Stay in Touch

Check out CL's Book

Should I Tell Grandma She Was a Chump?

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp
Share on pinterest
Share on pocket
Share on print
Share on email

Hi Chump Lady,

I’m writing today because my 95-year-old-grandmother’s dementia is progressing and it has me thinking about the story of her life (and what I might say at her memorial).

When her husband, my grandfather, died 5 years ago, he mentioned numerous times (to my dad) that he felt so bad because he had cheated. My grandfather was the charming, supportive, playful loving parent/grandparent. And my grandmother… people use terms like opinionated, willful, particular, not the most nurturing terms. Like people say “you’re so much like your grandmother” whenever I would fight against something, and it wasn’t always a compliment.

And then my own D-Day came 3 years ago and it blew apart what I thought I knew about cheating. I started thinking: what if my grandpa had only been charming to us? What if my grandmother seemed so edgy because she was being abused for decades and was trying to cope? What if our family narrative is all backwards about who the nurturing parent/grandparent actually was and is? Grandpa traveled to work while she was raising four kids and self-employed at home (piano teaching) so she could attend college classes for her mental well-being. So, pretty mighty, all in all, but unhappy (now I know why).

Or: a lot of what we all know about cheating, which you dispel here, is predicated on being able to get a divorce rather than eat cake. But at some point (100 + years ago? 50+ years ago?) people really couldn’t divorce, and maybe all our stupid cultural narrative about falling-in-love-with-schmoopie-and-staying-for-the-kids, has some truth to it for our ancestors. Did you know that Ancestry.com has unearthed that 1/10 of people don’t have the biological father we thought?!

I think about these things because Right Now, 2021, people who cheat are lame. Likely in the past, they were also lame, and patriarchal themes woven in with keeping hostages (wives) etc to boot. Maybe we need to acknowledge that for a long time people couldn’t leave marriages safely and that’s where this narrative is rooted…?

And with my grandma, I decided not to tell her about the cheating, she hardly remembers her husband now anyway, but maybe I should have before the dementia got this bad. Everyone else in my family thought “No, we wouldn’t want to hurt her” but I know, for me, it would have been the opposite of hurt, a huge validation that the guy who was devaluing me was really truly an ass.

Dunno

Granddaughter of the Patriarchy

Dear Granddaughter,

Dementia or no dementia, I would go visit your grandmother and I’d tell her how much you admire her.

“Grandma, you’re such an impressive woman. The way you valued education and the arts. I admire how you always earned money, which is something many women of your generation did not, or could not, do. And I admire your feisty spirit. You always have an interesting take on things, and boldly expressed your opinions.”

In short, you could take the qualities of her life, that as you suspect, were forged from chumpdom, and tell her how she is mighty.

Whether or not she knows (or once knew) that Grandpa was a cheater, she probably does NOT know how much you respect her. That’s good news that would be happily received. You see her. You understand. You hold her in high esteem.

my grandfather, died 5 years ago, he mentioned numerous times (to my dad) that he felt so bad because he had cheated.

It makes you wonder if he told his wife he “felt so bad” too? Or was this just another conspiracy against mom, son was supposed to take the grave?

If he didn’t tell Grandma, this is a benefit of impression management Grandpa gets (oh look! I feel bad!) without the difficult confession to the woman he harmed. It strikes me as rather, “I’m dying, you clean up the mess. Bye!”

a lot of what we all know about cheating, which you dispel here, is predicated on being able to get a divorce rather than eat cake. But at some point (100 + years ago? 50+ years ago?) people really couldn’t divorce, and maybe all our stupid cultural narrative about falling-in-love-with-schmoopie-and-staying-for-the-kids, has some truth to it for our ancestors.

Yes, except men (it was most often men) could just up and abandon families too. Just like they do now. Run the rails out of town. And there was no safety net for those women, except their own families, and whatever job skills they had. (Probably scant few.) Abandoned family stories are all over genealogy. No wonder your grandmother kept the piano lessons and education going. She probably constantly feared being left.

So these cheaters were not being noble — “I’m staying for the kids” — they were enjoying the power of cake.

Of course women throughout history have cheated as well, but with much higher stakes, including risk of pregnancy, no reproductive freedoms, and the same perilous inability to support oneself. (Makes the Pick Me Dance stakes much higher.)

Maybe we need to acknowledge that for a long time people couldn’t leave marriages safely and that’s where this narrative is rooted

Leaving a marriage has always required bravery. And there still are systemic injustices in place that make it difficult (see child support enforcement yesterday), not to mention the perceived loss of status, the remaining religious and cultural shame of divorce. And yet, abuse and a lack of agency is worse.

Women fought very hard for the right to vote, to be educated, to have workplace protections, and have divorce reform — and we’re still fighting. (Family care leave anyone?) We can do better than the previous generations of what we will tolerate. We’re standing on the shoulders of giants, as the saying goes.

I don’t judge anyone of an older generation for staying with a cheater. Or an alcoholic. Or a beater. That’s how it was. They must’ve felt very alone and resigned. I have nothing but compassion for your grandmother. Within the confines of her life, she fought back for her autonomy. With her opinions, and her money, and her education. All while raising four children.

I also acknowledge the women of her generation and the ones before, who braved divorce and abandonment. My great-great grandmother Jaeger was one of them. Short story:

She was brought over from Germany at age 15 to marry a guy she’d never met. (He’d fallen in love with an Irish Catholic, so his father had gone to the Old Country to find him a proper bride.) She had six children with him and then he died. She became a well-to-do widow, because she ran the business he left. Which caught the attention of a fuckboy who pretended to love her. He became her second husband.

When she found out he didn’t love her (my grandmother left out the particulars on what transpired)… My grandmother would tell this story and mimic her grandmother’s German accent: “Love vlew out da vindow.” She divorced him.

This was the turn of the last century. Scandal be damned. She threw the bum out.

Decades later, in the 1980s, my grandmother gave me her brooch. (She thought it was creepy and Victorian.) As far as I know, that’s the only thing in the family anyone has of hers.

I’ve only worn it a few times — in divorce court. To honor her memory.

Here’s to the chumped generations of our ancestors before us.

 

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp
Share on pinterest
Share on pocket
Share on print
Share on email

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.
  • Those are two terrific stories – Grandma and great-great Grandma.

    When someone is near the end of life, even with dementia, a wonderful thing to do is to let them know what they’ve passed on to you.

    This helps the person to let go more easily and die happier, knowing that they have left a legacy behind.

    Your grandma has passed on some excellent qualities to you. Thank her for them.

    (And do it every time you see her, because chances are, she’ll forget)

  • “What if our family narrative is all backwards about who the nurturing parent/grandparent actually was and is?”

    This statement stood out to me and seems particularly apropos regarding our discussion on the good guy image, the hero complex, and cheater impression management in general.

    A cheater’s ability to control their image is pretty powerful. It can extend to and beyond the grave: “Remember me as fun, nice, and heroic! But remember her as crumby and bitchy! It’s my dying wish.”

    Interesting letter by the granddaughter. How many of these characteristics that we don’t always like, on the *other* side of hero worship, were forged in the fires of Chumpdom?

    • yes.

      Cheater’s father had a Great Guy image but he was shitty to his wife. Cheater had the same and you know the story.

      Cheaters kids would literally sit on his ottoman and fawn at him from his feet. I remember watching SIL do that and I thought “fuck no, I will never do that to either him or my dad”.

      There was a Meryl Streep movie “One True Thing” where the daughter (Renee Zelweger) thinks her dad is a hero and her mom is annoying until her mom is dying and she learns her father was a faker cheater and her mom spackled for him even when it made her look bad.

  • Dear Chumplady,

    great to hear that your roots are german…..Jaeger means hunter and suits well a strong woman like your great-great-grandmother who went her own way….

    Best regards to all chumps from the south of Germany

  • And another thought: if someone has dementia are you supposing that you should inform her of her husband’s affairs over and over, should she forget?

    My wife practices medicine with an older patient population. She’s had a few patients with dementia who have forgotten that they have outlived their own children. It might be imprecise, and it might be something that offends other people, but she doesn’t interrupt these patients to inform them that the sun or daughter they are waiting for died. For some reason, I feel like informing a person with dementia that they were violated could possibly cause more trauma and more anxiety than if they had all their faculties about them. I know I’m casting about wildly here, but it’s just my gut feeling .

    I come down on the side of mercy. I agree with the other commenters Tell your grandmother why you love her and respect her and consider her a role role model. And go on being mighty yourself.

    • For sure! This is my fourth grandparent dying with dementia and I learned awhile ago not to remind them of painful realities, but be happy with them in the present moment.

      I found out about grandpas cheating back before my own D-day, and I’m coming out of this D-day fog even day more, enough to rethink the framing and meta issues. But I agree with not confusing Grandma now.

      Thanks for all the support everyone!

    • I would agree – I work in a nursing home, used to be a carer but now a housekeeper. When I was a carer we were told not to tell the residents with dementia that their spouses (or other family members/friends, if we knew of them) had passed away, for the same reasons you cite.

    • You aren’t casting around wildly. Some of my relatives insisted on constantly informing my grandmother that her son was dead when she would mention him. She had to relive his death repeatedly before her doctors intervened and asked them to stop as they were hurting her.

      They tried to claim they had to tell her because she noticed he wasn’t visiting. She did not notice he wasn’t visiting, she simply mentioned him because they reminded her of him. They found when they just said he was doing well and says hello she was perfectly content and happy.

    • I agree. When my grandfather was dying and his dementia became very advanced, he still thought I was married to my ex husband. We didn’t bother telling him I’d been divorced for 5 years. He would forget, and we’d have to have told him again and again.

      Telling a dementia patient something harsh or painful repeatedly isn’t helpful. Think of it this way, the shock and pain you felt the first time you heard this news? You retained that information so hearing it again, well, it’s less shocking the second time because you already know.

      But for her, it would be like going through the pain of hearing it for the first time…again…and again…and again…

      But you can tell her you love her, she’s important to you, and you’re proud to have been considered to be like her by your family. Reminding her of that often is a much better route.

  • I love the idea of celebrating your grandma’s mightiness… couldn’t agree more than in these remaining days she be given the positive reminders of her life. Whether or not she knew she was a chump isn’t important to the narrative. She buried her fuckwit, let him stay dead.

    I’d like to take this idea further… it is similar to a message I’m hearing a lot on K-Love today (coincidence?)… how easy it is to see our faults, and or see the faults in others… but maybe the great challenge (and glory) is to see the strengths and call them out and celebrate them. If all you do today is get out of bed and get the kids dressed, fed, and to school… YOU ROCK… if all you did today was read ChumpLady… YOU ROCK… if all you did today was get your ducks in a row and have a glass of wine… YOU ROCK. Find the victories and let them propel you forward.

    You’ve got this… just like mighty Grandma who raised for kiddos, taught piano, and went back to college <3

  • I believe the OP is absolutely right. We shouldn’t judge previous generations of women for not divorcing. They weren’t all “marriages made in heaven” and “well, we made it work”. It was because so many women were trapped financially and by society’s opprobium. I would have give my right arm to be a SAHM but it wasn’t to be because I made more than him and had all the expat benefits. I can only thank whoever the greater power turns out to be that it turned out that way because I was able to leave him, divorce the bastard and have a great life without his stink filling my nose ever again!

