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A Crucible of Heartbreak

My name isn’t Harry. My wife’s name isn’t Demi. I’m writing this on December 4, 2017. I’ve changed the names to protect the innocent. And the guilty.

I’ve walked through a kind of Hell no one should ever have to go through. Ever. My married life was driven so far beyond the point of normalcy that now, even I can hardly believe I tolerated it for as long as I did. While in the throes of the most egregious verbal, mental, and emotional abuse imaginable, I was forced to find the strength and courage to repress a panoply of emotions—anger, fear, hurt, even pity and compassion—to act firmly and decisively, and put an end to the absurdity. I had to draw a line in the sand. For me and my children, it was a crucible of heartbreak.

This is my story.

In the spring of 2017, I made the difficult decision to end a twenty-one year relationship. My wife and I have two children, aged 10 and 13. They’re both boys—intelligent, thoughtful, polite—the results, I think, of me being the primary contact parent for nearly fourteen years. Sadly, for the children, that’s going to change. But they know I was a dedicated, balanced, kind, and attentive father. No amount of manipulation is going to change that.

There were good reasons for me being the primary parent, not least among them my own strong Irish Catholic, family-oriented background. It differed markedly from that of my wife, whose childhood family life was likely abusive—her father left when she was very young—and in constant disarray.

Although our property settlement assigned me more than fifty percent of the marital assets, I failed to attain more than fifty percent custody of the children.

Not for lack of trying. No one in the family law system, it seemed, was willing to step up and make the call to designate me as the primary parent without some kind of “smoking gun,” like a DUII, or drug arrest—or a domestic violence conviction. I understand the reticence—assigning the children to one or the other parent assumes a huge amount of responsibility for children still in their formative years. What if you picked the wrong parent? I’d probably shy away from that decision, too. But having fifty percent custody is now unfortunate, because I’m contemplating a long-distance relocation, and I’m not sure how that’s going to work. The children would be much better off with me, surrounded by my large extended family. However, I predict Demi will fight to keep the boys for most of the year. Anything else, to an outside observer, would look like she’d “lost” the children to me. And in her world, that just wouldn’t be tolerable. What happens to the kids, in the mean time, doesn’t really matter. Not to her, anyway.

Presently, we own a nice house together in an affluent neighborhood. Demi is trying to scare up enough money to buy out my half of our estate. Her motivation is clear—I literally threw her out of the house with restraining orders last March. A judge then affirmed that, allowing me to retain the property and the bulk of the time with the children. My Petition for Divorce cited three main causes for the action: (a) her excessive use of alcohol and/or drugs; (b) being a disengaged, absent parent; and (c) serial infidelity, of which I held indelible proof. Demi launched a bloody backlash, and even tried to have me declared in contempt of court twice. Both efforts failed. Now she’s clawing to get it all back—the appearances, I mean. It’s important to her that to outsiders, it’s made to look like she “won” the divorce, like her unacceptably bad behavior was somehow vindicated or exonerated. I’m going to let her have that, although there is no defense for her behavior. She was shown to be lacking in conscience, empathy, shame, impulse control, and basic human decency. She was selfish, malicious, and vile. Demi repeatedly demonstrated an absence of the wisdom, maturity, and moral acumen to instill good values in our two male offspring. She was dysfunctional, and behaved with insufficient integrity to continue acting as a maternal role model. It took me a while to recognize it for what it was, and that contributed to a year—367 days—of conflict in our household before I put an end to it.

In a divorce, there are no winners. Only losers—and in ours, those who’ll lose the most are the children. Especially with her fighting over them like they’re possessions, not people. Her sudden interest in the children is all about outward appearances. That disturbs me because her behavior is, at its core, morally wrong, and I expect that to continue. Either way, it’s not good for the children. At the ages of 10 and 13, they’re still developing. They need both paternal and maternal role models. But despite what she may say, Demi has clearly demonstrated she doesn’t care about that. I’m not worried what the children think of me; they know what I brought to the game. I was always the Pillar in their lives. Meanwhile, she was free to do whatever she pleased, and I enabled that. My bad.

Everything Demi does is about outward appearance. The people and things with which she surrounds herself have all become integral parts of her fake persona. What she wears, what she drives, where she lives, what she drinks, and so on.

My suspicions were piqued when I first attended a group for men in abusive relationships in early 2017. After two hours, I was overcome with a powerful sense of commonality among all the men present, me included. At the next session, the group organizer, a family therapist with a background in psychology, began introducing concepts like “borderline,” “histrionic,” and “narcissistic” personality disorders. I was immediately alarmed—I recognized too many behaviors and characteristics. I’d already had a strong sense that something at the core of my wife was very wrong or even missing. And that’s what spurred me to begin further research.

Betrayal & The Unmasking

I initiated divorce proceedings against Demi in late March 2017 after 367 days of sheer hell. I documented my experience in detail, and learned a few things along the way. Once I’d unmasked her true self, everything changed immediately, and she became downright vicious. Once I knew the truth, she had no further reason to maintain the charade. So she didn’t. It was as simple as that.

In the spring of 2016, Demi began living a life of absentee parenting, frequent late-night partying, and heavy alcohol use. And probably other drugs, too. These were risky and dangerous behaviors. I was gripped by a constant fear she’d hit someone while driving intoxicated, because many of the establishments she visited after work were in parts of town with large pedestrian and bicycle zones. My concerns worsened when I learned she was slipping out of the office during the day in favor of taverns and infidelity. The prudence of my fears was further underscored the day I took her car to Paul, a Portland Audi specialist, who told me he needed to replace the passenger-side front wheel bearings. Paul then asked if the vehicle had sustained an impact, because, he explained, the mileage was “far too low for the bearings to go bad on their own.” My fears were highlighted again one evening when Demi called me from the Interstate Bridge too drunk to speak clearly. I asked her to pull off the road and wait for me, but instead, as I listened, she vomited red wine into her lap and the instrument panel, and kept driving homeward. To this day, it’s a wonder she never got pulled over.

I frequently objected to Demi’s absence from our family life, as well as her behavior and judgment. When I did, she’d predictably fly into a rage. One day in particular, she began shrieking with the pitch and volume of a train whistle. You know—the piercing kind of scream that could peel the skin off your comfort level about the sanity and balance of your life partner. “YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY!!!” I’d simply asked where she was going, and to please explain her whereabouts the night before. The entire night before. “I owe you nothing.” So grandiose was her sense of entitlement.

In March 2016, Demi had entered into a brand new relationship with “Jake Oliphant,” a male co-worker. I’ve nicknamed him “Beavis.” I believe Beavis had become her enabler with regard to drugs and alcohol. I was never able to identify specifically which drugs she was ingesting, other than edible marijuana, wIMG_6688_LI (2)hich she admitted, but I’d sometimes see text messages on the face of her phone featuring a small yellow-and-red “pill” emoticon with cryptic text. The motif appeared enough times to raise my concerns. Demi’s erratic behaviors seemed to be the result of more than a couple of triple Ketel One-and-soda cocktails. My process of discovery also yielded irrefutable proof that she and Beavis would separately slip out of the office in the afternoon, only to rendezvous for drinks at dive bars where no fellow employees were likely to show. Nearby places, like Crackerjacks, Joe’s Cellar, Nob Hill. Then they’d return to the office before close of business. She always drove, and was careful to let him out of the vehicle far enough from the office to conceal their secret. I know that because I saw on-line credit card transactions, and we even experienced a “near miss” one day when I innocently showed up downtown at lunchtime—Beavis had to jump out of the car a block from her office.

Often they drank at the office as well, and I’d seen proof of that, too, in text messages. After work, other bars furnished a meet-up venue. The Marathon Taverna, Broadway Bar & Grill, Maui’s, Vendetta, and many others. Demi appeared to be kiting funds from her generous corporate expense allowance, or simply using family funds, to pay for her illicit outings. Sex probably came afterward, just before she got on her way home to her doting husband and children. What a lovely picture. Demi always seemed to be doing the paying, which made her activities with Beavis ridiculously easy to track.

On average, Demi was absent from our home and family life for fourteen to sixteen hours per day—and often more. By the late spring of 2016, she’d begun returning home from “work” thoroughly inebriated on a regular basis. If she returned home at all, that is. If she wasn’t already with Beavis after work, he’d pressure her for a “drive-by” to his North Portland abode. When she stayed out all night, she’d sneak in just before five o’clock in the morning, being sure to allow the boys to see her when they awoke. It’s all about appearances, remember? But Eldest knew something very wrong was going on.

At the outset, I didn’t know what the hell was wrong with Demi, but I knew normal people don’t treat their significant others the way I was being treated.

The situation began to get out of hand by the end of 2016. Beavis committed two acts of harassment in separate jurisdictions against me and my elderly father on December 22, 2016, and February 4, 2017. That was not enough of a pattern of unlawful behavior to obtain a Protection Order against him, although I tried. These experiences are detailed in another post. I correctly recognized the purpose of the harassment, and I became persuaded that it was the beginning of a plot to accuse me of domestic violence, have me arrested, charged, and removed from our family home. I couldn’t allow that, and I filed a petition for divorce. The abuse—both spousal and substance—had to stop. Demi was served on Friday, March 24.

