Skip to content

Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce


Sharing is caring!

When I was in the early days after the text, I found Viki Stark’s blog, Runaway Husbands. I had mixed feelings about the discovery. On the one hand, it felt good to know that I wasn’t alone. On the other, especially as she was collecting stories for her book, it was filled with wives adding their own, often anger-filled, stories of how he left. I spent a few weeks there and even added my own tale. But then I moved on, knowing that reading about the beginnings every day would keep me in the beginning. I cared about how he left but I was more concerned about how I was going to live.

If you have experienced a tsunami divorce, I recommend reading Viki Stark’s work. She distills thousands of cases into facts and patterns, which bring some comfort and depersonalization to the betrayed. Although her work is with abandoned wives, it fits just as well with the husbands I have encountered that have also experienced sudden abandonment.

In her recent piece in Psychology Today, My Husband Was Abducted By Aliens, she explores the way that the deserting spouse rewrites history and reality to match his/her own needs. I remember how crazy-making this was when my ex spewed lies in his suicide letter to my mom and other wife (spoiler – he survived). In time, I came to realize that he could not live with the cognitive dissonance created by his actions. So he rewrote my reality to match his.

One of the pieces of advice I give to someone in this situation is to have a reality anchor. There are days that feel like an acid trip through Alice’s Nightmareland, where you no longer know what is a fabrication and what is real. Have something that reminds you of the truth that can bring you back. I held a copy of his mugshot in my purse for months. It was my reminder that he was a criminal. ย And criminals lie.

The most important advice I can give to someone who has been abandoned is to learn how to not take it personally. Sounds crazy, I know. Read this.

Regardless of what your exiting spouse says, it’s your story. Write your happy ending. Aliens be damned.


Sharing is caring!

23 thoughts on “Revisionist

  1. I hear ya on what you’re saying. I do have a couple reactions: First, if you are in a marriage you thought was happy and stable, and your spouse out of the blue up and leaves you, I wonder to what extent you were really trying to find out what was going on with them. (not you, I mean, anyone!). How could a spouse be so unhappy for so long and up and leave and the left spouse not have a clue? It tells me that there wasn’t much going on in the marriage. That communication (real communication) was sorely lacking. That someone wasn’t bothering to pay attention to what their spouse’s needs were, or to the probably myriad clues left everywhere that they weren’t happy. Second, I’m not sure that all spouses how leave are “rewriting history” in an inaccurate way. Their way may be VERY accurate — but the left spouse merely doesn’t agree. Or again, wasn’t really paying attention to the reality and was caught up in their own internal and continuous “revisionist history”. That this rewriting of history might be exactly what the spouse who left is feeling. And therefore to them, it’s accurate. Although I realize that people often rewrite history to suit the circumstances they face, or to dodge criticism. Not just abandoning spouses, but bosses, coworkers, friends, relatives, politicians. it’s almost human nature to do so. Few people have the courage to point the finger at themselves. I see it all over the blogs.

    But I will have to disagree with the premise that many state — they their marriage was so good, SO strong, until she (or he) showed up. I simply don’t buy that based on my experience and reading and research. Happy and content people don’t have affairs or up and leave. They simply don’t. The clues are there. Pay attention, people!

    1. I asked myself these questions so many times. I should have been more aware yet the signs were very subtle and very carefully covered up. He only showed me what he wanted me to see.

      I thought we had a great marriage. The communication was there. The intimacy was there. I had no reason to suspect a problem with the marriage.

      In my case, it wasn’t the introduction of another woman that caused the break, he was broken long before (from what I can tell, addiction initiated by job loss) The affair(s?) and bigamy were simply part of him trying to create the man he wanted to be while abandoning the one he had become.

      He was an expert revisionist – even admitted post suicide attempt that he started to believe his own BS. He lied for so long, he lost the truth. And I was along for the ride. When you live with a revisionist, you live in a fiction, but it is real enough to you.

