How to Coparent After Betrayal and Heartbreak

Dear Kate,

My husband of 11 years left me for a coworker while I was pregnant.  

I have very traditional views in terms of family and divorce, so I’ve been reading and receiving professional help to try and get through this time. I’ve been told to let it go. I’m nervous that if I do they both get a free pass, almost as if what they did is permitted. It erases my hurt. If I let it go there’s no record of it, and I don’t think that’s right.

All of the resources I keep reading keep suggesting that I’m supposed to just embrace this woman as a stepmother for my kids. I have grave concerns about her integrity and selfishness among other things. Of course I cannot control who he chooses to bring around my kids now. But in this case she had a hand in the destruction of my family.

I know I’m supposed to keep my kids out of the line of fire in terms of adult feelings. But I absolutely despise her. The fact that she just walked in and gets to take my spouse and my kids and get a little insta family and there’s no way to stop her and I’m apparently supposed to embrace her while she ruins my life is absolutely inconceivable to me.

Any insight you can provide would be great. 

Vanessa


Dear Vanessa,

That’s ridiculously tough. My heart goes out to you and your children.

You have every right to be deeply angry with your ex and  his new partner. What they did had long-lasting, devastating effects, and your anger is a natural response. You are grieving the loss of your marriage, the dreams you had for your family, and your partner.

I hear from parents like you often. Parents who want their ex to pay a price for a betrayal, or a marriage spent in anger, or a child abandoned. Parents who feel if they don’t carry the memory, the world will forget what happened. You’re not alone.

Vanessa, because I want to help you move forward, I am going to be very candid with you.

What’s done is done.

Your ex made his decision and his new lover made hers. You cannot influence this situation for the better. It is what it is, and the next chapter of their relationship is theirs to write. The truth is, your ex and his new love will have a difficult road, whether you move forward or not. They will not have a free pass.

What matters now is what’s next.

Hurt and anger poison the bearer.

How heavy is it to carry the weight of their choices? How difficult is it to be the self-designated remember-all in this situation? In my experience, pretty heavy and very difficult. Bearing the weight of others’ choices and feeling responsible for their consequence is a difficult, poisonous load. It takes mental energy and focus that as a newly single mom, could be better directed elsewhere.

Here’s the dark comedy of it all, Vanessa: how will the world even know you are carrying this burden?  I trust you’re not planning to put up billboards in your town, or mass email the PTA the details of the tryst. If you are carrying the load to prevent a free pass, how do you plan to do that? And for how long?

For the sake of what are you poisoning yourself? How does carrying this pain and anger serve you?

Any consequences you enact will also be paid by your children.

Because you and your ex no longer have a personal relationship, any actions you take will have to happen where you are still connected. In my experience, those places are usually money and children.

Let’s say you decided to make him literally pay. You take him to court and win every penny he has. Does that fix what he did? No. It might make him feel some of the pain you have felt. How well might he parent in pain and anger?

What is the best possible outcome for your children?

The data would say a low to no conflict relationship between the parents, and equal parenting time between both parties. So if you choose to enact consequences for Dad’s actions by reducing time or refusing to speak to him, who really pays?

What if you are nothing but sweetness and light to Dad, ensure he stays financially sound, but make it your mission to ensure the world knows what he has done to you and your family? What might growing up in that story do to your children? True, he wrote the story. What effect might your perpetuating that story have on the lives of your sweethearts?

You have all the power.

That’s what we often forget, especially after pain and hurt have humbled us. But it’s true. You have choices.

You can choose to accept your ex’s new relationship. That’s not to make the stepmother comfortable, or to forgive your ex, or to be one big happy blended tribe. It’s not about them at all. It’s about choosing to look forward instead of backward. It’s about giving your children the best possible chance.

You can choose to carry it all forward with you. You can be the living record of the choices other people have made. You can ensure that deed is punished. My personal journey would tell me that’s a heavy and difficult path, for you, for your children, and for your ex and his new love. Truthfully, his and her price don’t much matter to me, but I do care deeply about the price you and your children will pay.

It’s your choice.

While this road, and this terrible, painful betrayal aren’t choices you made, you have choices now.

Day by day, minute by minute, you choose. Your choices can honor peace and joy or grief and anger. Your choices are made for the sake of love or the sake of pain.  Your choices will free or imprison you.

In the end, you and your children will know the power and courage of the choices you make.

And it takes courage, Vanessa. It is incredibly brave to be honest with yourself, as you have been here. It is brave to trust that the future holds more for you than the past. It is brave to reach out for help, here and with your counselor.

You can do this. As I said in the beginning, you’re not alone.

Sending you all the love and strength I have,

Kate

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Names have been changed to protect privacy.  Responses are Kate Chapman’s opinions, shaped by her personal experience as a divorced mom, a stepmom, and a professional coach.  Those opinions should not replace readers seeking professional support as needed. Kate Chapman is not a licensed therapist.  By submitting a question, readers agree to hold Kate Chapman and This Life in Progress harmless.  
Betrayal | Divorce | Heartbreak | Affair | Blended Family | Grief | Moving On | Coparenting | Stepmom
By | 2017-08-17T09:26:29+00:00 August 8th, 2017|Ask Kate, Coparenting, Divorce|

2 Comments

  1. Michelle August 8, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Vanessa – I was in your shoes 7 years ago and I truly know the pain you are going through. You are making the right choice in getting counseling. Take it day by day – I know it is hard and there are days you may feel like it’s not going to get better but bettter days are to come. I know exactly how you feel about the free pass because it’s something I still battle with myself even after all these years. If I could do it all over again, make sure to take good care of yourself and focus on your little one. Your ex is probably focusing and prioritizing his girlfriend and your child will know who they rely on and who takes care of them. I am praying for you – stay strong and relish every minute of your child, trust me that you will not regret that!

  2. Nicky phipard shears August 8, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    At first I wanted to tell the whole world, I certainly told every person I met, wether they wanted to hear it or not! I know it’s a cliche but time really does change those feelings. I hated the thought of my kids being around her, and worse what if they actually like her. Now I’m happy if my kids are happy because that is so important. In time you will re build your life and you will be in a happy place. Of course when you have children together there will always be arguements and issues to overcome but I’m determined not to let their selfishness spoil my happiness. What I find the hardest is not telling my kids about those selfish decisions they make. I could have exploded with anger at one time but I always wanted to keep my dignity. ” when they go low you go high”

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