How to help cheating ex without hurting myself
December 21, 2015 9:04 PM   Subscribe

Ex cheated on me. It hurts. She's now in an abusive, controlling relationship. Where do I draw the line between helping her and helping me? Many, many snow flurries inside.

I was in a relationship with a woman for four years. During the last few months she was distant and there was no love or affection. I dragged it out, trying to fix things, and eventually ended it with no complaint from her. Now 3 weeks later I've found out that she was cheating on me with a coworker during those final 4-5 months.

She has a pattern of jumping from one slightly unhealthy situation to another, driven largely by a need to feel needed or used. She's also self-described as extremely selfish and lacking empathy. We had hit a rough patch in our relationship and were having trouble working through it (or even talking about it, to be honest), so I think she was extra susceptible. Not that that's an excuse, but some explanation of how she was open to this in the first place.

The guy is a complete creep. He's extremely controlling, and straight up using her to feed his ego and feel powerful. He's also got a wife and three kids. It is very much Not A Good Situation. She's hurting in it and feels trapped, partially because it's a weird addiction and partially because of the potential work repercussions (it's a small company, ~8 people, she will not be able to avoid him). She's tried to end it numerous times over the past 4-5 months, but hasn't been able to make it stick. She's also embarrassed and guilty about it, so not reaching out to her friend group for support. As hurt and angry as I am about it all, I want her to be on the path towards a better place before I go no contact. So far I've sat down and helped her think through some of the negative aspects to get her thoughts in order before ending it, I've helped her contact her friends and request help to get a support group in order, and I've given her a lump sum towards therapy (because she definitely needs it but can't afford it right now). I've done this in the most hands off way I can manage - eg. pointing her towards the resources to find a therapist but not asking about any specifics because I'm worried about my own tendency to want to fix things (which is likely what kept me this relationship for so long anyways).

As for me, I've gotten some referrals for therapists of my own that I will follow up on tomorrow. I'm alternating between bawling my eyes out, remembering specific times we spent together in the past 4-5 months and realizing that she was with someone else at the same time (which is by far the most painful experience I've ever been through), stressing about STDs, and wishing everything would sort itself out and we'd get back together. That last one concerns me. In some weird ways this has brought us closer together, and I'm worried that I also have some unhealthy attraction to this situation and similar need to be needed tendencies.

Where do I go from here? Is there something major I'm missing and should be doing?

For people who've gone through similar situations, do you ever understand it or does the pain just fade over time? Is it normal to not be too mad about it? I'm extremely hurt and extremely confused, but there's less anger than I expected. I'm not sure if it's because I had already started to move on in the ~3 weeks since we had broken up or what.

I feel like I've done all I possibly can to help get her on the right track, and need to go no contact and start focusing on healing myself. I should also stop entertaining any ideas of getting back together - if that happens, it'll be months/years from now after extensive therapy and shouldn't even be a consideration at present. Right?
posted by AnonymousPuppet to Human Relations (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, you're not the person to fix this. You need to walk away, and you need to frame any future getting-back-together fantasies on a decade scale, minimum.

And yes, understanding and perspective build up like a termite mound over the days/weeks/months/years. You will know and understand more later, you just need to let the time pass for now.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:06 PM on December 21, 2015 [22 favorites]

There is usually very little overlap between "friend group" and "exes from cheating group." This is not your problem, she should be going to her friend group.
posted by rhizome at 9:11 PM on December 21, 2015 [12 favorites]

This is so not even close to your problem or, frankly, your business. You broke up. The line has already been drawn. Give yourself permission to move on.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:12 PM on December 21, 2015 [29 favorites]

You are not her therapist. Get her help, give her some suggestions and names. Do your best to get some really good links/research around who and what professional can help her and give those to her. I don't agree that just because you break up with someone you stop helping them (but protecting yourself first) since this is another human being we are talking about. That said, YOU cannot be a therapist and she has issues which you have no training in.
posted by stepup at 9:26 PM on December 21, 2015

This stopped being your problem the moment you broke up. Frankly, you are likely too emotionally invested to be of much help anyway, even if your intentions are noble. This is the time to walk away.
posted by The Gooch at 9:37 PM on December 21, 2015 [22 favorites]

