Divorcing a Cheater
....or whatever term you are most comfortable with: "sex addict" , sexual compulsive, chronic cheater, Betraying Partner....or maybe an expletive of your own choice...
This is a difficult topic to cover: we're not sure whether you are heavy-hearted, contemplating the dissolution of a long-held dream that the two of you could pull through the hardships his infidelity brought to your marriage, or.....
Perhaps after much deliberation, your decision to divorce (or leave the relationship, if you aren't married) has been made and you're already starting to feel a bit freer, lighter and filled with the first glimmers of light at the end of this dark, nightmarish tunnel you have lived in.
You may actually be experiencing both those feelings and everything in between, maybe even within the same day. The roller coaster of emotions that divorce brings can be exhausting, especially on top of needing to steady yourself in the time leading up to your decision.
If you are in the midst of sitting with more frustration than feels tolerable, frustration that things didn't work out the way you planned, the way he promised or the way a therapeutic approach insisted works well for so many other couples, then you would be feeling like many women who arrive at this stage in their journey. We think it's important to stop and really name the frustration, as difficult as this emotion is. Slowing your thought processes down can be the first step towards your moving into more self-acceptance for your decision. Mindfulness can help, as can meditation, prayer, walks in nature or anything else that helps bring you into the present.
If you start hearing negative voices in your head, telling you, "You're being hasty", "What will your kids think?", etc., just notice them.
All these "shoulds" are your Inner Critic chastising you and these "shoulds" ideally need to be let go of, in time, as you are able to let go. We know that if you are like most wives, you will have fought a long, painful battle in trying to help your husband through his challenges. Can you offer yourself a gentle word, kindness, some self-compassion? It can help soothe the broken-hearted parts of you and steel the parts that need to soldier on through the divorce process.
We also feel (and many partners post-divorce have shared with us) that almost any other stressful event that happens after they survived the traumas of Discovery and the typically excruciating months and years that follow it, is just not going to be as challenging as that set of disasters was. It might be brutal to consider divorce and all the attendant implications but at least there will be an end to it, a finish line to cross, something they could not access in the days of Discovery. Perhaps you can take comfort in that if it holds some truth for you.
Hopefully, you will have reclaimed some of your innate strength in the years post-D-Day so you can take on whatever happens next, knowing you will survive this intact.
The good news is that women who divorce Betraying Partners after having given them ample time, resources and opportunities to change almost unanimously report the beginnings of relief (right alongside their fears of an uncertain future) and the ability to experience a little more peace every day. The biggest bonus seems to be the absence of the insidious anticipatory anxiety they didn't realize had become part of their everyday lived reality until they divorced. When that heavy blanket of non-stop worry lifts, partners often feel like they can actually get to the top of their breath again. Life starts to open back up in a more spacious way.
Of course, that doesn't mean the road ahead will be easy, especially if your Betraying Partner is narcissistic, by which we mean: self-serving, controlling, manipulative and lacking empathy for you. Based on what we see here every day, when trying to divorce someone with entitlement issues (aka a "sex addict") we know there may be numerous difficulties ahead of you:
the potential for character assassination against you, possibly using the children as pawns or turning them against you, ensuring you cannot walk away in a reasonably fair financial position, vindictiveness that you dared to leave him, flaunting their great new life to mutual friends and/or on Facebook, and the always dreaded fear that they will expose your children to whoever and whatever their next romantic/ sexual "situations" are going to be.
Well now, that's an unpleasant list to read, isn't it? We certainly didn't enjoy writing it. But one of our PoSARC mottos here is: Good mental health means being in reality at all costs.
Yes, being in reality can be extremely harsh when trying to divorce someone who feels entitled to disregard the ways their deceptive behaviors have destroyed you. Rather than acknowledging their failures, they may twist everything around so you are not the victim of their infidelities and years of gaslighting. No, they are the victim of your anger, bitterness, unreasonableness, your being too conservative, too distracted with the kids, too unforgiving, too unable to put the past behind you and a long list of other responsibility-avoidant examples enough to send you into exasperation.
Of course, we hope we are wrong about the possibility of any of this happening in your case. We hope your Betraying Partner hears you are thinking about divorcing him, falls to his knees, begs you not to, offers you an irresistible post-nuptial agreement and immediately commits himself to living a life of integrity with monthly polygraphs to guarantee his fidelity to you. Since we are going to guess that would be highly unlikely, we are glad you're here.
Since the "success rate" for any addiction, and yes, that includes sex addiction (if you believe this is a disorder and not just a symptom of deeper psychopathology) is 5% or less, that leaves a 95% failure rate which means that there are a lot of other faithful partners suffering the same outcome as you, a broken marriage or committed partnership. And the truth is, with statistics that abysmal, so few marriages do survive in any condition most would consider worth the struggle, no matter how rosy a picture the recovery books try to paint. Many partners glean this insight themselves if they ever attended any of the 12-step groups for wives of "sex addicts". Witnessing women who have invested years (even decades) staying with a man who keeps relapsing just as she begins to trust again, has been an enlightening, eye-opening and sobering experience for so many partners we have worked with.
Because we know how challenging it can be to divorce a man with entitlement issues, we would like to offer you our "support and strategy" work via Private Session time with us.
We have considerable experience taking women through this process and we believe smart, pre-emptive strategies are critically important to your future survival, both financial and emotional, when planning to leave the character-impaired person.
If you've already left (or have been left) and are still struggling with trying to make sense of the past, we can help with that as well. We are very well aware of the torturous wringer we can put ourselves through when we second-guess the steps we took, or wonder if we even should have left, especially if it appears he is as normal-seeming and happy as can be with his next partner. We can wonder about our own sanity when he apparently was just able to sail off into the sunset without ever turning back to wonder about the years he spent with us....Yes, make no mistake, leaving and/ or divorcing someone we loved and whose "recovery" we may have championed for years can raise concerns and self doubts we had no idea even lurked inside us.
If you are contemplating divorce but have not yet taken steps, please know it is normal for many women to fear beginning the process.
Before you push yourself to take definite steps towards divorce, and maybe even before you take a single baby step in that direction, it might be advantageous to let us help you process through your fears beforehand to diffuse the power they have over you.
We can help you process:
- your fears of his retaliation
- fears that he will speak poorly about you to others
- fears around finances, parental alienation
- sadness for your children not growing up in an intact marriage or committed partnership
- grieving over the loss of investment into marriage
- anger about money spent on his supposed "recovery"
- anger towards your higher power
- trauma at the hand of therapists, law enforcement, church leaders, judges, lawyers, relatives....
If your husband did not embrace true change and you sense it is time for you to move on, we certainly applaud your courage to at least get yourself freed from more years of pain and misery. We celebrate the determination it takes to commit to finding some happiness in this precious lifetime of yours.
"Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift."