Bad marriage ended...where do I even start?
August 26, 2018 3:31 PM   Subscribe

I don't even know where to begin. I walked out a marriage counseling session (alone) and the therapist basically told me to go home and lookup "borderline personality disorder". My marriage was abusive emotionally, verbally, and physically (I am male, she hit me and busted my forehead open). She would cycle through a "break up" sometimes weekly. For months the alcohol was out of control. She was smoking pot sometimes hourly (I don't smoke or do drugs). She was sneaking around and sometimes other men were involved. She hid things financially and stabbed me in the back to friends and family. She had basically moved out and back to her mothers (without actually moving and still wanting all the benefits of being married) for about six months when I finally had the divorce drawn up.

Now I'm left with no marriage and an ex that continues to put me through a break up cycle (she asked me to take her to Australia to re-kindle just days before the final divorce hearing).

She was hiding the fact that she is being sued by a corporation for almost 400K. She had a "sugar daddy" before me that was embezzling over a million dollars and spending it on these girls. He ended up in the federal pen. I think some of these men stuck around in my marriage and it was a constant problem. At any rate, she was found liable for that money and is now trying bankruptcy to erase it.

Now that the divorce is over, the depression is insane. I feel completely lost. I recently left a job of over 11 years where I traveled constantly. Friends and relationships at home have waned. She has blamed me for all of it. My new job pays the bills but I'm not excited about it (much less travel which is great).

I need to get my career going, have better friends, take care of myself, and move on. I don't know if I need a shrink or focus on something else. What do I do to make new friends (I'm 45)? What do I do to get my job going?

Meanwhile the ex is back to her party lifestyle. I know it's a joke but it feels unfair and I'm really having a hard time with it.
posted by trocadero to Human Relations (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Your ex is still a shit show. Even if she looks like she's having a good time on the surface, you know she's stuck in that hell indefinitely. You, however, are free!

Start doing things for you! Biking! Ice cream! Pottery or painting or whatever class. Try to go to some group things to meet new people. Work on your tan. Date yourself and people will start being drawn to you!
posted by Kalmya at 3:40 PM on August 26, 2018 [15 favorites]

I'm so sorry that you are going through this. It's a really hard situation. Totally understandable to be depressed at this point.

You absolutely need a therapist whose clients have family members w/ borderline personality disorder or another one of the Cluster B personality disorders. Educate yourself on the condition and you will be able to look back on your memories of the marriage in a different light - instead of beating yourself up for the choices you made or didn't make, you'll be able to see why she acted the way she did, and stop blaming yourself for it. Almost universally, people who have a loved one who behaved this way take solace in commiserating with others in a similar position. Hearing the stories of others reassures them that they didn't deserve to be treated that way, it's not their fault, and it wasn't something they should have been able to stop or control.

Check out, and

A therapist or psychiatrist can also help you decide if taking an antidepressant in the short term will help you move more smoothly through the post-divorce adjustment period.

Cut off contact with your ex and her family/friends, especially if your divorce proceedings are over. If your proceedings aren't done yet, let your lawyer communicate with her. Don't engage with her if she attempts to contact you; like you said she enjoys the highs and lows of the breakup cycle and wants to manipulate you or anyone else she can. Block and unsubscribe on social media as needed; you don't need to see her posting about her "party lifestyle" or her friends amping her up when she does.

Do your best each day at work: one foot in front of the other. Show up on time, with a smile on your face, and be the guy who's willing to help others. Let the stability of your work schedule force you to take care of yourself, in terms of making sure you're sleeping well and eating well (as well as you can). When you feel capable of it in terms of energy/motivation levels, you can start looking for a more challenging job, or a promotion. No rush for that if you can manage on what you make now, right?

Reach out to your old friends and family who are local - I bet a lot of them would be happy to hear from you and would be understanding if you gave them a brief few sentence summary of what you're going through. Personally, if an old friend of mine moved back to my town and contacted me with a story like this, I'd respond by trying to be a good friend - maybe taking them out for dinner or a drink asap. I definitely would not hold it against them that they were out of touch for a while.

As for making friends and feeling better in your own skin, my go to for this purpose is usually group exercise settings or intramural style sports meetups. Whatever you like to do, join a group doing the activity at your level, usually as you meet on a regular basis and get to know people, friendships form naturally. I always feel better after a workout mental health wise - maybe you are the same way? Or you could volunteer somewhere, if you're not an athletic type. Just find any activity where you meet regularly for several weeks or more, and get a chance to talk to the other people in the group!

Finally, congratulate yourself for recognizing you were being abused, getting out, getting a divorce, and having the common sense to ask for help and want to make good choices in the future. Your ex might seem like she's partying all the time, but she's actually miserable and constantly cycling from one bad coping mechanism to another, destroying the trust of the people around her. Right at this moment, you probably have more emotional stability than she has ever felt in her life.
posted by zdravo at 4:00 PM on August 26, 2018 [33 favorites]

The sites are great and I will check them out. I suspect this isn't the first time I've been involved with someone with issues like this. What am I doing that attracts this type? For the life of me I cannot figure out why she would have stayed with me.

I've read some of the bpd stuff. I actually think she is more of the npd type. This is someone that before getting up from bed is asking what we are doing for dinner and is talking about getting ready for a night out (on Tuesday). Then she will spend hours getting ready.

I understand something is not right. I had that the feeling where you know you're always going to remember where you were and how you felt when I found out she would "love to see" another man in Chicago.

I need to get the focus off of her. I need to rebuild here AND avoid this kind of mess in the future. So here I am at 45 years old wondering how on earth can I stay out of bad relationships. It feels too late and hopeless.
posted by trocadero at 4:20 PM on August 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

It’s never too late, but I think therapy to help you unpack this would be good. The question isn’t “why do I attract these types of people,” but “why did I not walk away when it was clear that this isn’t healthy?” Go no contact with your ex, hit the gym, see a therapist. Don’t even think about dating until you’ve figured some stuff out.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:12 PM on August 26, 2018 [16 favorites]

@rudd135 - A little abstract but if I get it - yes. After she left it was like I started having all this space. I started to purge junk from the house and I felt better after so much "stuff" was gone. The peace and quiet was amazing and I started to think logically again. Mind you, I was still getting her cycle all the time. She would go from idolization to hate in one email. She was blocked on txt and social media by then and couldn't summon me at a moments notice.

She got caught making a lot of bad decisions. I personally think that something else happened that I never found out about. I think that is the reason she left here and basically stayed in Cleveland. Recently she has been sending me music, asking me to play words with friends, and sending me email about how other couples get back together "after a year off". Nice - she gets to party and mess around while I'm supposed to wait for her? She is trying to make me just like the clowns that constantly message and mess with her!!! She just seems to like secret relationships.
posted by trocadero at 5:15 PM on August 26, 2018

But what kind of therapy? When I look online there are so many. Is it a shrink? A dr? Meds - how do you even ask about that? I feel lost, depressed, hopeless and unable to concentrate. How do you find the correct treatment?
posted by trocadero at 5:17 PM on August 26, 2018

At 45 it's not too late. It's later than you'd like for sure. But it's not too late.

"So here I am... wondering how on earth I can stay out of bad relationships."

Even though you feel like it's too late, realize that it's not and take a breather. You definitely need to step back and re-assess, get away from your ex (go no contact, go no contact with friends & family that pass on news about the ex, etc.), and work on yourself for a while. But do not have any contact with her you absolutely do not have to have. And don't let people give you updates. Trust me on this one. Get her completely out of your head.

Yes, therapy is a very good idea. Judging by your follow-ups I would strongly recommend finding a therapist who specializes in depression and mid-life issues. Medication might be called for, but don't confuse depression with being surrounded (and gaslighted) by assholes. Or just the one.

You stay out of bad relationships by staying out of them. Recognize early warning signs, and when somebody is abusive - you walk. When somebody cheats, you walk. Hell, even if it's just "they do a bunch 'o drugs, and I don't" - then realize that they're not your person. Maybe doing a bunch of drugs works for them - but if it doesn't for you, you don't need permission to walk. You can actually just choose to get out for your own health and don't owe anyone a second chance or even much of an explanation. "This is not good for me, and I wish you the best but I am no longer going to be in a relationship with you." That's it.

