Recently, I had an email exchange with one of my readers, “Bonnie.” She has been dating a guy for nearly four (long) years and there are some huge red flags. Like crimson colored. Bonnie said I could share her story and I have changed her name and a few details to protect her privacy.
When Bonnie met “Joe” he had just separated from his wife. He gave Bonnie and earful about what a crazy woman his ex was. She was a liar, a horrible mother, abusive and never appreciated him. Bonnie felt sorry for Joe and soon grew to hate Joe’s ex (though she never met her). But Joe had another failed marriage and he had nothing good to say about that ex either. She, too, was lazy, a terrible mother, had major substance abuse problems, and was emotionally volatile. Poor Joe had been victimized by two former wives and Bonnie hated both women. Poor Joe, she just wanted to give him a huge hug and take all his pain away (at the expense of crazy, evil women).
NOTE: Ladies, I cannot state this enough, stay OUT of the relationships that your new guy has with his ex’s. There are two sides to every story and there is a really good chance that he just might have a lot to do with the problems in those relationships. Your job is to provide comfort and hugs to your new guy, watch and observe very carefully. And when you do meet the “crazy ex,” be polite. Or, at a minimum, do not be part of their drama. Because there is a very good chance that if you and your new guy split, those ex’s may become a huge support to you.
It wasn’t long before Bonnie began seeing signs of trouble with Joe. He had an explosive personality and months later, she realized that he was an alcoholic. (Bonnie and I have many parallels.) He explained his alcoholism away by blaming his ex-wives for his woes. They stressed him out, were mean to him, and turning to a bottle was his only coping mechanism. By this time, Bonnie was “all in” with Joe. She loved him, had developed huge empathy, and she had allowed him to move into her home. While they shared no children or assets together, they fully shared their life. Plus, her heart and head made her want to help him. After all, she said, you don’t ditch a guy you love when he is sick and Joe is most certainly sick. She was on a mission to cure him.
As we our email exchange continued, I realized that her guy Joe and my ex-husband, Rob the Great (Alcoholic) seemed almost one and the same guy. Like Rob, Joe is promising Bonnie that he is going to get help this time. He loves her more than he loved either of his ex-wives and he is entering treatment. Granted, he has made this promise to her countless times and, so far, it hasn’t happened. After all, he is an addict and addicts by the very nature of their disease, are liars.
I asked Bonnie if she thinks that perhaps Joe made those same promises to his ex-wives. Or his children. Or family. Or employer. It took her a long time to answer that but she finally admitted that he probably had. I asked her if she really believed he never loved his wives. Or that maybe those crazy bitches that he was married to were perhaps not that crazy or terrible after all. Maybe, just maybe, those women were living in a special hell and coping the best way they knew how. Those women probably knew her hell better than she did—they were with Joe longer, after all. And I asked her how many times Joe probably made the same promise to his wives that he would enter treatment and get better. The answer? Probably countless times. And did he? Obviously not, because he was still drinking and the patterns are probably identical.
This is one of the biggest things to look for when dating a new man: What are his past relationships like? This is a hard one because, as divorced women, we have failed in at least one marriage. But if your new guy has failed in his past marriages because of some pretty big character flaws, just know, this is as good as it gets. And by big huge character flaws, I’m talking substance abuse, alcoholism, porn addiction, physical abuse, failure to communicate like an adult, inability to hold down a job, or any signs of mental illness. These issues are far bigger than you and you can’t fix them.
So watch, listen and learn. And when those big problems present themselves, know that his ex-wives lived with that hell, too. Should you contact the ex and ask for advice? Perhaps. I cannot tell you how many women I know who have turned to their guy’s ex for validation, comfort or support after a split. These women know your relationship better than anyone else. And my experience is that these women are more than willing to talk to the new woman in their ex’s life.
In Bonnie’s case, she is holding all the cards. The house is hers. She has a good job and is not financially dependent on Joe. Joe, on the other hand, is totally dependent on her. Why has she not kicked him out of her home yet? Sympathy. At her own expense. Many of us women have grown up believing that one of our greatest assets is our ability to heal others, care for the sick, and fix the pain of others. But in a relationship, this rarely works and, if it does, it comes out a terrible personal cost.
I hope that by making a very hard decision to leave my relationship was a powerful lesson for my daughters. We cannot fix the men in our lives. Our emotional and mental health matter. And that when it comes to addiction, we have no power to fix anything or anyone. We can only run.