I know I apologize for this constantly, but here comes another long one. My brain just doesn't do short/concise well.
I look at his phone and see nothing, then I wonder if I saw anything at all. Did I? Was what I saw correct or is it in my head? Am I crazy or going crazy? I mean, how could someone who is actively cheating on me be kind to me, do nice things, etc.? It can’t be true.
I think you already know the answer here. We have all been there. This is why gaslighting is such an effective tool. And yes, all of the acts of “kindness” throw us off as well.
And this is why we are smart, and we keep the screenshots (as you did). It is painful to relive it, but it helps us get unstuck. It reminds us that yes, this really happened. Yes, this person who is acting kind and doing nice things for me is leading a double life.
FWIW I think skeeter hit the nail on the head with this:
Your WH can be nice because he's getting what he wants - the best of both worlds. He's a happy camper. He's only not nice when something gets in the way of his gravy train.
Then there's this:
I like the thought of avoiding the deep pain of separation. I start to convince myself it’s not that bad, maybe it didn’t happen. I have the details wrong, I’m overreacting. Pair this self doubt with fear of divorce and I convince myself to stay in this abusive marriage. I allow myself to be lost in old habits for a while. Things seem great at the moment as we return to a routine.
This is one of the ways they train us to rugsweep… because they are so much nicer when we act like everything is fine while they are fucking around behind our backs. Routines feel comfortable. They take us back out of that crazy cortisol rush of being in fight or flight mode, and it feels nice to not be that amped up. But it’s good to be aware that while this might feel calm by comparison, we’re still operating at a constant, low-level cortisol buzz that most normal people don’t have to put up with. Look up adrenal fatigue. It explains a lot about why we feel so incredibly tired all the time.
Yes I would rather always choose kindness; however, these character traits play a role in keeping me stuck. That is where they fault.
I don’t mean to conflate kindness with putting up with bullshit. You can be a kind, loving, dedicated person, and also take no shit. It’s the walking away that is difficult
I can date back 10 years ago to red flags. He went to a sex club when I was 9 months pregnant with our first born. I don’t know how I managed to trick myself into minimizing it, denying it and rugsweeping over and over again.
Girl, my XH was basically wearing a sign that said “Get your red flags right here! Priced to sell!” and I wayyyyy overpaid. The problem is that when you wear rose colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags. I mean I married the guy AFTER I caught him over, and over, and over again stealing/mutilating my underwear, texts from escorts on his phone that he played off as wrong numbers. I pitied him, saw this as a cry for help. He was a good person battling some demons, he just had self esteem issues from a terrible childhood WTF was wrong with me?
Things seem great at the moment as we return to a routine. I feel guilty for discussing it with anyone. I avoid those that I have shared with because they know a truth now that I no longer want to accept.
I know you feel all out of sorts right now, but you are remarkably self aware. This feeling you're describing - of wanting to avoid people because they now know a truth that you would rather un-know - you need to lean into that. It's guiding you somewhere.
I'm going to relay a story that I don't think I've gone into depth about here. But it's about trusting your gut. And the levels of denial we can bring ourselves to in order to avoid cognitive dissonance. Including things like you mentioned above, avoiding people who know too much.
About a year and a half before we split, we were fighting a lot. The topics themselves don't really matter, they were kind of all over the place. But the gist was that I was asking him to a) be a responsible adult and not just go with every impulse and b) be more empathetic in his dealings with our daughters.
One night we got into a pretty heated argument over oldest DD and her latest acting out (grades, lying etc.). I was trying to convey to him that he needed to think before he spoke, and how the way he talked to her was counter-productive, because it made her feel ashamed and shut down. He called my parenting into question, threw around the "whatever, you don't know what you're talking about, you're not even their mom" crap, and a bunch of language about "we think ___" and "you treat us like ___" basically pitting the three of them against me. This was a typical argumentative tactic from him, to other me as an outsider. And I’ll give it to him, it was effective. I didn’t want to lose him, or the girls, and constantly reframing my asking for common decency as a me vs. them argument got me to “fall in line” to an extent.
