Trying To Do The Right Thing

We are women of integrity and caring. We think about the wellbeing of others, even when those others have hurt us. Our high level core values are real. They inspire us, guide us and constrain us. We may rant and cry and swear about the cruelty visited upon us by the person we loved and their treatment gang, but when push comes to shove it’s very hard for us to make a decision without asking “What is the right thing to do here?”

It’s ironic. This is the very question about which our men called sex addicts have no concerns and never ask as they overtly and covertly abuse us (and sometimes our children, too). The core values that would give this question voice are not values that hold their lives together and interpret what their lives mean.

And in this context for us, doing the right thing needs to be carefully considered and re-interpreted before blithely handing its gifts to those who neither respect, protect, care for or advocate for your wellbeing—EVER. So, here’s some suggestions for women who need “to do the right thing”…

Ask what the right thing is for you—not just for him. This is the biggest mistake women make. They only consider what the “right thing to do” might be for him, thereby making themselves invisible and emerging without the basic things they need to keep going. This is true whether they stay or whether they go.

  • Outline what is acceptable to you and what is not.

  • Be aware as to whether you are taking all the risks or most of the risks.

  • Be sure of what you want to achieve through your decisions.

  • Identify what you need in order to stay or in order to leave.

  • Articulate the core values you are using to make your decisions and make sure you don’t leave any out, or give those values only to him and not to yourself.

 

Ask what the right thing is for your children—not just for him. Don’t make your children invisible in the equation by only making decisions that serve him. Never assume that the “right thing to do” for him is also the “right thing to do” for the children. These things need to challenge each other and be in dialogue. Also, don’t pretend you are doing something for the children just because you are trying to save your marriage. That’s an old and well-known mistake, but we make it now just as often as we did way back when.

  • Be able to say why you are leaving or why you are staying in one sentence that includes the core value(s) driving that decision.

  • Be able to say what you are teaching and modelling for your children in whatever decision you make.

  • Be able to say that if they are ever in a similar situation it’s the decision you would want them to make, as well. (If it isn’t, then it’s probably not the right thing to do for you, either)

 When I was wrangling my way through my nightmare of PTSD, my ex-husband’s ridiculous and insulting “recovery” and what my options were, I added to my workload by trying to figure out what the “right thing to do” was. My core value of integrity kept me in that place, but I only pursued it to his benefit, and not my own. As a result, I short-changed myself financially and put myself in a tough position that only got worse. But I tried to be the adult in the situation, recognizing all the things that he never would, and positioned his future quite nicely. Here’s how the “right thing to do” was not the “right thing to do”, after all.

Because we were clergy, we did not have a lot of money. I had been employed full-time for less than half of our married life. I did not use a lawyer in our divorce because that would only take more money of the little we had. So, after selling our house, I put all the assets into a pile. His church pension and his Canada Pension would be more than mine. I ignored that. He had more RRSP’s than I did. I I took out my 50% share in cash from the house sale, leaving his RRSP’s alone and so that I could buy a small townhouse the boys and I could call home. He did receive some cash from the house when all was settled—enough for healthy downpayment if needed. I did not get anything from his church pension, from his Canada pension, or any support that recognized the years of our marriage I was not employed or underemployed—years in which I was unpaid labour supporting his career and raising his children. As expected, he went through his money very quickly. I was careful with mine. Most of our joint belongings were stored in my townhouse. Eventually my ex came and took as much as he could fit in his moving truck—the rest I paid to move across Canada last year with my stuff, and then he came and got it. I lived very frugally, knowing that I had to be ready to support my sons through unexpected emergencies and ongoing school expenses. And as life unfolded, that is exactly what I ended up doing as the economy of our province shut down. It was a very difficult time.

 So, why did I think that was the right thing to do?

I realize now that I was afraid that if I asked for what I was entitled to have, my sons would think that their father was some kind of “victim” of our divorce. I wanted to be able to tell them otherwise. I was also aware that in church life, the male minister is always protected and favoured in a clergy divorce, so I didn’t want my colleagues thinking I had treated him unfairly either. The lesson I learned was that they are going to think that anyway, because sexism works that way. And when he went through his money pretty quickly he was in a tight spot financially. So it all looked like I left him destitute anyway. I didn’t foresee that.

