Relationship Partner with CPTSD emotionally cheating? Or adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms?

Jon2412

New Here
Hi, I’m a partner of someone with CPTSD.

I could really do with some advice… I’m really struggling and in shock. I’d be really grateful for any insights from people who have CPTSD.

My question is:

Is my partner emotionally cheating on me? Am I being used as a Plan B while she waits for her ex to take her back? I do want to be sensitive to her struggles, but I’m scared for myself and don’t want to be a doormat.

Background:

  • Been dating for 1.5 years. We live together. Moved in after 6 months of dating.

  • I give P absolute financial support. Rent, bills, food, yoga, therapy. I pay for everything.
  • I give P daily emotional support. She has daily breakdowns and I talk her through it. I WFH so can take time out from work to talk her through things, or hug her. Constantly send her inspirational quotes/images, reassure her, etc. I’ve told her I feel like her therapist also.
  • Therapy has been tough. Didn’t work out with a couple of therapists, and she’s been upset at the idea of having to talk through her issues with a new person all over again, a third time.
  • P freaks out about a lot of things that are not big deals. Catastrophises. I always reassure her.
  • For various reasons, we don’t get out much. Mainly due to life changing after COVID.
  • She used to live a party life with her ex (with him for 4.5 years). He’s a narcissist and the r/s was toxic, but she went out a lot and they had fun. She’s found it hard to adjust to a quiet life, where things are stable. It also doesn’t help that we don’t go out much.
  • She dropped out of law school years ago. I helped her get back in. She’s finding it hard to focus and isn’t attending all classes.
  • She says life isn’t “fun” anymore, and I understand that compared to her party life, it isn’t. But I work, she has law school, and we’re both at home. There are no after-work drinks anymore, etc. Life is different. We did go to Europe recently for my friends wedding. Intense, but good. So we do things, just not as often. She says she hates being an adult.

Situation:

  • I was helping P with an assignment. I was searching for info on her phone (with her). When sending the link to her laptop, her ex came up as a recent SMS contact in the Share menu.
  • I was really upset and went away. She came to me and I asked to see her messages. She gave me her phone. Turns out they text every 2–3 days, sometimes a few days in a row. Since May last year… so they’ve been texting for 4 months.
  • The next morning, I went on her laptop to look at all of her iMessages and Instagram DMs. [I KNOW SOME MAY JUDGE ME FOR THIS. BUT I HAD TO KNOW. WHETHER THIS IS RIGHT/WRONG IS A SEPARATE TOPIC]
  • Combined with Instagram, their messages go back to when we were dating for 3 months. So for a little over a year, it’s been almost every day. He is NPD, dismissive; she is needy and seeking validation.
  • Some things upset me: Ex sent her sth about exes getting back together due to unconditional love and P said the fact they’re talking again must be a sign (love heart emoji); IG link about celebrity couples getting back together and P says that could be them; P sent him some proposal meme and she said now she just needs him to propose. Not all messages are like this, but there are a few.
  • She sent him a photo of them only a few weeks ago of them kissing, while at a party. Said it’s her fav photo of them.
  • They’ve met at the park a couple of times. Best I know is just to ‘catch up’. Talked on the phone a few times. These things are more recent.
  • The ex occasionally asked to see a couples photo of us, but she declines to send one. And there’s a message where she said she’s not sure if I’m the one… while that hurts, when in the context of not sending a photo of us, I get the feeling she’s playing me down to keep herself appearing ‘available’ to him. So that hurts. And feels like a bad sign to me.

When I asked her how long they’ve been in contact, she said only this year “to the best of my memory”. So I know she’s lying. But perhaps she’s lying out of panic/fear? Even if it’s bad to lie.

I asked her why she talks to him and she cried and said that at least someone is still doing things and it’s better to hear about that than just being at home with me where nothing happens. I know her confidence has been shot to hell.

I can understand asking him what he’s up to, which she does, but the ‘love’ stuff has me in shock.

Normally I’d end things, but what confuses me is that I’m blindsided. She is so loving with me usually, and seems committed. P really put in effort to get our new apartment sorted for us, takes the lead on domestic chores, etc. Seems to really want to have a life with me. She is very present.

A big thing is she has no friends, and so has no one to message/talk to. The ex is the only other person has to talk to. Else, she only has me to talk to. And she’s an extrovert, and struggles with not being social. I’m introvert, so am fine.

So I could rationalise the regular texting. Or even meeting up with him, even if I don’t like it. Else, she never has anything to do except study, and yoga. She is incredibly lonely. She’s told me this many times. I encouraged her to join clubs, etc. Do things to meet people.

But it’s the ‘love’ stuff that gets to me, and sending him photos of them kissing, sending a photo of a nice proposal and then saying “all you need to do now is to propose to me”, etc. _And then there’s her playing down her relationship with me and never sending him a photo of us… to non-CPTSD me, it feels like she’s trying to make it look like she’s still available for him.

Is she trauma-bonded? Is she chasing an old high, even if it’s toxic? I am so hurt by her behaviour, but is there some way to rationalise this, while still meaning I could salvage things with her? She’s told me she’s scared of abandonment before, and her parents are divorced. Maybe she’s got some kind of attachment issues? But I’ve always told her I’m not going anymore. And she still seeks her ex out…

Could this be worked though with therapy? Have any of you seen/had this before?