Beavis subsequently attempted to engage one of my children in my marital conflict, in early April 2017. A minor child. WTF?! I believe his deliberate action—curiously, conducted at 1:10 AM—is tantamount to child abuse. Together with the stalking and harassment, I believe it paints a fairly clear picture of his character—I think we used to call it “Bad Seed.” As a judge told Beavis, he simply had “no lawful nor legitimate reason” for contacting my elderly father or my thirteen-year-old son.

enoughBy the end of February 2017, when I suspected Beavis and Demi might be planning to frame me for domestic violence, I noticed that unexplained bruises began appearing on her arms and legs. There was even one on her left deltoid in early March with a bite mark in the center. I had to ask. Her explanation disgusted me: “a guy on the elevator in Vegas said I looked good enough to eat.”

Lovely.

By that time, Demi had become physically more aggressive toward me when she arrived home at night. Her level of aggression had a positive correlation with intoxication. One night, she made the mistake of texting me photos of her bruises as a way of threatening me. I understood it as a foreshadowing of what she and Beavis were likely planning. That threat was real to me. I was afraid of falling victim to false accusations of physical assault of my wife, or even sexual assault. The situation had gotten so crazy that anything seemed possible. The next morning, I went to Christine H., an attorney I’d hired, and showed her the photos with which Demi had threatened me. Christine’s position was, “let her bring it.”

A divorce—the last thing in the world I’d wanted—had suddenly become the thing I wanted most.

Christine’s response emboldened me. I dared Demi to go to the police with the photos. Please, I thought. Go ahead. File a false police report. I believe she’d been collecting photos for some time, at different times and places. But I’d also been making notes in my journal when I saw any new bruises, and recorded where she’d been, if I knew. There was at least one long stretch where she stayed at the home of friends for more than a week, and returned with new bruises—particularly bad ones. My planned defense was going to rely on my journal, plus the electronic timestamps and geotags embedded in the photos. Electronic geotags from photos posted on social media sites like Facebook, and its Russian counterpart, VKontakte, known as “Veh-Ka,” were how Western investigators discovered active Russian troops had invaded Ukraine in early 2014, when Vladimir Putin openly denied their presence in that country. I was certain Demi didn’t know anything about geotags.

She immediately backed down. A real victim of abuse, I believe, would have and should have used the opportunity to turn me in to authorities. But she’d learned not to play around with false accusations where I was concerned—I might already have evidence supporting truth and reality, which I’d had numerous times before, when she’d lied to me.

Throughout February and March, I’d become increasingly afraid Demi would attack me and then claim I’d hit her. I never raised a hand against her throughout all the years of marriage. Ever. My children are my witnesses. Demi also assumed I wouldn’t act against her because, I believe, she felt she had me financially trapped. She’d even cockily announced privately to a mutual (female) friend, “Harry will never leave me.”

WRONG. I’d been contemplating and planning legal action for some time, particularly as my fear of false accusations rose. My attorneys urged action, while I wavered on the timing. Rick Osborne, a Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy, even advised me to take action for my own safety. “Somebody’s going to get hurt if you let this continue,” he said, “and it could be you. You’re at a disadvantage here.” I trusted Deputy Osborne’s advice; he was well-acquainted with the situation in our household, including the day she tried to seize the kids from my custody and drive them to a movie while visibly drunk. And I’m not talking “a couple o’ beers” here—this was drinking to the point of speaking in tongues. Eldest even noticed the pronounced slurring that day. “What’s wrong with Mom’s voice?”

If the framing plot went forward, I planned to involve Deputy Osborne as a key player in my defense. Still, I wavered on taking action. I simply couldn’t find the resolve to initiate it. I knew it would be a one-way path. I’d loved Demi for twenty-one years, I was committed to family, and I assumed what I was observing was a drug- or alcohol-fueled aberration in her behavior.

But I was dead wrong. It was something much, much deeper.

I changed my mind the night of March 19, 2017, a Sunday, nearing midnight. I was working IMG_8669in my home office with the double-doors tied with network cable in anticipation of Demi’s arrival. Who does that? The situation had acquired that degree of absurdity.

Demi eventually came home. I bid her good night without opening the office doors. She was like a raging bull. I wish I could have taken a video, but I needed my hands and feet to brace the doors. Using her body as a battering ram, she tried to force the doors open. I struggled to hold them closed, hoping she wouldn’t crash through the glass. She was undoubtedly angry I was dragging Beavis into court for a Protection Order hearing on Wednesday that week (March 22). She finally relented, slumped to the floor with her flannel blouse against the glass {camera click: that’s her against the door in the photo below}.

A few minutes later, Demi crawled off to pass out on the bed. That’s when I made the final decision. I had to do it. I had to act. I called 911, reported the incident, and saw my attorneys the next morning. In retrospect, I still wonder whether the framing plan was supposed to go down that night. I’ll probably never know for sure, because I struck first.

For me, the line in the sand had been drawn and crossed. By the end of that week, I managed to have Demi removed from our family home. The apparent plan to frame me for domestic violence especially galled me. I’d given her and our children nothing but love, kindness, and care over many years. I didn’t deserve to be treated like she was treating me. It was pure avarice. And I certainly couldn’t let the framing go forward. As they say in government, good decisions are based on good intelligence—and I had it. I’d been pushed too far. Way too far.

A divorce—the last thing in the world I’d wanted—had suddenly become the thing I wanted most. I gritted my teeth and moved the process forward.

IMG_8670Two weeks after filing for divorce, Demi and I found ourselves on opposite sides of a Vancouver Family Court. Two people who’d once embraced a loving marriage (I’d thought) now bore the cardboard titles of Petitioner and Respondent. My family was in the Midwest, and I only had Matt K., my capable legal gun, at my side. Demi had a young, blondish male attorney named Jordan T., who stood stiff as a soldier preparing to charge the enemy. “Your Honor,” Jordan said when it was his turn to speak, “we believe the husband to be mentally unstable.”

What?! I was stunned. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But despite my disbelief, I’d come prepared to hear something like that. Jordan’s statement was the first salvo of the backlash that my counselor-cum-divorce coach, Joel Taylor, had predicted not even a month before. He’d told me truth and honesty wouldn’t matter to her; that she would demonize me to the court and friends alike because I had the found the courage to strike out against her, and end the charade. I had rejected her and her unacceptable behavior—and whether deserved or not, it enraged her like never before.

Joel was a psychological professional who regularly convened a group for men in abusive relationships. Joel interviewed me in early February to assess whether I belonged in the group. I must have said something “right,” because he admitted me. At the first group session, I sat in a room with six or seven other men in a circle. And Joel. I listened attentively as the others introduced themselves and related their stories. I was the last to speak. Based on what I’d heard, all I could muster was, “are you guys kidding? Are we all married to the same woman?!” Afterward, when I told Joel I was about to file for divorce, he advised me to speak with him about my situation first. I did, and that was a good move. He talked about how males are naturally at a disadvantage in our nation’s family courts, and that documentation would be absolutely critical.

In the backlash that came after I filed, Demi assumed no ownership of her behavior whatsoever. And it was bad behavior—really bad behavior—the kind that’s completely incompatible with child-rearing and family life. She reacted as if I’d thrown Holy Water on a vampire. Demi denied absolutely everything of which I’d accused her—even in the face of documentation—excessive use of alcohol, being an absentee, adulterous parent, and behaving abusively in front of the children. All of it was lobbed right back at me. One thing became clear: things like truth, reality, facts, and evidence were mere trifles to be tossed out the nearest window. She’d become like a cornered, panicked cat, lashing out with extended claws and bared fangs, trying to draw blood any way she could. I took comfort in the fact that the children knew the truth, but Joel had warned me—that wouldn’t matter in the divorce proceedings. He was right. As a male, the battle was uphill, no matter what had happened. No one in the court system wanted to be the one “who took children away from their mother.” I don’t like it, but I get it.

Demi’s mendacious response was exactly as Joel had predicted. Exactly. I was astonished by the stream of lies. Joel urged me to relax. He knew I’d already been keeping a daily journal of events in my household for months, and the level of documentation made my case different. He encouraged meticulous documentation because, he explained, it could tip the scales in what he predicted would be a high-conflict divorce. Demi would do whatever it took to protect her false self, he said, her false persona, to prevent exposure. He was right. I don’t know what I’d been thinking. Somehow I thought she’d never use her well-honed fabrication skills against me. She did.

Also at Demi’s side stood my sister-in-law, Kim, an officious and meddlesome woman who’d submitted a perjured statement to the court in support of my wife. I could hardly believe I’d trusted Kim so much that I’d gone to her first when I needed help dealing with Demi’s excessive partying and infidelity. What the hell had I been thinking?! Incredulously, Kim betrayed me and the boys that day. After saying she wouldn’t take sides, Kim did just that—the morally wrong side, I thought, in view of the facts. She had listened to me, but by her actions, Kim made it clear that Kim cared only about herself. She exposed herself as a user. But Kim would never see it that way, of course. Instead, she would see loyalty. She believed she owed Demi because Demi had helped her land a decent job a few years before. In Kim’s sworn statement, she had the brazen audacity to declare that I’d even kidnapped the children one day in July 2016 and held them from my wife incommunicado. What?! Kidnapped my own children?! Kidnapped?! Strong words, but not just that. It was perjury, and I knew I could prove it. Still, Kim’s betrayal cut me deeply.

