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Surely You Must Have Known

Are your powers of premonition pretty lousy? Me too. I have no idea who is going to win the election or what the stock market is going to do next quarter.

But when it comes to infidelity, you would’ve thought that everyone is clairvoyant and that particular super power skipped you. Because after you discover your spouse was cheating on you, there will be folks out there shaking their heads saying: surely you “must have known.”

One of the worst things about being cheated on is others’ wrongheaded notion that somehow you were in on the deal. That you knowingly turned a blind eye. Perhaps you and your cheating spouse had an “arrangement,” wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  The unspoken assumption is that you kind of deserve infidelity for being such an oblivious idiot.

Of course this is a way for the smug to distance themselves from the pain and humiliation of betrayal. Just like some folks think cancer and other sorts of misfortune are contagious, it’s easier to think we have control over Bad Things That Happen. It must be because you failed (unlike me). Blaming the victim is a nice little voodoo smug people do to protect themselves from the scary uncertainty that they too could be played.

Perhaps you were smug once too, safe in the knowledge that infidelity would never happen to you.

I know I was. I thought cheating is what happened when you had a sexless marriage, or let yourself go, or married some obvious Lothario. (The Lothario of my imagination being some cross between Austin Powers and a skeevy sales and marketing rep.) My  husband loved me! My husband pursued me! My husband and I had sex! I was safe.

Insomuch as I thought of infidelity at all, I thought it happened to Other People. People with either really, sad pathetic marriages, (see sexless and ugly above) or glamorous Bohemian people who were swept up torrid affairs, helpless against the inevitability of their fated love. Solid, dull Midwesterners don’t do drama, I thought. I was immune.

We all see the world from our own moral lens. And if you have a particularly good set of morals (and assume everyone else does too), that makes you a good mark. If you’ve never experienced infidelity before and you know that you wouldn’t cheat on your spouse — you stumble around the planet with a certain naivety. You wouldn’t have done such a thing and therefore you can’t imagine a world in which the person you are most intimate with daily would do such a thing either.

That’s why infidelity is so shattering. It completely up-ends your view of the world, your sense of reality, of who you can trust. When it happened to me, it was like that scene in the Twilight Zone where the “normal” people suddenly rip off their masks and reveal that they are pig-snouted aliens. I was shocked to my core. The world has PIG-SNOUTED ALIENS?! WTF?! No one TOLD ME!

It’s not pathological to trust your spouse. It’s what normal, loving people do. And that is why betrayal and manipulation are so very ugly. Because abusers take that trust — that social glue that binds us together — and they turn it on you. Use your loving “benefit of the doubt” against you.

And as if that shit isn’t painful enough — it’s that much more painful to have the Peanut gallery out there gawking and pointing and saying you were somehow party to your own abuse.

You can only be in denial about something you know. Betrayed spouses beat themselves up for being chumps. The deception is humiliating. In retrospect the deceit looks so obvious (he never answered his cell phone, she was a sudden aficionado of Brazilian waxes…) And of course, you probably had gut feelings that things were off. But your cheater told you, no, everything was fine. Or no, actually you were the problem. And you believed that. Until you couldn’t any more.

After you know you’ve been cheated on, it’s pretty normal to go through the stages of grief. Denial is one of those stages, as is bargaining. (Pig-snouted spouse… okay… maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe I can work with this…) Once you know, however, that knowledge is a gift. It doesn’t feel that way, of course. It feels like death. Like someone bulldozed your soul, and shoveled its remains into one of those radioactive waste containers, never to be touched again like Chernobyl. But really, knowledge is power. The worse part is not knowing.

Surely you knew? No. You didn’t. But now you do. The rest of your life is up to you. If you ask me? I think you should run as fast as you can from the pig snouted aliens. God speed.

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  • I agree…I need some more premonition-powers zapped into my brain. While my personal peanut gallery has been pretty supportive outwardly, I do get that undercurrent feeling that there is the “how could she not have known if he was cheating for 10 whole years?” I even ask that of myself – for that long, where were the obvious clues that _should_ have been there? I questioned myself, my perceptions, my memories, but in the end, there were only 2 or 3 semi-questionable oddities in the whole time, that he always had quick, decisive, and plausible explanations for. Only after I discovered the truth did the meanings of the oddities become apparent.

    I had my loving trust goggles on – I wasn’t in denial about things, just had no reason to suspect, and never in my wildest dreams thought the possibility would ever come within a 50 foot pole of me. We had a good marriage, good kids, great house, great lifestyle, good sex, didn’t fight. What gives? Definitely feeling the twilight-zoneness of it all. Alternate reality time. The world and the people in it seems much bleaker and cruel now.

