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Took Him Back, Now He’s Cheating with His Boss

not a unicornDear Chump Lady,

I have been married for 18 years, and I have been with my husband for 24 years. I met him when I was 16, and I just turned 40 this past summer.

We had been married for about 2 years and our oldest son was an infant when I found out that my husband had cheated on me right before our wedding. The woman he cheated with was his best friend’s wife, and her husband is the one who told me. I saw him in the town we live in, and they were in the process of divorcing at that time.

It was a shock to me, to say the least. I had a very colicky 2-month-old, was dealing with postpartum depression, and was just all around exhausted. This was nearly enough to break me. When my husband came home that night, I confronted him, and he very adamantly denied it. I knew it had to be true, because the woman told her husband intimate details about my husband that she would only know if she had slept with him.

When I told him this, he continued to deny it and could not explain how she would know these things about him. I ended up calling the other woman, and she confirmed that it was true and that my husband had been actively pursuing her for a while. She admitted she had finally given in to him, but that it only happened once. She said he came back to their house several times when her husband was gone and tried again every time, but she kept turning him down until he finally stopped coming over there. He denied all of this.

A few days passed, and I was in a fog of shock from the revelation as well as the exhaustion of being a new mother. My husband finally admitted it was true, but it was a one-time incident and that she started flirting with him one night and it just happened, but she pursued him and he had been drinking. He said he realized immediately that it was a huge mistake and never returned again. He said he didn’t know why she was telling a different story.

My son and I left a day or so later and stayed with my mother for about a month. I needed time away to get my thoughts together. I sought the advice of my grandmother and my mother, and they both told me that it was just a one-time mistake and I should return to him so my son would have both of his parents. This never felt right in my heart, but I admit that I was young, scared, and exhausted, so I went back to him. We never did counseling (looking back now, I think it was because I was in denial), and our marriage continued for another 14 years. I will not say it happily continued, but it did continue. We bought a home together in 2010 and had another son in 2011.

My husband was promoted to a new job about a year ago, and he began working in an office where a friend of mine is. She warned me about his boss, that she only hired men because she needed constant male attention, and that she had broken up 2 other marriages from affairs. I had a conversation with my husband about this, and he assured me this would never be an issue for us and he would only be in contact with her when absolutely necessary for his job.

He was barely there a month when I started hearing from my friend that they were flirting to the point that others in the office were taking notice and talking about it. She had moved his office where it was right next to hers, and they were often in one of their offices with the door closed for hours. I confronted him about it, he immediately denied it and got upset with my friend for telling me that. I ignored what I knew was probably true, and then another person who knows me called me to tell me that this woman knew things about me and our marriage, and that she was asking others about me as well. My husband then confessed that they had “a few emotional conversations”, but that he was not involved with her. I found all of my old unresolved trauma from before resurfacing, and we began arguing to the point that separation was our only option.

My husband moved out on October 1st, and within a few days, during a phone conversation, he admitted to me that he had lied about the details of his affair 16 years prior. He and his best friend’s wife had done a lot of heavy flirting, and they both planned a night for him to come over and sleep with her when her husband would be gone. After that, he kept condoms hidden at their house and went back on several occasions, trying to get her to do it again. He said he only stopped when he thought her husband — his best friend — was catching on. After that he stopped all contact with them.

I feel like my entire marriage has been built on a series of lies. I don’t know what option I would have taken if he had told me these things 16 years ago, but I feel like I wasn’t given all of the facts to even try to make that decision. The sting of finding out these details later has just been enormous, and I find myself very resentful and angry. I feel like these details change everything.

I am involved in individual counseling twice a week, and it is helping me deal with the trauma and overwhelming feelings of betrayal. I’m also working on my own issues of co-dependency and anxious attachment style. My husband has refused couples counseling. He did attend individual sessions for a very short period of time, and then he said they were not helping him and stopped.

I know in my heart what I need to do to move forward, but the pain and guilt are overwhelming at times. I feel like he is a stranger to me, and I don’t believe even the small things he tells me. It has given me a lot of paranoia issues in my overall life that I am also working on in therapy.

He has also recently been diagnosed with ADHD, but he refuses to take medication and is instead using it to justify any bad behavior he exhibits or poor decisions he makes.

My question is, how do you ever get past all the guilt and the hurt? I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I’m tearing my family apart and should just put my head down and keep going.

Thank you for your time,

Feeling Like a Fool


Dear Feeling Like a Fool,

You wrote to the Leave a Cheater Lady. You know what I’m going to tell you.

But let’s not go there first. Let’s talk about your mom and your grandmother, and those messages you got 16 years ago. You got some shit advice and I want to untangle those familial and cultural messages. They’re powerful. And they’re every bit the mindfuck your husband is.

they both told me that it was just a one-time mistake

It wasn’t a “one-time” mistake. It was a series of willful decisions. A pile-on of CHOICES made with agency, that revealed terrible character.

They’re minimizing this, minimizing your trauma, and not so subtly putting the onus on you to forgive a “mistake.”

That’s very different than trying to forgive a man who willfully abused you.

Language matters. By saying it’s a “mistake” — they’re not in your camp, they’re in his impression management, accept his entitlement as natural camp.

There’s a lot of cultural messaging out there that cheating is a trifle, a “mistake”, no biggie — and there’s a lot of generational misogyny that women should put up and shut up. After all, we’re just one generation removed from women not being able to work while pregnant. Or get credit cards without their husband’s signature. Or remain in school while pregnant. Those reforms came in the 1970s. The world your mother and grandmother grew up in — you economically NEEDED that man. So a whole bunch of fear-based spackle ensued.

and I should return to him so my son would have both of his parents.

Let’s add to that bullshit messaging that children need “both parents.”

All children have both parents. Who shows up for those children is different question. You only control your side of the parenting equation. You can never control his. Not if you’re married to him, not if you’re divorced from him. You ONLY control you.

(In fact, I could make a good argument that if you divorce a FW, you’re guaranteeing more investment than if you stay with him. At least a court order can spell out visitation and financial contributions and set penalties for failure to support.)

Children need SANE, show-up parents. Sane parents don’t model dysfunction. Sane parents put their children first.

Your husband is not a sane parent. He’s been risking his children’s home life and abusing their mother. He’s put his dick before everyone. Including his best friend. That’s who he IS.

You cannot change his shitty character. But you can take a hard look at what he’s doing to you and your parenting game by staying with him. What are you modeling? What messages are you sending to the next generation?

Why should you feel “guilt” at leaving? You’d be modeling strength and mightiness. That you’re worth more than this.

Speaking of which — there’s something especially loathsome about someone who would cheat on the person they’re about to marry. I had one of these freaks. Many of us here have.

Your heart is precious. You deserved someone who felt honored to marry you. Who appreciated the solemn privilege of your commitment.

He shat on that. And this is what makes me most mad at your mother and grandmother on your behalf — how dare he treat their precious daughter/grand-daughter that way? Where is their mama grizzly bear? Why aren’t they running him out of town on a rail? How has this man lived another 14 years not watching his back every moment?

The generational shit sandwich is strong.

What prize are you winning staying with this freak? I’m doubting his spent the last 14 years faithful to you, sorry. Your recent troubles are not so much the predatory boss lady (but I’m sure she sucks), so much as your husband’s hunting ground has spies.

He was barely there a month when I started hearing from my friend that they were flirting to the point that others in the office were taking notice and talking about it. She had moved his office where it was right next to hers, and they were often in one of their offices with the door closed for hours. I confronted him about it, he immediately denied it and got upset with my friend for telling me that.

Do you want to be the marriage police? Your husband is demonstrably an untrustworthy man. Do you want a life of fuckwit reports? Chasing down leads? Sleeplessness and anxiety, while he is utterly unbothered? You have absolutely NOTHING to work with.

Why should you feel guilt at leaving him? He LEFT YOU NOTHING TO WORK WITH. The fact that you feel somehow responsible for his behavior, and fearful of protecting yourself from his further abuse,  is a skein to untangle with the professionals.

Oh, and if they can’t see that you OBVIOUSLY have nothing to work with, get new professionals. Beware the Reconciliation Industrial Complex. They’re quite happy to take your money while you suffer in limbo.

