Feel guilty for hurting my abuser
October 5, 2011 10:23 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with guilt, anger, and complicated emotions surrounding cheating on my abusive spouse?

One year ago, I left my husband of 6 years. He was not a monster, but he came from an abusive, neglectful family, and he was an angry, emotionally abusive person.

He was very controlling and disapproving of me and of our daughters’ interests and behaviors. According to him, our interests were at best silly and at worst signs of real character flaws or mental illness. When I talked about politics or economics or the news (some of my interests) he criticized me for being negative and said my interests were signs of severe depression.

He rarely gave me the benefit of the doubt in our interactions and seldom took responsibility for his role in our conflicts. For instance, I would be telling him about what I ate for lunch and he would interrupt me to say “Your face looks really ugly when you say that.” I would get upset and (having learned not to be angry or have an outburst of any kind) would say something bland like “It really hurts when you say things like that to me.” He would become furious with me for being so sensitive and would shout at me, which would end with me in tears. Finally, he would suddenly decide to comfort me and would reach out to hug me. I would be really upset and freaked out and would put up my hands in a kind of “I need some space” gesture. He would go ballistic and stomp around the room and scream at me that I was “pushing him away” and hated him and was the cause of all our strife. It eventually got to where I stopped telling him anything. I walked on eggshells constantly, lost 40 pounds very rapidly, and could see that his previously incorrect statements about my mental health were actually starting to come true. I was getting sick. Losing it.

Finally, I told him I was leaving him. For two months I told him. He didn’t believe me. He thought I was just making noise. When landlords of apartments I was looking at started leaving messages, he finally took me seriously. He suggested we go to counseling. I was already seeing one, so we went to her. At the counseling sessions, he exhibited many of the behaviors I referenced above, leading the therapist to tell me in a private session that he was abusive and unlikely to change. This strengthened my resolve to leave.

Then, I did something terrible and stupid. Two months before I left, after he’d known I was leaving for two months (it took me a total of 4 months to find a place I could afford and could live in with 2 young kids), I began an emotional and physical relationship with a man I’ve been very close friends with for years. I’d never in any way been unfaithful to my husband until that last two months, and when the affair began I went to my counselor, my pastor, and my mother and told them about it and asked for help controlling myself. I was sort of, but not entirely, successful.

My husband found out about the affair and assumed that this was the reason I was leaving him. He called my friends, family, and church, and my daughters’ teachers and told them I was an amoral slut and a sociopath, and had cheated on him and was trying to justify it by claiming he was abusive. He acted (and still acts) like a 100% victim in this situation. He refuses to speak to me at all (even about our kids) and tells everyone that I am severely mentally ill and a narcissist, or suffering from BPD, or a sociopath (depending on what day it is). I have not gone around telling people in this small town about his abusive behavior and don’t plan to, but the upshot of this is that I have lost most of my friends. Going out in public is very difficult because I often see people I know and they shun me. I can’t really move, though, because I have two daughters I don’t want to uproot.

My decision to have an affair while still married – even to someone as problematic as my husband – has seriously shaken me. That is not at all like me; it runs counter to all of my values and the things I believe. I believe that him hurting and wronging me does not at all justify my decision to compromise my principles the way I did. I feel intensely guilty over this. I also am angry that I have surrendered the moral high ground to him in the eyes of him and everyone I know by having an affair. He treats me like poo for 6 years, but my mistake in the final months of our marriage somehow makes me the villain in the story. I have no leg to stand on. I did cheat on him, and nobody deserves that. He is also really hurt by this – the fact that I was sneaking around and being unfaithful. He doesn’t trust me and I know he wonders what else I was hiding during our marriage (nothing else but intense unhappiness). I’ve written him an email and apologized sincerely for the infidelity, but he believes I’m just saying that because that’s what you’re supposed to say.

So, finally, my question. How do I deal with guilt and shame over treating someone in a way that I feel is really shabby? And how do I get my head around the fact that I feel so guilty about my treatment of someone who was so mean to me? I’m in counseling for this but it is really debilitating me. I’d appreciate any thoughts.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry you're dealing with this horrible situation. You might want to try being more compassionate to yourself though.

There are two stages to marriage: the commitment and the ceremony/legal proceedings. People are often married before their wedding and people are often divorced before they sign papers saying so. Your commitment to your husband was essentially over when this happened, and you went seeking some comfort in a difficult situation. It may have been an unwise thing to do, but it was an understandable, human act. I think you know this too, with all of the information you provided as background to your relationship. Think about what you would say to a good friend who was in a similar situation and give yourself the same benefit of the doubt. And think about what you really feel in this situation. My guess is you might be wrapping up feelings of failure and loss as well as a kind of twisted kind of guilt arising from acting out against your abuser. Often victims of abuse are trained that it is all about the abuser, never about the victim and that can seriously skew your perception of what happened.

