Dear Dr. Chloe,
My relationship is complicated—to say the least. I met this man about 7 years ago, we started as just friends, then began attending church together. We are both Christian. He told me he had been divorced twice. Then I saw something on social media that sent a red flag—his profile said: “married.”
I confronted him—and he said he hadn’t updated his profile. Then he came clean and said he was still married but had been separated since the day after the wedding. I guess she had an affair with a married man—one of her many indiscretions that he had already known about. He said he just had to take care of a few things, then he would file [for divorce].
He filed in 2019 but she would not sign though she is living with this other man. Well, about that time I moved in. We talked marriage, as I said I wouldn’t move in unless that was what we were going to plan for. Now it’s 2023—and still no divorce, no engagement. He says he can’t due to finances he gets from her—she is very wealthy, I guess.
We used to go to church on a regular basis—but now he rarely attends—though I am trying to continue even without him. We used to pray together every morning, and that stopped a couple of years back, and now when he comes home we rarely talk because he’s too involved in looking at his phone and watching TV.
We get in disagreements over this and instead of talking about it he just storms out and goes to a friends or somewhere for a day or two and won’t take my calls. Then he comes home and still won’t talk about the elephant in the room. I don’t bring it up anymore so he won’t get angry and he has called me names a few times.
I don’t feel secure here anymore and I have to walk on eggshells. I don’t really know anyone here except for my church family. I have limited mobility and live in chronic pain and he knows that but will seldom help out around the house, etc. I have been looking for somewhere else to move but my income is limited and rent is too high here. I have chronic anxiety and panic attacks over this.
I am so sorry to hear this–it sounds like you have suffered betrayal on several levels. On the positive side, I’m glad you seem very clear-eyed that you need to leave this relationship. Your awareness of the problem is a very important step on your path to a healthy lifestyle.
Another important piece is that you have maintained a good support network through your church family. Social support and religiosity are both associated with resiliency, so cheers to you on keeping those areas strong in your life!
The main obstacle to leaving seems to be finding an affordable place. You might ask your church deacon or pastor if they have funds for members in need, or if they know of any community connections to an affordable safe place you could stay while looking for a new living situation.
Regarding the chronic anxiety and panic attacks—this might be a situation where you’re actually experiencing healthy, appropriate emotions that are intended to “sound an alarm bell” to stimulate you to make swift, significant changes in your living arrangements. Nevertheless, I would still encourage you to see a professional to evaluate your symptoms and provide support as you move forward.
As you move forward, it may help to review the choices that led to your current quandary so you can find a fresh approach to “screening” potential new partners. Such a review may also improve your anxiety and bolster your confidence because when we find ourselves in bad situations and we don’t have a clear sense of how we could have avoided them, we can be understandably anxious about experiencing the same problem again.
This is not to blame you for the actions of a man who seems manipulative as well as emotionally abusive. On the contrary, you have recognized the problem—and by reaching out have taken the first steps to a better life. Thus, pursuing closer examination of how it came to be may help you to develop strategies to safeguard your heart so that you won’t be vulnerable to men like this again.
Take heart—you have seen the elephant in the room and are ready to move past it. Reach out to your church community—they are there to support you—just ask for help and be ready to act when it is given.
Wishing you all the best,
Dr. Chloe Carmichael is a clinical psychologist and USA Today bestselling author of “Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety and Dr. Chloe’s Ten Commandments of Dating.” Send any questions where you’d like a psychologist’s perspective to firstname.lastname@example.org. Responses are not guaranteed and do not constitute medical advice.
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