I feel like my entire marriage has been built on a series of lies. I don’t know what option I would have taken if he had told me these things 16 years ago, but I feel like I wasn’t given all of the facts to even try to make that decision.

Feeling, you’re untangling the skein. Second guessing yourself. You wasted a significant chunk of your life on a fuckwit. Join the club. We are legion. It’s not fatal and it can be overcome.

You can’t change what you knew back then – frankly, you knew enough. He cheated on you, and he cheated with his best friend’s wife. He’s a piece of shit. It’s a given (this site has millions of stories) that it’s worse than you know. Because they thrive on secrecy and deceit. The only question is — is this relationship acceptable to you?

I feel like these details change everything.

Well, good. I hope they propel you to leave his ass. He’s not telling you out of any sense of decency (see his later blameshifting), he’s testing how chumpy you are. How big a shit sandwich will you swallow for the glory of him. Your humiliation is a turn on. Go read Lundy Bancroft “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Controlling Men.

He has also recently been diagnosed with ADHD, but he refuses to take medication and is instead using it to justify any bad behavior he exhibits or poor decisions he makes.


As if cheating on you were an executive functioning deficit. Gosh, if only he had scheduling software and Ritalin.

Pay no attention to his sad sausage diagnosis.

My question is, how do you ever get past all the guilt and the hurt? I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I’m tearing my family apart and should just put my head down and keep going.

Stop owning his abuse.

You didn’t tear your family apart — HE DID.

You are protecting yourself and your children from further abuse. WHICH IS YOUR RIGHT. It’s the sane and healthy thing to do.

Yes, you should put your head down and keep going… to a lawyer’s office. And don’t tell him.

Godspeed on the way out the door.

Ask Chump Lady

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  • The best advice anyone gave me was that leaving was the best thing I could do for my kids. Later echoed by my kids, when they got older and started disclosing all the irresponsible and awful things he did with and to them. I’ll take it a step further and say you have an obligation to leave in the best interest of your children.

    • Country Chumpkin, I couldn’t say it any better.

      Feeling like a Fool, the guilt is not yours to carry. You’re not breaking up your family… your (hopefully) STBX has been doing it. He’s the abuser. If you can’t find the strength to leave for you, please do it for your children. Show them that you deserve better and THEY deserve better.

  • You are traumatized, not codependent.

    Get another therapist, one that specializes in trauma and abuse, not blame-shifting dressed up as personal responsibility.

    You couldn’t possibly know what your attachment style is when you are in an abusive relationship. He never wanted you to have all the facts to make a decision – which is his wanting power over someone. And that is HIS thinking problem, not yours, and it’s not something you can fix for or with him.

    Get to safety, explore how you attach way later on down the road if you need to. (safety as in putting space between you so you can think without his active input)

    • OMG thank you for this… I am sooooo tired of the “codependency” abuse ownership trope being trotted out on women over and over rather than calling it what it actually is coping/reactive behavior based on acute trauma.

      • Yup. I lost count of the number of abused women in my CoDA group who tearfully described themselves as “codependent”.

        • A lot of time it’s what survivors are led to believe is “expected” of them in order to “exonerate” themselves from the “taint” of “getting themselves victimized.” Many seem to fear if they don’t parrot this view, they’ll be exiled to the fringes of society and left to rot. Since nothing is more terrifying to a victim emerging from traumatic abuse than the specter of being socially cast out and isolated, I think some are basically internalizing this viewpoint at gun point.

          I’m not saying codependency doesn’t exist but that it’s absurd to automatically apply the concept to someone who was being actively coerced into dependency. At least let the smoke from the car wreck clear before assuming the victim was, say, texting while driving or otherwise making themselves “prone” to disaster. And to stretch the analogy, does it really matter if the victim, say, changed lanes in an intersection when the driver of the semi that hit them was speeding through a red light and had a long history of hit and runs?

          Since most DV victims report that the psychological abuse and threats are often more paralyzing than violence and since cheating is increasingly being viewed as a common element of DV, I tend to see it as part and parcel with coercive control and DV. In short, it’s one of the more damaging terror tactics typical in battering. That’s a lot of “smoke” to clear away before deciding someone had “preexisting” personality flaws.

    • So true! I’ve always been someone who has a secure attachment style until guess what?! My ex cheated. Then I was an anxious mess. Of course I was! Even then I was still pretty secure in the sense that I just didn’t want a relationship where I had to play police. Now he’s gone and I realize I’m not an anxious attachment style at all, never was. I was just married to a FW.

  • According to my math, you have two sons around 11 and 16 years of age? You are right to feel anxious about the impact/example their father’s behavior will have on them. Put your team together (lawyer, individual therapist, a friend who is not working with your husband, etc). Don’t tell your husband, don’t ask your children. Show them, through your actions, what a responsible parent looks like.

  • Trauma is very real. Find the right type of help for that which will put you back in charge of your future. Yes, it is a slow, difficult process. You have every right to be outraged and confused. There are no quick fixes, I’m afraid. Stepping out of denial is excruciating at times.

    I still struggle with the holidays, but the overall trend is better. I’m in a twelve-step group and met with my sponsor last night for a spot check, then I woke up with a cold. That doesn’t help things today. One of my adult kids is traveling today and will arrive mid-afternoon or so, so that’s keeping me going.

    There are indeed better days ahead.

  • Feelings occur because we have limbic systems in our brains. They’re generally largely outside our control, at least when they first arise. We can feel them and honor them and also simultaneously make decisions without being governed by them.

    Feelings are data, and they’re only a part of the dataset.

    For example, I can see a person hurt a child’s feelings, feel suddenly and intensely filled with rage, yet refrain from severely beating that person. We don’t choose our feelings, but we DO absolutely choose our actions.

    That also means a person can feel guilty about leaving a relationship (many of us have had lifelong training to feel guilty about not sticking relationships out “no matter what” if we “really love” the person, blech!) and leave it anyway (then work on the guilt feelings in therapy).

    On the big pro and con list, this relationship is 95% cons, and none of the pros have anything to do with the human being our writer has married. All the pros are related to challenges our writer is avoiding by staying, and none of those challenges is worse than being constantly and cruelly physically and emotionally endangered (and showing children by example that doing so is an acceptable choice) in one’s own home.

    So if you feel guilty, feel it. Explore it. Explore its roots. But don’t let any of that stop you from leaving a deceptive, dishonorable, cruel, heartless person, says me. Feelings matter, but your brain still gets to run the show. ❤️

    • Neuroscientists posit a 200 millisecond gap between the time when the feelings hit and when the brain understands what is happening and makes a decision about what to do about it. So you have 200 milliseconds to redirect your thoughts: I want to throat punch that asshole but will do something else instead. Or, I feel guilty, no, wait a minute, society has trained me to feel guilty but I’m not the guilty party here. I will not pick up that bucket of manure, I will not carry it, it is not mine.

      • True, and simultaneously not 100% true — in the sense that while one’s initial reaction happens that fast, that person will have many more moments thereafter that allow the person to make more decisions.

        A whether-or-not-to-stay-in-a-marriage type of decision aren’t frequently made in the first milliseconds. It can happen, but in my experience, it’s more common to make that sort of decision in some minute, hour, or day after the first response.

        I only say this because we must never accept the idea that if we didn’t choose what we wish we had before, we’ll never be allowed to choose it. So frequently in our shock of betrayal, we freeze. We can’t conclude that this means we shouldn’t leave when we’ve had time to consider what’s happening just because we didn’t leave before. It’s always a valid choice to end one’s agreement to be in a relationship.

        • You’ll likely have a million opportunities to reframe your thoughts as they spin endlessly in your head. It’s a process.

        • Yes, and by the same token, these fuckwits tell us that ‘it just happened’, as though they had no agency, when they also had all those microseconds to decide, reshape their thoughts and redirect their poor behaviour before it wove its way down the path of no return. But they didn’t, because they wanted to do it, because they thought they deserved to. I left my fuckwit this year, 5 years after he cheated, 4 months after my youngest was born. Dud thought I’d never have the guts to leave, but I found it. Life is tough financially, but in all other ways it’s so much better.