As a quick aside, I need to say something about Kim’s husband, David. David is Demi’s half-brother from the same mother. He is the only person on her side of the family who sent a private condolences message to me when my mother passed away on March 24, 2017, the same day I had to eject his sister from our family home. The message was truly heartfelt. To date, he has not taken sides.

The boys were left in my constant care and custody during Demi’s long absences, and I frequently took them on adventures to entertain them and get them out of the house. I never knew what condition Demi might bring home, so I also helped the children avoid her alcoholic binges. On the day in question, I had taken the boys hiking on Mt. Hood, and to Timberline Lodge. Kim previously knew Demi had turned off my cell phone service that day in July because I’d told her just after it happened. She submitted the false sworn statement to the court anyway. I contacted AT&T Wireless’ legal department and obtained confirmation that my phone service had indeed been turned off on the day in question, and not by me. Fortunately for Kim, I never got the chance to present evidence of her perjury to the court.

Over the next weeks and months, a Court Commissioner and an appointed custody evaluator reviewed the intimate details of our family and our very different family backgrounds, attempting to make the most reasonable decisions for our separate futures. From the outside, it looked like an orderly process; after all, their rulings would directly affect the future care and psychological development of our children. However, our case seemed to receive rather perfunctory treatment because of the extraordinary level of conflict and the backlash of unbridled deceit Demi unleashed. Her responses to my legal Declarations amounted to nothing more than a massive smear campaign against me. Truth clearly didn’t matter, even though these were “sworn” statements. Everything I had detailed about her behavior was flung right back at me as if I had done it. She held nothing back. I now know why—in her eyes, I’d committed the greatest crime anyone could have. I’d dared to unmask her, and expose her true self. In her world, that was tantamount to a capital offense. I hadn’t expected her response to be what it was, but Joel, a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders, had predicted all of it with astonishing accuracy.

I’d invested my faith and trust in our family law system, but I was disappointed by the outcome. My attractive, charismatic, and polished wife had clearly charmed the court-appointed custody evaluator, Dr. Jepson, a gentleman in his late sixties. However, the Court Commissioner, a female, seemed more suspicious. And rightly so. I think she looked at my educational background, my documentation, and saw credibility in my account of events. It was, after all, supported by strong evidence.

At the first hearing, the Commissioner ruled that I should remain in the family home with custody of the children for the bulk of the time, over Demi’s objections. Because of the mutual accusations of drug and alcohol abuse, the Commissioner ordered both of us to submit to regular drug and alcohol testing for the next 120 days. Very fair. I was attending my mother’s funeral with the boys that week, but through my attorney, I asked that the testing would be a randomly-administered ethyl glucuronide (EtG) test, an aggressive alcohol metabolite test with a 72- to 80-hour retrospect. I was certain Demi would have tried to cheat a less aggressive test. In fact, at that first hearing after I discarded her, her attorney showed up in court with the results of an EtS test. That test showed she hadn’t been drunk in the previous 24 hours. Big whoop.

The brutal, high-conflict process I’d initiated schooled me about what I’ve come to call the “divorce industry.” One person’s divorce, it seems, is another’s opportunity to make a few bucks. I discovered the people involved in our case lacked critical knowledge and experience with Cluster B personality disorders, particularly unhealthy narcissism and full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which is characterized by a dysregulation of emotions, thinking, and behavior. They were easily misled. A personality test administered by Dr. Jepson (the MMPI-2, I believe) showed that my former spouse had scored high for characteristics of not only one, but two of the four distinct Cluster B disorders—NPD and Histrionic Personality Disorder. But those important clues to the truth were either missed or ignored.

The process alarmed me. I began feeling like some kind of bias may have been at work. Was it gender bias? Can a father not be an effective primary parent just because he’s male? In our family, history said otherwise. The court-appointed investigators seemed preoccupied with one thing: if there was abuse in the relationship—and indeed there was—then how was it possible that the male was not the abuser? Dr. Jepson’s report, for example, struggled to describe my successful process of discovering Demi’s infidelity as “coercive control”—a “form of abuse,” he claimed. Really? Had I no right to the truth? As aggrieved spouse, I believe I did. What if I’d been a woman, and hired a Private Eye? Would that be tagged as “abuse?” I think not. To me, Jepson’s report reads as though he believes abusive women—if there really can be such creatures—are actually themselves the victims of “patriarchal oppression.” Males, to some people, are abusive by their very nature.

In addition, some of the “professional” participants in our case were flat-out incompetent. My wife was ordered by our judge to complete an updated domestic violence assessment, for instance. The report was submitted to the court, but the assessor never bothered to contact me, the “victim” of two documented assaults! No one seemed to be asking the right questions. With Demi absent from our home for long hours during the day, evening, and night—including weekends—when the hell would I have had time to be doing all the things she claimed? I was cheating and partying, too? Laughable. Children require time. In fact, they demand it. And raising them demands sobriety and focus. Dr. Jepson, I believe, was just another cog in the local divorce industry. He didn’t really take any interest in what was going to happen, or the outcome, or, perhaps, he was simply so charmed and manipulated that he allowed himself to be misled. That was highly possible, because Demi is slick. Either way, he was another person in the queue to get paid. I expected a trained psychologist to see through her veneer, or at least to suspect that something might be awry. His professional specialty was something else: most of Jepson’s work focused on sex offenders. Perhaps he was an inappropriate choice as custody evaluator.

During my first interview with Dr. Jepson, he noted my multilingual prowess, then smugly bragged about how he’d managed to sneak through his PhD program at Arizona without having to satisfy the traditional language requirement, which in Psychology would have been German. Good for him. In my written response to Dr. Jepson’s Forensic History Questionnaire, when describing Demi’s outlandish behavior, I had prominently used the phrase “sense of entitlement,” well before I’d done any research into narcissism and NPD. I even depicted her entitlement as having alarmingly “epic proportions.” As Harvard psychologist Dr. Craig Malkin has pointed out about unhealthy narcissism and NPD: “… it all comes down to one word: entitlement. It’s the most salient characteristic of the subtle narcissist” (Malkin 2015). Jepson had completely missed it. Or had he ignored it? I can’t be sure which. And where does his misjudgment leave my children? Stuck right in the middle. Perhaps studying German would have served Jepson well. A most conspicuous concept in German psychological literature on narcissism is selbstzentriertes Anspruchsdenken. “Self-centered sense of entitlement.”

A Growing Penchant for Violence

In September 2016, seven months before I filed for divorce, Demi physically assaulted me on two separate occasions with blows to the face. The first assault was in public and independently witnessed; I called the sheriff the second time it happened, which was in our home. She was arrested and charged with domestic violence. (I’ve detailed that experience here. I regretted it the instant it happened, but I look at things differently now.)

Demi was not convicted. And that was my fault. She’d sucker-punched me with a promise to work on keeping our family together. I fell for it, and lobbied the county prosecutor to drop the charges. After I filed for divorce, the court inexplicably ignored this experience, and instead turned to a closer examination of me as a potential perpetrator of “coercive abuse” because I had tracked Demi’s whereabouts for a brief period in 2016, when I suspected rampant infidelity, and again in 2017, when I began to suspect the framing plot.

My attorney labeled the tracking activity my “process of discovery,” and said it would be reasonably defensible. After all, I was simply verifying my suspicions about her partying and repeated infidelity. Is that not fair? The Court Commissioner, a woman, thought my actions were tantamount to stalking, yet it didn’t to rise to a level where she would issue sanctions against me. Did I have the right to seek the truth or not?

I had questions, I sought answers, and I aggressively applied my skillset to get them, and in short order, too. Because of the allegations of domestic violence in my divorce case, court officials and court-appointed officials alike seemed to be searching for every reason to show why it was me—the male—who had to be the perpetrator, despite my wife’s violent track record. We’ll dig deeper into that set of issues later. The good thing is that my children still know who their father is. And I’m certainly no abuser.

The Reality of Narcissism

This blog will contain the story of how Demi and I arrived at the unenviable point of divorce, how her shift up the narcissistic spectrum toward full-blown NPD contributed to the high level of conflict between us, and how it is likely to cause significant developmental issues for the children going forward. I will sketch the key characteristics of unhealthy narcissism in the hopes of giving you a set of benchmarks against which to measure your own relationship experiences. In the psychological community, there has been some useful new thinking about the nature of narcissism, and I will present that as well. It offers a compelling framework to help me understand what went wrong in my marriage.

I’ll discuss my personal journey through narcissistic abuse, physical assault, and even the alarming and unlawful harassment by the man I call “Beavis,” Demi’s new narcissistic “supply.” He’s also a Portland attorney. (I find that shocking.) I also take full responsibility for getting myself into this abhorrent situation because, alas, I’d ignored some gigantic red flags. I’d witnessed the same cycle in her relationships twenty-one years hence, when I had been the shiny new object the crow had desired. More on that, too.

Finally, I’ve described my decision to plan and initiate the forcible breakout—how I arrived at that decision and why. I will also make note of things I could have done better. If you’re living in this kind of situation, I hope my analysis will help you plan your escape, and discard your narcissistic partner with less pain than I suffered. Narcissistic manipulation can turn reality on its head. It gaslights you into questioning your own sanity and sense of reality, but in the end, knowledge is still power.

Breaking Free of the Control & Abuse

When a romantic relationship comes to an end, many counselors use the seminal Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief to describe the emotions we experience (Kübler-Ross 1969). I’ve thought of the process a bit differently.

Over a period of many months, I moved through four distinct stages. These stages represent a progression from an initially shocked and angry reaction through despair and other sentiments related to helplessness and self-pity, toward a fully proactive interest in deliverance from the psychological turmoil that is infidelity, narcissistic abuse, and divorce. My anger phase, admittedly, was prolonged, but it was prolonged because my values, as I continued to remain in our family home and focus on our children, were repeatedly and violent transgressed as my wife openly flaunted her cheating to me, as if there were nothing wrong with it. Somewhere along the way, I developed a full readiness to turn the tables on Demi, and to prosper from the negative experience she’d served me. If you’re going to discard your narcissist successfully, that’s where you need to be, too. I will have some suggestions about getting there. It’s all about State of Mind.

Anger

In the first stage, my sense of anger and betrayal were both profound and crippling. That’s all I’m going to say at this point. After the unmasking in the spring of 2016, the daily emotional abuse became vicious and grotesque. Demi verbally mistreated me in front of the children, causing the elder to side with me, and the younger to become combative and sometimes acutely disrespectful to his father. This experience is essentially what spurred me to focus on myself, fall back on my advanced education, and begin researching narcissism and NPD.¹ I also arranged ongoing professional counseling for the children. At the outset, I didn’t know what the hell was wrong with Demi, but I knew normal people don’t treat their significant others the way I was being treated. Something was wrong, and deep down, I knew it wasn’t me.

Despair

The second stage encompassed a deep sense of despair, underpinned by fear, resentment, and regret. “What a big fucking mistake!” thundered in my head day and night. I’d wasted twenty-one years of my life with an abusive narcissist. I could have seen it coming, if only…. My marriage had been a total fraud—some kind of contrived virtual reality. And I now had two children with her! Shit! What the hell was I thinking?!

In retrospect, the red flags were all there; I’d simply chosen to ignore them. For years. I felt stupid. The last couple years of the relationship were particularly bad—filled with emotional pain and trauma as the narcissistic abuse cycle crossed the line from Idealization to Devaluation and began to proceed toward Discard. The process ground to a crawl, however, because Demi thought I wouldn’t move against her, legally speaking. Discarding me was too costly, so she asserted and reasserted her overblown sense of entitlement. Horribly, she expected me to tolerate her perfidy and abuse! We entered a limbo of daily verbal and emotional abuse, and her continued substance abuse only amplified it. I felt powerless. After trying to ride the tiger for 367 days, it became abundantly clear I had to take action to end it for the sake of my own sanity, safety, and well-being.

Introspection

I entered a third stage just after I ejected Demi from our family home on March 24, 2017. It was the same day my mother passed away from complications related to Parkinson’s Disease. Although Demi knew of my mother’s death that morning, she expressed no condolences as she left for work. She was unaware that I was serving divorce papers that day, and she wouldn’t be returning home. The thud of the garage door closing that morning was a sound of relief. A sound of finality. A sound of tranquility.

After March 24, I found calm. I sank deep into introspection. I discovered that I still had intelligence, honesty, integrity, commitment, and compassion—all the things I’d first brought to the relationship, to my family, to my children. I rediscovered my intellect. I came to realize that during our marriage, Demi had gradually broken down my personal boundaries—a little bit here, a little bit there. I’d allowed her to walk all over me. I allowed it. Why? Probably my strong sense of commitment and obligation to family. No more. This phase had to be about rebuilding strength and resolve.

I took my two children and flew to the Midwest to bury my mother, with the haunting German lyrics of the 17 Hippies’ song, “Adieu,” playing over and over in my head. Ich bin gekommen, um Adieu zu sagen …

I was saying goodbye to so many things.

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it—don’t cheat with it.

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Deliverance

Now, my sentiment is one of gratefulness. Simply put, I am grateful to have had this horrible experience, to have survived it, and to have learned from it. It awakened me in ways I never expected. I am also grateful that the circumstances under which I’m exiting the marriage are not dire. Things could have been much worse, and were definitely heading in that direction. It’s what made me realize I’d best take action to protect myself. My fear of being wrongfully accused of domestic violence was very real. Also, among the people I met through the divorce support group at the Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon, were people whose financial status became very strained by their marital strife. Mine isn’t, and I’m grateful for that, too.

Deliverance from the horror of the experience is my fourth stage, and, as of this writing, I haven’t fully arrived. But this blog has been a great start. I’m developing a solid understanding of what I’d allowed myself to get mixed up with, and why. I now see a light at the end of the tunnel. As I move forward in my life without Demi, I have a need to share my traumatic experiences. How can I use my unique talents to turn this patently negative experience into a healing positive—not only for myself—but for others who’ve found themselves in similar situations? That’s my question, my focus.

I can write. I can research. I can analyze. And I can share my story. There’s no reason why my experience can’t become a springboard for continued self-improvement and service to others.

My deepest concern remains. With court-assigned fifty/fifty joint custody, for my children, the challenges are only beginning. My greatest fear is them being subjected to an emotionally underdeveloped, dysfunctional mother who is bent on controlling their lives’ destiny, distorting all their future relationships as well as their own senses of self-worth. And she’ll launch into their destruction with all the wild abandon of a value-free adolescent without an ounce of comprehension about the threat she poses to their future well-being.

In life, there are no mistakes. Only lessons.

NEXT POST→


¹ I had the honor of working with the renowned political psychologist Margaret G. Hermann, PhD, when pursuing a doctorate at The Ohio State University’s Mershon Center for International Security Studies. Dr. Hermann’s focus was leadership and personality; thus the study of personality types is not virgin territory to me.

References

Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth S. On Death and Dying. Scribner, 1969.

Malkin, Craig, PhD. Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists. Harper Collins, 2015.



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Successful People … with a Flip Side.

They can hide in plain sight, in the most unlikely of places. Even in the White House.

images (3)With all of the recent political fuss over the departure of White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, and the bombshell interview conducted by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper with Porter’s second ex-wife, Jennie Willoughby, on February 8, focus has once again turned to questions about successful people and the secret or second persona some of them seem to have. How can this be? How can a charming, intelligent, and successful person secretly be an abusive personality? How can they so easily glide through their world unnoticed? How can they so easily charm and manipulate intelligent, normal people who surround them?

If you haven’t yet seen the interview with Ms. Willoughby, it’s worth seeing. I’ve provided a link to it on YouTube (above).

I watched the interview with great interest. Ms. Willoughby said many things that sounded familiar. One segment in particular caught my attention. She described how her ex-husband was professionally a very competent and successful man, and, “even in the face of what’s unfolding,” she said, Porter still enjoys a high degree of support from the people around him. At the outset, Ms. Willoughby emphasized one thing: “the idea that he could be so different [at home] seems to escape people … and yet everyone, in their daily lives, has a different personality for different situations. I think this, for Rob, is just a really extreme and toxic version of that … [I experienced] a low-grade and constant terror of not knowing what I might do to set something off—what mood he would have. There weren’t any explicit threats, but I frequently felt threatened.” It’s clear Ms. Willoughby continues to be dismayed by the number of people who simply don’t want to believe her; who won’t permit the facts to challenge the image they already have of Rob Porter—his public persona. And the idea that he may have another side? They don’t accept it because they’ve never seen it. But Jennie Willoughby has, and so has Porter’s first ex-wife.

Willoughby: That’s a question I’ve been asked a lot—why did you stay if he was a ‘monster?’ And the reality is that he’s not a monster. He is an intelligent, kind, chivalrous, caring, professional man, and he’s deeply troubled and angry and violent. I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive.

Cooper: And the people he works with may not have seen that side of him at all?

Willoughby: Of course not. It’s reserved for the most intimate and vulnerable moments in his life.

In another fascinating portion of the interview, Ms. Willoughby describes meeting Porter’s first ex-wife, Colbie Holderness. It must have been an epiphany for her. She found validation in the fact that Porter’s “systematic” manipulation and “tearing down” of her own personality and confidence had all happened before to someone else, and therefore, had nothing at all to do with her—or with reality. “I think that a lot of people in abusive relationships,” she said, “because of the constant, insidious breaking down of that confidence, and that even knowledge or sense of self, [they] start to believe that it really is something that they’re doing, or something that they in some way deserved because of their choices. For me, I just sort of accepted it once it became the norm. I lost a lot of confidence and just accepted that that’s what it was. And it took years to get past that point. But it took me meeting Colbie and hearing the story and sharing my story, and us both going, yeah, yeah—that happened to me too, before I could recognize the magnitude of it.”

When asked about Porter and his current dating relationship with White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, Ms. Willoughby said, “If he hasn’t already been abusive with Hope, he will. Particularly now that he’s under a lot of stress and scrutiny. That’s when the behaviors come out.”

There’s a good deal in Jennie Willoughby’s story that rings true with me. As I observed, increased stress was one of the factors that caused my ex-wife’s substance abuse, infidelity, and interpersonally abusive behaviors to careen out of control. When Demi accepted her ambitious new job in 2015, I removed everything involving the household and the children from her plate in an effort to help her focus. It had all been in vain.

On February 11, 2018, Ms. Willoughby published an article on Time magazine’s website. She wrote:


On Saturday morning, following the overnight resignation of another White House staffer after his ex-wife came forward with her story of abuse, the President Tweeted: “Peoples [sic] lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused—life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”

There it is again. The words “mere allegation” and “falsely accused” meant to imply that I am a liar. That Colbie Holderness is a liar. That the work Rob was doing in the White House was of higher value than our mental, emotional or physical well-being. That his professional contributions are worth more than the truth. That abuse is something to be questioned and doubted.


Well put. Was my ex-wife’s career of higher value than the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of her family? Is her professional life worth more than the truth? Isn’t it easier to disbelieve me? I’m sure everyone around Demi at work and in her social life values and respects her. That’s why she’s let them come that far into her world. But the truth would be dissonant to everything they believe true about the person they think they know. The truth would be devastating. So denial is easier than accepting that devastation.

I found Ms. Willoughby’s article to be intellectual nourishment. She continues:


I think the issue here is deeper than whether Trump, or General John Kelly, or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, or Senator Orrin Hatch, or Hope Hicks, or whether anyone else believes me or defends Rob. Society as a whole has a fear of addressing our worst secrets. (Just ask any African-American citizen.) It’s as if we have a societal blind spot that creates an obstacle to understanding. Society as a whole doesn’t acknowledge the reality of abuse.

The tendency to avoid, deny, or cover up abuse is never really about power, or money, or an old boys’ club. It is deeper than that. Rather than embarrass an abuser, society is subconsciously trained to question a victim of abuse. I would call it an ignorant denial based on the residual, puritan, collective agreement that abuse is uncomfortable to talk about.

Amidst the recent rash of sexual assault revelations born of the #MeToo movement, even I found myself questioning the accuser. I almost allowed my societal conditioning to override what my heart knows to be true: abuse is scary and demoralizing and degrading. It chisels away at your self-esteem and self-worth until you are unsure whether your version of reality is valid or not.

If someone finds the strength and courage to come forward, he or she is to be believed. Because that declaration only came after an uphill battle toward rebirth.

Ultimately, this is not a political issue. This is a societal issue, and the tone has just been reset by the White House. If the most powerful people in the nation do not believe my story of abuse in the face of overwhelming evidence, then what hope do others have of being heard?

We are at a critical moment in history and there are three things I know to be true:

Where there is anger, there is underlying pain.

Where there is denial, there is underlying fear.

Where there is abuse, there is cover-up.


Ms. Willoughby’s article is entitled “President Trump Will Not Diminish My Truth.” Neither will my ex-wife diminish mine. Abuse was my reality. It was real. I am not crazy or obsessive. And most importantly, I am not alone. As Colbie Holderness, Porter’s first ex-wife, wrote in a recent Washington Post article:


Recognizing and surviving in an abusive relationship take strength. The abuse can be terrifying, life-threatening and almost constant. Or it can ebb and flow, with no violence for long periods. It’s often the subtler forms of abuse that inflict serious, persistent damage while making it hard for the victim to see the situation clearly.

For me, living in constant fear of Rob’s anger and being subjected to his degrading tirades for years chipped away at my independence and sense of self-worth. I walked away from that relationship a shell of the person I was when I went into it, but it took me a long time to realize the toll that his behavior was taking on me. (Rob has denied the abuse, but Willoughby and I know what happened.)


I can’t really add to the power and incisiveness of Ms. Holderness’ observations, but I will say this: coming clean on this blog is, for me, deeply embarrassing. But it’s still a process of “coming clean.” And that’s what I need most right now—to breathe deeply, to think clearly.

 

A Letter. An Encouraging Find …

Happy Valentine’s Day.

I was straightening things in one of my drawers this morning when I found a heartfelt letter I’d written to my ex-wife approximately eight weeks after D-Day, or “Discovery-Day,” as it’s known in the jargon of infidelity. It would have been written in late May, 2016. I didn’t recall writing the letter, so I sat on the edge of the bed and read it.

Wow!an isolated illustration of a broken heart

I’ve really come a long way. And I mean really. My own words sickened me—they sniveled and supplicated as though I were attempting to pin the causes of her infidelity on myself. I implored her to return to the family, to seek marriage counseling, if only for the sake of our children. I groveled and apologized for any inattentiveness I may have shown her….

… What the Hell was I thinking?!

To my credit, however, I did manage to lecture a bit as well—like how we all have to surrender a heaping measure of selfishness when we welcome a child into the world, trading it instead for dedication and more self-discipline. Good for me for telling myself that, because I certainly wasn’t telling her anything. Demi was beyond comprehension.

When I’d written the letter, I clearly didn’t understand what I was doing, or the person to whom QueenSpade01 (2)I was writing, or the deeply disordered personality Demi represented. I struggled to assign logical explanations to what happened, and even suggested that we might, with professional help, try to map our way out of the destructive quagmire in which we’d found ourselves. How pathetic. I was speaking to her as if to a sentient, empathic individual; a person with feelings for the other people around her. At only one place in my letter do I glimpse a foreshadowing of events to come: “one thing I cannot do is continue allowing you to lead me down a path of dishonesty. All my energy has been redirected inwardly, and something else, something new, is emerging.”

That was true indeed. I kept reading.

I had been on the cusp of an awakening in late May 2016—far too many nasty things had transpired, and my marriage and family life was careening out of control. By then, I’d observed and endured too many of Demi’s reckless, abusive behaviors. They all stacked up against each other and began painting a portrait of a crisis that wasn’t about me at all. There was something deeply disturbed, disordered, and dysfunctional going on inside her. And the copious amounts of alcohol and other controlled substances she consumed on a daily basis weren’t helping. Neither was Beavis, because he was her escape, her supply, her enabler.

By the end of August 2016, whatever had been turning inside me clicked into place. I had become far less tolerant of her bad behaviors and abuse, and when she got physical for the second time in early September, I called the police for assistance. I’d also begun keeping a diary of her comings and goings, and anything else I discovered, including unexplained tavern visits, illicit business trips, etc., and details about lies she offered as cover stories to me and the children. The situation had become utterly ridiculous.

The lesson I take from my letter is that State of Mind is everything. I clearly didn’t understand—nor was I even ready to understand—what was happening at the time I wrote it. We all go through a progression, I think, where an initially emotion-driven reaction gives way and rebuilds itself into an application of reason and logic. After reading the handwritten letter, I realized how far I’ve traveled. I find a measure of contentment in that.

Cheers.

A Cause for Celebration?

A good friend recently informed me that after our divorce was final, one of my ex-wife’s officemates found the announcement in the newspaper, enlarged it, and framed it. Demi’s entire team of 20 or so (that she manages) apparently presented it to her as a gift. She then posted photos of the “celebration” on Facebook.

I’m not sure how to react. I’m also not sure how I’m supposed to feel. Should I not be sad? Should I be jumping for joy, too? To be sure, I’m relieved I got away from her verbal and emotional abuse, which had become constant. I’m in a safe place now. I’m also glad I forced a curtailment of her mid-day drunkenness and late-night partying—at least for a solid period of four months—hoping she’d be mindful enough to realize what she’d been doing to the children. But I don’t think that happened. Instead, her energies have been redirected into anger, into smearing me, and into a brand-new performance as the victim of an “abusive” spouse. I’m sure that’s what her harem at work was led to believe. If they only knew the truth….

I’m thankful she and Beavis never got the chance to frame me for domestic violence, which is what I’d become persuaded would come next as Demi deliberately began to increase the level of conflict in our home last January and February (2017). She’d known me for twenty-two years, so she knew having her boyfriend harass my elderly father would hit a nerve. I now think she expected I would become confrontational with her and with him, and that would present the chance to report me. I reported the incident to the police instead, and filed a complaint with her company, a large publicly-traded corporation based in Florida. That exposed both of them to their superiors at work. They shouldn’t complain—they earned it.

Framing me would have complicated things. My situation is much better off than it would have been because I acted first. But sweeping all that aside, I think I’m just plain sad about the divorce. I’m not feeling celebratory—not at all. Instead, I think my sentiment is one of failure, even of shame, because we have two children who will continue to suffer because of what we failed to do—and that was to figure out how to keep our family together and work out whatever issues there were. Hell, there was really no attempt. Not on her part, anyway. I tried to address it by seeking counseling for myself, and for the children. I’d invited Demi to join me numerous times, but she refused, choosing instead to continue her out-of-control partying, substance abuse, absenteeism, and infidelity. Our lives became surreal—the abuse and level of violence was increasing on a daily basis, and the harassment by her boyfriend had begun to touch not only my family members, but also my eldest child, just after I petitioned for divorce. How could I allow that to continue? No normal person would.

When I determined that continued submission to Demi’s tyranny could be dangerous to my future and my children’s future, I acted against her. I rebelled. The circumstances had been so inundated by absurdity, I felt I had no choice. I had to protect myself and the boys. It was really just that simple.

But I don’t look back at it with joy. I think if our positions had been reversed—if I had been the one neglecting our family life in favor of cheating and partying; if I had been the abusive spouse, demeaning and degrading my life’s partner at every opportunity—my sentiment in the aftermath, when I came to my better senses, would be one of deep, deep shame. But that’s not what I’m observing. Instead, I’m observing some new kind of act.

A Rotten Tooth, Extracted.

One week has passed since our divorce decree was signed by a judge and became final. The only things left to do are separation of the pension accounts, which our respective law firms are handling.