    • That was one of the things I thanked the fuckwit for when I divorced him. I thanked him for giving me the opportunity to be a SAHM while my sons were small. It didn’t matter that it worked out better for him that I was a SAHM. It mattered to me that whatever the reasons, that I was able to be with my sons when they were small. I’m very glad that when it was time to toss your fuckwit to the curb, that you were able to do so! You won’t ever get the opportunity to be a SAHM; however, no one knows what your life would have been else wise. I’m happy for you that you have peace now.

    • I agree with this.

      My late ex-mother-in-law, who died 5 years before CheaterX was embroiled in the affair that I had discovered, stayed married to her husband, a cheater, for decades. I know that she could have divorced, and she would have been entitled to a good settlement, but she never did. I suspect there was a lot of fear.

      She and her cheater husband were both from poor Appalachian families. Neither graduated from high school. The opportunities and social expectations were very low. He enlisted in the Marines and was sent to Korea during the Korean War. He came back, was discharged, and then enlisted in the Army, from which he eventually retired after achieving the highest warrant officer rank available at that time. She got training as a licensed practical nurse and worked as an LPN, mostly doing home nursing, for the rest of her life.

      When CheaterX was in middle school, the Army transferred him to a city about 3 hours from the one they were living in. CheaterX’s mother couldn’t adjust to the new environment. Fast forward a couple of years and CheaterX’s mother discovered that her husband was carrying on an affair with an officer’s wife.

      If she’d exposed the affair, her husband would have suffered significant repercussions. He was an enlisted, after all. Staying married, and having to put up with him for a total of 48 hours each weekend, meant that she retained commisary privileges. She could tap into his pension once he retired. Assuming that he died before her–a reasonable assumption, given his health issues and chain smoking–she would have received benefits.

      Contrast that to the earning power she’d have had as an LPN. There was some sort of post-nup that addressed educational costs for their younger son (the favored son, I have no idea why). She stayed. Who could blame her?

      Unfortunately, her life didn’t work out as she’d planned. It turned out that she died 5 years before her cheating husband did. I don’t think her life was particularly happy, but staying married meant that she had a great deal of financial security that she would otherwise not have had.

  • Thank you for sharing your wonderful story with us. Cheaters are often seen as the “fun ones” or the “charming ones” while we chumps are left with the mundane tasks of, oh I dunno, responsibility and not wrecking the family. Reminds me of Bert and Ernie. Everyone loved Ernie but Bert was probably paying the bills, taking care of the leaky faucet (remember that episode?), and being the responsible one. (Not trying to call Ernie a cheater or anything.) Love your grandma. Best wishes for her.

    • Truth. FW’s legacy–one he manages well–will be that he is fun, extroverted, and charismatic. Mine will be that I’m a wet blanket. I’m the one who was left behind and processed (still processing) the trauma. I’m the one paying the bills and making the children do their homework.

      There are a lot of things I’m still working through and probably will work through for the rest of my life. This is not one of them. I am at peace with being the unfun parent (and later, possibly, grandparent). I knew when FW left to find his place in the sun that I would be the one doing 85-90% of the uncelebrated grunt work.

      My uncle, whose wife left him and his daughters behind, offered me some advice after my first D Day: “It’s not glamorous but you are the center spoke in your childrens’ life now. You are the steady, stable one when all the other parts of the tire are spinning around. It will bear fruit. Your kids will know who is stable and who they can turn to.”

      He was right. At least, that’s how it worked out for me. (I know everyone’s mileage varies). I settled in for a long tenure of being the responsible, stable, and–yes–boring parent. I changed diapers, I put my foot down and put them to bed at a proper time, I helped them with their homework, I took them to all their medical appointments, I dragged them out of their warm, comfy beds in the morning when all they wanted to do was sleep in and skip school, etc etc.

      I was boring and stable. I was not the fun weekend mom. But I also was compassionate and loving, so there was a lovely balance.

      For me, my uncle was spot on. No, I wasn’t the “fun and charming” one; I was boring. But my children, now teenagers, never ask their dad for advice on anything. If something is wrong, they turn to me. They still love their father, and I love that they love him, but so many conversations have begun with, “Dad’s okay to hang out with… but I could never tell him this” or “I am NEVER asking Dad for help with homework; he’s… just not that kind of guy.”

      I am Bert, not Ernie. I am more than fine with this.

      • Berts UNITE!

        My mom’s divorce (first one) was from my dad in the late 1970’s. 3 kids. She went back to college while he had a very fancy career. We at a lot of ramen. My FW dad got custody of my siblings a year after their divorce and thus began 2+ decades of shit sandwiches and litigation. I SWORE I would never do that to my kids…..

        So, imagine my (not) surprise, when MY FWH (STBX!!!) used that knowledge during gaslighting/discard/devaluation scenes. All aboard the GUILT TRAIINNNNNN…..He never wanted to be FT parent, and still doesn’t. I have been the bedrock of my family AND his for the better part of 25 years. When I announced my divorce intentions and followed through, he demanded equal time with the kids. So he got it–and only exercises it 6 days (really 3 but whatevs) per month. Friday night after school to Sunday at noon. IDGAF that he’s only a weekend dad–those kids know I am 100% with them for the parenting, he’s 100% with them so he can image manage. As they age, they see most clearly (often better than their mother) how much he sucks. They don’t trust him, go to him for support (lol, in any fashion, see yesterday’s child support discussion), etc. They all come to me. Like one post said, “dad’s ok but….”.

        Does that make up for the shit for the last 25 years? IDGAF. I promised them all to be the sane, stable parent and I have been (even when I’m dying on the inside with his latest discard of them). Mighty comes from experience and grit and determination. From what I see in the OP and these responses, we tell our story by speaking up, being “feisty” and “brash” because we will no longer be silenced, will no longer let someone quiet our roar for their narrative management. Good for GGma and all those before and after her–their mighty echoes through time.

