Should I Stay with My Mentally Abusive, Cheating Husband?

Dear Em & Lo,

I recently found out my husband of 12 years has been cheating with a lot of different women. I’ve always known this in my heart, but never could believe it because he knows how to manipulate me. He knows how to cover himself very well. 

When he is with other women he apparently dominates them in a kinky way — he has never been that way with me. So I’m still not sure what level he is on with these other women.

Even though I know now, he still won’t open up to me about this. He always makes it out as if I am the one cheating. Why does he do this? And why does he not let me in his world?

I don’t know if he is purposefully pushing me away, or if he just wants the best of both worlds. I need to know if I should stay or go in this marriage because I will never know the extent of his sexual needs. Or the extent to what he is involved with.

I also recently had one of his friends tell me that his secret life has something to do with my bisexual 14 year old son, who is not biologically his. And he basically has mentally abused my son growing up. In a way, my husband has been dominating him emotionally.  Now that I know what I know, things are starting to make a lot of sense to me.

But I still don’t know what to do. Please give me some advice!

— In the Dark

Dear ITD,

Look at how we’ve titled this post. What is the only reasonable answer to this question?


Assuming that everything you say is true — that you’re not exaggerating or guessing — then the only option you have that favors your son’s safety, your peace of mind, and your dignity is to divorce this man. Here’s why:

  1. He’s hurting your child. First and foremost, if your husband is emotionally abusing your son, it is your primary parental responsibility to protect him and end such abuse.
  2. Your husband has broken his marital vows repeatedly by cheating on you over all these years with multiple women (assuming sexual fidelity was one of these vows). Committed relationships, including marriages, can be successfully sexually open and polyamorous, but not without the explicit agreement of all parties and some negotiated ground rules. He has not respectfully given you the opportunity to opt in or out of such a relationship, nor the chance to work out such open-relationship rules together.
  3. He is gaslighting you. This is a form of psychological abuse whereby the manipulator seeks to challenge, dominate and disorient you by denying your claims and even accusing you of abuse. It’s the most scary — and surprisingly effective — version of “I know you are but what am I?” That’s why he’s making it out as if you are the cheater: he’s trying to deflect his own guilt by making you the culprit.
  4. He has a secret life. Everyone has their own little secrets; some might even say you can never really truly know a person because you can never gain access to their innermost thoughts and desires. But this is different. He is leading a double life, one with behaviors and actions that not only belie his character and personality with you, but that can put you at risk (for example, by exposing you to potential STDs).
  5. He is a professional liar. This isn’t a one-time mistake that he regrets and is trying to make amends for; this is systematic, serial, secret cheating. Consider how much he’s lied to you over the years, to your face? And now that he’s been caught, he can’t even be honest and admit to it! We can’t imagine a scenario whereby he can be rehabilitated into a completely open and honest person.

We know this is difficult to hear. You’ve partnered up with this person and connected all facets of your life to his: your living situation, probably your finances, your sense of family. But everything you’ve described sounds like an unsafe, unloving and untenable situation. People deserve honesty and respect from their romantic partners — two key things your husband has failed to deliver. His proclivity for kinky sex is not the problem, nor is his desire for non-monogamy. The problem is him keeping such key components of his makeup from you and not giving you the chance to say “Ok, I’m game” or “Thanks but no thanks.”

All this secrecy suggests that the lying and hiding is part of the appeal for him — it makes the sex more taboo and thus more thrilling, giving him an adrenaline rush and, when he gets away with it, a power trip over you. This smacks of some kind of psychological disorder you’d find in the DSM, but we’re just guessing here.

Whether or not he’s clinically disturbed or just a first-class asshole, you should get out — if not for you, then for your son. If you thought his cheating was something you could live with, then you wouldn’t have written us. Often times letter-writers like you already know the answer to their question — they just want someone else to say it. So you have our enthusiastic blessing: dump this jerk!

WomansDivorce.com might give you more of the support, advice and feedback you’ll need.

Good luck to you! With a piece of work like your husband, we’re afraid you’re going to need it.

Em & Lo

Now we take it to the cheaters:
Why Infidelity Is Skanky (And Butt Plugs Aren’t)