Or am I an idiot, and is it obvious she’s in love with this guy and not committed to me?

I do know that she has little confidence and low self-esteem, as she feels that everyone in life is succeeding/moving on except for her. This affects her greatly, on a daily basis (main source of her daily breakdowns).

I want to run, but I feel so bad for her because she’s truly a sweet person with a strong character that just continues to have had SO MANY bad things happen to her. And maybe she’s all messed up because of that. And seeking to re-live ‘fun’ times, which is consistent with her saying that these days, every day just blurs into the next. She has low self-esteem, seeks validation in her messages with her ex, etc.

I’m so confused because I know she truly cares for me. Does many nice things for me, and is considerate. And is loyal. So part of me hates her for this, and part of me is trying to rationalise that her CPTSD has her all messed up and searching for the last time she was ‘happy’ (albeit unsustainably), and seeking a confidence boost from the ex. And also as she has NO friends, so has no one to even casually message.

Is it possible that she’s ‘simply’ never developed healthy coping mechanisms, and is doing the only thing she’s knows to do, especially given she’s so messed up about life?

Please, if anyone has any advice, I’d be so grateful for it. I want to be a good partner who can be patient, and work with CPTSD. But I don’t want to be a doormat.
 

Weemie

MyPTSD Pro
This stuff really isn't relative to PTSD. You guys sound like you are incredibly codependent, and enmeshed within one another. My advice would be to walk away. There's a lot of glaring red flags here (being her therapist, etc). I'm polyamorous-aromantic, so "emotional affair" doesn't make any sense to me (you mean friends?, IDK) but that's not even the problem, here. It's the Everything Else. It's evident boundaries are being crossed and tested, and that's unlikely to resolve itself over time. You do need to make a decision.
 

Jon2412

New Here
Thanks Weenie for the reply.

My head agrees, my heart… is in denial.

I was hoping there was some way to rationalise this as trauma-bonding, and that she’s stuck. But because she’s bored, it’s SHE who messages him. So she’s crossed boundaries. We’d talked about the need to not message him v early on in our relationship. So she lied to me.

It’s just that my heart goes out to her because she’s really lost in life, and truly has no one else to lean on for support. And I was hoping to be one person in life who ‘gave her a chance’ and has the patience to stick by her while she healed.

Deep down, she IS a good person. So I’m conflicted because I don’t want to punish this ‘good person’ for doing ‘bad things’. Part of me want it to be some huge cluster f*** mistake she’s made and that she needs to reset.

But perhaps things are too far gone. I think I’m still in shock because I had NO IDEA she was messaging him almost every day.

By emotional affair, I meant that it feels like she’s been emotionally cheating on me. Cheating, just not physically.

Anyway, thanks again for your reply.
 

Weemie

MyPTSD Pro
Deep down, she IS a good person. So I’m conflicted because I don’t want to punish this ‘good person’ for doing ‘bad things’. Part of me want it to be some huge cluster f*** mistake she’s made and that she needs to reset.
Electing not to pursue a relationship with someone isn't a punishment, it's simply a fact of healthy adult socialization. You are not punishing her by letting her go. She is responsible for her own emotions and her own actions, and you are responsible for yours. It seems like you've idealized her a great deal, and are projecting what you wish she was like onto this relationship. Unfortunately the pedestal cannot sustain itself forever. My apologies if this comes across as blunt.
 

Jon2412

New Here
You’re not being blunt at all. Thank you! I need to hear this.

I think also there’s a part of me that wants to ‘save’ her too. She has so much potential, and I keep making excuses. If only I had more patience. If only I ‘x’. If only I ‘y’.

She’s also taken out a lot of anger on me. So I’m a punching bag as well.

Thanks again for the advice. And for reading my lengthy posts! I really do appreciate it. Just getting it out and having an outsider’s perspective has been amazing. I am grateful :)
 

Movingforward10

MyPTSD Pro
I find it interesting that you start your post with all the things you do for her. And only after that do you list the thing you areupset about.
Maybe examine your thought processes about that?
I E. Are you doing all that to ensure she doesn't leave you?
Are you doing all that and expecting her to behave in certain ways as a result?

Are you giving too much of yourself in this and is this unhealthy?

Whatever she feels or doesn't feel about her ex, how do you feel about it?
 

Jon2412

New Here
I find it interesting that you start your post with all the things you do for her. And only after that do you list the thing you areupset about.
Maybe examine your thought processes about that?
I E. Are you doing all that to ensure she doesn't leave you?
Are you doing all that and expecting her to behave in certain ways as a result?

Are you giving too much of yourself in this and is this unhealthy?

Whatever she feels or doesn't feel about her ex, how do you feel about it?
My intention was to get across that she has stability in her life now, just to establish context. Like there’s no ‘immediate crisis’ threatening her because she is provided for and is in a stable home environment, back at uni, etc. and gets lots of emotional support from me.

I’m still shaken up and perhaps could have worded that better.

But if she has all of those things, even if she is lonely, I guess I’m just really sad that it hasn’t been enough. And of course I can understand that trauma-bonding is complex, etc. I just WISH that what I provided her were enough. Sigh.

Because I can’t give anymore, and I desperately wanted to help this beautiful soul be her best self, but I suppose it has to start with her. If she doesn’t take the first step, then I suppose there’s no hope. When she’s good, she truly is such an amazing person. And I could cry for all the sh*t she’s had to go through, which was never her fault. Which is why I keep trying to find reasons to stick by her side.

And yes, I’m jealous of all of those things she’s said to her ex. Reading about trauma-bonding gives some relief, in that maybe she’s just chasing the dopamine highs, as they used to party a lot. And during her good times with me, she says the r/s was really bad for her overall and that he was abusive.

I want to make excuses and say she’s all muddled and confused and so I just need to help her get clear in her mind. But the amount of things I’ve mentioned, when I re-read them, make it clear to me that boundaries have been crossed.

So I’ll break it off and offer for us to revisit things in 3 months. Then I can see if she is willing to fight for us and we can go from there. If nothing changes, then I will have saved myself a lot more pain than if I’d just buried my head in the sand.

Thanks so much for your reply. Much appreciated! Just typing replies is helping me to process my emotions.
 

coraxxx

Sponsor
To be honest, trauma bonding can be an element at play but how do you feel with it? What does it actually change for you? Why not asking her?

I did take an awful lot of time to get rid of my ex and there would have been convos of that sort, perhaps not to that extent but certainly enough to infuriate a new person. I did go along with many of his conversations even if I didn't believe one thing, and would avoid directly mention anything about relationships he might have had a problem with for my own psychological safety.

Whatever your decision is you prolly should let go of being a secondary therapist or caregiver because it isn't your role as a partner and even if she loves you and wants to be with you it creates an imbalance that is hard to manage and it's very possible she might be feeling like she's owing you somethings. It does look like codependency. Codependency is hard to get rid of and to my knowledge I've never seen a relationship that survived it, I'm not saying it doesn't exist but it isn't a nice place for people to grow and explore life.
 

Sweetpea76

Moderator
Does it matter *why* she is doing this more than the fact that she *is* doing it at all?

This is a huge supporter trap. “Our poor sufferers only cheat, lie, manipulate, abuse or whatevz because their PTSD makes them.” It is very, very common to hear this rationale from supporters. “He didn’t mean to cheat, he’s just self destructive” or “he only beat me because he was triggered.” Don’t fall into it. If you would not tolerate this from anybody else, do not tolerate it from her. She is an adult and responsible for all her behaviors.

In order for a relationship to work with PTSD in the mix, you need hard boundaries. If not, they will run you over.
 

Freida

MyPTSD Pro
My intention was to get across that she has stability in her life now, just to establish context. Like there’s no ‘immediate crisis’ threatening her because she is provided for and is in a stable home environment, back at uni, etc. and gets lots of emotional support from me.
PTSD often turns this into a huge lie. Because I'm never safe, or stable, even though I've been in a relationship and safe home for decades. But no matter how much hubby tries to support me I still don't feel safe because that is the part of me that ptsd broke. I can't even understand the concept.

With that being said? Having ptsd does not give us the right to be cheating asshats. Period.
 

coraxxx

Sponsor
Yep. The story above, I didn’t cheat on anyone. I’m repairing my shit on my own. A point I’d be more uncomfortable with though, is about my ex husband (we’ve never been married, but since it was long it feels like that) because he’s the closest thing I have from a family. I know some people will have an issue with it even if I do know the romantic part of that relationship has died since 6 years.

But it’s not as if I was flirting with him. The relationship is pretty much like going to your old friend for dinner and blabbering shit and venting. I find it quite healthy. But I know some would find issue, and in truth it’s up to them and it’s a boundary that I need either to accept or to refuse, but it’s a line that would be their full right to draw.

So if you are unhappy about the way she’s behaving, actually it doesn’t matter if it’s healthy or not, it matters how it affects you.
 

Jon2412

New Here
Thanks so much to all of you again for your replies. I have no friends to share this with, or who might understand… and I know this is all just random text on the internet but for what it’s worth, there’s someone real out there who is very grateful for your input 🙂

I’m looking for an excuse… perhaps CPTSD is different to PTSD, and her lack of any positive relationship even since childhood can explain things? Even then, she has to take responsibility for her actions. If she doesn’t, I could be dragged down with her.

I just don’t have the stomach to watch someone continue to engage in self-destructive behaviour. I’m imagining us breaking up, and her being so lonely with NO ONE to talk to in the whole world, so she goes on dating apps to just have someone to talk to. And then gets into bad situations and the cycle just repeats.

I feel like a parent who so much wants to protect their drug-addicted child. Tried to get them in rehab but the child just didn’t co-operate. Which makes me think of the codependency point mentioned above.

Even if it’s CPTSD and even if there’s some kind of difference, if I didn’t see that Share option menu, this would presumably all have continued. And then a few years down the track it would be worse if she just broke up with me. Too risky.

I have my closure. Thank you all again! And I apologise for my long posts! Haha ahh
 
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