  • The divorce rate during the Victorian times was 10%. The same as in the 1920’s and 1930’s. My kids ancestor divorced/(1880’s) and ran off with another man. It caused tremendous issues to this day. My kids had another ancestor, she divorced her husband in the 1790’s in North Carolina. The first divorce in that state. And then, my kids 2nd great grandmother divorced her husband in the 1890’s because he was an alcoholic. My great grandmother divorced my great grandfather in the 1930’s. So stop with the women couldn’t divorce their husband narrative.

    Who knows what went on in their marriage? I have learned though, that sometimes the abuser/cheater is the nice, fun person and the grumpy mean one is the victim.

    I have been doing genealogy for 7 years. There was a lot of pressure to not divorce.

    • Wow, at the same time you acknowledge there was a lot of pressure not to divorce, you, and chump lady, both show that it was possible, and many times safer or preferred.

      After I wrote the letter to CL yesterday I spent a good hour thinking about how grateful I am that divorce is possible.
      Oh the flack we get about the harm to children because of divorce! Compared to insanity? Barf barf barf

      I also count my lucky stars I got out relatively quickly (6 years). When he moved out I could feel myself turning into Me again, and not the cranky, tiptoeing, trying-to-cope person that had started taking over my personality. Thank goodness I wasn’t really her

    • My maternal grandmother born in 1902 divorced my grandfather because he was an alcoholic. She worked as a janitor at a hospital to raise her 8 children. I won’t throw my grandfather completely under the bus as when he did have money (working as a sheepherder and not spent on alcohol), he would continue to give money to my grandmother to help her raise their children. My maternal aunts, uncles, and mother were very good people and they were full of love taking care of my grandmother until age 86. My maternal grandmother’s sister, my great-aunt born in 1908, never married but had three children out of wedlock. She made bad choices but was strong enough not to bring those bad choices into her life by marrying them. I don’t know anything about those bad choices, but her children loved her deeply and took care of her until she died at age 93. My paternal grandmother (born around 1910) had a husband who beat her, took off on her to go womanizing and drinking but come home often enough to impregnate her and take what little money she made cleaning houses to feed her 8 children. In her case, she should have divorced her husband, but for whatever reason, she didn’t. My paternal aunts, uncles, and dad were a pretty fucked-up mess and all of the children from all of them are somewhat pretty fucked up as well or have managed to deal with their fuckeduppedness and come out stronger for it. There were women that divorced and women that didn’t. I could go one with more of my own aunts that had similar circumstances and the children of those that should have divorced, but didn’t, have many issues associated with having a not great example of a father. Only from my own history do I believe that it was probably better to divorce than to stay married to a fuckwit. I still worry that my additional years staying married to my fuckwit (after DD1) have caused problems for my sons. One has not married, another married a fuckwit (but divorced her) and another doesn’t have anything to do with me because I speak unkindly about his ‘wonderful’ father who he loves. (I guess he doesn’t love me?) Is it because he doesn’t respect me? It could be that he doesn’t. A father leads by example and often children follow a father’s example. I’m still bothered by it, but there’s nothing I can do about it now but pray. Though it’s too late, I should have divorced the fuckwit that first time rather than do everything I could do to save my marriage.

  • Yes, so many thoughts on this one. My own mother was truly a monster. Her sister filled me in on the why’s and wherefore’s, and it was indeed a tragic story. My father soldiered on, believing that he had to stay, even when she was physically and emotionally abusing him. It was frankly a mercy when he was moved to a nursing home because of neglect. They took good care of him there, friends visited him, and my mother took off when he was dying to have lunch with a friend “because death is ugly.”

    A decade later during my own divorce, I realize in a new way that he was playing out the beliefs of his generation. You don’t leave or divorce, period. When he was dying, he didn’t have to endure his horrible wife as he was leaving this world, and that wasn’t necessarily bad. The nursing home called a family friend about the situation, and she was there when he passed and told me the story after the funeral.

    My divorce attorney was in his late sixties, and of course, had seen it all and more. He told me more than once that men who leave like my ex are cowards, period. If you don’t want to be married anymore, own up to it and handle it decently, he’d say. I realized then that I was living out a pattern of men who want to do their own thing and leave the wife with the bag.

    Sometime later when the attorneys had ruled out mediation (my ex was too disordered), my attorney said that it was probably for the best. When he was in mediation with a guy like my husband, he found it hard to hold back wanting to drag the other attorney’s client out by the dumpster and beat him up for being a jerk. He said that his wife (the practice manager) would remind him that beating up the other attorney’s client wasn’t very “lawyerly.”

    Thankfully my case was indeed exactly his thing. He relished making things right for women married to disordered jerks. I’m glad that I live in a day and time where that was possible and where I could become self-supporting.

  • Beautiful brooch. My Great-grandmother was also abused (chumped, I don’t know). She had two little boys under four in the mid-1880s, and she got a divorce in rural Pennsylvania (shock! scandal!). Then, she took them to Germany so she could pursue Graduate study in the new field of experimental psychology. She was already a pioneer in having gotten her BA. (She also remarried, had another kid, then died of TB–because this is the 19th century).

    When digitized historical newspapers became available, I did a little research, and discovered that her ex had most likely murdered wife #2 (throat slit from side to side, which is hard to do for yourself). Domestic violence was beyond minimized ca.1900. Then, the creep shows up one more time in the papers, too drunk to stand, and wife #3 has to borrow the $10 to spring him. Oh, and she’s holding a baby in court. I’m sure he was charming.

    • Amazing story, Old Dog New Tricks. To think of what some our female ancestors went through. My grandfather had an entire second family who we’ve gotten to know. My grandmother worked to take care of herself and her 4 kids, took in boarders and fought and got his police pension. Not easy times.

  • What a thoughtful touching response, CL!

    Grandaughter, you’ve been given wise words. It seems the skeletons in the closet of prior generations are very similar to what goes on now. The only difference is that then there were so many secrets, hidden or unnamed disorders, and few options for chumps to move forward. Folks took their secrets to the grave rather than suffer cultural shame and ostracizing that followed these discoveries. Babies born out of wedlock, Uncle Pervy, incest, cheating and addictions, etc. were all hush-hush. Women lived decades in the last century accepting and living in marriages where cheating was the norm.