I see your husband doing similar things - “Fine! Just take the house, you can have the kids!” and other nonsense like that to make you feel bad for him. To spin the situation as if you are the bad guy, he’s just the poor innocent victim of your desire to be treated like a human being, not a sex/love object or a mommy/authority figure. Deflection and projection are the name of the game with them. Remember that.
Now this is where my story gets icky. It’s not something I like to talk about, because it reveals some things about myself that I really don’t like. But I find that when I feel uncomfortable with something, that’s where the really good truth nuggets are buried. So here it goes.
The next morning I woke up to an anonymous note on my car. It was clearly written to my husband, but the author thought my car was his. The universe must have been looking out for me, because I can guarantee that if it had actually been left on my XH’s car instead of mine, he would have crumpled it up and thrown it away, never to be seen or discussed again.
Anyway, it was about a page long diatribe about what a piece of shit my XH was, that he was angry and mentally disturbed, and how his wife and children deserved better. It mentioned specific things about that argument that let me know that this was definitely someone who had overheard us, probably lived in the building.
When I found it, that feeling that something was very, very wrong hit my gut. And I couldn’t handle it. I knew this was the kind of thing that only happened to abused women. And I felt a little twinge of recognition in every word he wrote. But I couldn't handle that, the idea that I would fit into that "abused" category. I was not a battered wife! I was strong, and independent, and I always stood up for myself! I was embarrassed that this person viewed me as someone who needed defending. I could not reconcile who I thought myself to be - strong-willed, takes no shit, does not suffer fools - with who this letter “made me out to be” (It literally never mentioned me other than to say that I deserved better, it was all about my XH but in my head I turned it around to be about me). So instead of seeing the letter for the reality check that it was, I rebelled against it.
I set about rewriting the narrative. To be fair, it said absolutely nothing about me, it was all directed at my XH, but I inferred a lot because even though it hadn’t come to the surface yet, I knew deep down that I was living in an abusive, one-sided marriage, and this letter brought all of those deep feelings of shame bubbling to the surface. Even though the letter was clearly meant to disparage my XH, I took it as an attack on me - I was smart, too smart, to get into a relationship with an abuser, ergo this person is wrong, I’m not being abused. So the best way to twist it was to rewrite this whole interaction as if my XH wasn't abusive, this neighbor of ours was just crazy.
I went to bat for my XH. I immediately went to our landlord to have him go through camera footage so we could determine who left the note. The landlord then mediated a discussion between us where I basically told the guy that all couples fight, that I didn't need him to step in and try to be a knight in shining armor because I am strong and can stand up for myself. That my husband and I were just fine, and we didn’t need him to butt in. In so many words I told him to stay out of it and to leave us alone.
Then, I needed to justify it. Again, to avoid all of those feelings of shame. I told friends about the letter and the exchange. I worded it in such a way as to vilify the person leaving the note, and shine a light on myself as the tolerant, even-keeled, level-headed wife. The guy who left the note was just unstable and reactionary, we were actually quite evolved and could argue and come out the other side with a better understanding of the situation. [To be fair, the guy was super irrational and angry, and had been lashing out in other ways previously, so it wasn’t like he was just some good samaritan with no ulterior motives, but I can still recognize that I definitely did some mental gymnastics of my own.]
When I told my parents, I focused on how I had handled getting the landlord involved to review the camera footage, how I had given this neighbor a talking to. How I had been such a responsible adult in my response to this busy-body. I deflected whenever the content of the note itself was brought up. This person just needed to mind their own business.
I was pulling one over on myself. That feeling of recognition I got when reading the note? It was ugly. It made me feel so incredibly vulnerable, seen in all of the ways I didn’t want to be seen. I felt like I had been hiding it well enough. I had been managing his moods well enough. And yes, in a sick, twisted way I was proud of myself for figuring out the best way to manage his moods. Like I was playing a video game and had found the cheat codes.
