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Sorry Is As Sorry Does

One thing that surprises me about recently betrayed people (and frankly, surprised me about myself once) is how quick they are to accept a verbal apology.

The desperate-to-reconcile folks always point to the apologies they get as proof that this thing can be saved. There was sobbing. Snot and running mascara. Operatic arias of remorse. Rending of garments, gnashing of teeth, and assurances of postnups.

And yet when pressed, they’re always missing something.

The cheater gave them all the passwords…. but is secretive about his work phone.

She says she’s truly sorry for the long-term affair… but gets defensive when asked for reassurances.

He says it’s all over with the other woman… but won’t tell you her name.

And the betrayed person is confused by this — But they said they were SORRY! And then it becomes this weird dance. The betrayed person presses for more Signs of Sorry (please do these things) and the cheater resists, or promises to do them (and doesn’t follow through), or does two of the three things, but is half-assed about it.

Just when the betrayed person is sick to death of this — are you REALLY SORRY? And is about to find their balls and file — the cheater amps up the verbal onslaught of remorse again. And the betrayed person buys it, because… you can’t make that up. Right? You can’t just blub about how sorry you are on demand if you didn’t mean it.

If you find yourself in this spot, remember — sorry is as sorry DOES.

It’s all about the actions. I’m not saying there are not cheaters who aren’t actually sorry. But the way you distinguish the sorry from the sorry ass, is how they behave. Someone who is truly intent to reconcile and make this right is sorry regardless of what you do. Their remorse is not contingent upon whether or not you divorce them, on whether or not there are painful consequences. They feel awful for hurting you despite how you proceed.

True remorse is about humility and cheaters often have a very bad case of You Are Not the Boss of Me. How dare you set the terms, how dare you demand recompense? Your messy feelings are very inconvenient right now. Please go away. I will not be dictated to!

When you get waterworks from a cheater, it’s usually because you busted them and they fear exposure. The tears are for themselves. They are tears of fear and manipulation, because shit, they need a backup plan.

Betrayed people are terribly vulnerable people. It’s so natural to want the person who hurt you make this right. You hunger for that remorse.

And betrayed people are usually empathic people. Even when someone has gutted you, it is hard to watch them suffer. (But trust me, you’ll get there.) You see them in distress, and you want to comfort, to salvage.

That’s why righteous anger is so useful. It keeps you honest with yourself. It turns the volume down so you can see the actions, without listening to the words.

Finally, if you want a sure fire way to tell if a cheater is sorry — ask for a postnup. What’s a postnup? It’s a legal agreement, a property and/or custody settlement that only goes into effect should you divorce. Ask for everything with an infidelity clause. If they balk? There is your answer. It’s a pointless document if they’re going to remain faithful, and only they control that. Sorry is as sorry does. Get it in writing. Notarized.



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  • Such smart advice. My XWH came out of the fog and promised he would change, begged me back, etc.

    I asked him to sign a post-nup guaranteeing me half of his income for the rest of his life if he cheated again. First, he said only if I signed the same thing. I agreed, saying that I would never cheat, so it didn’t matter to me. Then, he said that his IC said I was just being punitive and he shouldn’t stay married to someone who was so awful to ask for a post-nup. So, while he wanted to, he just couldn’t, on advice of his IC.

    I’m not sure if he had the world’s worst IC, was lying to her, or lying to me (probably all 3) but I feel so lucky every day that I got away from that madness. Even half of his income for the rest of his life would not have been enough solace for even more wasted years with him!!!

    • His IC made him divorce? That’s a good one. You handled that situation well. I’m surprised by how many reconciling people don’t ask for a postnup or are offended by the suggestion. Very glad to hear you’re away from the madness now!

  • That is such a good idea–the postnup! I wish I had known about that at the time but looking back on the state I was in, I probably would have been afraid to ask for it. I was willing to agree to a “dirty compromise” (lyrics from a song by Deb Talen) after he returned from a six month separation. I was thrilled he had “picked me” over other women I assume he had dated while separated. The night he returned, as I headed up to bed, I noticed the screen on his computer which he was shutting down. It was one of those “friend finder” sites. I said, “I don’t want to see that again,” and went up to bed feeling hollow and awaited the horror to come of finding out what he was really doing. He came to bed and said, “Okay,” and snuggled up to me. I was so willing to not find out anything further for fear that he’d leave me again.
    Five years later as part of divorce I go through his financial records for the year. We had completely separate finances, of course. I saw he sent money to a woman in Russia and I he bought her an airline ticket from Moscow to London during the week that he traveled there for “business.” Because the ticket had to be purchased for the traveler, I saw her name and googled her. Turns out she has a Facebook page and is a young blonde Russian woman with many provocative pictures of herself. I sent her a message asking why my husband sent her $3000. Her reply? “Why not?” Replied with a message, woman to woman, that my soon to be ex was a cheater and liar and she’d do better getting away fast. Soon got an email from future ex telling me to stop contacting his “mistress.” Ha! There were many, many transfers from his bank accounts to Western Union. I called them up and pretended to be him, asking about a particular transaction. I got enough information that it was sent to the Ukraine but the call center worker balked when I couldn’t give a password to find out more information. I appealed to his sympathy but could find out nothing else. I did the same with the 1-800 number attached to a monthly subscription to a live webcam porn site. The URL was listed so I could see what he had been spending hundreds of dollars a month on—women in cheap apartments sitting before web cameras in various levels of undress, with text alongside asking men to send them a “token” or tip to do various sexual acts for them on camera. I saw that he had spent thousands of dollars in night clubs in Manila and Hong Kong he was supposedly on business. Googling these places, I found they were known for places prostitutes gathered to have wealthy businessmen buy them drinks and more. Apparently, even upscale hotels like the Hyatt turned a blind eye to these “men” taking prostitutes up to their rooms.
    Meanwhile, I was back home in the States, assuming my husband was working hard and eager to come home. My job couldn’t be further from that scene. I spend my day among sick children–I am a pediatric nurse.
    I wrote him the many, many venomous emails about how he could be a sex tourist and stick his vile d*** into any c*** that opened up, etc.. Asking how he, a medical professional and father of two daughters could act in such a way. He tried to tell me that these women were actually better off because they were able to send lots of money home to their families. Why didn’t he buy them a sewing machine or livestock if he was so concerned about their well-being? What a sick, sick twisted rationalization!

    I didn’t mean to write all of that. I guess I still need to tell my story. I started off by thinking that he never would have signed a post-nup and that would have told me what was really going on.

    Chump Lady, thanks for helping me to continue to heal. It’s been 11 1/2 months since discovery day. There were days I didn’t think I would make it. There were many, many times I wanted him back and begged and groveled and planned new systems for me to “be better” but each time he’d reveal that he really had no empathy for me and show me that he didn’t think he’d done anything “worse” than I did–which was to be distant and detached. He spent 15 years telling me that something was wrong with me but it was just projection of his own problems and inability to be truly intimate with someone.
    Hearing stories of survival on this blog have really helped me the last few weeks.
    Again, thanks.

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