As for the people who are shunning you, that is on them. They decided to ostracize you based on one side of the story instead of supporting you. You do not need relationships with those people. Another part of the cycle of abuse is isolating someone from their support structure. So in his twisted way, your husband was trying to draw you back into the relationship by removing the places you would go to help keep you strong. You do not have to fall into that trap though, build other relationships with people who will support you and let you know that you're not alone.

I sincerely wish you luck and I'm glad you're in therapy. You can do this.
posted by Kimberly at 10:34 AM on October 5, 2011 [8 favorites]

Finally, I told him I was leaving him. For two months I told him. He didn’t believe me.
Two months before I left, after he’d known I was leaving for two months (it took me a total of 4 months to find a place I could afford and could live in with 2 young kids), I began an emotional and physical relationship with a man

You had told your husband you were leaving. It sounds like you were already separated, though still living in the home. It is not uncommon to be separated in one's home. Are you sure you were still married when you had the relationship with the other man? Or is it just that you were separated in the home and the two of you had not settled things down enough to have a separation agreement and a more formal geographic separation? Because it sounds to me like you were separated. If that is the case, then you need to decide whether you feel relationships are okay during a separation. (This may vary.)
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:35 AM on October 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Therapy, seriously.

All the rules that we as humans have built up around adultery have to do with the fact that it often results in tearing families apart. Your family was already torn apart by your crazy asshole of a husband and so this rule really isn't relevant to you. You shouldn't spend another moment thinking about it; but since you clearly will, I really think a therapist is your best bet.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:37 AM on October 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

First of all, therapy, therapy, therapy. There are situations which are so emotionally, morally and socially tangled that to try to unweave them ourselves becomes a Sisyphean task, simply because we're smack in the middle. You need someone from the outside to take a look at the situation, your family, and your psyche and help you. You're in a hell of cognitive dissonance between your actions and your morals and you can't sort it out alone. However...

He was not a monster...

Oh the fuck he wasn't:

He called my friends, family, and church, and my daughters’ teachers and told them I was an amoral slut and a sociopath, and had cheated on him and was trying to justify it by claiming he was abusive.

This person was and is a terrible human being, there are no two ways about it. Whether or not you did a bad thing to a bad person is a complicated matter, but what matters is that he is, in fact, awful. Do not pity him. Do not make excuses for him. Stop apologizing to him, as he clearly just feeds on it.

I can’t really move, though, because I have two daughters I don’t want to uproot.

You live in a small town where people openly shun you and you have a false reputation you might never be able to shake. This has, and will continue to have, a terrible, negative emotional effect on you and kids, as well you know as a parent, are emotional sponges. My family and many of my close friends' families moved to a different continent that spoke a different language when we were between five and twelve years old because we lived somewhere that was having trouble sustaining civil life. We made it out just fine, we grew up just fine, and we are all currently upstanding members of society. It stings to have to go somewhere else, but it isn't some sort of horribly traumatic experience. Coming home from school, day after day, to your mother having to deal with their abusive father spreading lies about her is a traumatic experience.
posted by griphus at 10:37 AM on October 5, 2011 [34 favorites]

told them I was an amoral slut and a sociopath, etc.

I imagine others perceive his abusiveness and discount his stories accordingly.
posted by lathrop at 10:42 AM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

I got uprooted a bunch from the ages of 10-12. It was by far the least bad thing that's ever happened to me. Parts of it were pretty awesome, in fact.
posted by rtha at 10:43 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry for what you are going through. I noticed there was no mention of professional help. I think perhaps this would be the most efficient use of your time.

Did you read the whole question? The OP mentions seeing a counselor in a way that indicates she probably still is.

I say you need to uproot those kids. They'll get over that a lot faster than they'll get over seeing you constantly demoralized and embarrassed, or having to contemplate the veracity of the things they're hearing about you from other people around town. Kids have an amazing sensitivity to the stress and misery of adults, and a lot of their behavior (conscious or otherwise) is determined in response to it. Also, as they get a little older and start making friends and cultivating interests about town, you are going to become increasingly self-conscious about who they're mingling with and what they're hearing.