What a relief. It’s been a long and tortuous journey.

It began in March 2016 with the shocking discovery of my wife’s rampant infidelity—shameless and impudent—her excessive use of alcohol, and her outrageous refusal to stop either, for the sake of our marriage and our children. Most of the time, Demi’s lies to me and the children were of the worst kind—those close enough to the truth to fly under the radar. At other times, the lies were so ridiculously bombastic you’d never dream a person could make that up. When confronted, time and time again she asserted and reasserted her entitlement to do whatever she wanted. I was overcome with a powerful sense that something deep inside her was seriously awry. For me, her entitlement transformed itself into the key to understanding what was going on. It was entitlement run amok.

In the memoir that will eventually emerge from the primordial sea of more or less disjointed thoughts I express here on this blog, my epiphany about Demi’s out-of-control sense of entitlement will provide the kick-off moment. It’s the moment I saw through the manipulation and gaslighting. It’s the moment I stopped questioning myself, my sanity, and my interpretation and recollection of events. It was the moment I knew something was very wrong with her. And whatever it was—it wasn’t what a normal life partner, wife, or mother would do. I was witnessing a disordered, dysregulated, dysfunctional personality in action.

The next six months were pure Hell, and they culminated in two violent physical assaults against me in early September 2016. The first, to my embarrassment, was witnessed by a group of friends on a Friday night dinner outing. The attack was completely unprovoked, but enhanced by substance abuse. It represented the first public sign there was something very wrong with my wife, Demi. I had begun documenting her extreme absenteeism by that time, recording when she came and went from the house and how many nights she spent away from me and the children. By September, her standard cover story was “I got too drunk, and slept in my car in a parking lot.” I knew better. I had also jotted down which restaurants and taverns were being visited, and how much money was being spent. One of our joint credit card issuers, in an effort to provide customers with electronic receipts, even recorded the time that charges were registered, the table number, and the number of guests. It was frequently only two. As I look back over my journal, such is the horrifying portrait of the unworthy mother of my children.

Two days after the first attack, it happened again, and I reported it to the police. The authorities invaded our home, separated us, spoke with each of us, then arrested my wife. With my unwitting children still in their beds, my guts wrenched as the sheriff’s vehicles drove her off that darkest of nights.

Two days passed, and Demi was arraigned, charged with Domestic Violence IV—fourth degree assault—under Washington State Law. For some unfathomable reason, my sister-in-law, Kim, thought it prudent to alert my wife’s cheating partner, whom I call “Beavis,” so he could attend Demi’s arraignment as well. WTF?! That action, in my life, and the lives of my children, was like airdropping gasoline on a forest fire. I’m not sure why anyone would go out of their way to invite the interloper in my private family life to such a sensitive affair. It was an act of pure malice. I’m still not sure what I’d ever done to Kim to deserve that. I now think it was an act propelled by Schadenfreude, and Kim thrived on the power of being able to add to the drama in my family life.

At the arraignment, as the “victim” of the assault, I was given an opportunity to address the judge, Clark County Court Commissioner George, and ask questions. I begged him for my wife’s release, citing my need and desire to have her return to our family life, get some help for her alcohol usage, and refocus her efforts on being a mother to our children.

Demi was released on her own recognizance. Her alcohol usage settled down somewhat after that because of the hanging threat of a return to jail for even the most minor infraction, but her brazen infidelity continued. When she drank, she simply stayed out all night. With an upcoming family trip to Mexico in December 2016 in the balance, my wife sucker-punched me with an offer to work on our marriage and keep our family together in return for me lobbying the county prosecutor to have the charges dropped. Stupidly, I did just that. I lied to the prosecutor in a letter that extolled Demi’s virtues as a mother, and brushed aside the seriousness of the events for which she’d been arrested. I even met with the prosecutor to underscore my resolve. I didn’t mention the first assault, of course, nor did I ever report it—a witness statement introduced it later, during the divorce proceedings. My efforts worked; the prosecutor dropped the charges while we were enjoying Mexico. When we returned to the United States, Demi experienced an immediate relapse. It had all been a ruse.

The end of December brought an act of harassment by Beavis—stalking me and my wife to a Portland restaurant. As I learned later, Beavis had even had the audacity to invade my family home—the home of my children—while I spent Thanksgiving with the kids and my family in the Midwest. He slept in my bed, with my wife, in the home of my children. What kind of person does that? Family is supposed to be inviolable. Isn’t it?

Perhaps my family values are just too old-fashioned for today’s fast-paced world.

Beavis’ harassment continued in February with two disparaging text messages sent to my 81-year-old father in Ohio. I still don’t understand the purpose of that. I filed for a Protection Order against him, but failed. According to the requirements of the statute, I didn’t have enough harassment events in the same jurisdiction to get the Order granted. Still, Beavis was warned by the judge that day to stay clear of my family and my children, and that further contact would give me a basis for renewing my petition for the Protection Order. Two days later, I filed a Petition for Divorce, and had my wife removed from our home with a Restraining Order. My mother passed away that day as well, from complications relating to Parkinson’s Disease. I couldn’t take any more.

In two weeks’ time, Beavis had sent a Facebook friend request to my thirteen-year-old boy, in some misguided attempt to pull the youth into my marital conflict. It don’t really understand the purpose of that, either. In my view, his action is not only unforgivable, it’s also tantamount to child abuse. I hope it’s not a harbinger of what the future holds. His action demonstrates no regard for the emotional fragility of a developing child, and his need for a protecting parent. Beavis’ action scared my son. It dragged him into a contest he had no business being in.tooth-extraction-1

And now the nightmare is over. For me, anyway. My children have years of unneeded stress ahead of them.

The reality of the divorce decree is like having a rotten tooth pulled. Something that caused me twenty-two months of a burning, throbbing, nagging—sometimes even searing—pain is numbed and then forcibly extracted. The unbearable agony is over, the jaw traumatized by the extraction, but now the healing can begin. Twenty-two months of suffering—one for each year we were together. Yet I look back over the many years of smiles, traveling, enjoying the company of friends, the outdoors, working together, fixing up our homes, building our precious family … and my heart thumps heavy in my chest. I still dance my tongue around the place from which the offending tooth was ripped, gently caressing the emptiness where it once stood. I still feel the loss.

12 Books That Destroyed and Rebuilt My Mind

This is a very worthwhile article. I agree with what’s on the list, and thus I’m sharing it. It’s by no means exhaustive, but the point is that really great books should tear down your old ways of thinking and rebuild them in a different, improved way. It’s all about acquiring wisdom in life through learning. And I’ve always been a lifelong learner….

SOMEONE SOMEWHERE

“If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? … A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

― Franz Kafka

Some books are not books at all.

They’re sticks of dynamite.

They blow things apart.

In your mind. In your world.

Often things you didn’t even know were there.

Things you didn’t think to consider.

Things you didn’t have the courage to look at.

And you’re not the same afterwards.

In fact you might be a mess, grappling to pick up the pieces of your shattered mind and put them back together.

You’re changed.

Stronger, broader, deeper, less certain.

And that’s the point.

Here are 12 books that broke things in me and taught me more about the world than I can ever say.

1. The Undiscovered Self: The Dilemma of…

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What are Cheaters Thinking?

At the gym the other day, and I saw a young lady with one of those thick elastic exercise bands around her knees, struggling to get her knees apart. Wow, I thought. My ex-wife sure could have used one of those.derailed

But seriously, cheating causes a trainwreck. Which is a great analogy, because once a trainwreck occurs, it’s extremely difficult to put anything back on the tracks.

As we move through life, sometimes we meet someone who’s attractive, but unavailable. It can happen to anyone. Sometimes, even normal people decide to dip a toe in the water with a harmless little flirt. The problem comes when it’s reciprocated. At first, you think you can control it. But then you begin making subtle choices, one by one. As time goes by, your attachment to that other person grows. They begin to matter in your world. You may even begin to believe that he or she is somehow “right” for you. Then you begin telling yourself you’ve never met anyone like them before. You feel intoxicated by the way they make you feel when you’re together. Before you know it, you’re even daydreaming about them. You can totally picture them in your life. The problem is, one or both of you is already in a committed relationship. With children.

And that’s a big problem. Cheating is a mistake, even when you don’t have children.

So the “other man” has told himself not to worry about the fact Demi already has a husband. She’s already told him Harry doesn’t love, understand, or treat her right, or that he demeans her, or is abusive and neglectful. I know what my wife’s story was. It know it well—it was a ruse, a lure. So if you’re the other man, do you tell yourself it’s worth sticking around, taking whatever you can get from her until you can work out the particulars of being together? If you’re a normal human being, the answer is “no.” You don’t. Because you have basic human decency, which signifies a responsibility to stay clear of another family’s children. Another family’s children are none of your business. And how you deal with this kind of situation comes down to character. When I first discovered Demi cheating, one of my first impulses was to do the same thing. If she could do that, then so could I! Why should she have all the fun? Right? No. I did not act on the impulse. Why? I had a sense of responsibility to my children.

