I’ll preface by saying my marriage was once incredibly dysfunctional. Neither of us were capable of taking responsibility for our choices or feelings and we got stuck in this cycle of happy for a little while followed by increasing isolation followed by explosive fighting followed my short lived happiness and promises to do better.
It was bad. Really bad.
Last fall he met someone and per an agreement to open up if the right person came along, he began seeing them. The transition was a lot for me. Some of it was jealousy. Some of it was poor communication skills and non-existent boundaries and some of it was that his other partner was a lying liar that lies. I’m not going to go into the grisly details, but due to the fact that his partner whole cloth wove tales of emotional and physical abuse at home and did a lovely job playing the victim, he was constantly enmeshed in “rescuing” her. Meanwhile, my mental health was deteriorating. And yet as I got sicker and needed him more she pushed back with more manipulative lies to grab his attention all the while whispering in his ear that my clearly stated needs were manipulative, passive aggressive and attention seeking and that when I begged him to check me into the psych ward it wasn’t that I was suicidal, I was just trying to screw with their relationship.
He hurt me a great deal, but has taken responsibility for that. We have worked through many of our issues as a couple and are happier and stronger and more at peace with each other than we’ve ever been.
She hurt me a great deal (mostly using him as a proxy) but before we went no contact, she point blank refused to acknowledge how her lies and manipulations effected the landscape and how much they drew my primary partner away from me when I was desperately ill and furthermore continued to play the victim except now my partner and I were her abusers instead of the people she lived with.
I have not forgiven her. I don’t know that I can forgive her. But I can’t stop thinking about it and rehashing it and talking about it and fuming about it. I can’t stop and neither can he. He’s grieving the relationship. I respect that.
I’m grieving the loss of six months where all I could do was cling to the skin of my life and deal, slowly with my own shit. I did. I got into therapy and DBT and I’m a lot better overall. Except for the anger.
Or should I say ANGER.
But I want to let it go. I want to move on. How do I do that? Is it even possible?
Yes, it is very clear from your letter that you harbour a lot of anger and to my mind it is out of proportion with what’s going on. Yet I totally sympathize. I would like you to consider that the extremity of your anger which you currently direct at other people, is a reflection of
- A healthy anger response but also of
- ‘Legacy’ anger you feel from similar triggering events in the past–probably suppressed, and also
- Anger you suppress towards yourself.
All three combine to make your anger far more intense than it would otherwise have been (the healthy anger response). In interpersonal relationships it is far easier to direct all these components outwards than it is to take responsibility for our own experience or re-examine those wounds from the past. I’m not criticising you, even if I believe you might see my response as an attack, simply saying that out of an unconscious desire to protect ourselves our minds usually do this thing where we attribute all fault, blame and anger outwards–usually towards what or who we believe is current locus of the problem–over directing it to where the responsibility really belongs. Getting angry at ourselves and re-examining wounds is to reveal our own vulnerability which we feel directly undermines our own survival so it’s usually more preferable to be angry at others.
Anger is a powerful emotion in our arsenal which we use for our survival and to protect ourselves; it stems from our own sense of powerlessness. Even minor frustrations come from the fact that you can’t change something which you believe will make your life better e.g. hurry someone along, persuade them to answer your email or get that lightbulb fixed. But this isn’t a minor annoyance; your metamour’s and husband’s relationship revealed to you how utterly powerless you were to take care of your own needs.
From what I read, I surmise that you were unable to use the survival mechanisms that once served you in your dysfunctional codependent relationship once your new metamour came into the picture. You were used to being rescued and then someone else came along and ‘stole’ your rescuer using all the tactics you also use (yes, that’s the way I see it). No wonder you were angry; you were frightened and fighting for your survival over the ‘scarce resource’–your rescuer husband. You played the cards the way you had traditionally done, by entering into victim mode. I believe your metamour was right; you were attention seeking as you became locked in a battle to the death with her, who by all accounts was doing exactly the same thing (you can both be right here). The reason you saw very clearly what she was doing was because she was your mirror. Both of you unconsciously trying to manipulate the situation by trying to get your needs met by a man who chose to put himself in the middle. You became ill out of the worry, stress and most probably also in an attempt to ‘win’ the game. Your life and your very survival was threatened.
But playing the victim is not a game, despite the vocabulary I use; it is a serious but usually unconscious attempt to survive by getting others to meet our needs. These patterns are rooted in our childhood experiences when we did need others to meet our needs. As adults less so. You are NOT to blame for playing the victim, but neither is she. By the by, your husband most likely has a ‘type’ and rescues in order to feel good about himself in order to survive and this is also likely to be subconscious and rooted in his formative years… however how he chooses his unconscious survival mechanisms is his business, not yours and he is not to blame either. The way she chose to survive, whether by lying, manipulation or emotional blackmail is also not your business. And occupying yourself with others mistakes is only preventing you from tending to your own business. You are all responsible for the creation of this dynamic.
I believe you are in denial. You are unconsciously clinging to your excessive anger to avoid taking charge of your own life and your own needs (and anger does a splendid job of preventing you from doing so by blaming everyone else); however the most sustainable solution to your problem is examine why her behaviour activates you so much–it will lie in your past unhealed experiences–as well as where and why you participated in the creation of this relationship. Dig deep, try to take responsibility for your own actions and emotions (but no one else’s).
So what happens when do this? Possibly a horrible realization of the mistakes we all make and the reveal of low self-esteem (which is why most people refuse to blame themselves, it’s too ugly, too painful)… unless you can also feel compassion for everything you are. Mistakes are human. Anger is human. Manipulation is human. Playing the victim is human. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive not to make reparations though. Having compassion for oneself is the mark of high self-esteem which you do not have right now. So it’s gonna be a big work.
My response no doubt feels harsh, but please know that we’ve all played the victim. Some of us to extremes, myself included. You are not a bad person; you are just trying to survive, like the rest of us. But the ways that you use to try and survive are not the ones which serve you or your relationships best.
I envisage a lot of joyful and painful work for you as you change the way you think about things. It will rock your world and transform your relationships. And even though I have helped many, the extent of the work you have before you is far beyond my capabilities. Don’t be scared by it, you have the opportunity to change your life now… or would you rather remain where you are? Your choice. I suggest that you start by having a look at Katie Byron’s work. As she so succinctly puts it,
Forgiveness is realizing that what you thought happened, didn’t.
PS. If you’ve read any of my books, you will recognise that The Husband Swap was written very much in the mood you are in now, and that the companion guide ‘Lessons’ was written 7 years later after I’d gone through a similar journey to the one I’m suggesting you go on now. You can buy them in the compilation A World in Us.