    The difference now is that cheating is still the norm while cultural acceptance has now validated infidelity and even promotes it. It’s viewed on par with changing out an old pair of shoes for new ones. It’s rampant; a sign of the loss of character, conscience and courage that animates real love and marriage. It’s destructive as we all know. Our job is to remain constructive and creative. Where there is that will, there is a a way out and through.

  • I love this because it is so true that the woman (wife/mother) may not present as the fun-loving, easy-going, life-of-the-party parent but, excuse me, she’s the one keeping the home/children’s life together while she’s fighting her battles and working on figuring shit out – been there 🙋🏼‍♀️

  • Not long after DDay, where everything I thought and believed about infidelity went out the window, I was struck by how massive the damage was, and how it kept going and going, traveling upward, outward, downward, inward, outward, continuing over time, reaching into the future and past. Catastrophic. And beyond what you can imagine or believe unless it happens to you. Like murder, there is no repairing this. IMHO.

    Affairs are a permanently damaging decision based on temporary and totally skewed emotions, negatively infecting/ affecting not just the affair participants but everyone everyone everyone around them.

    Never make a permanent decision based on temporary emotions. Or skewed perspective. It’s my mission to be smarter than the cheaters who are determined to run with and defend their choices made using no brain, no heart, and no courage, no wisdom, and skewed data.

    Houses with rotten foundations and framing decimated by pests look good until you look closer with the right tools and the right pair of glasses.

  • This post has left me in tears. My grandmother was abused by my grandfather who married her at 15 (he was 35). So many women, invisibly suffering for generations. “Bitchy” women hiding their pain and suffering, anxiety, and depression as they were forced to eat s#%* sandwiches for years because they had no other options. Family dysfunction passed down. Secrets hidden. Or not. Thinking from a historic viewpoint about infidelity and spousal abuse without the option to move on and create a new life hurts my heart. Forgotten and unseen people who allowed us to exist.

    I’m also a granddaughter of the patriarchy. So many of us are. Thank you CL for giving us all an opportunity to change the narrative, throw out the garbage, air out the house, and honor our mighty ancestors who came before us.

    • My other grandmother was also abused, and I’ve been told she was a kind, hardworking woman who was able to feed and clothe her children through her garden, canning, milk cow and a pig a year, while sewing, selling, and washing for others while her husband made moonshine to sell (and drink). I never met her, but my alcoholic grandfather lived to 96 and I knew (and loved) him well. No infidelity on that side as far as I know, but a whole lot of mighty I also wanted to honor!

    • Yep yep yep! It actually has me thinking about the whole trope of old bitchy nagging grandmother types, or on the other hand, the I-have-no-needs-I-take-care-of-everyone-around-me grandmother stereotype. Damned if you do damned if you don’t.

      I’m so glad, thanks to people like chump lady, we have tools to start reframing this.

      This is some patriarchal BS for sure

    • “ ‘Bitchy’women hiding their pain and suffering, anxiety, and depression as they were forced to eat s#%* sandwiches for years because they had no other options.“

      STBX has told me, several times now, how our neighbor is always telling him how I seem angry all the time. A few weeks back he brought it up again, saying how the neighbor has determined that I’m bipolar and should get meds. I asked STBX if he bothered filling the asshat in on how he (STBX) treats me and my children or if he told him he cheated and has been lying to me for years.
      Also – I purposely avoid the neighbor so that STBX isn’t constantly accusing me of cheating on him with the neighbor (which he’s done with previous neighbors – so this time I just made sure that I didn’t show any friendliness at all so I’d never have to hear accusations about shit I’m not doing).

      Nope. He didn’t tell him any of that. I’m just a bitch and that’s all there is to it. I need drugs because I look pissy all the time.
      If only this guy knew…..

      Either way – I DO have options. In fact – I’m applying for an apartment tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

  • I think once we were chumped and had to fight through the crazy and awful of it all, we saw everything and everyone differently, didn’t we?

    I wish my grandfather (on my father’s side) had still been alive so I could have talked to him when I was chumped. Even as a child, I was told my last name would have been a different one. Let’s just say that if my last name were “Smith” it should have been “Jones.”

    Grandpa’s mom was abandoned by her husband. In the early part of the 1900s, that dick walked out on the family and left his mother destitute with (I think) at least 5 kids (mostly boys and I think one sister). She didn’t have a way to care for them all and grandpa and the brothers lived at an orphanage. But they still saw their mom and didn’t blame her.

    He would tell me how much he loved his mother and hated his father. So all the kids legally changed their last name from dad’s “Jones” to mom’s “Smith.” Grandpa and all his siblings all took Mom’s maiden name!

    For me, going through being chumped and left by FW… it helped me stay strong for my son. Based on grandpa’s story, it gave me faith that my son would see the truth and be ok.

    Also – grandpa was a professional boxer for a short time and would have loved to have punched FW — so there’s that too ❤️

    • My daughter has my last name, which I retained when I got married to the FW. Yes, he is her dad. His dad abandoned his family, rarely bothered to see his boys, and never offered any form of financial support. My dad was a faithful husband, a great dad who attended every recital or performance we were in, who put all three of his daughters through graduate school, who died way too young. So FW’s dad gets to be honored over MY dad by having his last name continued?? I think not.

      I believe women should retain their last names, and that, since there is never a question of maternity, children should carry their mother’s surname. Since primary custody in divorce is generally given to the mom (I know this is changing), the family surname isn’t splintered.

      My cousin has 5 kids by four different guys. She desperately wanted those guys involved in the kid’s lives, so gave them the dad’s last name. The only one who ever gave a dime in support was the last one….whom she eventually married (and is the dad of two of the kids). So three of her kids are the odd ones out with different last names, and they feel it. Adoption, for some reason I don’t understand, isn’t an option.