The key problem with the fantasy world the cheaters have created together is that it isn’t really real. It’s all based on deception—lies, secrets, and escape. As a cheater, before you met that other person, you made a lifetime commitment. You promised to be exclusive and faithful, for better or for worse. Then along comes “worse,” whatever that is to you, and instead of dealing with the real issues, you looked for an escape. You should have looked for either (a) marriage counseling or (b) a divorce coach. It’s just that simple. To choose cheating instead shows poor judgment and, in the case of my marriage, dragged in far more conflict than was necessary. And the children are the ones who’ll bear the legacy of that.

I think it goes without saying that when you have young children, cheating on your husband is cheating on your children, too. You’re violating them in ways you haven’t yet realized as you lie to them about where you are, where you’ve been, or where you’re going. When you tell them you’re going for a walk when you’re really going to spend the afternoon drinking with Beavis at the Parkside Tavern, you’re violating their trust. I wonder if you think of them as you squirm and wriggle in ecstasy with a man who’s not their father. Probably not. You’re cheating on your whole family. Taking large amounts of time away from your maternal duty to raise your offspring, investing it instead with someone who, quite honestly, doesn’t give a blind rat’s ass about your children. He cares only about one thing, baby. Gee, you’ll never guess what….

When you make the choice to cheat, you’re ultimately cheating yourself. With regard to your devoted husband, you’ve smashed his trust along with your sacred vows of fidelity. Sorry; strike that word—”sacred.” Once you’ve begun cheating, nothing is sacred any more. Where were we? Oh, yeah.

Whatever was going on inside your marriage, there’s no excuse for cheating. If you get to a place where you’re having marital issues, then normal people both go get help. Sometimes they even go together. It’s amazing what a little counseling and two committed people can fix. After that, if you feel a need to get out of the marriage, then normal people take the steps to get out. Normal people don’t cheat if they’re unhappy in their marriages. I’ll repeat this—you either get help, or you get out. But there’s never any justification for bringing in the kind of acrimony cheating creates. Especially when there are children involved.

What’s the logic in the cheater’s mind? I’ve considered that question for almost two years now during the process of my divorce, and I still can’t see the logic, particularly because we have young children, now 10 and 13. I’ve come to believe my wife, Demi, a polished narcissist, thought she could have both worlds. To use the word “manipulative” to describe her seems an understatement. She tried to have her extramarital liaison, whom I call “Beavis,” and me—at the same time. And the children. And family life. That didn’t work out well, and the experience has scarred the children beyond measure.

And What About the Children?

Another question pops up. If you make the choice to go ahead and cheat, what does that do to your children? What are the subtle messages they’re getting? What kind of role model are you? And what do you think happens when you try to move your cheating partner into a home with your children? Fortunately, a large body of research has considered these very questions. Spoiler alert—none of it is good.

I’ve decided it’s wrong for me to sugar-coat the truth about the demise of my marriage with Demi. I struggled with that decision, however. Initially, I wasn’t sure what to do. I changed my mind in September 2017, after I demonstrated good will and dropped off a box of electronic paraphernalia for my sons at Demi’s apartment. They kids requested it, and Demi knew I was coming in advance. While I was there, I stayed in my vehicle in the parking lot. As Eldest unloaded the items, Demi even asked if I could bring his sandals, which he’d forgotten. I dropped them off the next morning on the landing outside the apartment. A week later, she petitioned the family court for relief, claiming that I was stalking her! Her petition failed to convince the judge. But that was the last time I did anything generous.

What I know now is that Demi must have had second thoughts after she requested the sandals. She didn’t want me to become comfortable coming near her apartment because she had to be sure she could conceal an ongoing relationship with Beavis. She had, in fact, already lied to Dr. Jepson, the court-appointed custody evaluator, telling him she’d ended the relationship. That, in my opinion, subverted the entire custody evaluation process. This woman simply doesn’t possess the moral acumen to be raising children. Who’s she trying to fool? That’s my view.

I worry about the long- and short-term effects of Demi’s blatant infidelity on the children. She doesn’t. And that’s where problem lies, and the major difference between us. That’s the source of her lack of compunction against having the affair in the first place.

According to clinical psychologist Dr. Ana Nogales, fifty-five percent of children from homes where one parent cheats later become cheaters themselves (Nogales 2009). It boils down to being a positive role model—what parents need to provide most to children is an exemplar of a loving and constructive relationship between the only two parents a child will ever have. That’s not rocket science. Or it shouldn’t be, anyway.

When children find out about a parent’s affair—and my sons have—it’s not just the act of infidelity itself, but the duration of it that matters, and how both parents have dealt with the crisis it poses. Handling the crisis the way Demi has, I suspect, will have a most profound effect on the boys’ future relationships, and not just with their parents. She simply didn’t care. She was more than happy to abandon the children to my custody and choose to be away from our family for long hours—even overnight—whenever she felt like it. And she flaunted her behavior to me in a highly abusive fashion. I hope she’s not telling herself her eldest son didn’t know what was going on.

There’s something very wrong when someone puts their entitlement to sexual stimulation and release above the needs of their children. Then, when we rush into a separation or divorce, we fail them at least as much as we fail ourselves.

Jean Duncombe, a British sociologist who has conducted extensive research on the impact of divorce on children, reports being “puritanical” when someone tells her they’re having an affair. “If people say to me that the children don’t know, I say, are you sure? or think about what you’re doing to the children—and I never would have said that twenty years ago” (cited in Figes 2013). Parents who cheat are not only deceiving their partners, they’re lying to themselves about the impact their cheating has on their offspring. Perhaps they’re telling themselves the children are too young to understand what’s happening. Or they think it simply doesn’t concern the children—the children are resilient, anyway. Aren’t they?

Wrong. All of the evidence, says Duncombe, points to the contrary. People betray more than their partners when they desecrate their family life by cheating. The children grow up believing their parents have been unfaithful to them, too. And if you don’t think that won’t create trust issues, think again. We’re talking about a parent here.

Cheating Causes Conflict

So-called “high-conflict” divorce is often what results from cheating. Fortunately, there has been substantial research done on the short- and long-term effects of high-conflict divorce on children. The studied effects include low self-esteem, a sense of abandonment, decreased school performance, anti-social behavior, and the sheer heartbreak of losing cohesive family life and potentially—one of their parents. Lingering conflict sometimes forces and manipulates the children into taking sides by supporting one parent’s version of events over the other, despite the fact that truth is always a singularity. The cheating parent is usually the one who continues lying to cover their heinous behavior after divorce. By ripping a child’s sense of loyalty in half in this way, the cheating parent inflicts profound damage.

According to research, a high-conflict divorce doesn’t simply hurt children when it’s happening. It can also have a sleeper effect, and contribute to psychological issues later in their lives (Wallerstein et al. 2000; Nogales 2009). If the parents separated when the children were very young, they won’t necessarily suffer the full effects until they become adults themselves. One’s early-age experiences as a child of divorce can contribute to the children’s own marital problems later, including the potential for infidelity. It can also interfere with their ability to form lasting intimate relationships because of latent issues of trust and a poor image of what a lasting marriage is supposed to look like. They have entered into adulthood after having been shown that arguably the most central relationship in a child’s life—that of their parents—is casually disposable. Moral virtues like fidelity have been tossed aside by the cheating parent, and that’s an image that remains burnished into their young minds. One of the most salient things a child learns when one parent is unfaithful is the sheer thoughtlessness of it—the example of “doing what you please, regardless of how it affects other people” (Harley and Chalmers 2013). In my case, since Demi flaunted her cheating and carried it on so long, she demonstrated a high degree of maternal treachery, and I expect that to result in serious trust issues in my children. There’s no question Eldest knows she wasn’t “working” such long hours, and Youngest will soon figure it out. Her attempts to manipulate them into believing whatever cockamamie story she intends to invest are going to bomb, and bomb miserably. Which only makes things worse. I can already tell that Eldest’s levels of respect and trust for his mother are very low indeed. And he is already coaching Youngest about what happened to their family life. Let’s just say—it’s not complimentary.

Psychological literature suggests the context of the cheating is important (Lusterman 1998). A single act of infidelity is one thing, but because Demi’s cheating was repeated and sustained, and she flaunted it in a pattern of verbal and emotional abuse, often in front of the children, or at least within earshot, it will be damaging. I was dismayed at her lack of concern. Regrets about having children with her trouble me constantly. There’s powerful evidence she’d cheated on me before, beginning very early in our relationship. And why not? She’d done it in all of her previous relationships, and simply got nailed hard this time. She’d cheated with more than one man on her first husband, Bob, and admitted as much to me. But for me, her infidelity is a deal-breaker. She’s repeatedly demonstrated she doesn’t deserve the trust of someone like me.

In his book, Infidelity: A Survival Guide, Dr. Lusterman notes that cheating affects children in complex ways. He differentiates between two types of cheaters. In the majority of cases, infidelity occurs when there’s a communication breakdown in a marriage. This is when, he observes, a married person who wouldn’t normally seek out extramarital sex has an affair with a colleague or someone else in close proximity, either because they feel neglected or because they feel they can’t talk about what’s happening in their marriage. Far less common, Lusterman reports, are the people who have a pattern of infidelity that started long before marriage. These people use sex to feel powerful (Lusterman 1998). They feed their NEED. Sound familiar? Narcissists, with their tireless lust for supply, for attention, admiration and adulation, certainly fall into this second category.