Learn to know what a healthy relationship looks like: both people are supportive and assume good intent, they own up to mistakes and apologize. Contempt is a relationship killer - if you have contempt for your partner or vice-versa, it's a very bad sign.
posted by jzb at 5:25 PM on August 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

Finding the right therapist is often more about finding someone you trust and can have a bond with than picking someone with the right specialization. Narrow it down to who is in your area and takes your insurance, then narrow further based on religion, gender, languages, years of experience or whatever else is important to you. Read their profiles and see what strikes a chord (I assume you are using at the Psychology Today search).

Then set up a few phone consultations. Ask them a few questions. Give them a high-level description of your situation and ask how they would treat a person in your situation. See if anyone of those is someone you would like to make an appointment with and if so, go for it. If not, go back to your filtered list and set up a few more phone consultations.

I'm sorry you're in this lousy situation - good luck!
posted by bunderful at 5:28 PM on August 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

The MeFi Wiki ThereIsHelp page includes resources related to depression and finding a therapist.
posted by Little Dawn at 5:36 PM on August 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

What am I doing that attracts this type? For the life of me I cannot figure out why she would have stayed with me.

It shoudn't matter who is drawn to you as long as you feel secure and able to say No to the ones you don't want. I mean that being attractive to awful people doesn't doom you to getting involved with them -- it's much more helpful to figure out what it was you liked about her, and any others like her. People like that will stay with almost anybody who allows them to, because most people won't allow it. Their type is just someone who tolerates it, or who's afraid to leave. that is, at least, the stereotype, but as you describe her it seems likely to fit.

Not sure if you went to the counseling session alone or if she just left before you did. I would be wary of a counselor who offered a diagnosis without meeting her, just from your description. but even so, the kind of therapist who's familiar with your ex-wife's personality type will also be familiar with the kind of relationships people like that tend to have, and can probably speak to your question of what in you was fooled, attracted, or both. I would think that would be very useful if you're looking towards eventually dating or marrying again. the answers would be different depending on whether she'd always been like this and you loved her anyway, or she genuinely used to be different and something changed, or you moved very fast and didn't know much about her until you were married.

difficulty with emotional self-control is nearly impossible to hide over time. so if you're afraid of accidentally ending up with another person just like this, it is at least easier to avoid than some other types of unsafe or incompatible partner. this will not just happen to you again by accident. But again, worry about identifying whatever it is you consistently like about them and how to find that quality in other kinds of people. A good therapist will have seen this dynamic before and have some suggestions.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:50 PM on August 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

First, congratulations on getting out of the marriage. I'm so sorry that it has hurt you so much and can promise you that there's light at the end of the tunnel, even if right now everything looks so dark. It's easy to compare your current darkness to your ex's brightness but, as others have said, it's not real happiness. Of course, it's hard to see that now but please trust us.

You have such a good life ahead of you! 45 is really quite young: actually it's the perfect age because you have enough life experience to be knowledgeable but also so much life ahead of you that things are wide open! This is 2018 so many people are in your shoes, be it looking for new friends or dates, and I think you will find great company with time. People will really value and appreciate you, which will be weird and uncomfortable at first after having dealt with your ex for so long but eventually will feel really good. It's also nice because you can be friends with -- and even date eventually -- people of all ages, which can be so delightful!

You're doing all the right things currently: focusing on your new job, looking to make new friends, etc. I agree with finding a therapist who deals with people who have BPD as well as their loved ones. I'd also consider finding a therapist who deals with trauma, such as offers EMDR, because you may or may not have had trauma in your childhood but you certainly dealt with it in this relationship. I'm sorry but, as someone who has also been there, the healing is possible and can be life-changing. I, too, have been attracted to difficult people -- I've learned why and how to deal with it. It's less about changing your brain but rather being open to red flags and ending things when you see them. With time, you will be cautious and aware and, because you aren't stuck in bad situations, can be open for someone who has traits you like but without the red flags. It will happen eventually, I promise as well! I was really opposed to taking medication for a long time but am so glad I did to get over a really hard hump after a life-shattering break-up. It's not a must but one of the many options: I see both a psychiatrist for meds -- I'll go off soon but still check in monthly -- and a therapist for talk therapy. It feels good having a team of people supporting my well-being!