You couldn't fix her when she was committed to being with you. Now it's over, and you have even less power. Remove yourself entirely. She is an autonomous person who has chosen this situation and who is completely capable of contacting her own friends (?) if she needs support and you already gave her money to go to therapy. I honestly don't even know if you can trust that you're getting the whole truth about the situation. What did her attempts to end it several times that didn't stick look like, even? Not that you should go digging about to find out, mind you, but from all you've written, and given that she didn't fight the dissolution of your relationship... I don't think she's a reliable narrator. I mean, she could volunteer in order to feel needed, she didn't need to cheat on and ghost you.

Yes, let your wounds heal. The person she is right now is someone you just broke up with. You don't want to date that person, because you already decided not to. So don't date her again, unless several years from now she's demonstrated real change. And if you're feeling codependent and like you need to be needed right now, maybe you should go volunteer. I can personally recommend animal shelters.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:41 PM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

All these aspects of this situation you've just described to us, how were you made aware of them? Is your source trustworthy?
posted by STFUDonnie at 9:43 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

You've gone above and beyond the call of duty here. If you do more, IMO, there'll be a significant risk of her developing an unhealthy dependance on you as she extracts herself from the situation, and that won't be good for either of you. It's time to step back and let her take care of herself as she sees fit.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:17 PM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Sorry for playing therapist here, but I really think you need to believe that this guy is a controlling creep who manipulated your ex into a relationship. Otherwise you would have to admit to yourself that she voluntarily cheated on you and fucked another guy, exposing you to God knows what and lied to you for months. Then you would have to face what is quite likely under the surface, justifiable anger, and start working through it. Seriously dude, she's not a child who was coerced, she's a grown woman who made a poor choice and continues to make it. It's time to walk away. I'm really sorry.
posted by Jubey at 11:40 PM on December 21, 2015 [30 favorites]

Is there something major I'm missing and should be doing?

Remind yourself constantly that she is no longer your business. Right now, you have a wound that needs to heal. It won't heal if you keep picking the scab off the top and poking at it. She's a grown woman who gets to make whatever choices she wants to make, and those choices stopped being your business when your relationship ended. The sooner you let her go, the sooner you'll feel better.

Also, do something about the way in which you're learning all of this information about her. Block her on Facebook, tell your mutual friends to stop talking about her, etc. If you're actually in direct contact with her, cut that off right now. You sound a little codependent, here, in that you're trying to save her from herself, and she sounds a little like she's using you.
posted by Solomon at 12:52 AM on December 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Lots of people are in bad situations, either from their own design or bad luck or something. You can't save everyone and you should not try to save her. If you have some white knight fantasy - even a teensy tiny one that you won't admit to yourself - then let me tell you its bullshit. You are not her hero. Stop trying to help her and stop trying to refer her to others. She will resolve her issues (or not) but by her own choices she is not your problem.

What you need to do is go no contact and work on you. Heartbreak does heal but only when you stop ripping off the scab. Every time you keep wrapping yourself in her drama you are making the process longer and harder for yourself.
posted by 26.2 at 1:04 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

She's your ex. Keep it that way, treat her like the cheating ex that she is - no contact. She's your ex for a good reason, she is not your responsibility. Your priority should be healing yourself. The longer you deal with her and her issues, the harder and longer will be your healing. Make a start by re-reading Jubey's response above.
posted by GeeEmm at 2:21 AM on December 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure if it's because I had already started to move on in the ~3 weeks since we had broken up or what.

You haven't started to move on at all, and you won't until you go no contact. Which you should do right now.
posted by the bricabrac man at 2:36 AM on December 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

I know you want to believe that she was manipulated into cheating, but she's a grow woman with a mind of her own and She. Did. This. Stop trying to help someone who cares nothing about your feelings.
posted by amro at 2:44 AM on December 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Look, you've put her into contact with her friends and helped her get therapy. She can get what she needs from her friends and therapist now. You need to go no contact now for your own mental health. You've already done more than enough, it is time to let her go.
posted by Area Man at 2:50 AM on December 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh, man, disengage. If this isn't a clear-cut abuse or life-threatening situation (doesn't sound like it), it's not your business. Be glad this is all ex-. You're on the right track with therapy. Things will get better.
posted by thetortoise at 3:59 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

You were super super kind to her in getting her the money for therapy. Echoing what others have said earlier, now may be the time to work on yourself and acknowledge that you were treated in a super shitty fashion and find some good ways to work with those feelings. During that period, you may not be the best friend for her, even if you feel you have Buddha levels of letting go-ness.