      1. every case is different. You might be 100% correct in your assessment of him. I have no way of knowing or how to dispute it. I was makng a larger point – I hear this all the time: The cheater revises history to fit the circumstance. As if this was a leadpipe lock truism. That the betrayed spouse is 100% accurate and blameless, and that the cheater is revising history. I think it tends to go both ways. In fact, pointing the finger at the cheater is a clever way of dodging looking in the mirror for many. That’s my only point. A lot of people “revise history” — not just cheaters. It’s not inherent. I think my wife would 98% agree with my assessment of our marriage and would not agree that I “revised” anything to dodge responsibilty. She accepted her part in the fact that our marriage had detiorated so much that I found refuge and solace elsewhere. And I accepted my part. That is was key to recovering. We got away from “I’m right and you’re 100% wrong” and instead went to “We were both wrong. We both screwed up. How do we move forward from here”?

        1. I’m all about personal responsibility.

          Question for you – do you see a distinction between the lies we tell ourselves (in order to protect our self-image and beliefs) and lies told to others (in order to hide behaviors)?

          1. I’m not sure what you are driving at. Everybody — not just cheaters — tends to have internal justifications for what they do. otherwise, how could we live with ourselves? Yes, of course I had to tell lies to cover the affair. I didn’t want my wife to be hurt. I went to great lengths to protect her from this truth. So of course deceit is part and parcel to any affair (or illegal activity). That goes without saying. Few people wish to be caught and have to face the consequences of what they were doing.

            but internal lies? To be honest, not that much. I knew from the beginning that what I was doing was wrong. That despite my crappy marriage, this was the wrong thing to do. It was stressful from the start for me. I had a lot of internal dissonance. I didn’t like who I was or what I had to go through to get my critical needs met. At all. I started seeing a therapist shortly after starting things and the #1 topic was the affair. I felt like I was in a minefield. I didn’t know what to do. Afraid to take a step in any direction (end the affair, end my marriage, or both!). So I didn’t talk myself into thinking that what I was doing was right or justified, as many cheaters tend to do. But as I said — this is human nature. Anytime we do anything wrong, we create an internal dialogue to justify it. This is not unique to infidelity, or men, or cheaters — women do it too. Betrayed Spouses create all kinds of stories to paint themselves even more as the victims (there is power in being a victim). People lie. To each other. To themselves. It’s again, human nature.

          2. Nobody in these situations it seems has a monopoly on the truth. Or virtue. Everybody has dirt on their hands. People lie to gain advantage, to gain sympathy, to live with themselves.

            I assure you, if my ex-OW was blogging, she would tell everyone a very very different story of the affair and of me that is full of lies and half-truths. How do I know? Because we had two common friends who told me the story she was peddling afterwards. All designed to paint herself as the victim, me as the predator, and to escape her responsibility in any of it. And she would be convincing at it too. She’s had all kinds of followers here telling her what a jerk I was and poor, poor you! And frankly it pretty much be mostly a lie.

            This is human nature. I see it all the time.

            1. Thank you for your response. Part of question is because I never had the opportunity to talk to my ex. I use conversations with others to try to help me find understanding about what happened. It’s interesting to me that you say you lied to protect her. At first, I saw all of my ex’s lies as malicious in intent, designed to harm me. After a couple years (and much reading), I shifted my thinking, seeing the lies as (at least initially) coming from a place of trying to protect me. I guess right now I’m just ruminating on the intent behind deception and if it matters or not.

              A note here: You are not like my ex. He took things to the extreme. I don’t know what labels fit, but he definitely turned to addiction and committed at least one felony. I don’t know if he always had a criminal mind or ended up there from a slippery slope.

              And, as to the power in victimhood, I am with you. I fully support people shedding that role. I also frequently see the flipside, however, where the blame is placed fully on the shoulders of the victim. Either extreme is damaging and incompatible with healing.

              1. Yes, of course I wanted to protect her. I didn’t want the affair to be exposed while I figured out what to do – and once I decided to end it, the OW selfishly informed my wife through anonymous means. But I knew she would. She was vicious like that.

                I’m not saying I had an affair to protect my wife — I’m saying of course I didn’t want my wife to know. It’s painful. It’s shameful. She seemed content with her life (although I later found out she wasn’t as content as she appeared). I wanted my needs met yet, but I didn’t want anyone hurt because of that. It’s normal. I’m not saying I’m noble. I’m just saying yes of course you have to lie to have an affair. Duh!! If you don’t, then it’s discovered and out in the open, with all the consequences that follow it.