Spare them, and yourself. Start over somewhere new.
posted by hermitosis at 10:44 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

The OP is in therapy.
posted by pinky at 10:46 AM on October 5, 2011

In my experience, the concept of a moral high ground allows for so much justification of suffering. I have been in almost exactly your situation. I stayed because I believed in a black and white morality in which abuse that didn't involve getting hit wasn't justification to leave a relationship until I was suicidal. You need to forgive yourself. When someone tells you every day that you aren't beautiful, you aren't worthwhile, you aren't good, you aren't worthy, it makes you feel like a lesser person. Then when someone tells you the truth- that you ARE a good person, worthy of love, it's easy to look outside what you thought were your morals.

I'm so sorry that the people you thought were your friends aren't. I lost over half my friends when I slept with someone else while separated but still living with my ex-husband. Even though they knew that I was being told every day that I wasn't good enough, wasn't smart enough, wasn't doing enough, that I was suffering from horrific depression, and this "affair" was the only bright point I had, they listened to someone who was abusing me and weren't there for me.

You can move. Your ex is a monster. Your ex is damaging both you AND your children by vilifying you to everyone you know. He damaged you and your children by treating you the way he did for so many years. My children are much better for having a mother who doesn't hate herself, and they are much happier after moving.

The hardest thing for me has been forgiving myself. I had to forgive myself for letting someone make me believe I wasn't worthy of love, and then I had to forgive myself for letting someone I wasn't married to show me I was worthy of it, even though it was against the personal morals I thought I had. It's taken me a few years, but it gets easier. I'm so happy you are in therapy.

Please feel free to memail me if you need someone to talk to.
posted by Zophi at 10:51 AM on October 5, 2011 [9 favorites]

Your relationship was already over, even if you were still technically with your husband at the time. You knew it was over, and you were looking for a way to connect emotionally and physically with someone. That's normal, and okay, and though maybe it wasn't ideal for you to "cheat" on the man you'd been breaking up with for forever, it does not in any way make you a slut or a sociopath or someone who deserves to be shamed.

I know "don't feel guilty" is much easier said than done. But really, what you did was natural. You needed something, you couldn't get it in your doomed relationship, and so you went outside for it. Don't beat yourself up for that.

There is no such thing as a slut. You know this, I'm sure, and you would probably never call another woman a slut. You wouldn't judge another woman for having sexual desires and needs, would you? But you judge yourself harshly for it. That's not fair. You're being unfair to yourself.

Sometimes you have to take a step back from the situation and imagine what you'd tell your best friend if she were in your shoes. If your best friend was in the midst of a breakup, and she was lonely, and she had a fling, would you judge her? No. You'd be all, "Good for you, best friend! Do what you need to do." So try to listen to that non-judgy voice telling you to love yourself and take care of yourself and not let an abusive ex screw with your mind.

Every time you think, "I'm a sociopathic slut who cheated on my husband," stop and examine those thoughts. Do you really believe you are a sociopath or a slut or even, at the end of the day, a cheater? I bet you don't. Maybe your ex believes it, but your ex also believed you weren't really going to leave him. Your ex apparently believed all sorts of nonsensical things. Don't let his voice be the one in your head.

You mentioned you are in counseling, and I imagine you've talked this over with your counselor to some extent. She or he is probably saying all this stuff already. But if not, maybe you could ask to do some thought restructuring exercises.

Good luck, and feel better.

PS. I went to six schools in the first grade. In fact, I'm pretty sure I moved around enough as a kid that it was actually damaging. But moving to a new town once won't harm your children, and might benefit them by broadening their perspectives. Moving them away from an emotionally abusive dad will help them, not hurt them.
posted by brina at 10:53 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Coming home from school, day after day, to your mother having to deal with their abusive father spreading lies about her is a traumatic experience.

This, this, this!

Guilt and shame are tremendously complex and insidious things, and a therapist is by far the best way to deal with them. Recognise that a great deal of these feelings will stem from the abuse, which is why people find it so hard to break out of an abusive situation.

You made a mistake, that's all, and the mistake was only one of not explicitly stating what he ought to have understood anyway, that your marriage was de facto finished. Any truly good people you know will forgive you, be they black or white, Christian or atheist, large or small. The others are not worth a moment of your thoughts.
posted by fearnothing at 10:53 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

You left your husband, dated somebody else, and your abusive husband ran a smear campaign against you which caused you to be shunned in your small town, such that previously you were in an abusive marriage and now you are in an abusive community.

You now do not want to leave your small town, because you think that your daughters will benefit from seeing you abused by the community in the same way they benefitted from seeing you abused by your husband.