Finally, I'd start by reaching out to those old friends. (Gosh, I hear you with the ex's nasty negative voice in the back of your head... it will eventually lessen and finally go away.) Write a quick email to each apologizing for your absence, saying that you were going through a rough patch in your relationship but are now divorced and looking to reconnect if they're interested. And then start with someone simple that you enjoy like a game night or watching sports in a bar or a concert out or what have you. Most people will respond positively to a short message like that which is honest and low-pressure. You don't have to tell anyone or everyone all the details from the start: you can just hang out and enjoy the togetherness without having to retell all the painful details of your relationship, unless it feels right and you want to. Hearing what other people are going through -- and everyone has their challenges -- might help you, too. I'd definitely steer clear of personal details at work just yet but you can always invite new colleagues out for happy hour -- not many people may come but it can be nice to do once a month or so. Since you're traveling less or work, I hope you can travel now more for fun. Are there any old friends or family members you could visit for a long weekend? I find travel to be a great reset for my brain as well as it's helpful to be around people who know you for you from before your ex was even in the picture.

My heart goes out to you but I am feeling very hopeful and excited for your future! You may not be in a happy place yet but you will get there. Reaching out on MetaFilter was already a great step! Good luck.
posted by smorgasbord at 6:19 PM on August 26, 2018 [11 favorites]

@queenofbithynia. She did meet with the therapist with me there. I told her I wanted to go and asked that she pick the therapist (really I know that if I pick she will use that against me eventually). I'm flexible and prefer a woman anyway. She went to two of the meetings and I think as it became more intense she gaslighted her way out of it. I was told to look that stuff up and "we cannot make a diagnosis here" or something to that effect. I continued to go several more times.
posted by trocadero at 7:06 PM on August 26, 2018

Meanwhile the ex is back to her party lifestyle. I know it's a joke but it feels unfair and I'm really having a hard time with it.

I find Aesop helpful in those moments. This is not meant to be flip or trite. It works for me. Perhaps it'll help you, too.

How do you find the correct treatment?

There's a degree to which therapy is, ironically, like dating. Sometimes people try two or three therapists with no luck and conclude, "Okay, therapy doesn't work for me." Maybe. But maybe if they kept looking, #5 would be a match and a world of help. There's a fable for that, too.
posted by cribcage at 7:33 PM on August 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I went through something not quite this bad but not entirely unrelated (hey, My First Psychopath embezzled $400,000 too!).

I asked for tangentially related book recommendations here (in my first post ), and there's one recommendation that I instantly found very very practically useful- In Sheep's Clothing, a book on dealing with manipulative people and boundaries. I also found books on psychopathy/sociopathy very useful to help me understand the lying, fraud, sexual risk-taking, etc that my ex exhibited.
posted by twoplussix at 7:43 PM on August 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

I would actually tell my couples counselor that I was looking to explore individual therapy on my own. I would recommend that you call them and ask them to refer you to somebody. Like someone said upthread, it may take several tries with different therapists to find somebody that works for you.

Truly getting away from a similar person in my life required that I go no contact. It was really hard. I kept a notebook where, every time I wanted to contact him, I would sit down and open the notebook and write down memories of terrible things that he had done to me. Sometimes when I wanted to call, I would read those memories. This really, really helped. Another thing that helped was joining a support group. Some of the ideas for online support groups above might be very useful for you.

I wish you all the best and I'm sorry that you're going through this.
posted by sockermom at 8:02 PM on August 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

Dude. Allow yourself a set amount of time to lie in bed and not deal with anything. I got laid off from work the day I came back from my dad's funeral and my "boyfriend" broke up with me a couple days later.

I spent literally two weeks in bed sleeping all day and awake all night. After two weeks the boredom got so extreme that I had collected enough energy to apply for jobs.
posted by bendy at 9:30 PM on August 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Let’s see now. Lots of little things:

1) For the next year you will have a much higher chance of being in a car accident. Be safe out there.