  • My grandmother had the reputation of being a bit gruff and non affectionate but I think she showed it through her great southern meals with family gatherings at her house.
    My grandfather turned out to be an alcoholic. I never heard anything about cheating but he was abusive when he drank. My mom was the oldest and was called to take her to get a restraining order against him because he came back after she kicked him out with an axe threatening her. I only remember seeing him once. She was around us her entire life.
    This caused me to ponder the adjectives used to describe her. She dealt with him, kicked him out, raised 5 daughters. Two with health issues and had to depend on neighbors for trips to the hospital. Worked in a cotton mill until retirement which killed her legs. Bought a car and learned to drive albeit a bit dangerously. She was tough.
    Her family owned a great deal of land and my dad built her a house after she retired to move her closer to family in exchange for a bit for my brothers to move if they wanted. Notice not me because I was expected to marry and move wherever. My oldest brother and protector died in 13 without marrying leaving me just enough money to divorce ( he hated the ex) and his property. I am now the only one of my siblings living on part of the land she owned. Many, many days I’ve walked around here devastated when I was thinking I couldn’t go on to face him pulling strength from the earth from my grandmother. She probably would’ve killed him.
    My mom didn’t care for her father in law after overhearing a group of men boasting about who could have the most kids between them. My dad was one of 13. She thought they were disgusting plotting that while the women were trapped. I know some families did this for help on farms but that got to her.

  • It crossed my mind that if grandpa, on his deathbed, was lamenting his infidelity to your dad, maybe he was trying to share a life lesson with a son he knew was up to no good? Otherwise, why mention something like that?

    • A lot of people get into confessional mode on their deathbeds. They want to be absolved by *someone* – and if the grandfather suspected that his wife would not take it well (ya think???), then the son becomes a stand-in. What a horribly entitled, thoughtless thing to do to someone. What’s your adult son going to say to you after you reveal something like that on your deathbed?

  • One of the tenets of Alzheimere’s care is to meet them where they are without denying what they believe. If they think they’re late for work, instead of reminding them that they haven’t worked for decades, tell them they have today off. A terrific resource is the book A Dignified Life: The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care, A Guide for Family Caregivers by Virginia Bell and David Troxel. Since the person with Alzheimer’s may not recognize you or know who you are–even if you are their child or spouse–you can avoid distress by relating as if you are friends.
    Granddaughter, whether your grandmother was in the know or in denial, it could be very painful to tell her something she may consider shameful. It would have been different five years ago when your grandfather died and she was less impaired, and perhaps better able to appreciate the support and vindication. As CL advised, you CAN take the time to tell her– repeatedly– about her strengths and what you gained from her. You can ask her about what made her so strong, and why she wanted to earn money and go to college, and let her answer as she wishes.
    Years ago, some nursing homes started giving baby dolls to residents with dementia who were mentally back in the time they were mothers and upset because they couldn’t find their babies. They felt better because they could “see” and hold the infants, sometimes identifying them as their own children. But something surprising also came out: Some of the women talked about babies they had lost during pregnancy or in the few years afterwards. Some of their families had no idea about these miscarriages or early deaths. The residents were able to mourn and grieve these deaths which had often been hushed up.
    Your grandmother may have known about and felt shamed by her husband’s infidelities. You said she taught piano so that she could attend college for her mental well-being. It could also have been for her own image management, her way of showing her world that she was worthy of respect. You can help bolster that by reminding her how admirable she was to do these things.
    Since she kept his infidelities a secret as far as you know, she may think that sharing them would reflect poorly on her. Without pushing her to speak, you can open a door for her by talking about your own divorce and the reasons why, and asking her what things were like when she was younger, when it was accepted that men will stray and expected that women will stay in those marriages. I suspect that this may be beyond her capacity, due to Alzhiemers, and distress her rather than comfort her as you intend.
    I get the sense that you want to right the wrong that has been done to her by speaking up about your grandfather’s infidelities in a eulogy or other statement at her memorial. I think you can champion your grandmother without sharing the infidelity. You can say, “Although there’s a lot most of us don’t know about her marriage, Grandma faced repeated challenges with dignity and strenth. Grandpa was away traveling for most of the time, leaving Grandma at home alone to raise X children, maintain the house, provide an income for the family, and even go to college. With all that responsibility to bear alone while Grandpa was on the road, it’s no surprise she wasn’t playful, since she had a lot of serious responsibilities. She showed us…” etc. You can change the narrative of bitterness by highlighting the positive.
    You wrote that “Everyone else in my family” decided not to tell her because it would be hurtful, so it appears that your dad, grandad or others shared the information already. In a less formal setting than her memorial, you can mention how difficult it must have been for her if she knew or suspected the infidelities, and how sad if she had no support. And perhaps mention how glad you are of things your family have done for you, and how they accepted your divorce.
    Today’s column was about two women who were mighty in different ways. How wonderful that CL has her Grandmother’s brooch, and that she wore it to court for her divorce. Maybe we should all give our descendants and chosen families tokens of our mightiness, should they need them in the future.

    • Yes! And actually I heartily recommend the same book. Honestly, what you describe is kind of just too much talking for my grandmother right now, we’re getting by with hand holds and feet tickles, or her laughing at my daughter scoot around in a wheelchair. Anything more than a couple words just makes her confused.