          • Just to clarify, I didn’t have another baby, he cheated when my child was 4 months old, but he was sliding down that slippery slope the moment I became pregnant.

  • There are more than enough landmark studies in the last 20 years alone that show how resilient children are and how they adapt. As CL said the generational guilt is massive… “The generational shit sandwich is strong.” thankfully we are finally beginning to realize that we are modeling dysfunction and abuse by staying.

    Does anyone find it funny that you NEVER hear anyone say “you should stay for the kids” to a man who is ditching his family??

    • Also, can someone please explain to me why women who are in self admitted bad situations with abusive spouses, early on with one child in tow, continue to bring more children into the toxic soup further complicating their ability to cope and hindering their ability to leave the situation when the opportunity arises?

      What is this phenomena? Does it have a name? Because it seriously baffles me to death…

      It would seem to most people that more children in an unhealthy marriage just becomes the brick and mortar that cements their inability to leave the situation when it becomes even more untenable and even physically abusive.

      • I had a 17 month old and a 3 month old when Dday hit. FW certainly seemed remorseful and capable of change. I conceived my 3rd child unexpectedly 3 months after Dday. BIGGEST surprise of my life (we had sex once that month). At that point I thought we were both fully invested in reconciliation, come to find out he was still seeing one of his former APs. Please read up on the cycle of abuse. Abusers after abusing will often appear extremely apologetic and make grand promises of change and rehabilitation. Fear, trauma bonds, etc keep the victim in the relationship. Things go back to normal for a while (enough for you think the relationship is stable, hence more children), then the abuse starts again. Before Dday I thought the same as you: “why don’t these women just get up and leave? Why have more children with him?” I see things differently now. Escaping abuse isnt easy. My 3rd born though he has made my plans and process of leaving FW very complicated is hands down one of the biggest blessings I’ve ever received in life. I’m so glad he’s here despite the circumstances. Wouldn’t trade him for anything.

      • Women in abusive relationships often don’t have a lot of say about if/when/how their spouses have sex with them. They also may not have a say about going to a doctor or getting birth control. They also may not be able to be on hormonal birth control for a million reasons.

        Also, women can’t control their biology. They biologically can’t decide to not ovulate, or decide to not be pregnant. But men have control where they ejaculate, so the better question is “Why do men impregnate women they are abusing? And why do we pressure and force women to bare their children?” The answer is control. The further stressed out, tired, and overwhelmed your wife is, the less likely she will be able to pull things together enough to leave.

        Or as you put it, men impregnate them because it complicates “their ability to cope” and hinders “their ability to leave the situation.”

        • Abusers keep us exhausted and helpless ON PURPOSE. Mine dragged us across the country multiple times whenever he felt like starting over at a new job, in a new place. We had a kid in the middle of it all. FW absolutely loved pointing out how exhausted I always was, and castigated me for not earning as much money as he did. The moves, and the timing of the kid, were all part of his campaign to keep me dependent, exhausted, and unlikely to notice his multi-year cheating.

          • Hmm, is this why FW started musing about having a fourth child literally minutes before he launched into a workplace affair? I was scratching my head and asked what tf got into him. I had my hands full as it was. That wasn’t the only thing he attempted to do to put a dagger through my shoe to keep me locked in place and unable to escape while he did whatever he wanted but come to think of it, he obviously considered it.

            I doubt it was even conscious on his part, more a matter of animal instinct to maintain control. Plus abusers love to pretend that subconscious MOs make them “innocent” of being coercive and controlling. When he would whine, “But I didn’t *intend* (to be controlling, whatever)!” I would respond, “You don’t have to intend it. You’re so practiced and skilled it doesn’t require thought. You’d have to intend not to.”

          • FKA, this is heartbreaking and illuminating. FW moved us around, and was constantly traveling elsewhere during the work week. I had the kids and a job, and was generally exhausted and depressed. Shortly after DDay he managed to both insult my post-pregnancy body (but he was SO SAD about having to tell me) and lament that he didn’t have a third child.

            I never thought FW was doing it on purpose. I thought he was just clueless, self centered and had an empathy deficiency. He moped about my state, rather than pointing it out but… I’d be so interested to know what other signs you had that this abuse (because it is abuse, I was miserable but too overwhelmed to escape) was intentional.

      • It should be mentioned that there are still a significant portion of woman across the globe who do not have access to reproductive choice, either by availability, religious pressure, or the refusal of the partner to engage in contraception practices.

      • Well, sometimes people aren’t even fully aware that they are in abusive relationships because of the insidious nature of the abuse. They get enough intermittent rewards and think their marriages are ok. They become satisfied with less and less as time goes on. They see nothing strange about this. They forget they have needs. They don’t see that they are walking on eggshells. They don’t see the dysfunction. They justify that no marriage is perfect. They bend to the moods and desires of their partner so often that it’s second nature.

        They might even think that they are in a good marriage and see no problem in having more children. An impressionist painting looks like one dot of color when one’s nose is pressed up against it. Only by stepping back can we see the full picture.

        Ask me how I know.

        • This was me. Though fortunately I didn’t get pregnant during our brief wreckonciliation. However, just before the affair started, we were planning another baby. Thankfully I hadn’t yet discontinued my birth control.

        • Absolutely, you can only see it when you are out of it, that’s why no contact is so important.

          I used to think that my ex FW was not abusive because he was only punching the wall, not me or the kids. I was used to walking on eggshells around him, not noticing we were much happier when he wasn’t around. I used to reason with myself and justified his behavior continuously. It can’t be abusive if he is rarely even present? His reckless driving must be caused by ADHD? He must be going through midlife crisis, he must be stressed out? Being treated like you’re worthless for years wears one down eventually.

          Turns out he was just an asshole I needed to distance myself from, for my sake and my kids’. Oh, and he also had a work girlfriend while married to me, but that’s only part of the package.

          You don’t need any proof that asshat is sleeping with so and so. If you already know he is an entitled asshole who treats you like dirt that is reason enough to leave. Godspeed.

        • Spinach@35.This describes my ex relationship to a T. First love, first everything from age 18.I excused the lack of dates to being broke college kids, excused every behaviour, excused him when he would switch his phone off for a week, excused his text message responses that took 6+ hours, thought I could help him heal from having never known his biological dad. Justified his mistreatment to having never known how to show love. Forgave him when he once confessed to sleeping with a prostitute, when we ran into a fellow college girl he has slept with while we were on semester break. I Forgave thought everything good now. We were all earning now but the dates never came unless I forced one. Rainbow baby came after 4 losses. Justified it by saying he finally gets to be the dad he never had. But alas! He impregnated AP when baby was just 6 months old. He cried and did everything to convince me he had changed, the scales hadn’t fallen from my eyes yet. And when they did, when I had had enough, I packed and left only to realise I was already pregnant despite taking birth control. Only when i stepped back did I flash back to all these prior incidences and red flags and emotional abuse that include ghosting during my miscarriages. Only then did I fully realize what deep shit I had murked my way into. I wasn’t going to let him steal one more Year of my life. My 2nd born is 9 weeks old now. Coparenting is difficult because he still sends communication about reconciling. Loving me etc. But the moment I log on here, if ever after such passionate pleas, try to sway me I find solid ground and shut that shit down. That relationship isn’t acceptable to me. His mum is my greatest anchor she tells it to me straight like CL, tells me that her son doesn’t deserve me and that if I feel like stumbling to always call her to set me straight and remind me why his treatment isn’t acceptable and I’m glad because I finally get my own apartment end of November. The path ahead is uncertain but at least it is FW free. And my children deserve a happy, joyful mum.

        • This is it exactly Spinach. I believed I was married to the most loving giving kind man who adored me. I was convinced I was the one who was controlling and unkind. It was only looking at the relationship from afar that I realised I’d been had. And the daily humiliations and sexual needs I had to fulfil as well as his constant need for adoration all came into focus. If it wasn’t for the many d-days I’d still be there under his spell.