2) There’s really no way to cut that time down. I know you’re feeling rushed by the age thing but that’s not how it works. Even miserable marriages require a grieving period. (I can attest to this)

3) I just ended up in a brand new city with no contacts at all and needed to start connecting with people. On Saturday mornings I help the local Episcopalian church (I’m not religious) make sandwiches for the poor. On Wednesday afternoons I run the front desk for a volunteer-based library. Slowly I’m meeting new people and some of them will become friends.

4) Friends and relationships at home have waned. She has blamed me for all of it.
It’s going to take some time to sink in but she is NOT a reliable witness. Deal with the reality you see with your own eyes. You don’t need to completely blow her off, but file what she says under "needs further investigation".

5) Choose three therapists off of the APA website. Leave them each messages/email saying roughly where you are emotionally and that you’re not sure where to go from here. Initial triage and referring clients to the right therapist is part of their job description.

Any halfway decent therapist will be an advocate for you focusing on you, which it sounds like you could really use right now.

In your shoes I would put finding a therapist front and center. If nothing else a weekly appointment will be an ongoing reminder that you are working your way through this.

P.S. I won’t say it was an intervention, but my older friends have collectively claimed the right to veto any future significant others. And I’m glad because I, too, appear to suck at picking partners.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:34 PM on August 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

“She just seems to like secret relationships.”

Exactly! Like you, I’m a 40-something who escaped a pathological love relationship with my own sanity and social support network barely intact. It’s hard for folks in our shoes to find therapists who really understand our needs as survivors of Cluster-B abusers, because in general, therapists do not “see” character disorder accurately, for a lot of reasons that the book recommendation you got upthread for “In Sheep’s Clothing” by Dr. George Simon brilliantly elucidates. I also recommend you check out Chump Lady’s site and her excellent book written exactly for people in our shoes, “Leave A Cheater, Gain A Life” by Tracy Schorn.

You’ll want to take your time finding the right therapist who gets people who have been abused like us. One vetting question might be to ask the therapist “Under what circumstances, if any, would you recommend someone stay in touch with an ex-spouse who had narcissistically abused them? What would that contact look like?” Most therapists out there are not very skilled at this, so you really have to keep looking for the right one who help you go no contact with your ex, and help you fix your picker.
posted by edithkeeler at 7:10 AM on August 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am an inveterate reader of Captain Awkward who has written a lot about setting and keeping boundaries. I think you've gotten great advice already here so I won't repeat anything said above, just maybe add this one to your "further reading" pile.

Sending warm thoughts. I hope you find the strength you need as time goes on.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 8:24 AM on August 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

"I personally think that something else happened that I never found out about"

Maybe. Probably not. So what? You are personally thinking this so you can ruminate over the fixed past, find the single moment where it all went wrong, and waste Lord knows how much if your time fixating on an imaginary alternate universe where life is beautiful.

Just please don't.

Some people who've been similarly abused suggest reading is helpful. It might be. I'd caution you against finding labels and diagnostic to use as touchstones.

Good luck. Time is on your side. Whatever you feel now, one day it won't be so terrible.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:29 AM on August 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

[comment removed - OP I am sorry this is difficult but this needs to not become an ongoing discussion about your situation.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:16 PM on August 27, 2018

You will find many others who have suffered through this and triumphed, if you look at, which has many thousands of members. There is also a list of resources, and if you ask a question you will no doubt get lots of recommendations for good therapists.
posted by Enid Lareg at 2:27 PM on August 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's important to cut yourself some slack right now and start patting yourself on the back for having the fortitude to leave a dangerous situation. You survived your'll survive the aftermath. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. A year or two down the road, you'll start to appreciate even more how much freaking DANGER you were in.

To heal, you need to shield yourself from the manipulation. Cut her off completely. A good friend recommended the School of Life YouTube channel to me. They're all short videos - easy to take in when it's too hard to concentrate on reading a book. I found them comforting

It'll take a while to put this behind you. That's ok.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:07 PM on August 27, 2018

Congratulations on your divorce. Now it is time to get out of the relationship. You need to cut any string of connection to her. No email, no common friends, no knowing what she is up to at all. All that will do is prolong where you are at now.

It’s sounds awful and I’m so sorry. The start of the healing happens when you shut every door that might have her in it. You can do it.

(Also lock down any information that she can find out about your life.)
posted by MountainDaisy at 3:30 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

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