She needs therapy, reaching out to her friends, and a new job. You helped with the therapy and you were a great person to do that; the other two things you might help her best with going no-contact, so that she is confronted with the reality that she's got to make some changes if she wants out.

Hang in there, sweetie.
posted by angrycat at 4:31 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this sounds like its entirely over. Disengage, separate, talk to a lawyer, and chose you. Choosing you means you devote all your time and attention to you. You can't help her, you can't fix her, you can't change her. You can protect and help you, you can grow and thrive. But it is a choice.

Yeah, I was in a not quite as bad situation. It was 80% hurt and 20% anger, though both come in waves, and the % varies from day to day.

Why did this happen to me is a normal, but pretty futile question, I think. We crave answers, but in these situations, answers seldom come. Hanging on to the hope of an answer, especially one that makes any kind of sense, is pretty futile. And can drive you insane pretty quickly.

You have my permission to go no contact. Shes made her choices and started down her path. You can be done now, if you chose.
posted by Jacen at 5:31 AM on December 22, 2015

This woman deceived you and you broke up. What happens to her now is really not applicable to you. She made these decisions and if she ends up unhappy, she can decide to make other decisions. In the words of the immortal Zora, "You ain't Captain Save a Hoe."

Now is the time to go no-contact and start saving yourself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:36 AM on December 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

What you are doing is finding justifications to stay connected to this woman. You're still trying to spin a story where you are central to her life, and vice versa. She is still important to you, and lucky you, there is a way that you can still be important to her too!

Stop doing all this and cut off contact. You are not going to get over this woman until you cut off contact and make it stick.

It will never be good again with her, ever. However, you can drag out this mess for a long, long time if you choose. I recommend don't.
posted by mattu at 6:00 AM on December 22, 2015 [14 favorites]

Leave it and her alone. This doesn't good, healthy or even remotely normal. She's an adult who made crappie choices and now has to deal with crappie consequences. That's a personal problem and not yours. She needs to her shit together and it mas take those downfall for her to find the strength to do so. You also sound you need to get some stuff together...therapy is a great start.

One last word about disengaging from her. Imagine yourself at 10 years old or imagine your future son or daughter. Out of all the relationships that they could have is this this helps one you'd wish on them? If the answer is no, then I think you know what you need to do.
posted by CosmicSeeker42 at 6:40 AM on December 22, 2015

I am agreeing with the group here: this is NOT your problem, at all. You need to walk away and let her figure it out. But, let me tell you WHY with a personal story:

I was in your position once (not exactly, but close). I was married to an emotionally-turned-physically abusive person. I finally left her. But then I felt obligated to help her pick up the pieces. I helped her when her car broke down, I helped her when she was fighting with her parents, I helped her when she was horny, I helped her start dating again. Once I realized it was really just letting myself remain her victim by still taking on all her crap, I let her go cold turkey. And guess what, she is still alive! And remarried to a creepy person, just like her--they are perfect for each other! And now they have a kid (yikes!), but none of it is my problem nor my business!
posted by TinWhistle at 6:50 AM on December 22, 2015 [9 favorites]

Nthing that you cut your losses. Nothing good can come of your continuing to be involved, and the energy and time would be much better spent either pursuing things that bring you happiness or looking for a healthy, mutually supportive relationship.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:58 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not only is this not-your-problem;Your potential involvement is part of the problem.
posted by French Fry at 7:01 AM on December 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'll be contrarian and say I do think you can help her, but you need to be very thoughtful about how you do it and decide ahead of time where your support ends. If I was in your situation, I would offer my support through email because the text provides more control over the interaction than a face-to-face meeting. Tell her you are worried about her and restate the reasons you've given here. Be clear that you are not interested in reigniting the relationship, but that you see that she is very unhappy and you encourage her to find something more fulfilling than her relationship with this man.