They won't benefit. Leave and take them somewhere without abuse.
posted by tel3path at 10:56 AM on October 5, 2011 [43 favorites]

My heart breaks for you reading this.

You've been through hell and have been brave enough to get out. You sought out the tenderness, care and sensitive lovemaking you were deprived of for years. You took action to save and heal yourself and your kids. You are an example for people who want to reclaim their dignity and humanity, and you have done NOTHING WRONG.

You have been brainwashed by systematic abuse. That brainwashing at home has been further reinforced by an unthinking, deluded, rigid-minded community of people who have no understanding of the mental and emotional torture you've been quietly enduring for years. What's more, they are judging you. I don't need to tell you that to judge is not their right, do I? They are hypocrites and you are better off without their influence in yours or your children's lives. Consider that they are siding with an abuser over you. That is not a group of people you need to associate with.

You need to a new support system. You have a therapist. Ask them about co-dependency, drama triangles, and the victim mindset. Did you grow up around alcoholics? An Adult Children of Alcoholics group could be invaluable to you. Reach out to a different church. Hire a good attorney. Cease all contact with your husband immediately, save for matters directly affecting your children, and then be brief and do not discuss the marriage. Lean on the friends you do have and ask your family for help.

This is going to be a painful process but you have shown in leaving your abuser that you are brave enough to get through it. My heart goes out to you and your kids.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 11:02 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was also in a really similar situation once. You are not a monster, a slut or anything else you might be thinking of yourself (or are being told about yourself). At worst, you are a human being who was in a miserable situation for years, who made an error in judgement. More likely you were a human being who was in a miserable situation for years, who made every effort to get help and support to deal with that situation, had the person who most needed to be supportive (your ex) turn away from you, and you reached out to someone else because you needed to be cared for.

At this point, the best thing you can do is to take care of yourself to make sure you are in a position to care for your girls. Keep going to therapy, reach out to the people you can count on. If that means moving away (and really it sounds like that's an absolutely reasonable decision), then do that. The alternative is that you keep believing terrible things about yourself, and teach your daughters that it is ok for other people to think that of you. If they find themselves in similar circumstances one day, they may think it's ok for people to think that of them too. In fact, start giving yourself the advice, the care and the concern you would want to give your daughters if they were in a similar relationship.

Know that you are not the only one and it gets so, so much better with time. MeMail if you need a cheerleader.
posted by goggie at 11:03 AM on October 5, 2011

This is such a fucked up situation I can't believe you're seeking help online. You need to get in touch with people in your community immediately. Like, more so than you are. If you can't do that, I don't know what to say. Can you uproot the kids? Can you afford to do this? Are you legally allowed to? I don't know a lot about pastors, but goddamnit that guy should go out of his way to help you.

I had a friend who dated someone that was like your husband and it was terrible. It was a very long, draining, co-dependent relationship and he was clearly mentally sick and treated her very poorly and at the end he publicly humiliated her. Breaking into her email and sending naked photos of them having sex to her friends and family. She felt she had to move to a different part of town and did. I can tell you that where this guy ended up was not a good place.

Your husband might have some mental problems that are only getting stronger as time goes on and he might never get help for this. It sounds like you are the perfect foil for him. He is the instigator that plays the victim. You are the crying wife that has to be perfect in order to find peace.

I would look at this bad decision to cheat on your husband as a godsend. It has dealt a much-needed blow to a relationship you have had a really hard time getting out of. Please look at the upside. Think about it, he doesn't have to be a daily part of your life anymore. These people "in your community" were probably not really your friends anyway. You should give some thought as to what real friends are all about.

Please find the strength inside yourself to forgive yourself. Forgive the people that judge you. Just keep the door open. Our decisions are not always the best but we are all good people. If it's possible I would try to establish a no-contact rule with your husband and continue with therapy.
posted by phaedon at 11:06 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

...okay, I feel terrible now because I know I should have put that more kindly.

Thing is, I think your hearing is tuned to a frequency that hears harshness louder and clearer than it hears kindness. I don't know if it's an excuse for the way I said what I said.

I don't actually believe that you think your daughters will benefit from seeing you abused - when I put it that way.

But underneath, it's clear to me that you do believe you deserve punishment and that you should stick around for more, in part so your daughters won't think that adultery is OK. The program that your husband has planted in your mind has got you thinking this way, to make sure that he doesn't even have to be present because you will just go on abusing yourself on his behalf.

