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Survivor Series: Breaking Free

~Continued from Survivor Series: Drowning in Infidelity and Emotional Abuse~

It had been almost a year and a half of the lies, the half-truths, and the manipulation. I started to forget what it felt like to be happy. Peace of mind or stability? They didn't exist for me.

In February of 2020, my husband resigned from his job to begin working closer to home. After finishing the old job, he asked if we could go for a drive. I could tell that meant bad news. As we were driving, he told me he had continued to stay close to three of his female coworkers. The relationships that he described as "very close" had gone on for the past year and a half! They had exchanged birthday cards and gifts. They went on drives and ate lunch together at work. As if that wasn't enough, they even got matching tattoos.

I guess I should not have been shocked, but I was. In affair recovery, they teach that there should always be full disclosure when it comes to friendships with the opposite sex. Alone time, gifts, and matching tattoos are entirely inappropriate. And my husband wasn't apologizing as he gave me this information; he was angry, accusatory, and spiteful.

To make matters worse, he told me he was going to continue these friendships- whether I liked it or not. They were meaningful to him, and he had no intention of ending them. He told me he was unhappy at home and that his escape was work where he “laugh[ed] to the point of tears." Apparently, I wasn't enough for him.

But he still wanted to stay married to me. He wanted the status of having a wife without the responsibility of keeping his vows. I could have left him then, but because of the trauma bond, I put up with those "friendships" for the next three weeks. Deep down, I felt like I had just given my husband permission to cheat. My heart was shattered.

My husband no longer went to marriage counseling with me, but I continued to see a counselor on my own. After one of my individual sessions, I decided I couldn’t keep lying to myself. I was not okay with those friendships- specifically with the female that he shared a tattoo with. I knew I was allowing him to cross one of my boundaries. So I was bold and expressed that concern to him. He became angry and stormed off, giving me the silent treatment. I tried talking it through with him and all he would do was laugh in my face.

I finally asked him, point-blank, "Are you going to continue these friendships even though I'm not comfortable with them?" I already knew the answer, but the tiny part of me that wanted to save our marriage hoped he would say no. He said yes. He left that night and met up with one of the females to complain about my reaction. It had happened plenty of times before, but this time felt different. I felt stronger. I felt empowered. I felt like I had a voice. Two days later, I asked him to leave. Two days after that, I put a retainer down for an attorney. Eight days later, I filed for divorce.

No one wants to go through a divorce. This certainly isn’t the story I wanted for myself, and I won’t pretend it was easy. I hit rock bottom that day I first called my attorney. It was a kind of emotional pain that I had never experienced before. Words can’t even describe it. It was like labor pains to the heart. But every day since, I have taken another step out of the pit I was in. Every day that passed, I became stronger; I felt my confidence returning. I felt brave. I started experiencing joy. I started laughing again. It was almost euphoric.

I continued on my path of healing by going to individual therapy. Once outside the situation, I could recognize my ex-husband's narcissistic behavior, as well as the emotional abuse. I realized that I had experienced the classic narcissistic abuse cycle: idealization, devaluation, and discard.* He used common narcissist mind games: gaslighting, blame-shifting, manipulation, silent treatment, and tantrums. But because these tactics were so gradual, I couldn’t identify them as abuse in the moment.

My therapist diagnosed me with CPTSD,** a condition that made clear thinking nearly impossible. It took leaving- and escaping his manipulative control- to see the world as I should. Therapy allowed me to process the trauma and accept that it was not my fault. Reflecting back on the experience helped me identify his abusive behaviors. Only then could I understand how the trauma bond made it so difficult to leave.

When I first started my journey through affair recovery, all I heard was “marriage is hard, but divorce is harder.” “Counseling is expensive, but divorce is more expensive.” “You made a vow, for better or for worse.” I convinced myself that success meant healing TOGETHER through affair recovery. Together we could talk through what had happened. Together we could create a solution. Together we could work for a better, stronger marriage. But after a year and a half of healing "together," I realized I was the only one trying. And as I worked on my own healing, on educating myself on marriage and healthy relationships, I knew ours couldn't have that outcome. I realized I am only responsible for my own actions. Marriage requires effort from BOTH parties.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, this message is for you: Success isn’t necessarily staying together. It’s not necessarily getting a stronger marriage and becoming mentors for other people. Divorce is ok. Sometimes that’s the only positive outcome and that’s ok. That is YOUR choice. It is up to YOU- and only YOU- whether you want to stay in the marriage. And if you don’t, that’s ok. You are not a failure. You are not your spouse’s actions. You are not a burden. You are not ugly. You are beautiful. You are worthy. You are deserving. You WILL be ok. Healing takes time, but it will come.

If you need help with an abusive relationship, please call us at 1.800.382.5603 or text IOWAHELP to 20121.  Our advocates are here to help you and support your decisions.  

*Read more about the Cycle of Narcissism at https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/idealize-devalue-discard-the-dizzying-cycle-of-narcissism-0325154 .

*** Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD, sometimes abbreviated to c-PTSD or CPTSD) is a condition where you experience some symptoms of PTSD along with some additional symptoms, such as: difficulty controlling your emotions. feeling very hostile or distrustful towards the world.