People can get a little too obsessed with boundaries and bright lines in situations like these. One of the great things about human relationships is that many of them can thrive and be supportive even during times when the terms of the relationship are ambiguous. Is your friendship with your ex one such relationship? Hard to say and only you can decide. If you had a generally mature relationship, then maybe.
posted by scantee at 7:02 AM on December 22, 2015

Is there something major I'm missing and should be doing?

Yes: you should leave her alone, go 100% no-contact right now. Block her on facebook, block her phone calls and texts and everything else. Let your friends know that you don't want to hear anything about her or the other guy. Don't wait until you've 'helped' her, go no-contact now. Get yourself into therapy, and have nothing whatsoever to do with her.

As other folks say above, she's a grown-ass adult, and she chose --- as a grown-ass adult --- to cheat on her long-term partner (you!) with her married coworker. She was in a relationship with you, but she chose to have an affair with a married man in her tiny office. Yes it's now awkward as hell, but this isn't your problem to fix; this is totally, completely her problem.

She strung you along for at least 4-5 months (but who knows for sure how much longer the affair was really going on), lying all the while she was cheating on you with her coworker..... honestly, I'd have a hard time believing her now when she comes begging for you do to a white-knight act for her. The lady is a known liar, who has proven she has no problems gaslighting you, and might still be doing so --- among other things, do not hand her any more money, because you have no real proof she is using it for therapy rather than, say, vacations or fancy dinners out with her coworker.
posted by easily confused at 7:09 AM on December 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

By the way, this:

and wishing everything would sort itself out and we'd get back together. That last one concerns me.

is normal. The human brain hates change and will justify any reason to avoid it. When something embarrassing or bad or undesirable happens to us, we fantasize narratives where we turn the tables or fix it all or get revenge so that, in the end, everything goes back to the way it was. When loved ones die or we suffer a similar huge loss, it's common to have dreams or daydreams that it was all a big mistake and everything's fine.

It doesn't meeeeeean anything that you feel that way. It doesn't make your situation special. It's not a reason to stick around with all these excuses of therapy (she's not going to use that money for therapy) and handholding her through the breakup she wants. She doesn't need your help. It's just that being together was a habit and now you can't do it anymore and you wish you could, that's all.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:22 AM on December 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Not your problem, get this destructive person out of your life right now. It will hurt, maybe for a long time, but keeping in touch with her and getting involved in any way will only drag out a really bad situation which can only get worse. Yes, of course you need to take care of yourself, and get rid of any fantasy of getting back with this woman.

You may reach a point someday when you look back on this relationship and wonder "what was I thinking?" and also feel relief that you cut the tie and got out when you did. No, you will not feel that way at first, and you will be tempted to get involved again, but keep fighting that, try to get other interests and people in your life, and let this one go.
posted by mermayd at 9:27 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't mean this to sound harsh, but you are using her to avoid dealing with your hurt, pain, and your co-dependency issues. It feels much better to be the hero in someone else's life than to look at your own life and try to work on your issues and build yourself up.

In addition, by obsessing about how unjust it is that she's in this position and by doing all kinds of things to try to "help" her, you're actually infantilizing her by continuing to treat her as if she is not responsible for her own life and choices.

I get that you believe you're coming from a place of kindness and caring, and I realize we all need a hand every now and then, but help for her shouldn't be coming from you, with all due respect. You've got a lot of your own problems now, and trying to solve hers without working on your own will lead to no good end, in my opinion. Get yourself into that therapy asap.
posted by jasper411 at 12:47 PM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

the best way you can help her is to let her take responsibility for her own choices (no matter how retarded they are in your opinion). Likewise, the best way for you to help yourself is to accept that simple fact.

.. like with kids, if you rescue them every time, they'll never understand the value of fucking up (learning!) and trying something different next time by themselves. Disengage. while you might not feel like it, decide to trust that things will work out. they usually do.
posted by speakeasy at 1:56 PM on December 22, 2015

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