This article originally appeared at wildernesstowild.com and has been republished with the permission of its author.
Young women often face a painful dilemma in the dating years:
“I’ve discovered my boyfriend/fiancé has been watching porn, hiding debt, sexting, chatting with other girls, not telling me he’s out drinking, gambling on the side, lied to me about other things, etc…"
"I'm heartbroken that he's been lying to me and broken my trust, but I love him SO much. I can’t imagine life without him. He’s a really amazing boyfriend/fiancé, and he’s promised to get help."
"Should I REALLY break up with him/cancel the wedding?
Shouldn’t I stick around to prove my support and commitment?"
Sweet, beautiful, worried young woman — let me share some profoundly painful and hard-earned wisdom for your consideration…
First of all, no mentor or parent or friend can tell you what to do in this dilemma. But few will take the time to give you a raw, brutal glimpse into what very likely lies ahead should you decide to stay. Right now, I’m going to give you a painful, unpleasant, but potentially life-saving gift.
You must decide for yourself what level of betrayal you’re willing to live with as your baseline of “normal.”
Based on the experience of tens of thousands of older women who would give plasma, their life savings, and possibly a right leg in order to go back and make a different choice at your age, here’s what I can almost certainly guarantee waits in your future, if you stay with him or marry him now.
It doesn't matter why you choose to stay — it could be from attachment, compassion, pity, fear of loss, sunk cost factor (when you don't want to walk away because you've put so much in already) or just dogged hope. Your motivation for staying and investing further, however holy, is unlikely to change the outcome.
Peer into the looking glass with me for a moment, and glimpse what lies ahead. If you choose to stay, you will:
- live in fear, not in love.
- keep experiencing these discoveries or disclosures over and over again, and they will NOT hurt less with time.
- develop a mysterious chronic illness, cancer, or autoimmune condition.
- become conditioned to doubt the goodness and safety of all men everywhere.
- find yourself compulsively checking his devices, your bank accounts, and other data sources to try and reassure yourself that he’s currently not cheating or putting the family in debt.
- work two or three jobs to help him pay off the debt incurred from reckless financial decisions and addictive choices.
- live in constant self-doubt because his words and actions often don’t add up and you can’t trust your reality.
- lose confidence in yourself as a human and in your value as a woman, due to his emotional abandonment and sexual mistreatment.
- mourn the sense of loss as you realize your brain is more and more foggy, your memory lapses regularly, and you can't seem to keep up with normal chores and duties like before.
- experience depression and anxiety, while also noticing that your children are showing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- be forced to care for yourself and your kids without his help (or even despite his disdain) whenever you are sick or in poor health.
- be shamed by church leaders when you seek help, and told that your issues are the result of not praying enough, not giving him enough sex, or thinking for yourself.
- live in constant fear that he may act out pornographic fantasies with your girlfriends or on your children.
- flee for safety if/when he DOES act out those fantasies on your children.
- spend the remaining years of your kids’ childhoods tethered to him via a hostile court system.
- watch your children's disclosures of abuse or assault be ignored over and over again by professionals who are designated to speak on their behalf.
- work your hands to the bone despite your chronic illness(es) to feed, clothe, and educate your little ones, while he continues to rack up debt and spend thousands on his addictions while dodging child support.
- weep your way home after every court-mandated child exchange because the courts WILL award him unsupervised parenting time regardless of his addictions or proclivities.
- yell at God and struggle with your faith because of the unrelenting years of double abuse and failure to be protected by those in power.
- face mountains of legal, medical, and therapy bills directly resulting from trying to survive the impact of his behaviors.
- or… you may not ever choose to leave, instead believing you are trapped in hell for life because of your kindhearted and trusting initial vow, and then live out your days as a hollow, lifeless shell of the vibrant and beautiful woman God created you to be.
If you choose to stay...
If you choose to marry him despite what you’ve discovered...
You will alter the trajectory of your next several decades of life.
Your future will very likely include a daily existence of deception, domestic violence, sexual abuse, betrayal, adultery, fraud, litigation abuse, and financial poverty. This will also hand down trauma to the next generation.
Yes, you could survive it. Yes, you could become a warrior in the process. Yes, you may find healing on the other side.
But if you already know what you know now, why choose to walk into hell?
If there’s one thing you can do right now to love him well — it is to 1) wish him recovery and 2) walk away at the first sign of broken boundaries, double life, and addictive behaviors.
His best chance for knowing genuine repentance and submitting to the hard work of recovery — will be the result of facing his addiction and losing every crutch and enablement. You can only truly see the fruit of genuine change after you've left and stayed away. When the tears, promises, projected guilt, and manipulative kindness doesn't bring you back, the resulting drop to rock bottom may be the one thing to humble him and cause him look up. Ultimately, he needs to come face to face with the One who has been obscured by his idol — his addiction.
If you want to love him well, don't get in the way of what is truly best for him — recovery. He can get clean, find healing, and become healthy and whole — without you.
Whatever dilemmas you face, precious young woman, please carefully ponder ALL the ramifications so that you can make a fully informed choice about the direction of your future.
Your 40-something future self will thank you.
Sarah McDugal is an author, speaker, abuse recovery coach, and co-founder of Wilderness to WILD, an organization that provides online coaching, courses, and community for women recovering from trauma across 45 countries.
The article has also appeared in He Chose Porn Over Me: Women Harmed by Men Who Use Porn, a newly released book by Spinifex Press authored by Melinda Tankard Reist.
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