  • I did not so much assume peolpe must have known about their cheaters. But, I terribly underestimated the extent of the trauma. That is another way in which folks who have not experienced it are in the dark.
    And, you are right. Their assumptions about how it could not happen to them are born out of fear. If they do all the right thins, touch all the magic touchstones, they are safe,
    Another thing , in addition to the trust you had in your partner blinding you to this is the vehemence with which they attack you if you do question them on their weird, inconsistent behaviors. Before you know it, you are characterized as a jealous, paranoid, control freak.

  • Read up on the “lie bias”. It is , essentially, what you and CL describe.You trust these folks, in part, because you could not imagine yourself doing this type of crap. It is so totally foreign. These folks operate differently than normal human beings.
    It is hard to accept that there are monsters among us. Read “the Sociopath Next door”.

  • I’ve been asked, more times than I’d like to remember, ‘how was the marriage’, with the implication that if there were problems in the marriage then THAT’S why STBX cheated. Well, sure, there were problems, it wasn’t perfect and I tried to talk to him about problems but he blew them off.

    The only huge problem was the fact that he was a serial cheat and when I look back now I can see that whenever he was cheating those ‘problems’ came to the fore, mainly because he wasn’t putting any effort into the marriage when he was busy putting his attention on others.

    Serial cheating, oddly enough, is a big problem in a marriage.

    • “I look back now I can see that whenever he was cheating those ‘problems’ came to the fore, mainly because he wasn’t putting any effort into the marriage when he was busy putting his attention on others.”

      Oh Nord… BINGO!!!!!

      Thanks for that!

  • The biggest obstacle that prevents the BS from taking off the “marriage reality distortion goggles” is the marriage itself. Normal people have trouble getting over the basic fact that getting married is a choice. If one wants to behave like a single person and screw around and flirt, it’s easier to just stay single. That’s what a normal person would do.

    A normal person wouldn’t bother to get married, tell everyone, have a ceremony, move in together and go through all the mechanics of being married if they didn’t want to be…well, married. Normal people have a hard time getting the fact that there are people out there who don’t have normal thought processes, and for them getting married while still wanting to screw around is a perfectly good idea.

    That takes some time to wrap your head around, and while you’re trying to “get that”, the WS is well…screwing around and lying to your face.

    • Agreed. It’s been nearly a year and I’m just reaching the point where I see that he just wanted to screw around but still have me and the kids and the home, etc. And his anger comes from the fact that he’s lost all that, he looks like an ass because I refuse to lie about what happened and he’s left with little to show for his efforts.

      Well, he still has OW, who isn’t the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, but I’m sure he’ll do whatever it takes to make it work because if it doesn’t he looks like an even bigger ass for screwing up our lives for some cheap pussy.

    • TG, that was my experience. I found out 6 months into the marriage. (A much shorter sentence than most.) I was gobsmacked that he married me. What was the POINT? Until I figured out about cake, and that I was of use to him.

      • Right with you, I also found the first evidence before my first wedding anniversary. Unfortunately for me, I did not have a site like this to whack me with the 2×4 of truth. No one had yet told me about the joy of cake. So I spent several more years afterwards trying to “figure it out”, and “fix” him with MC and IC. I took a long hard walk down reconciliation road, after all I married him, I’m no quitter, for better or for worse and all that. I finally at long last realized that the whole point of my marriage was so he could get fat off eating cake, lots and lots of cake. Selfish bastard wouldn’t even let me get a taste of the icing.

  • You had to have known something. You had to have been in denial and missed plenty of clues. There’s no way someone can cheat and lie repeatedly over 10, 20, 30 years without their spouse knowing.

    Because if there is, that mean it could happen to me. This is unacceptable. So you had to have known something!

    Plus isn’t everyone handed a guide book on personality disorders when they turn 21? How did you miss the memo??

    • It sure seems obvious in hindsight. Assuming you can imagine that your spouse is a monster and that you’re the kind of person who would choose a monster.

      I do think we CAN choose better next time. Of course there are no guarantees (and no one wants to feel smug), but I think if you hold out for character and look for reciprocity in relationships, and find a mature person who honors their commitments? you CAN be happy again. I don’t think everyone is a personality disorder.

      But once you’ve tangled with one, and you learn about it, I do think you lose the naivety — and that’s not such a bad thing.

    • That’s the thing, isn’t it, Lasso? I didn’t get the cheating/NPD/clusterB handbook so I had no idea what I was dealing with.

      In hindsight, of course, I can see that there were all sorts of clues, but in the thick of things it was not easy to see them. Maybe I had Stockholm Syndrome or something, but it seemed like we had a perfectly normal marriage, with normal ups and downs. Turns out it wasn’t like that at all, at least for him.

      Pffffttt….doesn’t matter anymore.

  • Yes, the guide book. I must admit that I was completely ignorant about the existence of personlity disorders. And, now that I know, I see them everywhere.

  • Hindsight is truly 20/20. One thing my attorney told me the very first consult was that I was going to be shocked at everything that he uncovered. I didn’t believe him…boy, did he prove me wrong!! What floored me was all the folks that were in on it! Our friends, her family, and our oldest daughter. When it all came out, I went to each and everyone of them and asked if they knew…already knowing the answer because my psycho XW gladly told me everyone that knew after she left. After they all deserted her and supported me, when she ran off with the original shithead and abandoned our kids, she used that info to try and alienate them from me. Of course none of them said they agreed with her behavior, but didn’t know what to do or even if they should say anything to me. My daughter said that if she would have told me, her mother would never speak to her again!! What kinda sick bitch does this??? Anyway, love definately blinds you to this kind of behavior, but a zebra sooner or later shows their stripes and it’s what you do after that counts. Don’t beat yourself up. Trusting someone you love is normal. When they betray you, run their sorry asses off, because what you find out will shock you and even then, isn’t the whole ugly truth!!

    • Your ex sounds like a serial cheating, disordered wing nut of the highest order. WOW. (The ATM guy? Holy #$&^!) Yeah, it’s usually always worse than you know. I’m sure there are a lot more skeletons I don’t know about with my ex. I know enough. Enough to know I’m glad he’s my EX.

      • Very true. Someone told me that if you find out about one affair, unless they came to you and confessed without any prompting, then there were probably more and you’ll never know the whole truth.

        I agree with this, more or less. I found out quite a bit but figure there’s more that I don’t know about-and at this point I do not care one bit anymore. I’m sad to lose my family but I’ll be fine.

        • Nord… this is exactly how I feel. Sad to lose my family but I’ll be fine. I am only a few months out from D-Day. Mind you, this is the second round of D-Day, as we went through this whole scenario 10 years ago and I gave him “another chance”, had a kid with him, and now, here we are again… SHOCKING! Anyhow, as I am getting stronger I have come to understand that I already did a lot of the grief work while we were still married/together. Now my grief comes from the idea of “family” that I am losing. I am holding on to what everyone tells me… It will get better, I will be fine. In fact, after a particularly terrible day yesterday I sat in my car for a long time and just repeated to myself, “It will get better, I will be fine”.

          Here’s hoping…

          • Dani, I’m so sorry you gave that guy 10 years of your life and he took it as license to cheat again. It really will get better — addition by subtraction. And what possible choice do you have? To live with the knowledge that he’s going to do it over and over again is no way to live.

  • CL – Thanks! I’m sorry I ever gave him the chance 10 years ago… but hindsight is 20/20. And we had some good years in between and a beautiful daughter. It’s scary stepping out into the world on my own after 16 years, but I already see that life will be better. It already is better in many ways. Just getting through the grief of the now, that’s the hard part. My final hearing for our legal separation is next Wednesday (he refused to sign divorce papers, I can’t afford a lawyer so had to do everything myself, and I needed to protect myself… quick!) so I am hoping that things will start looking up after that… Then in 6 short months I will have the divorce I want, whether he agrees or not.

  • I’m so glad to have found your website. I really liked how you described the emotions you felt when you found out because that was me. The only one feeling I don’t come across any sites is regret. Even though I have 3 kids with my ex, I regret the day I met him. We were together for 20 years, married for 15 of those; A week after I asked him to move out (1.5 years ago), he confessed he started cheating on me a couple of months after we got married. We’re divorced now and we were more than civil with each other, until last week, when he accidentally let it slip that he’d been cheating on me the entire length of our relationship. 20 years and I didn’t know and so far it seems no one else knew either. If it hadn’t been for all the details he gave me, I swear I would’ve thought he was just f-ing with my head.
    So I’m back to square one, feeling like an idiot. And twice the idiot cause I kept on being friends with him after the divorce. A part of me blamed myself for his behavior because I am not the easiest person to get along with. But with this new info, I’m like screw him. It was him all along. One of the many things that get to me is that especially the way I see him now, he is the type of man I’ve been warning my girlfriends about for years. And I was married to him!!!! He says I’m very naive and that made it easy for him. So not only is my heart shattered, but so is the way I used to look at the world.

    • Oh Adelade, this guy is not your friend, as I’m sure you know. The line about how you’re “very naive”? I’d tell him — No, motherfucker, YOU are very sociopathic! The problem here is NOT that you trusted your spouse of 20 years. It’s that he was a serial cheater from day one. IMO, people like this are disordered. It takes a lot of crazy to have that degree of compartmentalization and deceit. To make a lifestyle of it. Read up on personality disorders. Check out the interview on this site with Dr. George Simon or read over on his blog at or on PDs at

      You’ve got good morals and a good lens to view the world. Don’t change that because of what he did. But do educate yourself on PDs and look for healthier relationships in your life. Where there is reciprocity, kindness, and mutual respect.

