I was married for a decade, and for half of the time, my ex-husband was having an affair with a coworker. He began the affair while I was pregnant with our first child. In the cloud of new motherhood, I could not fathom leaving. I danced my best pick me dance and tried to do it all — super mom, superwoman.
It was never enough, but I understand that’s not my fault. In retrospect, it was embarrassing and exhausting. I’m not sure how I did it. There were so many more D-Days. Four years worth. He had a child with the OW, that I found out about later. As a salesman, he was a master manipulator so concerned with image control. I dealt with the gaslighting, the emotional abuse, the whole nine yards.
I broke away, eventually, during COVID. Finally. For that I feel so mighty. My walls sing. No contact is beautiful. I have reached a state of “meh”. Met another chump, and we have what feels like a solid relationship.
However — my question is — there are times when we talk about our pasts, and he tells me that I was an adult in the situation. who could have made choices and didn’t. That I am playing the victim, the only control that we have is over ourselves, and that I stayed too long, even though my ex did horrible, awful things. If only I had made decisions earlier, I could have left.
I believe that I didn’t leave because of the emotional abuse I was under. The fear that I had of leaving and losing my house and my kids and my life. Of not knowing what my life would look like on the other side of it. I froze. I didn’t make decisions. I did what was best minute-by-minute in consideration of my children and myself. It was a huge, scary thing that I felt like I was carefully riding out until the time was right.
My question is — is this a red flag? Is my picker somehow still wonky? Am I playing the victim here and he’s just saying it bluntly? Or does he not understand the effects of emotional trauma?
Thanks as always for your sage advice, CN
Dear Tired Mama,
I think the proper response to “I got out of an abusive relationship during a global pandemic” is “Wow! Way to be mighty! I admire your strength.”
Chumps do enough second guessing without people from the sidelines Monday morning quarterbacking. Oh, well you could’ve left sooner.
Sure. If only I’d invented a cure for fuckwits. I’ll hop in my time machine and get on that, stat.
There’s a couple issues here that need untangling. The first issue is agency and the second is “playing the victim.” It sounds like your boyfriend is conflating these things and mindfucking you. (Sorry)
Yes, you’re an adult. Yes, you have agency. As I preach here over and over, you only control you. You’re not responsible for anyone’s abuse, but you do get to control how you respond. Like, you did not grind glass into his ice cream sundae as an act of revenge. You tried to reconcile.
As responses go, not my favorite reaction, but TOTALLY NORMAL. People bond and it’s very difficult to un-bond. In fact, there is an entire industry (not to mention cultural and religious norms) predicated on reconciliation. “I deserve better than an abusive jerk” is still a fringe opinion in many quarters.
So, okay, you might’ve left earlier. A few bazillion of us feel that way if my blog numbers are anything to go by. That’s why this place exists — to encourage safe passage to the Other Side.
Regrets, woulda-coulda-shoulda, is all part of the chump suck fest. And that’s completely different than “playing the victim.”
You were a victim. That’s just a basic fact. Cheating, emotional abuse — that was inflicted on you.
Being a victim means a perpetrator committed an offense against you, and there is ZERO consent. A bomb can fall on your neighborhood, and you’re a refugee — you’re not “playing the victim.” You didn’t ask for bombs. You can be mugged on a street corner, molested by a priest, have your pension fund stolen by some sociopathic billionaire…
Are you sure this guy was a chump? To say someone is “playing the victim” is a nod to his worldview. There are no authentic emotions — there’s just playacting. I fear that he playacts, so he projects that you must too. He’s essentially accusing you of trying to garner sympathy.
If he has a problem with vulnerability, perhaps he’s not the best choice for a relationship.
My best take on your new boyfriend is that he suffers from a common Both Sides delusion. Okay, so your ex was an asshole. But you bear equal responsibility for tolerating his asshole-ishness. You knew. You stayed.
Perhaps he hears your awful chump story and wishes he could fix it, so he offers “advice” for what you should’ve done and failed to do?
Enh. The important thing is that you left. That took guts. No one gets a decoder ring on how to navigate this shit. Moreover, you were cheated on as a new mother! At the most vulnerable time physically, emotionally, and economically in a woman’s life.
The fear that I had of leaving and losing my house and my kids and my life. Of not knowing what my life would look like on the other side of it. I froze. I didn’t make decisions. I did what was best minute-by-minute in consideration of my children and myself.
Of course. Anyone would be terrified of losing everything that’s important to them. One’s life investment. That’s why D-Days are devastating. What you thought was security is completely turned on its head. No one should ever be put in this position. Escaping an abusive relationship — protecting yourself, financing it, sheltering your children — is not a skillset you expect you’ll need. It’s a very steep learning curve.
Is my picker somehow still wonky?
It could be. You’re only, what, a year out? 18 months tops? Take it slooooooow.
Am I playing the victim here and he’s just saying it bluntly?
You’re not “playing” anything. You shared your story. Clearly you decided a cheating fuckwit was a terrible partner and learned from it, BECAUSE YOU LEFT. No need to defend yourself.
Or does he not understand the effects of emotional trauma?
That could be it. Or he understands it, but doesn’t think it’s a sufficient reason for staying stuck. Perhaps he can’t imagine that degree of vulnerability.
Or perhaps he thinks you’re talking about your ex-husband too much. Is the divorce final? Recent? Maybe he’s clumsily saying “All this trauma feels like you’re not emotionally available for a relationship with me.”
What’s his chump story?
All good talking points for a larger conversation.
TiredMom, I think you deserve someone who appreciates you. Leaving your ex took guts. The special someone in your life either admires that, or thinks you missed a spot.
Find someone who admires your tenacity and doesn’t fault you for the circumstances that lead to it.