        • Yup, when you are constantly lied to and don’t know you are being lied to… When they tell you what you ‘need to hear’ and not the truth… When they gaslight you… When there’s a discussion about having another child then after D-day you are told “they never wanted another one”… When they are abusing you behind your back and you have no idea what a loving relationship should actually be like and it’s only when you’ve stepped back and realise that it wasn’t normal at all and why didn’t you see that… ( mbecause we had been together since teenagers.)

          I’m glad i have been taught so much and my naivete was blown to smithereens. I believe nothing anymore as i had been lied to my face for 2 decades. Not my fault but awful to come to terms with.

      • “What is this phenomena? Does it have a name?”

        Yes. It’s called “being in a bad situation with an abusive spouse”.

    • Good point, well made Alimony. I have a slightly different comment. My neighbour in her 70s was chumped 30 years ago. Her high-ranking, honours bearing army officer left her with 4 children, including twins with special needs. She had given up her career to be a SAHM. When he broke the news to her, she said ‘I’ll leave and go back to work (as a teacher) and you stay here with the kids’. His response: ‘oh no, that wouldn’t work. I couldn’t do that.’ His army OW would never have accepted that as an outcome. With the greatest of respect to our male chumps who are cut from very different cloth to male cheaters, most women are left with no choice but to put the kids first, whether that be staying with the cheater or struggling along on their own with the kids and unreliable child support, juggling childcare. I’m not a mum, sadly. Every day I see mums being heroic and resilient while cheaters wander off, legs akimbo, into the golden sunrise. And then I hear politicians (UK, can’t speak for elsewhere) criticising single mums for doing whatever happens to be the societal evil of the day: poverty, using food banks, knife crime, bullying, not being at home, whatever. Where’s the criticism of the men who fathered the children, the paternal grandparents, aunts and uncles who often can’t be seen for dust while the man fathers more children with the latest Schmoopie (Boris Johnson will not even say how many children he has)? This is not a criticism of the men here and out in the world who are doing the right thing. I have complete respect for those men. Male cheaters tend not to fall into that category by definition.

      • Yep. My ex-FW said I could take off with my own Schmoopie and move out of state if I wanted to like he did, so what’s the big deal? I actually had to remind him that we had a minor child I was caring for by default because he took off, so I couldn’t just take off too. (FW never cared for the child when he was in the home either, but I digress.) They do not see things from any perspective other than their own. Me, me, me, me. I can honestly say that my ex-FW wasn’t trying to be obtuse or funny or mean by what he said. He actually believed it was just that easy because he thinks and cares about no one but himself.

        • PS. Just to clarify, I didn’t actually have a Schmoopie. FW was retorting hypothetically when I was trying to get him to see the magnitude of what he had done to his family. Big mistake to try. In my case, it wasn’t that he saw and disagreed; it was that he didn’t/couldn’t even see, and still can’t see, anything but himself. He doesn’t have the capacity for empathy and to put himself in someone else’s shoes. He didn’t even consider that me taking off like he did would mean that our son would have no one to take care of him. That’s some scary s***.

  • At this point, you don’t think Tuesday will ever come, but it does eventually. Just keep on keeping on and things will eventually look better.

    Definitely read “Why Does He Do That?” It is eye opening, explains the abuse dynamic very well, even covert abuse which is hard to piece together and explain.

    I’m sorry to say this, but your grandmother and mother should be ashamed of themselves. They sent you and your children (and their grandchildren) back into an abusive home. Just because their generation turned a blind eye, doesn’t mean you should.

    Good luck to you and know you have Chump Nation behind you!

  • There was a time when women did not have the choices or resources they have now. There is a lot of bad advice — the whole RIC gives bad advice and excuses. You don’t have to live in misery with a cheater. Divorce is hard, being the sane parent is hard, but you will feel better about yourself if you do the hard thing, because it is the right thing. Time passes and life gets better. Your wounds will heal. You will feel stronger and better because you are not allowing a liar and cheater to ruin your life. Your story is the story of us all at Chump Nation. We get it. Just believe in yourself and stop listening to him. Don’t take bad advice. Don’t believe in magic cures. Believe in yourself and make good choices to raise and protect your children. Leaving is the first step towards changing your life for the better.

  • I had a similar timeline, though I didn’t meet FW till I was 28 (SHOULD have known better!!). After the first Dday I had an infant and had quit my low-paying job to stay home and care for him. I threw FW out of the house and called a lawyer and found out I would not get any alimony and child support with my lousy job was not enough to survive on. I had lost too much weight and my breastmilk dried up (but I didn’t realize it- fortunately my son was on solids by then). NOT ONE PERSON TOLD ME TO LEAVE- I told anyone and everyone (it was an “emotional affair”- it wasn’t). I had already cut my mother out of my life so everyone I told was a peer. My own brother saw how emaciated I was but still treated the FW like he was his buddy. Our marriage counselor said we were equally at fault. And the thought of having to split weekends and NOT wake up to my beautiful, happy, baby every morning was too much for me. Little did I know that he would NEVER have the kids spend even ONE night at his (current AP’s) house. So I stayed. For 15 more years. It got worse (physical), but at least I got another son out of it. I’d probably STILL be with the FW if HE hadn’t told me he wanted a divorce (I suspect it was the AP’s idea because FW is incapable of original thought). Thank goodness I got out. I got the house, I’m working on a career that will cover the bills. My kids are with ME 100% of the time- I get to wake up and see their teenager scowls EVERY MORNING!! And FW is not even allowed in my driveway anymore (when he drives by for a quick 20-minute visit on his allotted days). If I could have seen this future back then on that first Dday, I would have pulled the plug and gotten divorced right away. I’m 52; my divorce will be final in a few weeks; I’m starting a new career and getting my kids ready to go off to college (as I finish college myself)- We are ALL graduating to new happy lives! Leave a cheater GAIN A LIFE and you will never regret it.

    • “I’d probably STILL be with the FW if HE hadn’t told me he wanted a divorce (I suspect it was the AP’s idea…)”

      Me too. I don’t know if the divorce was AP’s idea or not (probably, as FW seemed to be content to keep the status quo and have me as wife appliance) or whether he just needed a branch to jump to before he left, but I’m SO GRATEFUL now that he kicked me out. I would have stayed and tried to “fix” things, enduring the ever-worsening abuse because I was so broken I thought it was all my fault.

      I wouldn’t trade my son for the world, and honestly I’d go through everything again if it was the only way to have him. But the life I have now away from FW is wonderful. I also have my son 100% of the time (FW died). I’m lucky to have a job where I can support us, and with the survivor benefits my son gets from social security, he will never be without the things he needs.

  • Wow. I could have written this. She is me. I am her. I couldn’t agree more with CL. The “men will be men” advice our mothers and grandmother’s give is insane. I’ve heard so many versions of it. Honestly I think staying gives FW the message that they “got away with it”. Their “punishment” was a few sessions or months of therapy and your undying suspicion (which they do not care about because guess what, you’re still there). They really continue on unbothered while your entire existence is forever altered. Feeling, I wish I could reach through my phone and give you a nice long hug. You are in good company here at CN. Please do what you have to do. You will never feel safe, secure, loved, or treasured in this relationship. His behavior in fact proves you aren’t.

  • You do not want to raise your kids believing that they should emulate his behavior – that it is normal and good to treat others this way. You do not want your children to believe that YOU should be treated this way, and that your children should treat you with contempt and disrespect. Because that is the behavior they are seeing and learning from. Those thoughts were the kick in the pants I needed to leave my first husband. And, despite some rough years, my kids have grown to see exactly who their dad is, and have vowed to not treat others in the same shitty way.

    ADHD and other mental issues are not a free pass to get away with bad choices. These are treatable conditions. It may not be easy to treat them and it may take time and introspection into his own behaviors, so he will never do that.
    But remember – HE CHOOSES to not treat his ADHD. He CHOOSES to be a shitty person and to blame it on a condition that he CHOOSES to do nothing about.

  • My family is rife with ADHD, men and women. I often see this used as an excuse for bad behavior so I am going to give you what it is. Distracted easily, their thoughts go ninety miles an hour, often bored. The H is hyperactivity and not all have it This description is overused in the US and it os often the excuse for bad behavior. No one in my family acts like your husband. He obviously has something else wrong and I am guessing it is his morality or the lack thereof.