It wasn’t that I neglected Demi or that she couldn’t communicate with me. Instead, she created a myth about what was going on in her marriage in order to arouse feelings of sympathy in Beavis for her as a “victim” of domestic abuse. When he wrote harassing messages to my aged father, he, in fact said that I abused Demi “physically, mentally, and emotionally on a daily basis” as though he actually believed that. Even if it were true, I’m still not sure where he got the idea he should appoint himself the town crier. Demi, with an extensive history of infidelity in a number of past relationships, belongs in Lusterman’s second group. With a narcissist, there’s a constant need to feel worshipped and admired, and if that takes a sexual form, then it’s addictive as booze, says Lusterman.

Children in Rebellion

I expect Demi to lie about Beavis to the children. Then she’ll attempt to force him on them. One of my lingering fears is when that happens, my children will rebel. That could easily create a situation that becomes traumatic and damaging. Rebellion could take a number of forms.

Eldest may demand that I rescue him and his brother from the situation. On the other hand, they may rebel more symbolically, as did Patrick Schwarzenegger, one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s and Maria Shriver’s children. At 17, Patrick publicly changed his name to Shriver on his social media accounts, following his father’s now-famous affair. Patrick’s statement is clear: my father is a worthless piece of shit, my mother has nothing to do with it, and I’m now disowning him. In my family, the situation was reversed. Demi labeled me the “worthless piece of shit”—and did so right in front of my children. Whatever your beef with your partner, a good parent simply doesn’t do that. An abuser does.

Thinking about continuing to provide my children with a positive role model, in my case, they are witnessing me choose to leave their treacherous, lying, cheating mother. From this experience, I hope they learn that cheating (a) is something that always destroys families and family relationships; (b) is incompatible with good parenting; and (c) is generally unacceptable in the lives of normal, decent human beings. That, of course, doesn’t guarantee they won’t ever do it or put up with it, as the literature suggests, but if nothing else, they’ll realize it has severe consequences. I hope so. Because there’s no excuse for it. In my view, it’s the choice of a disordered person.

If I need to explain Demi’s “affair”—I prefer using the word “cheating”—to the kids, I’m going to be up-front. I’m not going to soft-pedal anything. I’m going to launch the facts out into the town square and let them grapple with the moral implications of it all. They’re intelligent kids, and they need to figure it out for themselves. They need to reason themselves down to the same conclusions any stable, sane adult would—that cheating, in any form, is destructive and just plain WRONG. I see no other way.

The Double Life of a Cheater: Illusion of Intimacy

When a person is leading a double life, there’s no such thing as “real intimacy.” It’s all just a façade or charade. For a moment, however, let’s adopt a different approach. Let’s set aside blame, and look more closely at the causes of infidelity. There’s no question that sneaking around, keeping secrets—maintaining a secret life—from your husband and children could be, to some people, exciting and intriguing. As the cheater, you work long and hard to hide the truth. It must really suck when you get busted so easily. With regard to Beavis, it strikes me as odd that someone would intentionally want to be the third wheel in someone’s marriage, or be a major catalyst in the breakup of a family with children. Why would anyone want that? And what about the children? The answer is that he doesn’t care. Good God, the man was having bareback sex with my wife at the same time I was. What’s at all moral about that? Nothing—nothing at all. And Demi had no right to take that kind of risk with my health.

But cheating happens, and Demi had cheated in the past. She’s now made my family home into a den of iniquity—brought her bad choices directly home to my family, to my children. I’m pissed off about it because it so horribly violates my sense of right and wrong. I’m flummoxed that she didn’t care enough about the children to make a different choice. Does that mean I have “anger issues?” Resoundingly—no, it doesn’t mean that at all. It means I simply believe in living a moral life, and fulfilling the commitment I made when I got married and had children. I hinted many times at seeking a solution over the past two years. But I was met with hostility over the fact I knew about the infidelity. And all I got was a heavy dose of her entitlement.

Demi has taunted me with my inability to obtain a Protection Order against Beavis. “You tried and you failed,” she wrote in a recent email. “You can’t control who has access to the children.” Notice the unthinking threat—implicit in her statement is that she’s free to do whatever she wants with the children in order to hurt me, to get at me.

My failure to get a Protection Order wasn’t because the court thought what Demi and Beavis were doing was moral, or anything like that. The failure was the result of a jurisdictional problem, relating to the fact we live on the border of two states. Beavis was still warned from the bench. But read between the lines here carefully. I see her hidden intention to force the children to accept Beavis. They won’t. And they shouldn’t. And I’m not going to enable it, either, because I shouldn’t. It wouldn’t be the right thing to do. There is nothing redeeming about the man, based on his past behaviors. Beavis’ involvement with my children, because of the history, is going to bring nothing but trouble. My children will rebel. Perhaps not at first, but it’ll happen. Every time I feel like I’m getting a little soft on Demi where the children are concerned, I think back to the time I discovered she was having sex with both me and Beavis. I know of at least one day where she callously did it on the very same day. Sick. Normal people don’t do things like that. Reckless, uncaring people do. What’s worse, Beavis has already approached my thirteen-year-old with a friend request on Facebook. Why? Eldest isn’t interested in contact with him. It’s an attempt to harass me, by pulling my son into the fray. What other purpose could there be? It’s sick—again, not normal. This is my family. These are my children.


References

Figes, Kate. “How to ruin your child’s chance of a happy love life: Have an affair—and the damage is WORSE the older they are when you stray.” DailyMail.com, April 22, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2313246/How-ruin-childs-chance-happy-love-life-Have-affair–damage-WORSE-older-stray.html

Harley, Willard F., PhD, and Chalmers, Jennifer H., PhD. Surviving an Affair. Revell, 2013.

Lusterman, Don-David, PhD. Infidelity: A Survival Guide. New Harbinger Publications, 1998.

Nogales, Ana, PhD. Parents Who Cheat: How Children and Adults Are Affected When Their Parents Are Unfaithful. Health Communications, Inc., 2009.

Wallerstein, Judith, PhD, Lewis, Julia, and Blakeslee, Sandra. The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25-Year Landmark Study. Hyperion, 2000.

Take Back a Cheater? 10 Great Reasons Why You Shouldn’t.

This article is a slightly edited version of one written by Kiri Blakely on CafeMom’s blog, The Stir, published in August, 2013. I think my favorite reason is #11.

When you discover that your partner is a liar and a cheater, it does indeed feel like a death in the immediate family. I’m still struggling with thoughts about what did actually exist before my discoveries about my wife. I hate to think it was all an enormous fraud, but it sure looks that way to me now. That’s what I feel in my gut. Going forward, I recognize I need to be much more cautious about the people with whom I get into romantic relationships.

Kiri Blakely’s Article: 10 Reasons Not to Take Back a Cheater

img_1879Being cheated on is probably the most devastating thing that can happen to a relationship, short of the other person dying. Actually, it can feel like your partner has died when you find out he (or she) has been cheating. It feels like what you had together died.

A woman wrote an essay in the Daily Mail about taking back her husband after he had a long-term affair. Initially, she thought this was a great idea. So great that she even wrote about how the affair brought them closer together than ever. But, predictably, that was a premature conclusion. Now she’s writing about how she should never have taken him back and it was the biggest mistake she’s ever made. Each person should decide for themselves whether to give a relationship another chance after cheating—and they should not be judged for it. But here are 10 reasons not to take back a cheater:

(1) The relationship will never be the same. While it’s true that some people say a relationship actually improves after cheating, we should face the fact that usually it does not. That sense of freedom, of trust, of respect is gone for a while and may never come back.

(2) You don’t have to worry about it happening again. Cheaters don’t always cheat again, but there’s a decent chance they might. Why? Whatever made them cheat is probably still in their psyche unless they’re seriously working on all their issues. Because they had a choice to cheat. You didn’t make them do it (no matter what they say). Some studies even say there’s a cheating gene. I don’t believe that once a cheat, always a cheat, but I definitely believe once a cheat, good chance of being a cheat again.

(3) You teach your children that cheating is not acceptable. If your children see you leave a cheater, they learn that this is something that destroys relationships and is unacceptable. Which doesn’t guarantee they won’t ever do it or put up with it, but they will realize it has severe consequences.

(4) You’ll save on therapy bills. Because, believe me, you are going to need them now that you’ve decided to stay with someone who strayed.

(5) You’ll feel safer. Not knowing if your spouse is going to cheat means never quite knowing when you might pick up a venereal disease.a89280dccca19d9aa61db3fa57d85041--quotes-people-real-friends-quotes

(6) You’ll keep your self-respect. If you want to stay with a cheater, you should do that and not be judged. But let’s face it, your self-respect is going to take a huge hit for a while. Especially if the affair is ongoing, or the cheating is chronic. How do you respect yourself staying with a person who can’t or won’t value you?

(7) Things can only get better. When you stay in a relationship with a cheater who makes little or no effort to change, things can only get worse. When you leave, things can only get better.

(8) You’re not taking the easy way out. It’s as difficult, if not more difficult, to leave a relationship, even a bad one, than it is to stay in one. You’re not the one giving up on the relationship, the cheater gave up when they cheated.

(9) You need a partner, not a child. It’s not up to you to “save” him, “teach him” right from wrong, or “help” him get over his cheating habit. He’s an adult and should have done that for himself.

(10) You deserve better. Believe it or not, there are men and women who do not cheat and will not cheat, and you deserve one of them.

(11) You don’t need any reason at all.

Have you ever left a cheater?