I also didn’t foresee my PTSD making it impossible for me to work productively in congregational life while dealing with standard obstructionist behaviour by a few with the congregation. I wasn’t as resilient as I used to be. I could see that if I stayed, the good ministry I had certainly achieved would disappear. The resistance to growth by a powerful few was not going to disappear. I had to step away and it was very hard to accept. I had lost so much.  But I wanted to have at least the memory of who I once was in ministry and be able to be proud of that. That meant I had to find other ways to make a living. That was a long hard journey that brings me your door today.

Do you see how complex and conflicted “the right thing to do” really is, when you deconstruct it? Yes, integrity was in the decisions I made, but so was fear about what others would say about me. Still more importantly, I did not look to what I fairly deserved, or to my own needs and the impact that PTSD might have on me—an outcome I did not deserve and that he created. And in the end, people who thought and said nasty things about me were going to do that no matter what I did in my divorce.

It’s always difficult for women. Even when we are the victims of men’s actions, the story will be told so that they become the victim and we become the caricature of the vengeful, greedy woman stealing his money and reputation.

You know, my ten year anniversary of dday comes this new year. I said almost nothing to anyone all those years about what he did to me. I even asked him when he was retiring before I started my blog so that his livelihood would never be compromised because of me. Mine was. But his wasn’t.

 So, what is the right thing to do? And how do you know?

The point of this week’s blog is that the right thing to do has to be right for you, too, and it has to be right for your children, not just right for him. We work that through using our core values, so that they honour not just his life but also yours and your children’s. For example, I should have asked him to put money aside for any emergency needs for our sons, because I already knew he didn’t consider his family in his decisions. This was a man who blamed his porn on his son! So I was left managing that crisis because I do prepare for family emergencies. That was a mistake I made in “doing the right thing.” I accepted all the responsibility for what was right for our sons, but let’s remember he certainly didn’t suggest thinking about them, either. Eventually my ex did have to address that his son was unemployed when he asked for me to pay for something unrelated and I had to explain why I didn’t have any money. In fact, I already had sold anything I could find to sell! I see now it was the story of our life.I was still the grunt-worker for the family, propping up his fantasy life for himself so he didn’t have to remember we were real people with pesky things like rent to pay and groceries to buy. But for the first time since d-day, he seemed to sense the optics were not good on this one. He slowly took on some of the financial support, albeit late in the game, and now our sons both are working. He has made more of an effort to consider their reality ever since. I’ll take it anyway it comes.

Additionally, it is crucial to identify what other forces (like fear) are at work in the path we are taking. Those other forces may need to be critiqued by other core values. I should have looked ahead to possible negative impacts of PTSD on my ability to generate income and at least asked for half of his Canada pension (to which I was entitled). In my case, I could have let “courage” take on the fear I had about what others would think of me. Because I have courage. Look at me. I’m writing a blog. I’m out there. And I don’t care anymore about sexist-based opinions of me. The integrity of my life is at stake now in me telling the truth about the covert abuse I endured for years. Notice that “integrity” is the same core value I was trying to use before, but now I also use courage greater than my fears to manage one challenge at a time.

 “Doing the right thing” sounds like you will be able to know you can rest with your decisions. But when you only “do the right thing” for him, you have not actually succeeded at this at all. You’ve just set yourself up to pay even more and endure more stress than you already have. There’s no virtue in that. There’s no positive core value to support that outcome. In my case, I just perpetuated our relationship pattern of me being responsible for things inconvenient to his deluded identity. But that’s over. And this where we are now, thank goodness .

In spite of my mistakes in pursuing “doing the right thing”, I’m still that kind of person. But I challenge the fear that kept me hostage. And to anyone who thinks I shouldn’t be sharing the stories of my life here, let me offer an important piece that helped me get past that:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better. Anne Lamott

I’m okay with what I’m doing. And I know it’s the right thing, because I’m not afraid anymore of what happened to me and what others make of it. Also, other women tell me it has helped them recover their precious lives, protect their children, and even stopped them from self-harm and suicide.

Yep. I’m pretty sure it’s the right thing to do.

So, Happy New Year—that’s where we are going.

If it’s time to talk through some of your questions and concerns from your life with a man called a sex addict, use a discounted trial session: https://www.yourstoryissafehere.com/coaching/ If you have other questions contact me: Diane@yourstoryissafehere.com

With you,

Diane.

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Diane Strickland