  • I just want to comment on yesterday’s post that brought out a lot of trolls, many misogynists & political nuts, (turning every argument into a dems vs repubs). Can you stop with that?! However, the most offensive comment came from a woman who apparently posts here all the time (her words) (and aligned herself with a male poster to agree/please him – that’s called internalized misogyny btw) that we chumps overuse the word “narcissist” here & according to this woman “narcissism needs to be diagnosed by a medical professional, not angry women reading WebMed”. 1. we know personality disorders need to be diagnosed by professionals. 2. narcissism is a catch all word, that’s why it’s used 3. if you find us all “angry” & pitch-forky, why are you here? 4. this is a safe place to vent, it’s not like we’re going out later & machine-gunning school children or shooting up gay bars 5. why are you here if you disapprove of female anger (which is also internalized misogyny judging women for being angry) 6. have you learned nothing then being here? looks like not, so why not move on then? 7. The internalized misogyny was strong with the OP’s mom & grandma, they did it then to survive. The husband is continuing entitled misogyny (oops, I can see a future post complaining that the word misogyny is being overused). I hope the OP recognizes it & breaks free.

    • I have noticed anything political brings out fury. I also think that the word narcissism is perfectly OK to use. The manual professionals operate from is based on the very strict guidelines but they don’t live with people who are narcissist. I’m guessing they very seldom even interview narcissists so they have no clue how destructive that kind of behavior can be. A very knowledgeable psychologist told me that all human behavior is on a continuum. Suppose someone has all the earmarks of narcissism except one and so that person will not be diagnosed but the family that lives with that person knows better. I think if you feel like the person that in your life is wrecking your life you have the absolute right to call them any name you want to, including narcissist.

      • I agree with you Letgo. Who better to recognize what these ppl are than the person who is around them all the time, and I still didn’t see it or know what it was for decades!
        A mental health professional is not equipped to take on a full fledged narcissist, they would be out of their league, IMHO. A narcissist will not be diagnosed a narcissist unless that choose to be.
        The manipulative capabilities of a Narc are being greatly underestimated if there is any thought otherwise.

        • I agree with continuum and that all people have narcissistic traits from a lesser to greater degree. We all have to have some self-interest to survive. You do not have to be NPD to be a regular garden variety selfish a-hole lacking empathy. This is why the question is not ‘is there something wrong with the FW’ (the answer is yes —which leads to WHAT is wrong) but rather ‘is this relationship acceptable to me?’ It’s why the whys don’t ultimately matter. If you know enough, you can stop torturing yourself over the details, which clears the way for moving on with your life sans abuser.

          I would like to add that Narcissists do not generally seek counseling because they don’t think there is anything wrong with them. They don’t seek therapy because they do not self-reflect and have no intention of being honest or improving themselves. They may seek counseling at the insistence of the chump for impression management. Mine spent two years working on nothing —which I paid for. Claimed the therapist said he was misunderstood and disillusioned. NOT an alcoholic. That DWI means nothing…

          It is a scary thought that we are only one generation from the 70s and all the things that entails. My grandmother used to tell me that ‘a women should look nice for her husband’ —a piece of advice and criticism all rolled into a nice little ball of sexism.

    • Most days I read every comment on this site, but circumstances interfered yesterday. A brief glance at those comments and I’m glad.

      ChumpLady, you’ve arrived when the trolls start to prioritize trashing your site. Congratulations! And please feel free to delete/ban the idiots.

    • Wow, yes… people knee-jerk react about the term narcissism. I was so happy I had a great therapist. She said, “Without treating him, I can’t officially diagnose your ex as a narcissist, but regardless, we need to work on how to deal with his narcissistic behaviors.”

      • When I described my ex’s behavior to my therapist, SHE said “he sounds like a narcissist”. I never used the word with her.

      • My therapist had a similar comment. My lawyer also commented, unprompted, that he seemed like a narcissist. I didn’t really think so at first, but it’s clear now that at a minimum he has strong tendencies in that direction – first and foremost boundless entitlement.

    • Sigh. I had no idea posting about Elon Musk — not an elected official — would bring out all the trolls. It’s a holiday week. Couldn’t be at the computer all day yesterday. And I hate moderating this place because GENERALLY everyone is super awesome and well-behaved and I don’t need to. Lesson learned. And it’s not that I will shut up about misogyny or narcissism (yea! awareness!), it’s that I have to expect to spend time I don’t have doing clean up.

      • Sadly, he has a LOT of fans. Like any bully, there are weak, broken people who look at him and identify with him. They see someone who can get away with being a capricious, self-centered jerk because of his money, and if they can’t be rich enough to do the same, they can at least get the second-hand kibbles of blindly supporting him.

      • we all know how attractive those narcissists can be, when they want to pull you in, and people just love them. The exhole had buckets of it. It was like a warm cloud of magnetism followed him around, a secret weapon. HA! Maybe assholery goes with it naturally. One doesn’t see the harm in it, until it’s too late. After that, “charm” is felt as a threat and charm=harm

    • Great post, Wow.

      The reason the trolls are here is because they are actually the ones who are angry. The comments trashing us for allegedly being angry all the time are projection. Anybody who reads here regularly knows we mostly joke around rather than rant angrily. CL grew this blog based on the clever use of humor to deal with our feelings.
      Some people are perpetually angry and hostile. They deal with it by shitting on others who have done them no harm. That’s what a troll is.

  • Seems to me that your questioning everything he says isn’t due to your paranoia or whatever bullshit label the RIC wants to call it. It’s because your husband is a liar. Why WOULD you believe him, frankly. He betrayed his best friend, he stalked and harassed his AP, he denied up and down that he fucked her, and he’s denying up and down that he’s having an affair with his boss. If only for common sense, no one should be in their supervisor’s office for hours unless it’s because disciplinary action is occurring and privacy is necessary. Leave him. You’re married to a lying sack of shit, and your sense of betrayal is entirely justified.

  • Dear Feeling,

    I would hazard a guess that now that you have had your “this changes everything” moment, you know are in the state of knowing what you have to do–divorce–but still wishing you didn’t have to. I think of it as the moment when you set down the “hopium” pipe–the unrealistic but understandable wish that he’ll change–but still resist putting on your walking shoes and propelling yourself to a lawyer’s office.

    Listen to Chump Lady (and to Chump Nation). The voice in your head that says by leaving YOU are breaking up the marriage is his. He would like to shift the blame for his decisions and his actions to someone-something–else: you, ADHD (have you seen a doctor’s diagnosis of this condition, or is this a self-serving self-diagnosis?). But as CL says, it’s not you breaking the marriage. It’s him. He broke the marriage–hell, he broke it before he even married you! He stood there at the altar and lied to you and everyone else.

    For years you have been conditioned by him and have conditioned yourself to live in a marriage that required you to look the other way, make yourself small, willfully ignore your own gut feelings (hey, thanks, Mom and Grandma). It takes time to work your way out of that conditioning. That little voice that tells you “put your head down and keep going” is the voice of fear and of despair. It’s hard to divorce–at 35 years of marriage it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do–and can feel overwhelming: Am I equal to the challenge? What if I fail? But it’s the only action that gives you a chance at happiness; staying with a serial blame-shifting husband offers only continual agony. That you wrote to CL is a sign that you know what you have to do.

  • I have ADHD an am 100% chump. I am loyal to a fault and have never cheated. I’m remarried to an amazing man (also a former chump) and we have the most amazing, COMMITTED marriage.

    ADHD is specifically related to behavior and neurological processing and has exactly nothing to do with character or values. Does ADHD sometimes make it more difficult for shitty people to mask their character? Probably. But is it the root cause? Absolutely not.

    Tell him to shove his ADHD diagnosis up his @$$ along with his other excuses for abusing you.

  • Just a comment to say something is broken on the site for me. I can no longer read comments because every time an ad switches content the site jumps back to the top of the comments section. Happens on both my phone and my iPad.

  • “I feel like my entire marriage has been built on a series of lies.”