                1. I get that. From what I can tell, my ex’s lies started well before any infidelity and encompassed our entire lives. I think it started with lies about employment and money. My only regret is that he didn’t feel like he could come to me. I feel like I let him down. I’m just trying to find understanding about those early motivations.

                  1. All signs of a marriage that was fatally flawed. That lacked honesty and open communication. The affair was just another, and final, act of the tragedy of it all. Wasted years. For both of you.

                    It took the affair for my wife and I to really be honest with each other in a lot of things. And to learn a new appreciation for each other. Our patterns of communication and interaction are quite different now. Sometimes good things can result from bad things. The apple cart truly needed to be overturned. If I had ended things with the OW, and not been caught, I would’ve merely skulked back to my unsatisfying marriage and reality, worse for the wear, and nothing would’ve changed.

  2. This is why I am so grateful I began blogging, along with therapy. Living with a habitual liar and only realizing how big the issue of manipulating realty was through the divorce process was amazingly difficult. I spent many years in my marriage thinking I was insane. And I have seen the rewriting of history post separation and divorce. I suppose denial is all about self preservation.
    “I cared about how he left but I was more concerned about how I was going to live.” Ditto.

    1. We cling to our illusions that support the stories we tell ourselves. Unfortunately, sometimes there is collateral damage when trying to maintain the mirage. Living with a revisionist is exhausting and crazy-making!

  3. I was married for 27 1/2 years only to find out that my ex husband had in excess of 25 affairs. He was very clever in his ability to hide his behavior…our combined work/personal life facilitated his charade. Post divorce I am simply amazed by his ability to reinvent the past. If a man can completely rewrite why a piece of property was purchased (as one example) you have to wonder how has rewritten our whole marriage in his effort to excuse his behavior and transfer responsibly.
    Thanks for this post – it validates my belief and it is so good to know that revisionism is more common than I believed.

    1. It’s crazy common. And just plain crazy. My favorite from my ex? When he was being questioned by the police, he claimed we had been divorced for years and I was remarried to a man named Mark (Marc?) Mercer. I feel sorry for Mark as I’ve never acknowledged our fictional marriage:)

      1. Oh my!!! That is not revision, that is delusion. What is sad is that even given facts in my case he still believe his illusion. I suppose it is by design to protect his image of himself. I do want to say that I sincerely appreciate your posts…they have been the most helpful of anything I have read in the 6 years of searching. Merry Christmas to you and yours. I look forward to more insightful posts in 2014!

  4. Recovering WS clearly has some more “recovering” to do. While Lisa did an amazing job of having a patient dialog with you, I feel no such compulsion. I am a MAN who was suddenly and inexplicably betrayed after a 20 year relationship and 10 year marriage, so let’s go ahead and set that gender bias aside. What is truly disturbing about your posts is something that I’ve run into again and again (especially because of my gender) – trying to assign blame the betrayed spouse. “The marriage was doomed anyway” “You should have known” “Something must have been lacking” “He MUST’VE done SOMETHING”

    Sure, sometimes marriages are acrimonious and destined to fail, and many do. But to assign blame elsewhere as a way to assuage your own guilt about being a horrible human being (because that is what you have to be to betray your spouse) is appalling. Of course the betrayer is going to try and justify their actions to themselves and others. Of course they’ll seek out betrayed spouses as surrogates for their the spouse that they will never find resolution with. Guess what Recovering WS – nobody here is going to tell you that it was okay either. In the end, you obviously still can’t take responsibility for what you did and you’ll never heal until you do.

    The last text message my ex-wife sent to me when I was on my way home from the airport was “I love you so much, can’t wait to see you.” An hour later, she left the home we’d lived in for 10 years and never returned. She was having an affair (a ridiculously fluffy word for a disgusting act) with a co-worker and it was the discovery of her affair that sent her out the door. A cowardly, selfish act – not a reflection of the communication in the marriage or anything I did. A year and a half of hard work in therapy and I can tell you with extremely acute hindsight that I was an exemplary husband who couldn’t have done a thing differently.

    If you want to actually “recover” from being a betrayer, get yourself to a therapist, figure out a way to stop lying to yourself, and take responsibility for the disgusting thing that you did.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: