Vicious Cycle

Q: I have been with this man, let's call him Bob, for almost 10 years now, and it seems we're stuck in a horrible cycle I can't get out of. When I met Bob I was married and he was living with someone 25 years his senior who knew about us. I, however, cheated on my husband. Bob and I have two beautiful kids together and I have one from my previous marriage. But here's the problem.

After my divorce and second child's birth, I was hopeful that Bob and I would get married and move in together. Yet he didn't want to leave the house he had been living in with the other woman. I decided that if he didn't want me, then I would find someone else, and I did. Bob thought that was cheating. I have had several sexual relationships with men and always end up hating myself and feeling bad. Bob proposed to me after he found out about some of these encounters, and I felt things were finally going to be different. He was looking at houses with me, and then he just shut down. He started online sex chats with women, setting up encounters with them and not telling me.

Now he wants us to have threesomes. I told him that I'm not interested in that. I just want out. I have told him face to face. I have told him over the phone. I have told him in emails, texts. He gets it for a day or two, then I find myself right back in the same circle. He says ugly things and brings me down, and then I start letting him back in. How do I break this vicious cycle that makes me miserable? He is a good dad to our kids, until all hell breaks loose with us, then he talks bad about me and they are confused and scared. I hate to see my kids have to deal with that. I want them to have a happy innocent childhood free from adult stuff. Am I crazy?? Is it me??? Is there help for my kids and myself? -- Emily, 35

Dr. Susan: I would label your behavior as crazy, yes, Emily. Not you, but the way you're acting. It's all very well to fantasize that your kids ought to have a happy innocent childhood, but all this back and forth with Bob has already made that an improbability. Which is not to say you can't do an about-face and change your and their lives for the better. That will take determination. How badly do you want to save yourself and your kids? I'd strongly urge you to see a therapist to walk you though the steps to regaining your self-respect, but really, all you have to do is stop seeing Bob. Full stop. You've already told him in many ways that you want out. Now GET out. Don't respond to his pleas, his anger, his abuse, his texts or emails. Don't await his permission or agreement to end the relationship. His treatment of you diminishes you in the eyes of your kids, and you're the one who is allowing it to go on. Of course, you'll have to deal with the issue of his access to the kids, and some men are geniuses at continuing to pull their ex's strings for many years, using the kids as the excuse. But that can't happen if you harden yourself and learn some boundaries. Let him be a "good dad," but don't let him back in your personal life. The mangled history the two of you have has left your relationship with no future. Just say no. And now, since you've said it too many times already, just MEAN it and stick to it.

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