I Voted to Leave My Significant Other

How I Overcame Toxic Ambiguity

I was married before, a long time ago, for 8 years. My husband at the time, deep in the throes of what he now believes was a midlife crisis, left me for his student, a woman about half his age whom his sexual obsession with propelled him into a new life without me.

We have been sorting through the demise of our relationship over the last few months, for the very first time in twenty-five years. As far as pathological lying goes, he wins the award for keeping both of us on a short leash for years both before and after I learned of the affair, making sure he kept each of us reeled in so he would not be left alone, while he tried to decide which woman to bequeath his royal cock to and who would earn his undying loyalty.

While he admits to understanding how I might see him as playing god costumed as the almighty puppeteer controlling the strings of two women’s hearts and lives, he describes that personally tortuous, tense, fearful time period as his year of pathological ambivalence. I renamed it pathologically indulgent ambivalence, but that is not the point.

The point is that I totally get how living in a state of chronic ambivalence gets you into a truly stuck, tortured space. I lived in that state of uber indecision for over a decade with my significant other, the man I have been with these past 23 years, the relationship after my aforementioned x-husband. Freeing myself of the shackles of that chronic level of angst-ridden indecision, the putrefying stink of uncertainty, the ton of petrified wood I carried on my shoulders, was no small feat. I feel for my x-husband. But just a little.

It is now 120 days of freedom from ambivalence. I stayed with my significant other longer than my heart was in it because we had kids together and breaking up a family is no easy task. By the time my twin babies were ten, I was more than ready to leave, but I could not cause them the wounding of losing their family.

While leaving him would have been good for me, I was sure that it was not the best thing for them. I couldn’t have my kids with him without me monitoring his behavior. He was prone to vile screaming, roughhousing past the point of fun, and retreating into his own stoned stupor that my kids might go hungry or ignored for hours. I just could not put my needs above theirs. The cost of staying was still high to them as they grew up in a home with some tension between their parents and parental fighting.

I would stick it out until they graduated from high school. Then I would be free to decide. During one particularly tough stretch during those 8 years between my decision and my eject button date, I tried to think of how I could empower myself while staying. How could I create a sense of choice and volition for myself?

I came up with the idea of voting. Every night in a simple journal, I would vote Y, N, or IDK. Y was for Yes, I want to leave when my kids turn 18. N was for No, I want to stay. I tried M for Maybe for a few days when I felt unsure, but that did not seem honest. So IDK emerged as the third option when I really and truly could not live with a Y or a N, because I Did Not Know. I tallied up my votes quarterly with excitement, looking for trends, looking for clarity, looking for answers, screamed my anal-retentive analytical self.

Alas, the Y’s- of which I expected many- and the N’s- of which there were few- were outdone by the IDK’s after a year of voting. I gave up the vote, once again defeated by my swirling, dizzying, unstoppable ambivalence.

When my girls graduated high school, I stayed, still indecisive, still spinning around. At that time, he blew up our relationship with his latest addiction, which ended up saving us by getting him and us to therapy. He showed me a tad more consideration and we even designed a contract to help us navigate the future. We had two great vacations where we laughed and enjoyed ourselves. I was experiencing some redemption and embraced that, despite the gravitational pull of uncertainty. Plus we still had a daughter at home who went to community college for three years.

About ten months ago, for some elusive reason, I found myself voting again. It was about that time that I engaged in email convos after twenty-five years of no contact with my x husband. Additionally, I found myself saying goodbye to some other relationships where one or both of us had drifted away from a once strong, but no longer close, connection. Something was up- germinating, cooking, mixing- but little did I know what was coming.

So, when five months ago, my significant other chose to break that contract we had so carefully designed with our therapist, without a moment’s hesitation, with no internal conflict, with not a thought of what he was risking, that was the moment of reckoning. I could finally vote one fat, big Y!!!!

I had to have him leave the house on Day One of disclosure without knowing for sure. It could be an IDK. Every day for 120 days I have known. I vote Yes! I feel clear. I trust myself. I am fully ready to step out of the ambivalence, like a too-small dress that made it hard to breathe. Yes, to ending the dizzying turmoil of ambivalence. Yes to freedom. Yes to no more settling. Yes, yes, yes!

Not only am I free from the burden of indecision but I am relieved from the reasons for that toxic ambivalence. Here is my text exchange with my daughter, who lives out of the state, from yesterday. Her dad has been staying with her for the past 3 weeks, now that he is uncertain about what he wants to do, having lost his partner and his home which he unambivalently wanted, just not enough to stick to our agreement.


Dad is a mess

And he is old


Does he seem less of a wreck than when he was there a few months ago?


No. He seems like more of a wreck


How so?


Just seems more sad.


Do you think he misses being home with me?




For a cautious poker player, he risked everything, without even thinking once what he could lose. He blew it all. Violating our agreement, lying, etc. ad nauseum.


Ya. I get it. He is out of it. Like he needed a spoon for his ice cream and he looked in the drawer. There were no clean spoons and then he asked if the dishwasher was clean. I said no. And he was like ‘guess I’m not having ice cream’. Like clean a spoon, dude.

And the laundry detergent was on the dryer and he asked me if the cat litter was detergent. I said no. And he was like ‘u gotta get soap then’.

I guess u went through this a few times in the last 20 years.


LOL. Just a few times 😂🤣😂🤣😂🤣😂🤣😂🤣😂🤣😂.

Yes, annoying, and indicative of the deeper problems of being with him. I don’t need to remind you. I love the absence of his rigidity and inflexibility from my home. Just saying.

Hang in there. He has AMHS- acquired male helplessness syndrome.


A whole lot of AMHS.

It wasn’t all bad. My significant other is not the villain here. We had good times too. We laughed. We made memories. We went through life together. I see his nasty stuff clearer than mine naturally, but I played a part in the negative spiral of our relationship.

I know so many great single women who have never found the right person to couple with, who gave up by a certain age and are now irrevocably single. That fear of being alone always scared me before, in part it kept me tethered to him, albeit ambivalent.

This relationship sabbatical aka separation aka uncoupling is a gift. I don’t have to be stuck, unseen, uncherished, taken for granted. Yes, it is a risk and I am good with that, finally. Yes, the loss of an intact family unit is sad but my kids are young adults and gave me the thumbs up.

He lost the vote for good. He is out. He assumed a position of privilege when he chose to break the contract and that was the breaking point for me. I feel for his pain and the uncertainty he now must embrace. I care for him and mostly forgive him his trespasses, but I am so glad to be free of him. There is no going back to too little, too late.

I am moving forward, newly trusting, towards a really good love.

If you carry the burden of toxic ambivalence, I hope you will consider joining me in the freedom of clarity.

Health Coach & End of Life Doula who loves to write on Wellness, Third Act of Life, Death & Dying, Autoimmunity, Trauma, Food & Weight. rhyhalpern@gmail.com

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