This summer, I confronted my (ex) wife of 9 years about a single friend (and coworker) that she was spending a lot of time with and she confessed that their relationship has escalated into an affair. In the first revelation, she said she had slept with him 3 times. This is someone who knew me. Who I spoke with at her work events.
My wife complained years ago that I had a night out with my friends every week and she wanted the same. Of course I encouraged this. There were a lot of reasons why this made sense. I would go to my friends’ place to play board games because she didn’t like that activity. Also, I don’t drink, so if she wanted to go out and drink with a friend once a week, who was I to put a stop to it? I trusted her.
At two or three points I had expressed some concern that she was going out with a single male friend and she emphatically said: “You have nothing to worry about,” or “He’s not my type.”
Adding complexity, my ex had a medical condition that apparently made sex painful with me (this is documented, not a lie), so we were not having sex at all (like maybe 1-2 times per year). She told me that she had resigned herself to living without it. As the person who made vows that included “in sickness and in health”, I stayed. So the revelation that she had sex multiple times with her Schmoopie was blindsiding.
I sat there, waiting for an apology that wasn’t coming. To “what now?” she answered “well, can we have an open relationship?” To “you told me I didn’t have anything to worry about?” she said “well, obviously I lied.” To “why?” she said “I thought this would be good dynamite for the relationship.” I said I was getting a divorce, to which she said: “Don’t you feel relieved?”
A few days later, like many chumps before me, I thought maybe we could reconcile. My rule was no contact with Schmoopie and she booked counseling. She agreed, but it felt half-hearted (of course). I then discovered that she had in fact been sexting with this guy for four years (since my daughter was two). So she wasn’t sexless. She exploited my vows to maintain her lifestyle and the career advice and the support while she got her sexual needs fulfilled outside the marriage all the while totally content to have me living a lie.
I’ve moved out, limited to no contact other than around my daughter, cut off all her friends and family (one of whom said I need to take my responsibility for the state of our marriage), split all the assets, I’m working out, seeing friends, and doing hobbies. I will not take her back.
That said, I feel like I’ve had an encounter with evil. There were so many little and big lies that made this possible. The callousness that went into it. The indifference to the suffering caused. This is a wound that cuts across time. And now I need to parent with this remorseless fuckwit. I have a separation agreement in place that is definitely in my favour (which she says is her idea of remorse), but I have so much I feel like I need to tell her.
Also, because I moved out, my 6 year old blames me for breaking up the family. I get she doesn’t know and she’s just trying to make sense of everything but I hate being blamed for this. My ex wants to tell her that “we were unhappy.” I want her to tell her that “marriages have rules and mommy broke a really important rule.”
Help me out here. Please.
Dear Treading Water,
Let’s tackle your last dilemma first. You’re divorcing. You have zero control over what she tells your daughter about why. You didn’t control her narrative when you were married to her, and you don’t control it now.
I know, I know, this runs contrary to all that co-parenting For The Best of the Children attitude of bonhomie we’re all supposed to aspire to. But consensus isn’t possible with a FW and there’s no way to police what she says. She can tell your daughter all manner of nonsense. Fairies live in toothpaste. Rhode Island is constructed of cheese. Mommy and Daddy divorced because of mutual unspecified unhappiness. Nebulous clouds that just descend on families and break them apart.
In my experience, and in thousands of stories on this blog, what happens is they tell YOU (or maybe court guardians) they’re going with the No One Is to Blame divorce narrative with the kids. But what actually happens is character assassination. You’re a terrible ogre who won’t let anyone be happy. You’re unstable. You didn’t appreciate her exquisite Bohemian soul and you pinned her spirit in a box like a dead Victorian butterfly.
Meanwhile, she’ll be bludgeoning you with the FOR THE CHILDREN cudgel. Don’t you dare speak the truth about the cheating! Don’t you dare deviate from the script! (The script that holds her blameless. Or you both equally accountable.)
And chumps go along with this shit. Either in a misplaced attempt at consensus, or with a fear of hurting children with ugly adult truths, or because there is some real-life threat of parental alienation from the courts.
My advice to you is, talk to your lawyer about this. Focus first on getting the best divorce and custody settlement you can get. Leave the age-appropriate explanation for later. The most important thing is your actions. Be the sane, show-up parent. How you conduct yourself says far more about your character than anything your ex can say.
Of course your daughter may be upset now. Blaming the chump parent for the divorce is really common. Maybe even universal. You ate all the shit sandwiches before, why won’t you eat this one? Divorce is destabilizing and kids are rightly anxious. Just keep showing up. Keep telling her you love her, in word and in deed.
If it’s any consolation, I divorced a mentally ill FW when my son was 4 years old. For years he’d ask me why. Or say “My daddy loves you. Why don’t you love him?” (A narrative planted by a FW.) My answer was he had untreated mental illness and it wasn’t (son’s) fault. Then I redirected the conversation.
I spent the next 22 years being me. The show up parent. While his father was himself — the no show parent. The cheap creep. A guy who’d go years without seeing his son. Dropped his health insurance. Didn’t pay support. I quit untangling the skein of — is this mental illness, or is this being an asshole? Probably both.
Over time, it’s been abundantly clear why I have no relationship with his father. The narrative “You don’t love Daddy” was overcome by Daddy’s actions.
Here’s where it gets complicated — my son still loves his FW dad. In a primal kind of way. But he doesn’t rely on him for anything. And he considers Mr. CL and myself his parents. He wholly expresses his love for us as family. And his father is a weird uncle who shows up in his life on occasion.
I share this to show you that even if you do ALL THE WRONG THINGS (and you shouldn’t, and you won’t, because you’re not a FW), your child has a primal bond of love for you. Your ex can tell all the stupid stories she wants to, and it’s damaging, but your love is bigger than her lies.
Sadly, the reverse is also true. Your child has a primal bond of love for the FW parent. And that’s your child’s right. That relationship is hers to figure out. Your job is to be the Sane Parent.
Now let’s unpack the rest of the letter.
she answered “well, can we have an open relationship?”
You already had an open relationship. You just didn’t get the memo.
To “you told me I didn’t have anything to worry about?” she said “well, obviously I lied.”
Expect more of the same in co-parenting. You’re dealing with a liar. So document everything, and use third party parenting software.
To “why?” she said “I thought this would be good dynamite for the relationship.”
I blame Esther Perel for that sentence. Blowing up relationships invigorates them! Let’s try some other form of abuse — I thought smashing your face through a window would be good for the relationship! Insanity. Yet a whole bunch of RIC therapist peddle the nonsense that marriages are stronger for cheating.
Your ex might’ve been saying this bullshit for cake. We’ll blow up the relationship and have a new, open one!
Or she’s said she purposely sabotaged your marriage because she enjoys destruction.
I said I was getting a divorce, to which she said: “Don’t you feel relieved?”
How nice of you to file. Dynamite is fun. Clean up, not so much.
I feel like I’ve had an encounter with evil.
That’s probably not a popular opinion outside this blog. But what else do you call this level of deception and abuse? I think the strongest cultural terms permitted are “narcissist” or FW. But at the core of it, your ex has a spiritual, moral problem.
She’s transactional. She gets a power high from abuse. It’s nihilism — no one matters.
Remember when you’re dealing with one of these freaks, you’re the winner. You’ve got a heart to break. You have authentic feelings and you conduct yourself with integrity. You’ve navigated this nightmare admirably. What she says to your six year old doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change the reality of who you are or what happened.
Get through this divorce and when you’re able, speak your truth to your daughter. Mom broke the marriage rules. I feel sad, but I’m still your dad and I love you. Then, just show up. That says everything.