Look - I don't want to put a millstone around anybody's neck, but you can't make a legal move when the system is in an illegal state. You also don't have to be 100% legally, procedurally beyond any and all possible criticism, small or large, real or fictitious, by a hanging judge in a witches' trial, in order to prove that you deserve for the abuse to stop.

We don't pray for the merciless judgement and the unremitting harshness of Jesus Christ. You are wonderfully and fearfully made, and you were not put on this earth to be abused, and your daughters were not put on this earth to be abused. "You were bought with a price, do not become slaves of men."
posted by tel3path at 11:12 AM on October 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

Your husband inflicted extreme emotional abuse on you. You may have PTSD. PTSD can make you do things that are totally out of character. The people who are shunning you probably have no idea of your husband's nastiness. Reach out to the ones with whom you were closest. If they're not interested in hearing your side of the story, write them off. If your minister won't hear you out, find another church. Above all, be kind to yourself.

People here are urging you to consider moving, but we really don't know enough about your situation. For instance, do you have a lot of family in this town? Do you own your home? Do you have a good job? Will you be sharing custody with your ex, or will you have primary custody? Do you have very marketable skills and the likelihood of finding work elsewhere?

Feel free to mefi mail me if you need a friend.
posted by mareli at 11:17 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Big hugs. Big, big hugs. I have had an abusive relationship with attendant smear campaign like this, and I sure as shit cheated, and he absolutely went to town with that. I ended up moving in the end. It was hard. Still is. But it's better than where I was: thinking I was bad, evil, and unworthy of anything, even someone I knew was an abuser. That was one hell of a rock bottom. Congratulations for getting out of that marriage.

He broke down your state of mind to the point where you made a choice you would not ordinarily have done. Please give yourself some credit, and ease off the self-loathing. You were in a position of stress for years. Don't let him make what's happening all about that: the situation would not exist at all if he had not acted the way he did.

He's trying to make the situation about his view of things, rather than the big picture. The big picture is that emotional abuse is not acceptable and forging a new life is the best thing for you to do. That might even involve moving, as scary as that is. But you've already done the hard work by leaving him. Pat on the back - well done you! He will try again and again to deflect attention away from his behaviours and harp on you. He'll do this and you will feel guilty, because he trained you to react that way.

Reach out to people who care about you. There are people right now who will be on your side, and the more he carries on the more they will see what he really is. It is super embarrassing when stuff like this happens, but don't hide from the people who can best support you. If (like me) you hid the truth all throughout the relationship, people might be surprised to hear your side now. But it's not all judgment and scorn out there, be prepared for some folks to come forward and say 'you know, we never really liked him...' The suggestion upthread to go to meetings for adult children of alcohol or drug abusers is spot-on, if that's available where you are. And keep seeing that therapist!

It's a matter of regarding your ex as you would an abusive family member. He's had years to install your buttons and now he's pressing them. Recognise it for what it is: he's being pathetic. He's been getting tasty, tasty attention from you for too long. Plus your kids need you to be a grown-up and a role model and he clearly is not going to be the person who fulfills that description. Give him an inch and he will start installing those response buttons in them, too.

tl;dr Forgive yourself. It's hard, but please try. MeMail if you want to talk.
posted by Cuppatea at 11:19 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

You need to actively cultivate compassion for yourself because you deserve it. Feeling compassion for yourself does not mean you are making excuses for things you did that you regret. It means understanding the context of your choices and also understanding that making a decision you regret does not in any way change the fact that you deserve sympathy and understanding, first and especially from yourself, over the fact that you were in an awful situation that was caused by the fact that you were married to a person who was flat out bad to and for you.

The behavior you describe in your husband is atrocious, calculating and intentionally cruel. The fact that after years of being cut off from caring love, insulted, belittled and manipulated, when you were so close to escape and yet still trapped living with this creep, you snapped and sought solace where you could find it is hardly surprising. No rational person, understanding the situation, fails to understand that this was just one poor decision made under extreme duress and that you don't at all deserve the lashing you are giving yourself or the low and judgmental opinion you have of yourself over it.

And by failing to allow yourself the compassion and understanding you deserve you are also allowing your ex-husband to continue to abuse you. You tell yourself you can't tell anyone the truth about this situation so you allow them to only hear his lies about it. You are apologizing to him - has he ever apologized to you? It's quite possible you are projecting some degree of the "shunning" you perceive because you are so ashamed of yourself and believe you deserve to be thought of badly. Certainly you are putting out this sense of shame to other people. You're doing his work for him. Stop letting his twisted head games affect your life.