      I understand the regret. I think anyone reading here does. I get it. But I’m years out too, and I have to say that from the worst things in my life have come the best things, later. And I wouldn’t have gotten to that part of the journey if I hadn’t suffered idiots along the way.

      I’m so glad you’re not wasting another year of your life with him. Congratulations on your new beginning!

  • Sometimes I think that you’re just in too close to see the forest. My former mother in law was best friends with this woman (who crept out of the woodwork at some point and insinuated herself into the group of friends surrounding my in laws) and the moment I met that woman I thought: “That’s a sly piece of work and I don’t think she’s as good a friend as my MIL thinks”. And I actually went so far as to say: “I will have nothing to do with her, she’s shady, and I won’t have my son in the house there when she’s around either.” I was very cross with my MIL, too, because she just defended this woman to the ends of the earth and I kept saying: “Can’t you see she’s shady…something is off with her.” Later when it turned out that my FIL was boinking this person in his off hours, I thought: ‘well, there it is…she was not her best friend, she just wanted her husband.’

    I didn’t say to MIL: “oh hey…surely you knew…” because obviously she did NOT. But I did think to myself: “I had no idea it would be this, but I sure did know there was something wrong. I’m sorry that you didn’t.” Nasty situation. But the point is — I don’t think she was in denial, I think she wanted to believe her reality as she wanted it to be. No one wants to be cheated on, no one wants to be betrayed. No one wants to think that their best friend would do such a thing. And precisely because of what CL says above: She would not have done it, so she couldn’t imagine anyone who would. Particularly not the people she loved most in the world.

    It isn’t even a forest tree situation, it is just no one would doubt the image of the forest she or he lives in, especially when his or her trusted partner is making pretend right along that things are as they seem but not what he or she is secretly creating behind the curtain and behind their trusting partner’s back.

  • Chuck Klosterman wrote about this in one of his novels. A male character fails to recognize warning flags that his wife is cheating. Or perhaps, refuses to recognize them. Klosterman says that the man recognized cheating was possible, that anything was possible since men had walked on the moon. But that if his wife cheated, it would mean he had to re-evaluate ***eveything he thought about every person he knew in the whole world***, and that this was too much to contemplate. In Klosterman’s words, “beyond reality.”

    We are limited in our fears to the reality we inhabit. Sometimes I think that immense loneliness we feel after D-day is the tremendous volumne of the sucking empty space around us when the old, comfortable reality of our marriage explodes.

  • I did realize, however, rather early on, that i was dealing with a selfish, superficial asshole.

    • Arnold, if you realized early on that your xW was a selfish and superficial asshole, why did you remain in that relationship?

        • I should think that would be a good reason to get away from a superficial and selfish asshole — to give the kids a fighting chance at living a balanced life. Modeling something better than superficiality and selfishness, both as an individual but also as a part of a healthy, mutually giving, well-grounded couple with another partner.

          Of course I understand the trope: “we have to stay together for the kids…” because it is just what people tend to believe. But I think it is also dangerous because kids might say that they watched their father or mother accept the bad behavior and therefore it must be okay to 1) also accept that kind of crap behavior and/or 2) that that kind of behavior is okay to do…

          It is really such a tough thing, though. Especially for fathers, who probably will lose primary physical custody. No easy way to manage the realization that you’re married to an awful person with whom you’ve had kids.

          • I agree Kristina. And there is so much pressure out there to not divorce for the kids. That you’ll fuck them up irrevocably if you divorce. IMO what fucks them up irrevocably are the issues that would lead a person to divorce, and best not to model that shit to them. But it’s very hard to go through the fire wall of inflicting pain on your kids.

            I think this is especially true if your cake eating spouse wants to “try” (and really doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot). Then you feel stuck. If they’re just cold and without remorse, it makes the situation clearer. Or heck, if they leave you!

            It’s tough stuff. And I think we’re our own worse enemies. Just posted on “spackle” — check it out.

  • In hindsight, it would have been best for the kids to leave sooner. But, as you point out, Kristina, a father with a SAHM is not only losing access, but losing the ability to run interference a lot.
    My lawyer’s exact words about my chances of custody ” It does not matter if she was givilg blow jobs on Hennepin Avenue. You have no shot.”

  • I took a test to see if I could tell whether people are lying. I scored 100% – well above average, higher than most law enforcement officials. Yet my ex was lying to me for years. Challenging my ex’s lies would have meant upending my world, so I put both hands over my eyes and pretended not to see.

  • Hmm, should have known? Probably. Like when she wanted to go out of town to see an ex boyfriend. This was right before we married. I objected, “why would you want to see him?” And she did not go.

    Like when she told me, years later, that the DJ liked her and asked her to lunch, would I mind if she went? I objected, “why would you want to see him?” And she did not go.

    Always pushing boundaries, rehearsing. Seeing what I would accept.

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