kicked out the Army. The X quit his job before he could get fired but he will never work for the government again.

      The dreams lessened in intensity after that.

      • Good for you. Quite why the military, or any other employer for that matter, continues to employ people who have so obviously demonstrated that they are dishonest and lack integrity, I do not know. It says everything about the culture of organisations that condone dishonest behaviour. Cheat in one area of life and people will readily and easily cheat in another.

      • I think if justice weren’t so hard to get in these situations, it would be more normalized to admit it makes a huge difference in trauma duration. Just sayin’.

        There’s an idea that floats around quite a bit… if suing APs for asset dissipation were possible, therapists would lose a lot of business. Then chumps and betrayed children could move on to live their best lives with college funds restored and a bit more cash in their bank accounts. But seeing that this is not possible, I’ll ohm along with everyone else.

    • Several years out now, and I still wish my state laws allowed me to sue the AP. I don’t know why so many don’t. But I’m not really angry, I definitely don’t have homicidal fantasies anymore, and I haven’t had a nightmare in a while. I do still have dreams though, and I hate those mornings because it stirs up the little bit that’s left.

      Anyhow, I’ve been so mad about the money FW and AP have (much of which should have been mine) and easy they’ve had it, especially compared to the shit-storm my life has been. But then, just today, I was walking with my students, and suddenly I felt so content. Surrounded by a bunch of high-need, impovershed adolescents, I realized how rich my life is. I get to be a part of these kids’ lives. I get to help them with their struggle – which, in turn, helps me with mine. What I do is real, and it makes a difference in these young lives.

      Then I thought about FW and AP hiring decorators, playing golf, and building a big, fancy house – which no one will visit. And I felt sorry for them. Because they don’t have the kind of riches that I have – the depth and the connection with generations of children who share their struggles and look to me for guidance. I get to give, and the person who gets that is living the richest of lives.

      • Reminds me of some unpleasant, spendy extended family members. They have no boundaries, constantly overstep, never know who to trust, then trust the wrong people, surround themselves with nodding hustlers and take it out on the rest of us.

        Like you I find it sad. It’s not the money but contempt that makes people ugly. It really all boils down to character or lack thereof. Sometimes when people upset me and I’m imagining I have magic powers and could smite them with a bolt of lighting or at least a swarm of biting flies, I realize a better use of Hogwart magic would be to give them sudden character transplants. But that would be the worst punishment at the same time since, deprived of their twisted rationalization systems (which people with character don’t entertain) they’d collapse under the weight of their own past misdeeds for at least a decade.

  • ChumpQueen,
    That is one of the most inspiring comments I’ve ever read on CL. And I’ve read a LOT of inspiring comments on CL (which goes without saying but I said it anyway). Thank you.

  • Hi Isaac. Imagine your dream girl. She probably could be a lot like you – ethical, faithful. She could be very attractive and a lot of fun. That girl is out there for you. You don’t have to settle on second best. Focus on that. When I was your age I had gone through a similar thing. I thought they were like me (very attractive and ethical!) but it took me many years to realise I was just totally taken in by superficial charm and good looks. I was not aware that this could be covering up a bad person. When you are dating, consider how they treat others apart from you, get to know them before you jump into bed with them. There are good, attractive people out there. Don’t let this bad person put you off.

    Focus your attention on the positive qualities you would like to see in someone instead of dwelling on the bad person. Who would make a good mother of your children (if you are planning to have kids)? Start dating, just one, and it will get easier. Ask the people you date about their values, in detail. What is their life plan? See if their actions match their words. You were young when you started dating the person you married, so you may have not been able to evaluate them, so don’t give yourself a hard time. The nightmares I think are just your minds way of warning you off something that is bad for you. Focus on a positive future and I think they will diminish.

  • I had regular nightmares for a couple of years after the split. They did gradually become less frequent and disappear. I’m six years out and never have those nightmares anymore.

  • Chump Lady gave you wonderful advise, Isaac.

    I know how hard it must feel when you’ve spent your entire adult life with your ex, and she turned out not to be your friend or soul mate, in the least. Rather a back stabbing enemy. It is understandable that you are a little hesitant.

    Be the best you can be for yourself, like yourself, love yourself, laugh at yourself. It’s tough, but you got this! Be open to new experiences. Volunteer – you’ll meet new people, which may lead to meeting more new people. Anyway, time does heal. In a blink of an eye, you’ll be somewhere else emotionally.

  • What an amazing post.

    I’m gonna print it out and start a notebook of encouraging and wonderful things to read.

    Thank you Chump Lady.

    You’re the best!

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