Forgive yourself, say that you forgive yourself every day as long as you need to. You deserve it and you need it and your kids need you to do it as well so that you can really move on. Try to connect to the people you care about the most, who you feel like you should be able to trust to listen to you and believe you, and share what you have gone through, and your bad feelings and regrets about decisions you have made, and the problems and struggles you are having now. You deserve to have your story heard by someone besides a lot of online strangers. And if your pastor doesn't have sympathy and forgiveness and spiritual guidance for you then look for a new church because he's not doing his job.

I also agree that you can leave if you wish to. Your kids will be better off and unless they were born quite a while before the marriage started they are too young for it even to be that big of an upheaval. Kids are generally more adaptable than adults in my experience.
posted by nanojath at 11:20 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Let me tell you this from personal experience:

Forgive yourself. Now. Then tell your husband (ex) to fuck off, that he "cheated" on the marriage by being an abusive husband. Then leave him.

Also, if you have in any way given up your life for your children, he owes you a future that he took from you in the past.

Let me just say, I UNDERSTAND this on a very personal level. As a matter of fact, this song I posted on MeFi is written as if my wife were saying it to me, maybe listening to it will help, maybe not.

You are going to be okay, find a safe place in your heart and love yourself like no one else can.
posted by roboton666 at 11:36 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thinking about it more, you need to see if your church has a national affiliation that can get you in some temporary housing far away, or heck, even call Safe Place. You need to get yourself and your kids as far away from that place as possible so that the healing process can begin in earnest.
posted by roboton666 at 11:44 AM on October 5, 2011

Tel3path said it ALL.

Please consider moving, but the first place you need to leave is the toxic place of misconceptions in your mind.

On paper you were married, sure. Yet the marriage was publicly, demonstrably, and provably over at the time you got involved with your friend. Just because your ex-husband did not want to accept your decision to end the marriage, it doesn't mean the marriage wasn't over.

If the marriage was over and you were publicly in the process of moving out, why are you calling yourself a cheater? Engaging in these kinds of thinking is self-abuse. What else would you call it? Why do you have to ask permission to enjoy love and comfort? Who do you believe you must ask for permission to receive the affection and comfort we all deserve?

Stop giving your power away! You have two daughters to care for. You made it out of your abusive marriage. I suggest you do the same regarding your self-abusive perceptions. And yes to moving away from a community that is helping your abusive ex to keep making your life hell. That you do not need.
posted by jbenben at 11:47 AM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

You said you were leaving. Just because you were still in the same house, doesn't mean you weren't separated. His not taking it seriously is on him, not you.

Forgive yourself. We all make mistakes. This one didn't lead to the end of your marriage. Your husband's abuse did that.

You owe him no apologies.
posted by inturnaround at 12:06 PM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you want to talk to someone else who has been through a verbally abusive, mindfucking relationship, memail me.

I agree that you didn't do anything wrong. It's insidious how these emotional abusers can convince us we're worthless. Therapy will help, as will leaving your community. I moved to a whole 'nother state, so let me know if you'd like practical advice on doing that.
posted by xenophile at 1:16 PM on October 5, 2011

First, if you want my perspective as a kid whose parents' marriage ended horribly and who therefore has no empathy for cheating or cheaters in any capacity: you did not cheat on him. You told him your marriage was over and you were leaving him. He was abusive and you told him it was over and after that you had absolutely no obligation to uphold your marriage vows, in my opinion.

Second, I think it is very likely that many of your friends/community members already know they are getting a very skewed story from your husband. Certainly if I were a teacher and a student's parent called me up just to tell me "by the way, my wife's a psycho bitchy slut" I would not trust that I was being presented with accurate information (because anyone rational would know that it breaks many social norms to tell your kid's teacher that). Sadly, a lot of them may recognize that your husband is unhinged, but instead of reaching out to you they're trying to avoid getting involved in a messed-up situation.

I don't think you are obligated to tell them anything if you don't want to. IF you want to address it with some people you'd like to have back as friends, I might say "Hey Bob. Husband and I are going through a rough divorce. You might have heard some bad rumors about me, but I want you to know they aren't true." You don't have to address your current relationship. If you want to, again, stick to the facts - "current partner and I started dating well after Husband and I had separated".

I think when presented with your calm rebuttal to your husband's wild accusations, most people will think that the person who sounds less crazy is probably telling them more of the truth. People will gossip for awhile and it will suck, but eventually I think your husband will reveal himself to almost everyone as a bitter revenge-seeker.
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:19 PM on October 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

There's a narrative that isn't your husband's in there. It involves you being a human being. Find it.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:19 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was in your exact same situation, except that I made him leave instead of moving out. Please read below; I have ideas of things to think about, ways to feel, and general aha! moments. It's kind of all over the place.