      I think mostly, as far as exposing the affair or something, I want to wrap my head around the false narrative, and just correct it when it comes up.
      Some of the most validating moments of the last few years is correcting friends who’ve said statements about others like “well he cheats but his wife is so cold” or “he cheated but obviously he still loves his wife” and how a few words from me can do an about-face for whoever said it. People just don’t think about how cheaters are doing image management, and that’s a gift I can give my grandmother (personally point out the flaws in grandpas image management)

      What’s making me groan-in-advance is the thought of a memorial where there are stories about her bitchiness, to be frank. Most of those stories I’m seeing now a champion who fights, and was rough-around-the-edges perhaps from circumstance but not from character

  • You don’t need to bring up your grandfather but, like CL mentions, tell her what she means to you. I only had to endure a few years of suspecting cheater and, perhaps, she knew for many years. That’s a horrible dark cloud to be under, and I can’t imagine how she might have endured. Hug her, hold her hand and tell her that she is loved.

  • My grandmother’s mother died of breast cancer when grandma was 14. She dropped out of school to raise her younger siblings while great grandpa worked. She married my FW grandfather at 21 and he cheated on her and abused her for over 40 years until she died at 63 from illness. She had 14 kids by him and couldn’t leave and had no skills to support all those kids. I inherited her engagement ring. Klootzak had promised me early in our marriage that he would have it restored for me as a gift but never did. As I have been getting ducks in a row, I sent the ring off to a high end restoration jeweler who restored it. I put the charges on the credit card and paid it off as fast as I could, knowing that once I file, I won’t have the money to do it.

    As we are still under the same roof and haven’t filed, I continue to wear my ring as I am supposed to. Klootzak stopped wearing his 2 years ago but I am not about to follow the lead of a FW. Our son noticed that klootzak doesn’t wear his ring and asked me why. I told him I don’t know because we wear our rings to show the world we are married. I bit my tongue hard to keep from telling him to ask klootzak why he doesn’t wear it. But when I need to feel mighty or need a break from wearing my own toxic wedding band, I wear grandma’s ring. I told my son I like to wear it sometimes because it is pretty and he doesn’t find it an unacceptable substitute.

    FW grandfather? Everyone knew he was a FW. Raging narc. Turned his kids against each other. All kinds of horror stories. He was downright creepy. I always tried to stay away from him. Sadly, he lived to be 90 or something. I can’t believe he wasted good oxygen that long. Ugh.

    I consider my own future divorce to be in her honor. I learned from what she went through. I can do better. She would have wanted me to.

    • LOL so many times! I love it and I’ll reframe: “I consider my own divorce to be in our chump ancestors’ honor”

      That’s a liberating thought for all these generations of people who couldn’t

  • Amazing stories, wish my grandmother had divorced my grandad. Instead he cheated his way through life and she got painted as crazy.

    Just to add to the high stakes part, some women risked thing like being stoned to death by the village to cheat.

  • My mother is 95, in assisted living, and her dementia is proceeding at a galloping pace. Yesterday for the first time she failed to recognize me as her daughter. My father was a cheater. I did not know this about my father until I was 40, my father killed himself, and my mother told me. She chose not to divorce. I understand her reasons (which were not financial), but I chose differently for myself. I knew a lot about my disordered father, but I did not know this about him. Finding it out certainly explained a lot about my family life. I never asked her why she chose to keep this a secret from me until he died. I’m sure she had her reasons.

    I say all this because, granddaughter, I would not assume that your grandmother did not know. It’s equally likely that she did know and that she, like my mother, had reasons of her own–self-respect perhaps among those reasons–to keep it to herself.

    Chump Lady’s advice to go and see your grandmother and tell her how much you respect and admire her is pure platinum. And when it comes time to eulogize your grandmother, tell all those assembled there the same thing. Contextualize your praise, respect, and admiration in the zeitgeist of the times, one that limited women’s career opportunities, devalued their contributions, silenced their voices, and characterized strong-willed and strong-minded women as “difficult,” and you make the point that she was doubly remarkable.

    In thinking about your grandparents’ lives and characters, you have achieved an insight that will help you in your own life and your own reconstruction, that “fixing your picker” we all engage in after divorce. But I see nothing to be gained in talking about your grandfather’s cheating.

  • My grandmother divorced my grandfather in the 1930’s. She got fed up with his cheating and his reckless spending. In that time you had to prove adultery. She hired a private investigator to track him and get photos.

    This being a woman with no skills, who did not speak English, and had 3 children. She was a cleaner at a local hospital and had a second job cleaing business offices at night. She brought the kids with her to her night job.

    Some people disliked my grandmother because she was opinionated and could be crusty. I found her hilarious. She was a tough nut and no one played with her.

    I would agree that there is no point telling a person with dementia any bad news. But tell them what you admired about them, and how their example helped you.

  • Yes, this journey must have been difficult for our ancestors who lived in times when divorce was not accepted well within society.

    My great-grandmother also divorced my great-grandfather for adultery (about 1930, plus or minus a couple of years). And she had to prove it too (her daughter, my great-aunt, served as witness in court when she was a teenager). My great-grandfather was a prominent businessman in their town. After the divorce, my great-grandmother worked to support her two kids. After my own dday, I saw my great-grandmother in a whole new light and took courage from the fact that she had been through that at a time when it must have been incredibly difficult to divorce and deal with all the societal ramifications. She was still alive when I was young, but I never met my great-grandfather. My dday created a stronger sense of connection with her, and I’m glad I have baby and childhood photos with her and can remember visiting her in her house.

  • I agree with chump lady and I’m glad you haven’t tried to tell her while she’s suffering with dementia. It’s too late for that.

    I’m someone who had a treatable disease that mimicked the symptoms of dementia and it was a terrifying and confusing experience. Delivering bad news that she can’t do anything about anyways is just cruel. And you would have to deliver it repeatedly and cause her pain over and over again. Because that’s the horror of dementia. I’m lucky that I was able to recover but I remember that time very well now.

    But I would definitely tell her I admired her like chump lady suggested. And you may have to do that over and over again too but that’s a positive thing. And who knows, you might find out she knew on a visit and just couldn’t see a way out of the marriage. Sometimes memories resurface. Maybe that’s why grandpa was so “charming” and she was seen as no fun. Because he was gleeful about having her over a barrel and abusing her and she couldn’t do anything about it. I know that made me less than fun while my ex was always seen as the charming one.