    It was. I had the same fake marriage.

    “Speaking of which — there’s something especially loathsome about someone who would cheat on the person they’re about to marry. I had one of these freaks. Many of us here have.”

    Yes, that would be me again.

    So as far as your mother and grandmother go … I’m sure they love you and are giving you the advice they feel would have been appropriate in their own era. But, it’s like allowing them to pick out a pair of shoes or a sweater for you. It’s like allowing them to tell you what hairstyle would look perfect on you. They’re thinking of their youth, not your present.

    There are two kinds of people I avoid: the people who think I can’t possibly be telling the truth about my wonderful, charming, warm, sweet husband … and the people who tell me I must have been in denial to miss the telltale signs of a cheating husband. The first group is eager to make sure I know I’m crazy ascribing evil to this obviously wonderful person, and the second group is eager to make sure I know I’m a gullible idiot for thinking he was wonderful when he was clearly not. It’s so amazing that they both agree on the most important point, which is that I’m the one who’s crazy.

    I’d like to invite the two groups to fight it out and leave me out of it, but the curious thing is, many people simply switch groups effortlessly and with a complete lack of self-awareness. One minute, they’ll be telling me I’m imagining things, and when I respond with my proof … they’ll do a 180 and tell me I’m a fool for not seeing it sooner.

    Both groups are, at this point, officially out of my life for good.

  • CL is spot on.

    Here’s my short story about learning of cheating after being married for years:

    D-Day for me happened after 35 years of marriage. Ten years before, so after 25 years of marriage, x told me that he’d had sex with another women when we were first married. It happened when was abroad for a sporting event (club team). After a day of getting sweaty on the pitch, he apparently got sweaty in bed with another woman.

    Anyway, when (after 25 years of marriage) I told my therapist that he’d cheated on me when we were first married, she advised me that this was probably a youthful indiscretion by someone who’d drunk too much. Did I want to throw away a marriage based on one event? I decided I didn’t. And I didn’t tell anyone else.

    Fast forward to the 35-year mark (so ten years after learning of that “youthful indiscretion” from which I probably got genital warts, by the way). We were sitting at the dinner table, and he decided to bring up the time he slept with that woman in another country. What I remember about that conversation is that he seemed to be gloating. He explained to me that the guys on his team singled him out the next day for “bad behavior.” He loved this public spanking for being a “bad boy.” Here was his opportunity as a super shy guy to “elevate” himself in his friends’ eyes, or so he thought. He told me that the captain of the team made him give a (faux) apology to the group. They then agreed that “what goes on tour stays on tour.” He loved the attention and, no doubt, the secrecy.

    Here was a covert narc who couldn’t get a date in college, a guy who was too shy to join a frat. He’d had a one-night stand and all the guys knew about it. He “got the girl.” A tsunami of kibbles in one night.

    No doubt he had other women throughout the marriage, getting the little “atta boys” from his friends.

    Little did I know that his telling me that story was a fitting prelude to his eventual confession a few months later about the multiyear affair he was having.

    Makes me sick. But also makes me realize what a small, insecure man he is.

    As for my therapist who told me to forgive and forget, I’m not sure. If his timeline is to be believed (and I don’t believe anything he says), it was during the 25-year marriage mark that he started to feel he that he wasn’t happily married AND DIDN’T TELL ME. Maybe he was testing me to see if I would accept infidelity. I don’t know. What I DO know is that he got my name tattooed on his nether regions that year. Who does that when they are SO unhappy? Unless he did it to make me think I was secure in our relationship, to, in effect, make me never suspect that he would cheat.

    Clever ruse. I did feel secure. Dammit.

    • I feel for you, when I was questioning FW about his detachment, I kept getting from him that he was depressed about reimbursement changes and payment delays from VA.
      Later, I thought maybe he’s gay, his uncle was, his sister came out to her husband after 30 years. I asked him and he laughed in a sinister way, saying far from it.
      The looks on their faces knowing they have a secret. I’d asked many times about cheating, always reassured he would never. Dday came, I still felt I would be throwing away 34 good years for 2 bad years. It’s different in retrospect.

  • Feeling,
    I hope you are able to eat, sleep, consult a trusted friend, get tested for STDs, and make a few lawyer appointments to talk options. If you are like the rest of us, you will doubt yourself and be tempted to stay. But this can’t possibly be the life you deserve…no one deserves this. I talked to an attorney after my first-ish Dday several years ago but went for wreckonciliation instead. Oh, how I wish I had those years back. My daughter needs to see that she doesn’t need to take this crap from a partner.

    Please keep coming back to this blog, no matter what. The path will be much more clear and less intimidating at some point…best sooner. Good luck.

    CrispyChick, grilled by the gaslighter

  • Really good discussion of generational misogyny and trauma vs codependency. Thinking I may be codependent as a coping mechanism to FOO but I was also traumatized from emotional abuse by a man I trusted and believed in. The two are not mutually exclusive. Almost seems the one is a set-up for the other..I know armchair psychiatrist here. But really trying to understand why I picked FW when I had dated and rejected seemingly very good normal men all those years ago. I am dating a good guy right now and not attracted to him in any other way than friendship (yes we have had that discussion). I feel no spark or interest in any man for a romantic relationship-it’s like that part of my emotions has been surgically removed. I am ok with that and will not push myself. I just miss the closeness physically and emotionally of a man. Oh worst day being free from FW is still better than my best day being in that relationship. Hugs

  • one of my friends has recently asked me for advice about his relationship with his partner. They are now almost 7 years together and he feels the urge to cheat. He recently installed a dating app, matched with people and then deleted it again. He looks at other people and he fantasizes about one night stands.
    He almost cheated a couple of months ago, while he was on holiday.
    My advice was “break up with your partner, they deserve to be with someone who loves them.”

    My point is:
    If he ever cheats, I am sure he will rationalize it as a “one-night stand” or “a slip-up” but as you can tell from the only time he discussed it with me, cheating is very much premeditated. They think about it a lot until they do the physical act. I told him that if i ever find out he cheated on his partner, I would tell his partner immediately.
    of course he was not happy with my advice.

    cheating is never a one-time mistake.

    • Good advice.

      My own experience bears this out. Apparently, before the affair with a nurse, x asked friends what he should do because he was attracted to her and they were flirting. That a married man would have to ask such a question says so much. My guess is that he wasn’t so much seeking advice as he was bragging. They say they told him to shut it down. He didn’t. He went all in (literally).

      Very much a premeditated act. Those hotel reservations didn’t make themselves.

      In fact, I think that much of the joy was probably in the premeditating–planning trysts, making reservations, coming up with lies, stockpiling cash to use at hotels, timing when they could meet at our house…all of it.

      • “In fact, I think that much of the joy was probably in the premeditating-planning trysts, making reservations, coming up with lies, stockpiling cash to use at hotels, timing when they could meet at our house…all of it.”

        This. That’s why you will see that smirk on their face and twinkle in their eyes, seemingly at random with no explanation. It means they are thinking about all those things. It used to confuse and scare me when FW did that. Often I could not even look him in the face.

        • I hated that. I didn’t know about the affair until some weeks after I was dumped. But I was aware of the smirks, the happy eyes, the sudden mood changes. Sometimes I’d say ‘what are you smiling about’ to encourage him to share. And he’d shake his horrible head and say ‘oh nothing’. Ugh!

  • There are about a dozen stomps on your trust just in this post. Here’s a doozy:
    “I had a conversation with my husband about [boss lady], and he assured me this would never be an issue for us and he would only be in contact with her when absolutely necessary for his job.”

    Y’all TALKED about this beforehand. He knew he had almost lost you and your child early in the marriage. Yet instead of honoring your commitment to each other, and taking this chance to prove that he’s trustworthy, he closes that office door. Lovely.

  • It’s really scary to be at this point – but think. What he decided to leave – you’d still have to face this decision head on. Not once have you said you love him. You’ve just keep plugging away, fingers crossed that you’re kids aren’t scarred by all this. I was at this place – this exact place. And I could save the marriage any longer and even if I could, what exactly was this relationship now? I promise you, though, the level of relief you will feel when you lose this 200 lbs of heartburn will blow your mind. And you’ll be kicking yourself for putting up with his bull for twenty years. First, say nothing. Go get your financial affairs in order, all your documents, stash lots of cash. Then get a lawyer. Then. Run. Go. Be free. Your momma will never tell you this but I am. Just go.

  • I agree with others here that chumps/victims of domestic abuse (call it what it is) can’t assess themselves for “attachment styles” while in the midst of ongoing trauma. Furthermore, if a therapist’s first encounter with a victim happens while the victim is currently being abused or very recently abused, neither could a therapist know what a victim’s attachment style is nor automatically assess any other “preexisting” or “baseline” psychological trait the victim had prior to the abuse. Though the shitty ones always try.

    And here’s the thing with that: I don’t think it’s often discussed that, to someone emerging from recent trauma, even witnessing the *mere attempt* of bystanders or so-called helping professionals to find fault or partial fault (aka “your responsibility in this”) with victims (which happens to echo precisely the abusers’ typical views the victims– ugh) causes a kind of “moral terror” because it tells the emerging survivor that “nowhere is safe,” that trying to escape is really a frying-pan-to-fire exercise so what’s the point? It’s disheartening. The experience also seems to hint that, no matter what happens to you, no matter how bad it is and even in circumstances that are much worse and more life-threatening, even *then* the social context might not help or rescue or protect. The latter point sounds a bit “out there” and is hard to explain but I think it’s important so here goes:

    I thanked God for my past training in advocacy for domestic violence survivors because when I stumbled into the RIC trap and also interviewed several individual therapists after D-Day, I understood that the therapists who tried to diagnose me right off the bat were, a) committing veiled, knee-jerk victim-blaming; and, b) blatantly violating ethics. I blew off the attempts, refused to return to these therapists and eventually found one who understood intimate partner abuse, the phenomenon of negative bystander reactions and therapeutic victim blaming. Of course the latter therapist refused to act as a couple’s counselor because it went against her ethics to try to reconcile a victim with an abuser. Just the fact alone that this therapist understood all the above represented hope for me that the entire world didn’t necessarily reflect the perspective of abusers.

    I really needed that reminder. Abuse, if anything, is a kind of “perspecticide” that destroys victims previous world view and forces victims to take on the world view and perspective of abusers (which is universally that victims “did something” to cause or deserve it and that the victim has no where to go that will be better than the abuse situation) so we need reminders that good, wise people even exist in order to move forward and rebuild our own perspectives. It was depressing and discouraging to have to go through scores of crap therapists in order to find a good one but knowledge of the therapeutic victim blaming phenomenon helped me muster through until I finally found the pony in the giant pile of horse shit. I also knew my experience was typical. Most of what we did as DV survivors advocates was help survivors “detox” from crappy therapeutic and bystander experiences, a trauma which seemed to cling longer than even the initial abuse experience. When “my turn” came to seek help, I knew what I needed and what I didn’t need. I knew that battered women are frequently falsely diagnosed with all sorts of stuff– typically things like borderline personality disorder or various attachment disorders– based on an old, debunked theory that DV victims all suffer from preexisting “psychological deficiency” that “draws” abuse to them on Voodoo tractor beams. In reality, there’s no statistical common denominator– not by background nor psychology– predicting which individuals might end up entrapped by abuse which suggests that the answer to the mystery for why abuse happens lies solely within the psychology and tactics of abusers, not victims. But what makes the false assumption easier for bad therapists to make is that, typically, a first encounter with victims happens while the victims are in a fraught state, basically like a cat that just had a near miss with a coyote. So the therapist will make the dim-witted, knee-jerk assumption that the victim must have “always been like this” rather than considering the possibility that the abuse might have been terrible enough to turn a sane and healthy person into a wild-eyed or near-catatonic mess.

    That’s not to say that people with mental health issues can’t be abused but, since victims are no more likely than the general population to suffer from preexisting mental health disorders, this can’t be an automatic assumption of bystanders and therapists. I know that goes against common therapeutic claims. I’m also aware that a victims’ previous traumas can sometimes complicate or delay escape (if just because the victims’ dysfunctional families of origin tend not to be helpful). But most who make assumptions about victims’ baseline “issues” based on victims’ delayed escape from abuse aren’t considering that people who had been victimized in childhood prior to being victimized as adults might not solely suffer from “low self esteem” but *low esteem for the world* because this wasn’t their first rodeo in encountering social blaming or callous social inaction. They were likely already morally terrorized by bystander reactions and often understand too well how the context may fail them if they try to escape. And furthermore, someone with previous abuse experiences will know that they are now set apart from most other people by virtue of being saddled with a story that most don’t want to hear, that they’ve been turned into potential social pariahs merely for what was done *to* them. Escaping abuse won’t avoid that pitfall. In fact, the moment of escape is the moment the pariah status may begin. Frying pan, fire.

    The bystander blame reaction– even if veiled in “I’m just trying to help you”– is part of the circular maze and trap of abuse. In DV research, the knee-jerk assumption that victims had something wrong with them to begin with is called “misapplication of contingency” and typically leads to what is called “the second injury of domestic violence”– when therapists and bystanders subject victims to blame (even partial blame) for the abuse and/or minimize the abuse and effects of abuse. Psychotraumatologists have identified the negative bystander reaction as a key factor in deepening the damaging effects of trauma. The best explanation for this I’ve read is in the chapter on DV in founding psychotraumatologist Frank M. Ochberg’s “Post-traumatic Therapy and the Victims of Violence.”

    Basically, the reactions of people around you when you first reach out for help can affect how long it takes to recover or if you recover at all. The same has happened following political atrocity even when masses of people report the same experience so it suggests that knee-jerk bystander denial and victim blaming are primitive flaws in human social psychology. I think that’s where moral terror comes into play. I think anyone surviving anything human-wrought and traumatic– whether interpersonal or political– is shattered by negative bystander reactions because– on some lizard-brain, communal consciousness level– survivors develop a sneaking suspicion that bystander blame knows no bottom and begin to fear that it isn’t just their limited context that is unsafe but the world itself.

    Sadly that sneaking suspicion has been illustrated over and over and is probably somewhat correct. Victim blaming knows no limits. For instance, survivors of the Argentine “Dirty War,” in which the former military dictatorship tortured and slaughtered an estimated 30,000 people in the space of 7 years in the 1970s and early 80s, reported the same bystander phenomenon. The term “Algo habrán hecho” or “They must have done something ” became the tagline to describe typical negative bystander reactions to survivors who escaped the military torture centers and tried to warn others. Bystanders at first refused to believe that the government would imprison, torture and kill completely innocent people and so invented crimes that these victims must have committed to “deserve it.” As a result, many who emerged from the atrocity sank into severe depression and, to this day, report extreme traumatic flooding when exposed to reminders of their experience ( Even if the country and the international community eventually did believe survivors and prosecuted the engineers of the Dirty War, it wasn’t soon enough for many to stop the trauma from taking root in their souls. You could say the “second injury” of their traumatic experience was too acute to fully recover.

    Trauma experts who write about the “second injury” have also sometimes referred to the plights of Holocaust survivors who, when they first escaped the death camps, often weren’t believed by others and were even scoffed at or cast as crazy. It represented a worst fear of camp survivors, one that many anticipated even before escape which suggests that this fear of bystander callousness is something that everyone can feel, even if subconsciously and even before they experience trauma. Holocaust survivor and historian Primo Levi described a common serial nightmare of death camp inmates: in the dreams, the prisoner had somehow escaped the camp and returned to their family and friends but when they tried to tell their loved ones what they had experienced, their loved ones wouldn’t believe them and would turn coldly away. One survivor who testified at Nuremberg referenced a story from Jewish lore in which a man of faith could withstand 81 blows from an enemy before dying. The survivor went on to say that his experience of not being believed when he first escaped Auschwitz represented the “82nd blow”– one that he could not survive. The title of the documentary “The 82nd Blow” was inspired by this survivor’s testimony and is about this phenomenon– how bystanders and even entire nations at first refused to believe what Holocaust survivors were reporting.