(1) You did not commit a crime. I know you feel guilty now, but you technically didn't do anything wrong. While I'm not advocating having affairs as an everyday thing, people do have affairs - and it tends to happen more when you're looking for something (or anything!) good in your life. You didn't kill anyone, for pete's sake - you did something to feel better. In the overall scheme of things, it's not that big of a deal.

(2) Find a new place for your new life. You have a lot to go through in the near future with attorneys and custody, and it's going to be difficult and exhausting. It's going to be much harder on you and your kids if you try to do that while being judged. (I lost all but 4 of my friends and 2 of my family members, including my mom and sisters. It's hard. It gets easier, mainly because people find something else to gossip about.)

(3) Your strange husband (an attorney said I was welcome to call my ex strange instead of estranged; it helped) sounds like a complete asshole. All the people he's badmouthing you to might realize that he's just full of crap. Keep this in mind.

(4) Right now, he's painting this big horrible picture, but you're keeping quiet. I would recommend talking to the people you would have trusted most honestly, but sparingly. Don't talk to more than 4 or 5; not only will it seem disingenuous, but rehashing these things are painful. Don't go into detail. It's enough to say that it was bad, and, if you want, that you began looking for an apartment 4 months ago. You can say that everybody makes mistakes, and you understand that your ex is hurt by what's going on, but that you're trying not to make things worse by spreading rumors. Make it clear that this was a decision you made based on your family's overall health, and that you think it will be better for everyone in the end.

(5) This is a terrible situation, but try not to get engaged with anyone about this. It's very easy to get upset with everything that happens during the divorce, but make sure your kids don't hear you talking badly about your ex. If you badmouth him, you're badmouthing half of your kids - that's the way they'll see it - and they'll want to defend him. Your kids should be Switzerland.

(6) Take deep breaths, and remind yourself that this will be better. Try not to worry about things that can't be changed; it does no good and you'll drive yourself nuts.

(7) Don't feel sorry for him, because I guarantee you he doesn't feel sorry for you. You take care of yourself and your kids. He can worry about himself.

Good luck. Memail if you want; I'm going through the tail end of this exact situation right now, and it completely sucks.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 2:43 PM on October 5, 2011

You mention you went and saw your pastor and that you have some affiliation with a church, so perhaps this may be an important reminder for you.

King David committed adultery with the wife of a loyal captain of his army. This captain's name was Uriah, and his wife was Bathsheba. To cover his tracks, David had Uriah executed by ordering him to fight at the front of the battle lines; a sure death. The prophet Nathan called David on the carpet, showing David his sin against God - the very same God who delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt many generations prior.

David immediately felt incredibly guilty because he broke the law of God.

In grief, he wrote the 51st Psalm. Here are the first 2 stanzas.

1 Have mercy on me,[a] O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.

David casts himself solely on the mercy of God, admitting his sin to God. David says "against you and you only" have I sinned. David's sin is one against the very God he loves. The seriousness in his sin is found chiefly in the fact that he broke the law of God.

Verse is 14 particularly interesting.

14Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.

David is saying, "God, I am guilty of shedding blood! I am guilty of adultery! But if you deliver me from my guilt, I will sing of your righteousness". Now, how is this even possible? How could a judge be considered just if he just looked the other way and just swept a guilty man's trespass under the rug? He can't. That judge wouldn't be on the bench very long.

You have probably heard this verse in church:

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.

These are the words of Isaiah (Ch 53), which Christians believe are fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Jesus lived the life David should have lived and died the death David deserved. The promise that is now made clear to us is that the person who trusts not in his/her own goodness but in Christ for their goodness and right-standing before God will be given Christ's spotless record of obedience and given the very righteousness of Christ himself. Only God himself can satisfy his demands for justice, which is why God came in to His creation as a man, was tried and tempted in all ways humans are tempted, yet was without sin. Christ, bearing the sins of those who believe in him, died at the hand of God's just judgment as consequence, and rose from the dead where he declared to anyone who will listen that death and sin have been made powerless.

