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The Vine: August 21, 2013

Submitted by on August 21, 2013 – 3:32 PM22 Comments


My friend Catherine (36) and her husband Scot (38) have been married for about a year and a half now. It is her first marriage and his third.

He has always been a mean, mood-swing-y, passive-aggressive arse but she loved the guy so I tried to be supportive. After they married, their relationship continued on its downward trajectory. About June last year, Scot started going to a city two hours away for work each week for several days. It started with him going from a Tuesday till Friday but after a few months the pattern ran thusly: come home Tuesday, pick fight with Cat Wednesday, leave for city Thursday, return home Tuesday. Lather, rinse, repeat.

To no one's great surprise, it turned out that he was having an affair with a woman in the city. Cat found this out by stealing his cell phone after seeing him entering his PIN onto his phone (he's never had a password before) and reading five months' worth of texts between him and the girlfriend. Worse, Cat had just found out that she is pregnant after Scot had had a reverse-vasectomy and in the texts between him and Sasha, it came out that Sasha got pregnant at about the same time as Cat but had subsequently had an abortion. The texts were awful, ranging from flat-out lies about Cat to apparently quite hardcore sexting (while Cat was downstairs making him his goddamned dinner, every night he was home he was upstairs in the bathroom whacking it to his tiny heart's content).

So Cat leaves him and moves in with her parents. Scot is furious with her, angry that she walked away from their marriage. No remorse or guilt from his side at all. Divorce proceedings are initiated by Cat. Scot tells Cat the affair is over. Cat is devastated about all of it. And then I don't know what the fuck. He leaves to go live in the city, has now changed his mind and is moving back because, again, he wants to work on their marriage. She is considering it and has not proceeded with the divorce. It is terrifying that she would allow that "man" back into her life. I know he's always going to be a factor because he is the kid's father but I really wish he had just fucked off to Sasha and left Cat alone. She keeps saying, "But he's my husband and the father of my child," and I just want to smack her and say, "He's not even human."

I don't know how to support her in this. Which is my question to you (and your readers): how do I support her? She knows that everyone wants him out of her life. She knows he is pathological and narcissistic and will likely never change. He is horrible, in a word. And yet, there she is.

I know she has to make her own decisions and live with the consequences thereof. But what do I do? Continue to be a shoulder to cry on and wait for inevitable atomic bomb of a fuck-up this is all heading for? Because at the moment it feels like that is all I can do and it's killing me. Help, please.

If I Could Get Away With Murder, There Wouldn't Be An Issue

Dear Murder,

Well, you know, there's no telling anybody anything. Emotionally speaking, he's hardly a husband, and he doesn't really want to "work on their marriage" — he wants to win, by which I mean he wants to get away with it, or end the marriage on his own terms and not because Cat finally grew a couple of vertebrae. You know all that, I know all that, anyone who's seen a daytime soap knows all that, but all Cat sees is 1) the looming specter of single parenthood, coupled with an adversarial relationship with Daddy Dearest over there, and 2) that it's somehow less humiliating if they "work things out." She's not in a headspace where he's the pathetic one, which is natural; that takes a while. But it's not a headspace she can get to as a result of anyone telling her, "He's the pathetic one, don't throw good years after bad," e.g.
In other words, if by "support her," you mean "get her to see reason," you can't, really. If you mean letting her know you're there for her, do that. Say, in so many words, "I'm here for you. I can't imagine what you must be going through, and I'm here for you."
But it doesn't necessarily mean providing a silent shoulder to cry on, either. No, telling her that Scot is a twat may not change her mind, but you can also tell her, "Look, I'm here for you, and I understand that it's a very complicated situation and it's not my life, but I have to tell you that I think Scot is a fucking terrible person. I won't stop being your friend if you guys get back together, but I can't and won't pretend I think it's a good idea." I think sometimes we confuse "supportive" with "in agreement," and you can be one and not the other; looked at another way, I don't think it's terribly supportive to keep your feelings about Scwat to yourself.

You do support Cat, and the kid, and you have compassion for the difficulties here — and her contemplating giving Scwat a second chance is at odds with all of those. I don't see any harm in saying as much, and you don't have to plant your feet and declaim it or anything; you can mention it when it comes up, and hope she understands that wanting the best for her does not mean co-signing emotionally self-destructive decisions. And she may not, and she may never figure out that he's a fuckwad, but that isn't your job…just like it isn't your job to pretend her choices in this regard couldn't use any work. Get clear on that distinction for yourself, and to her, for right now.