    It’s risky to compare interpersonal abuse to political atrocity. It’s not intended to minimize the horror of death squads, etc., but to point out that negative bystander reactions are common, that those reactions have no limits in a historical sense, are an essential part of traumatic experience, are– on their own– universally traumatic to survivors of anything and represent a kind of existential crisis that many survivors end up wrangling with as if the initial trauma itself weren’t enough.

    It might seem pretty excessive to argue that a bystander or therapist who throws around references to “codependency” may be awakening subconscious moral terror in survivors emerging from intimate partner abuse. But I think it’s worth consideration because the blaming view, if seen in a wider context, has always been a historical plague of the species. I think we all pick up on that particular pitfall in the social context and fear it even if the impression isn’t fully conscious. I would recommend getting far, far away from that mindset in escaping from abuse lest the view become part of the psychological trap. If, a while after escape and recovery, a survivor wants to delve in “preexisting issues” in order to polish up their lives, maybe that can be helpful but I don’t think it’s helpful as crisis triage or in coaching survivors in the midst of freeing themselves and can be counterproductive.

    • HOAC, have you ever considered writing a book? You have a way of clarifying things with backed up research that I think is so skilled and really enlightening and helpful. I just copied your post to my notes and I’ve done that countless times in the past. You explain the effects of trauma on an individual with incredible accuracy to my own experiences.
      Thank you for taking the time to do that, I find it to be greatly beneficial to the ongoing exploratory discovery about ‘ what the hell happened?!’ to me and making sense of any of it at all.
      You share tremendous logic that I can grasp and it’s really so helpful! You make sense out of total craziness. Thank you. Thank you. I so appreciate it!!

      • It’s the craziness and disinformation that kills, isn’t it? Thank you for your kind words and insights.There were a lot of breakthroughs happening in DV research back when I worked in advocacy and so many offensive old theories being overturned that it felt like watching the fall of the Berlin wall– people running around whooping with pick axes and mallets. Clarifying new findings and ripping apart old ones was a group sport. I wish someone had thought to record those discussions because it would make an interesting book of essays– survivors (horses mouths) processing and weighing the merits of social science as it pertained to their own lives. Bonus– it would make RIC therapists go postal. We probably thought the new perspectives would change everything. But twenty years later, the same craziness and disinformation reign. Every generation has to tear down the wall of bullshit all over again.

  • “It is my duty to refuse to let others dictate who I really am. It is my duty as a human being to establish beyond all doubt that I am TOTALLY unwilling to side with/identify with, anyone’s MISPERCEPTIONS of me, INCLUDING my own misperceptions of what I am worth.”

    Repeat this as often as necessary! It will help to give you the strength to move forward. It goes without saying that you are so worthy of LOVE, RESPECT and HONESTY every minute and every day of your life.

    A big (( hug )) to you

  • You get past the guilt, which is not yours to own, by getting righteously angry, and you let your rage propel you into action.
    Your anger should also include the relatives who ganged up on you to get you to stay with this jerk. It’s clear you’ve been brought up to assume too much responsibility for the state of your marriage and family. Most women have been, but we don’t have to take it. To people who try this line of guilt-inducing crap on me, I like to quote a character from a film (played by Wesley Snipes); “Wrong century, motherfucker.”

    You get past the hurt with time, by leaving him and limiting contact, and with therapy, which you are already doing. There’s probably going to be some residual pain for the rest of your life. But it will be bearable. It will ease, but only if you get away from the FW.

    Ignore the ADHD thing. It has no relationship to his cheating. Let him flounder if he won’t help himself. He fired you from the job of holding up a weakling who can’t stand on his own two feet.

  • Dear Feeling Like A Fool,

    We have all felt like a fool
    Initially after being betrayed by someone you gave your heart and promise to love to. That is a natural reaction by anyone who isn’t a disordered freak.
    To answer your question:
    How do I ever get past all the guilt and hurt?
    You cannot get past anything when you are still IN it.
    Pain compounds. The longer you stay, the heavier the weight of the pain.
    The biggest “mistake” I made was in trying to keep the marriage and family together for 6 months post D-Day discovery FW was searching for prostitutes on line. That wasn’t his only extra-curricular activity. FW also was monkey branching between 2 mistresses and myself (I wasn’t positive but was suspicious of a friend of mine who lived down the street. Her husband came home one day and announced he was listing the house the next day and moved them 4 hours away. He likely discovered the affair, but didn’t tell me.)
    Please Google Trauma Bond. It is stronger than drug or alcohol addiction to break free of someone we love, who has also been psychologically abusing you.
    Once free, your healing can begin.

  • Someone probably already mentioned this, but I’ll say it anyway “I’m also working on my own issues of co-dependency and anxious attachment style. My husband has refused couples counseling.” … this sort of counselling can make you feel even worse. When you are married, “codependency” is what happens when you put others first, and this is what loving people do. As for “anxious attachment style” this is what happens when you are married to a FW. You are anxious and confused just about all of the time. One of the best books I read besides CL’s book is It describes and helps you to process the physical and emotional effects of living with a cheater. I hope you will recover quickly and will be gentle with yourself. This guy has harmed you.

  • Goddamn, this is the drop mic answer from CL. Captures everything. My heart hurts to think about all the years I thought shit sandwiches were enough, then wasting my breath on wreckonciliation and hopium inhalation. May we all be propelled to leave their sorry asses ASAP. So thankful for CL and all of you for shining the light on their fucked-upness. Divorce in progress.

  • Hey there, Original Poster here! I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read my story and comment on it. I have read every single one of them. The support here is amazing! Chump Lady, thank you for your response! There have been several other responses that I’ve read a few times, because they really hit home with what I need to hear.

    I’m finding the holiday season to be especially difficult, and I’m sure this is a common issue for those dealing with things like this. You feel pressure to be strong for your children, but there are really just days that I want to crawl in bed and stay there all day, maybe all week. I look back on the years I’ve lost living in all of his lies and deceit, and I know that I should have gotten out a long time ago. But what matters now is that he is GONE (since Oct. 1st) and NOT COMING BACK! Because I am not going to let him. I’m not wasting any more of my life living like this! It’s time to finally show my children that this type of behavior doesn’t have to be tolerated, and that I know I am worth more. It’s going to take a long time for me to learn to trust myself and my perception of things. Decades of gaslighting really took a toll on pretty much every relationship in my life. But I know I will get there in time.

    I know there will be good and bad days ahead, and hopefully the good will eventually outnumber the bad ones. I’m going to come back here often and reread this thread any time that I start to doubt myself and my choices (and that can be quite often). The validation and support here has helped me so much and will continue to as I navigate the road ahead. I’m just getting started, and I can’t wait to see what is on the other side!

  • Wow! Thought I was reading my story there for a second…. I too, I have 2 children. First 2 times emotional cheating and the 3rd time, emotional/physical. I stayed too thinking it was best to keep my kids’ family together. Was willing to settle and go to counseling to “fix” things. It took me a while to see… there is nothing to work with…. Even if we work on things, what’s going to keep him from doing it again?! NOTHING. He has shown that he is a POS time and time again! I didn’t break up my kids’ family, HE DID! I agree, put your head down and keep walking, to a lawyers office! Best of luck, I’m on my path to happiness and I hope you are too, soon!

  • Dear heart. I was a sputtering hot mess taking blame, never enough, it’s partially ME..I drove him to it…whaaaa crying and gasping. How will he live, WHO WILL TAKE CARE OF HIM LIKE I DID?? This is after D day 8 months ago! Then I went No Contact and moved out. The hopium haze, the thick fog of…but HE LOVES ME, cleared and I trusted that he sucked. I could not see that or feel that until I lawyered up either. It took white knuckling not to reply to his word salads ( he had absolutely no sorrow for me but plenty for his own sad sausage mixture.) I am Telling YOU that heroin would have been easier to kick!!! But I am now free. FREE I TELL YOU!!
    I think too much emphasis is placed on another man or woman to stand in the gap and be the hero. I am counting on being my own hero until and IF someone else Is WORTHY OF ME..Ahhh.did I say that? Ms me sitting in snot & tears up to my eyelids. Yes it was me!

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