So you see, if you cry out like David did, "wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin", admitting your guilt and shame privately to God, and casting yourself on Jesus's righteousness, not your own, for your right standing before God, He will declare you guiltless and you may sing joyfully His righteousness. At that point, you are no longer under condemnation, really. This is good news.
posted by yoyoceramic at 2:49 PM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry you and your kids have to go through this. There are some things I'm concerned about. I think your guilt and shame, and your genuine niceness may be keeping you from getting adequate child support. You and your kids should get appropriate child support from him. What's your child custody situation? Maybe you and your therapist should write up the events that led you to leave your marriage, in case he decides to challenge you for custody.

What kind of Dad is he? Your kids will likely want to maintain a relationship, and he's going to be part of your life in some ways until they're grown. Keep being quiet about him unless he behaves badly to your kids. But start building a life without him. There are probably plenty of people who know nothing about either of you, and some of them are friend material and even date material. If it's a really, really small town, then probably a lot of people know more than you think about what he's really like. If there's a good place to live within a 1/2 hour drive of him, I'd give serious thought to moving.

You had an affair; you must have needed some kindness and affection so badly. It certainly complicated things, but it's not a mortal sin, in my book. If it's a serious sin in your moral view, talk to your pastor about ways to find spiritual solace and forgiveness. Maybe you could task yourself to pray for your ex-husband every day, that he will learn to change and be a happier, kinder person. I'm not sure you recognize how hurt and closed up you've become. As you get further from him, and realize that you can be yourself again, and that life holds lots of possibilities for you, I think you'll begin to understand your actions, and give up your guilt and shame.

This whole thread is a great big hug for you, one that you deserve.
posted by theora55 at 2:53 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nakedmolerat brings up a GREAT possibility that crossed my mind as well when I read your story...

Perhaps people are not avoiding you, they are avoiding the ugliness your husband is spreading. Perhaps they are not avoiding you personally, but the entire situation. It's very likely people know that your husband is abusive and unhinged, and they want to stay out of the whole mess, and especially avoid him, which they may think means avoiding you, too.


They are intimidated by him, and even if they deep down know he is lying or exaggerating, they go along with your ex and pretend to agree with him because he's the one that has openly demonstrated he's not afraid to hurt people with his lies.

Come to think of it, I'm leaning towards the second possibility as the one most representative of your former social contacts.

Find yourself some friends that can't be ruled by fear.
posted by jbenben at 3:45 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

It breaks my heart to see you take on so much guilt and blame in this wretched situation. It's understandable - your ex went to great lengths throughout your marriage to cast himself as the victim, and now you've learned to see it that way. This is just more of the same. He treated you like hell for six years, but when you escape somehow he's the injured party?


I know it's hard because you feel like you've compromised your principles, but you didn't do anything terrible and stupid. I don't even believe your affair was a mistake. After years of abuse, after he tried to tear you down and make you believe that you - the mother of his children - didn't deserve to be treated with common decency, let alone comfort, kindness, and love? You refused to accept that, knew there was better out there for you and tried to find it.

That's your strength, not your shame.

Now is your chance to deny his self-serving version of events as well. He can act like the long suffering victim, but the truth is the moral high ground wasn't his to lose. He gave up the right and the title of husband when he treated you so shamefully, and he's only compounding it by refusing to co-parent and by slandering your name all over town.

Please forgive yourself for being human and look at the bigger picture. Congratulate yourself for having the courage to escape this prison of a marriage, and teaching your children that you don't have to accept such awful treatment. I know you don't want to move, but if he's bound and determined to poison the well where you are, then a fresh start might be for the best. You've suffered more than enough and now it's time to create a new and better life for yourself and your kids. You can do this. Good luck.
posted by Space Kitty at 9:25 PM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Would you take the advice of someone who's seriously, seriously conservative on this kind of thing - like "no sex of any kind outside of marriage is really the only option for me" conservative? Because I really think this falls under the "not the best choice, but not something to beat yourself up over" category. And that has nothing to do with your massive jerk of an ex-husband, and everything to do with what you did when you felt vulnerable and whether or not it's a healthy choice for you. It's not adultery when the marriage is dead - at least, not any more than burying a dead body is assault. I'd call it fornication and try to repent of that if you feel you need to repent of anything.

The choice of whether it was OK or wise to date or have sex with a person is completely separate from the issue of whether or not you were married, because no matter what the current state of your paperwork, you weren't married. Not by any standard that should guide you morally, anyway.

I also agree that moving (far far away, at least to the other side of town) is preferable to not at this point. I say this as a kid who survived regular custody transfers and a parent seriously affected by wanderlust (I never know how to answer when someone asks where I'm from.) There are so many worse things than being uprooted, and your mother being abused and harassed is absolutely on the list.
posted by SMPA at 11:49 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

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