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  • attica says:

    I just finished reading a very illuminating book on this kind of mental gymnastics, awesomely entitled Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), which describes what-all we go through to prevail against our cognitive dissonances. Cat sees herself as a good person, and a good person wouldn't marry Scwat in the first place, ergo the marriage with Scwat must be Worth Saving. Which is nuts, no doubt. But she'll double down before she comes around.

    We see that Scwat is already rewriting his mental script in those awful texts, so that'll keep happening. He has to be the hero, she has to be either the villain or the spoils of war, sometimes both within the same conversation.

    I recommend this book. I don't think there's a way you can short-circuit the process for Cat, but sometimes it's helpful to know a great deal of it neurological.

  • ferretrick says:

    At the end of the day, you can't do much-she's an adult, she's going to do what she's going to do. But no, you don't have to sit silent and pretend to like Scwat (bravo, Sars)-being supportive does not mean endorsing her choices. But lecturing isn't going to work either-so if you've been doing that stop. When you are dealing with someone with as low self esteem as Cat obviously has if she would come back for more of this treatment, lecturing is just going to make her shut down and shut you out. You'll just be one more person making her feel worse about herself. You can tell her, "look, hon, I think this is Very Bad Idea Pants, but I'll be here for you regardless."

    Another tack, and maybe you've already tried this. When she spouts off about him being the father of her child, ask her if she really thinks this guy is fatherhood material. Is this really the example she wants for her kid? If it's a boy, does she want him to learn this is an acceptable way to treat the woman you love? If it's a girl, does she want her to grow up and pick a similar sort of man for herself?

  • M says:

    Cat married him in the first place, and someone who marries a "mean, mood-swing-y, passive-aggressive arse", is not completely healthy to start with.
    It's important to recognize that your friend has issues that predate the affair and pregnancy. She is being consistent in her relationship with her husband.

    Consider Scot as a symptom of your friend's problems, not the only cause. It wouldn't hurt for Cat to have some counseling, especially with a kid in the picture.

    It's tough, but your friend has choices and is making the ones she wants to, for whatever reasons. (Sounds like a combo of low self respect and the Sunk Cost Fallacy.) She is getting something out of her decisions. You can support her and the baby and not support the choices.

  • LSol says:

    I was Cat. There wasn't pregnancy involved, and my ex got up to a slightly different brand of shenanigans, but he was still a jackhole.

    I went back because I had to know I was making the right choice by leaving (and boy did I get that lesson hammered home). I needed to know that the failure wasn't solely mine, because that's how I felt – like a failure – because I couldn't make my marriage work. I knew, intellectually, it takes two, but my emotions weren't there.

    To mis-quote Mark Twain – a man who holds a cat by the tail will learn something he can learn no other way. I had to have my turn with that cat. Friend Cat may be the same way. (Ugh, sorry about the inadvertent punnery.)

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Oh, Sunk-Cost Fallacy. How you guided my romantic life for lo those many years.

  • MinglesMommy says:

    I work for divorce lawyers. I see this every day.

    Scot is not going to change (there's a reason he's on his 3rd marriage). If anything, his behavior will only get worse. He is, as "Murder" says, narcissistic and pathological; he takes no responsibility for what he's done (and it's pretty bad) and now he's holding on to Catherine for some reason even though its obvious he loves no one but himself.

    As has already been said, the only thing "Murder" can do is be there for Catherine. Catherine has to make her own choices. But the reality is that her husband's a bad guy, and he's going to be a bad father. I hope she finds the strength to walk away, even though she'll never really be rid of him because now they'll have a child together.

    Best wishes to Catherine and to "Murder". I know how Murder feels; I have a long list of crap dads and husbands (and a few wives!).

  • Eggs says:

    A couple of years ago, I could have been Catherine. Heck, look at June 2009 and you'll see the vine letter where I was (the emotional abuse got worse post-letter, and I didn't find out about the affair until after the divorce).

    Here's the thing: there's this strange way where everyone hating on the douchcanoe in your life is not helpful, because it puts you in this weird spot where you feel like you have to defend him, even when you know it's bad. You still married the guy, and clearly he's not 100% awful all the time (or at least wasn't at one point), and constantly hearing everyone bash on him makes it feel like you suck, for falling for it, and also feels not entirely true, because hey! There were those good times, back when! and you end up defending him, which further makes you feel like you can't pack up and move out because you were just saying he wasn't that bad.

    Sars' advice is, per usual, excellent. Don't give in to rants about what an asshat this guy is (unless it's a bashing session C started and is into, in which case follow her lead), but do – absolutely do – say hey, I love you, I support you, I will support you regardless of what you decide, but I don't think you sound happy here. And let her express her fears – I grew up in a very Marriage Is Forever house, and was petrified of What People Would Think, but it took me some real talking to realize that was some of my problem, and that it was ok for me to do what I needed to do to be happy.