  • My grandma was considered kind of cold and not overly loving. Turns out my grandpa had a long term paramour who followed the family every time they moved. The paramour had a son. Who was the father??? It all makes sense to me now- my poor grandma probably wasn’t loving because she was neglected by my grandpa and had given up on the pick me dance and felt unloved under the shadow of the affair her whole life. She probably knew about the son as well. My grandpa was a charming player. I have a photo of them on my wall and I talk to my grandma in that photo and tell her I know how she feels and that I’m sorry we share that shitty life experience. I also like to tell her that I got out! I hope her spirit can hear me because I feel like she’d be extra proud of me for kicking my cheater to the curb when she couldn’t possibly do that in her life. Hugs to all those generations who had to stay with cheaters.

  • I don’t know if either of my grandmothers divorced. But each one of them was married by 17 years old, and before they were 30 got clear of their husbands to raise six children alone in the 1950s. One was in Georgetown, Guyana when, after cheater granddad pulled a gun on her, she took her toddler and baby and walked miles to get to a ferry that would take her to her father’s house. As the story goes, she got there after the last ferry and the ferryman took pity on her and let her stay at his/his wife’s home before ferrying her across the Courantyne.

    Another was in Northern Ontario; that grandmother kicked the abusive old man out a few times, and he came back and knocked her up twice more, before he was gone for good. She was always out working and my father’s older brothers took after the old man and made things hell at home for my Dad. She was definitely not affectionate and became extremely religious, damning and judgy. I wouldn’t be surprised if that grandfather cheated: he was mos def a user, cruel psychologically and physically violent. I do understand her vice grip on religion and her certainty of God’s approval as what kept her going. God, at least, was one person who knew her truth.

    My great-grandfather had my great-grandmother committed to an asylum for something like nine years! Apparently she had taken it badly when her daughter went missing and was a bit of a buzzkill. Her son went to talk to the asylum doctors when he was about to get married and the doctors told him there was nothing wrong with her. She kept a little garden on the hospital grounds. This conversation is making me wonder if she wasn’t ok with having a room of her own for a while! They had her discharged, and she lived with my gran after she’d left her husband. Great-gran was one my mother’s main caretakers and my mom remembers her as having warmth and wit.

    You know what kills me, is how fuckwits present screwing around as sophisticated and edgy and glittery, and faithfulness as antiquated. Like Silicon Valley invented the threesome or something. Cheating and orgies and sneaking around are the most antiquated thing in the book! This behaviour is literally in the Bible! Everyone’s got family stories of sketchy people who left the responsible ones with all the work and resentful vibes. Here’s to the family truth tellers who tell the stories that teach what heroism looks like. It isn’t flashy and it absolutely responds to the pressures of the 21st century.

  • I really relate to the “grouchy wife” dynamic here. It was the same in my marriage. Best Regards was a knight in shining armor outside the house; inside the house, less Beowulf and more Grendel…. And after getting gnawed on everyday, yeah, I got a little defensive and grumpy. He loved to chew on me right before we went out or had company and then presto change-o, he was back to playing the hero and I, bleeding and smarting, was “obstinate, willful….” Played right into his narrative about how he was miserable and had to leave me. Worked perfectly for him.

  • I do not know much about my family beyond my grandparents, only bits and pieces about the great grandparents. But I do know my grandmothers were raised in rural locations, had only elementary education in small one room schoolhouses on their mountain, never drove a car, or voted, or received a paycheck. They didn’t have their own money until their children left home and started working. The phrase that comes to mind from my family is “you made your bed, now lie in it.” Where would they have gone, how would they get there, and how would they have supported themselves if they wanted to leave? What would have happened to their children? One grandfather was an alcoholic, the other was an overbearing born again Christian. Neither spared the rod, or spoiled the child. It was not a moment in history that I find to be attractive in the least. Whatever other faults my parents had, at least they took advantage of a chance to go to college, and they both worked, and they saw to it their children were educated and had a work ethic. I am so grateful for those simple opportunities.

    My mother has dementia. We do not talk about many, many things when we talk to her. If my father had been a cheater (I really don’t know if he was) she would have felt others would believe it was her fault. She always denied there was any abuse until she was much older, and her children were out of the house. She did not understand verbal abuse and mental abuse are as destructive as physical abuse. She did not like my Ex’s, but she did not tell me what to do about them. I had to figure out how to get rid of those beds on my own, because I did not want to make them or lie in them anymore — and because I had options!

    Before I tell anyone anything about their life they do not know, I ask myself what would be accomplished. Nothing good would come from telling someone with dementia anything bad, or sad, over and over again that I can see. I also believe there are many judgy opinions expressed about other people based on very scanty “evidence” that is usually none of our business. We are entitled to our own opinion about our own experience, and I personally do not like it when people presume to know something about my life when they did not live it, or tell me how I should feel, or how someone else felt. They were not there, and they do not know.

    I am reminded of that song Pink sings, Try:

    Ever wonder about what he’s doing?
    How it all turned to lies?
    Sometimes I think that it’s better to never ask why

    Where there is desire
    There is gonna be a flame
    Where there is a flame
    Someone’s bound to get burned
    But just because it burns
    Doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
    You’ve gotta get up and try, and try, and try

    It is not all about what happened to you, it is all about what you choose to do next. I figure I had some tough ancestors — they had to be tough to survive. I probably inherited some of their grit. along with some good and bad traits. The important thing is I get up every day and Try, Try, Try.

  • This post resonated with me for all of the reasons everyone has noted. I too am the responsible, not fun, parent. My young adult children turn to me for support and help when they need it. They look to dad for fun. It hurts sometimes for sure.

    I am glad you will tell your grandma what you admire in her. She needs to hear it.

  • >