Every time I stood my ground when he was irrationally angry it made me feel... I don't know... accomplished? Like I had found the combination of buttons and switches that made him act like a nice, normal person most of the time. It’s sick to say this, but I was addicted to the feel-goods I got from knowing him so well, from being able to predict how he would react in different situations. I imagine it’s similar to the adrenaline rush firefighters must get when they rush to put out a fire. They know all of the different ways to contain it, then they put that knowledge into action, and even with unpredictable, changing conditions and having to adjust their tactics, they are able to put the fire out successfully.
Now I know that this was me grasping at the illusion of control. Our H’s are the definition of a fire hazard, but we keep them around and wonder why everything keeps catching on fire. Sure most of the time you can put out small fires pretty quickly if you’re on top of it. We learn how to use all of the tools at our disposal to prevent the fires, and to put them out once they’ve been started.
The problem is, it really doesn't work that way. Even if I had discovered the magic fire extinguisher that could put out all of his bullshit, I couldn't possibly be with him all the time. These aren’t accidental fires, our H’s are the kind of people who go around flicking cigarettes onto dry brush without giving it a second thought. And it only takes one little spark to start a raging wildfire.
I know for a fact that he blew up at coworkers, cashiers, store employees etc. I stopped wanting to go with him out in public, because of the potential for him to start acting like an entitled jackass. When he spoke out of turn, or made an off color remark. Every time we did go somewhere together, I was on high alert to try to keep him in line. Not even really to spare myself the embarrassment, as I had pretty much gotten used to that, but to spare other people from his rage/unpredictability.
But even with all of his volatility I had a hard time seeing our relationship for what it was because of what I perceived that to say about who I am. I wasn’t acting like all of those other women who fawn all over their SOs, or do whatever their H wants to keep the peace. I told him off when he was being an asshole. I didn’t allow him to walk all over me. I wasn’t codependent, I was independent! Sure, he was shitting all over me, but I wasn’t taking it! I was steadfast, I didn’t take anybody’s shit. He was the storm, whirling around unpredictably and crashing into things. But I was the calm in the storm. Actually, I was the storm chaser who had figured out how to predict what was coming next, and how best to deal with it.
I know it’s hard to relay tone over the internet, but that is all in sarcastic air quotes. It’s true, I got really good at predicting it. At pointing out the flaws in his logic before the blow up even happened, which then helped mitigate the damage and blow back. Then when the blow ups did happen, I was a hard ass. I outlined exactly how he needed to speak to me, then walked away. If he blew up over the phone, I hung up. If he blew up over text, I would respond that I would only speak to him when he had calmed down, then stopped responding.
And it worked, in the moment. He would calm down and apologize profusely. I would calmly and rationally point out the ways in which his actions were hurtful, unhealthy etc. and then give suggestions for how to handle it better in the future. He would promise it wouldn’t happen again. And it wouldn’t, for a while. Until it did again. Lather, rinse, repeat. The increased length of time in between each blow up allowed me to feel like we were getting somewhere, when really he had just found other outlets for the bad attitude/behavior (meth is a helluva drug).
Turns out, just because you can predict the weather doesn’t mean you can control it. It just means that you’re better prepared for when it happens. You’re living in Tornado Alley. Even if it’s calm 75% of the time, you know firsthand the devastation that the other 25% can bring to your life, and the stress of waiting for that other shoe to drop can eat you alive. Sure I can install storm windows. I can buy an expensive shelter. I can invest in all the latest, greatest storm-tracking equipment. Be on constant alert for the slightest hint at a possible storm, ready to jump into action to mitigate the damage. But what kind of a life is that, constantly preparing for the next storm? Wouldn’t it be better to just move somewhere that doesn’t have tornadoes? How can we help you move somewhere that you get to live a tornado free existence?
Edited to add:
I want to clarify that this is not in any way meant to shame you or make you feel bad for not having left yet. We've all been in your shoes in some way or another, and it is unbelievable hard. It is not your fault that you live in Tornado Alley. And you should only leave when you feel safe to do so. We all just want to help you get to that safe place
Love to all! More responses to other parts of the thread later
[This message edited by HeHadADoubleLife at 11:39 AM, December 22nd (Tuesday)]