    Cathrine is looking at adding a kid to the mix, and I can't even imagine – it could well be that concerns about single parenting is making him look more attractive. There's a weird, ooky comfort in the misery you know, while the unknown potential misery is scary. When you're really low, it's really hard to risk making things worse.

    I can't speak for Catherine, of course, but for myself: divorce was a great move, and I'm really happy now. It's scary and expensive and traumatic and still somehow kind of shameful feeling (not that it should be, it just was for me), but it was the right thing. I hope she cuts bait, and things get better.

  • Brie says:

    I think the crucial thing here is that there's already one child that they have together, and I don't know if the letter has been edited but that's definitely under-emphasised. In the best case scenario, this man spent almost all of his time away to escape from his marriage. In the worse, he spent almost all of his time away to have an affair. With both of them the real kicker is this: HE HAS A CHILD AT HOME.

    If she's talking about going back to him based on their child, then this needs teasing out. He may be 'the father of her child' but whether he is acting as that child's father should is a very, very different question and one which – as far as the letter presents – seems to be leading to a resounding N.O.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    The letter wasn't really edited except for punctuation etc. I think the situation is that she is pregnant with their first child (conceived at the same time as the mistress's; the mistress terminated the pregnancy).

  • Jane says:

    Pumping up the volume on Mingles Mommy's comment–the "out of her life" ship has sailed with the production of the kid. Whether she reconciles or not, she's co-parenting with this guy for eighteen years, and it's a disservice to the kid (and a serious risk to one's own custody) to try to cut the lunkhead out of the kid's life on simple lunkheadedness grounds. That's something to keep in mind as a friend too–that to support Catherine as a parent involves acknowledging her dealing with this guy, and doing so for a long time, even if they do divorce, and that there's going to be a kid who deserves better than to hear his father, the person who contributed half of what this child is, being trashed. Maybe less focus on purging the taint of Scot and more on how Catherine is awesome and can be okay, and there are a lot of ways to be okay.

  • LSol says:

    Another comment to say I feel what Eggs is saying re: not helpful opinions. When I was going through my separation/reconciliation/separation, I began to hate hearing others' opinions about marriage. It didn't matter if they thought I should stay, if I should go, if they were relating a completely irrelevant to my marriage opinion, I didn't want to hear it. I wanted the outside noise to stop so I could figure it out for myself.

    It was the hardest thing I ever went through, even harder than losing a loved one to death. It was for the better, I knew it was for the better at the time, but nobody could make that decision but me, and nobody had to live with my decision but me.

    This squared for Cat, because she has someone else who also has to live with her decision. A much more vulnerable someone else.

  • RobinP says:

    Wow, I could be Murder right now. My cousin just left her husband. No one ever really liked the guy, and now that she's making noises about divorce, the general family consensus is that he is pretty much poison, and the root of all evil. Which, in turn, pushes her into a defensive, BUT I LOVE HIM posture that helps no one. And, after all, she did marry him, he did father her children, so she saw something there even if no one else did.

    So anyway, what I'm finding helps right now is to be the shoulder, but with concrete suggestions. I ask her to make a list of changes she'd like to see if she decides to take him back. I ask her how she's visualizing custody. In other words, I'm trying to tow the line between hardcore and doormat, and I think for her it's working, at least a little.

  • Krista says:

    I have written many letters to The Vine in my head about my sister that could have been signed "If I Could Get Away With Murder, There Wouldn't Be An Issue."

    It's a similar situation. It is tricky to support a person without seeming to give approval to the choices she is making. It is especially difficult when kids are involved. It is frustrating and you will have many arguments with an empty passenger seat while driving home after a visit to her.
    My sister has improved her situation, some, but we kind of feel like Charlie Brown and she is Lucy holding the football and maybe THIS time.

  • Murder says:

    Murder, here.

    Thanks you, Sars, and everyone else for all your very valuable and appreciated advice. The "I love you, I love your kid, I do not love your husband but I am here whenever you need me" approach makes absolute sense. I guess the hatred I have for that douche just wouldn't let me be sensible.

    Kat is about ready to pop (she's having a boy) and she and Scwat (ha) are still "working on" their marraige. Which so far seems to consist of him coming up with reasons why he doesn't think counselling is necessary and stirring shit between Kat and her sister. At least she hasn't let him move back in with her, though.

    Man, this situation is the worst. I'll continue to be a friend as best I can and silently pray that Scwat (hee) dies in a tragic killer bee attack. Or something.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Sighhh…the second I read "38 and on his third marriage" I was "okay." Third marriage at 38? The problem isn't the spouses.

    I agree with Sars (of course) that you don't have to shoulder the rage and disappointment about this entire clusterfuck for Cat, even when you feel helpless and not being a "good friend" for just saying "I am here I am here I am here" five thousand times. And you don't have to pretend you ever liked Scwat to make her feel better, or try to fix anything financially (I mean, of course you won't leave her and the baby to wander the snowy moors, but resist the temptation to overmanage her financial life if you have any leanings that way.)

    Remember, not only is Cat in a FUBAR of a marriage, she's also hormonally zonked from the baby. She's going to be tossed about like a paper doll in a hurricane for a while–just grit your teeth and provide a butterfly net to catch her.

  • Maria says:

    Murder, odds are Scott will find somebody else when he sees how absorbed she is in her baby when he's born. Even great marriages struggle when a little interloper comes to stay. I think it's good that Cat hasn't let him move back in. She may be in a better spot than you think. I also think that her age and desire to be a mother have really fanned the flames here. She probably felt like this was her one shot, so maybe she's happy that she succeeded on that level even if the marriage didn't pan out in any other way. Being married at the time of the birth helps with paternity for child support if it comes to that, unless he wants to contest it which he surely won't want to spend the money on.

    Support your friend as a mother and let the chips fall with her so-called marriage.

  • Anon says:

    Having been the one with a terrible marriage that everyone else in my sphere recognized as doomed, I can attest to the fact that Cat will have to come to this sad realization on her own and in her own time. It's another sort of gestation, and you can't force it; it has to grow at its own pace. And this will help to steel her resolve, when the time to push does (inevitably?) come, that it was her own decision and not something she was forced, cajoled, nagged, or otherwise coaxed into by well-meaning friends and family. That'll help it stick.

    That said, having also been the friend of the girl with the terrible relationship that I recognized as doomed, I'd like to add to the above advice to tell you to give yourself permission to step off this roller coaster if and when you ever feel supporting her through this miserable relationship has become unhealthy for you. I know how hard it is to watch someone you love get hurt over and over again, and the associated drama intruded on my life in big and small ways – actual nightmares, phone calls at work, phone calls in the middle of the night. I worried for and about her a great deal. It went on for 10 years…an apparently never-ending cycle of anger, frustration, support…celebration (it's over!), and disappointment (he's back). Eventually I had to cut ties for my own sanity. I still miss her, and still love her, and still think of her…and I sometimes feel like a terrible person for abandoning her…but ultimately I'm glad I let myself leave (especially as it has been 10+ years on now and they are still together, I'm sad to say).

    In other words, don't forget to always be your own friend first.

  • Cora says:

    I wonder if Cat is hoping that The Baby will be the magic bullet that turns him into a human being and solves everything. It's possible to be really smart, self-respecting person and still hold onto incredibly dumb ideas like that.

    I also understand that she is looking at parenthood and doesn't want to go it alone, but: she IS going to go it alone. The guy is a fuckwad. Does anyone who knows him see him as the kind of guy who will step up the way all parents have to? It doesn't seem likely. If anything, I worry that having to deal with such a douche will take necessary energy away from good baby-raising.

    If she brings it up, there has to be a respectful but sugarfree way to tell her that she IS, right now, a single parent, and needs to look to other resources. Of which there can be quite a few even if family is not in the area. Maybe concentrating on planning for baby care will get her to a mindspace where she can let go of the wretched lifesucker.

  • Maria says:

    Maybe she'll be like the lead character in that movie Waitress, and when the baby is born, have an epiphany and toss her man out. Got Netflix? ;o)

  • Also Anon for this one says:

    Murder, I have to reiterate what Anon says above; make sure to draw your own boundaries too. One of my closest friends is in this kind of push and pull relationship and has been for many years. She seems to thrive on the drama of big catastrophic breakups followed by somewhat shameful reconciliations. It got to the point where I couldn't even talk to her about it, because on a Tuesday I'd be agreeing with her that he was treating her poorly and she deserved better, and on Thursday I'd be persona non grata because she'd repeat what I said to him when they got back together. If you can walk that fine line for now and try and keep from getting dragged down, do it, but please do remember to protect yourself. There are people who are otherwise wonderful friends who are addicted to drama because they think it's "romantic."

  • Nikki says:

    Murder – is Cat going to solo therapy? That's something you can probably convince her to try – to "work on" her marriage. Once a professional hears about Scwat, they will almost certainly coach her out of the relationship. A therapist would also have the best advice and offer her the best plan to leave the relationship and to co-parent with minimized aggro.

  • Turbonium says:

    "She seems to thrive on the drama of big catastrophic breakups followed by somewhat shameful reconciliations."

    I recall reading here, maybe Sars said it: Some people just love being talked down off the ledge.

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