Did your cheater define you? One thing I’ve noticed about people who get out of relationships with a cheater is that they often have trouble reorienting themselves in the world after having been typecast as something they’re not.
After time with a cheater, and with constant reinforcement, the betrayed spouse got used to believing whatever it is they got typecast as (a hard ass, ditsy, dim-witted). Then they get a breath of fresh cheater-free air and discover – whoa, the cheater had me all wrong. Why didn’t I clue into this sooner?
I think this is an especially pernicious phenomenon after a long marriage with a serial cheater.
My marriage with a serial cheater was brief (DDay was six months in, the marriage endured with separations for another year and a half). But even within that time I would bump up against his perceptions of me, resist, and then shut up and succumb to them.
Some of those perceptions seemed sort of cute, if ill-fitting at the time. He’d tell me I was a “hippy chick” or an “arty chick.” There is a nugget of truth in both statements (and that’s the ticket, you have to have some buy in). Yes, I eat granola. Yes, I was a liberal arts major. Yes, I draw cartoons. But it was a way to pigeonhole me – oh, you’re one of Those People. That was useful for him in two ways. First, he liked to collect things. (Three cars, three motorcycles, umpteen fuck buddies). I was like wife action figure Hippy Chick. A coveted part of the Total Wife Collection.
Second, it was a way to make me Other. To feel superior to me. What would you know? You’re a “chick.” A fluffy, unserious, colorful accessory. Truth of the matter is I went to better schools than he did (London School of Economics), did contract work for the UN and World Bank editing papers on macroeconomics, worked at the Defense Department as a writer, and was making it in the world as a single mother. I’m nobody’s dummy. I’ve never worn tie dye or smoked dope. Okay, I did eat hummus and send my kid to a Waldorf school – but I bathe. I don’t smell like patchouli. My point is I’m multifaceted. Contradictory. Complicated. Just like everyone else.
I think he really did see me as a hippy chick. I don’t think it really went any deeper than that. I spackled and created connection with someone who saw me two-dimensionally. If I’d clued into that, I would have seen that he didn’t really love me, because hell, he didn’t even KNOW me.
My husband suffered from this too. He was told for decades that he was “difficult to live with.” A hard ass. Insufferable.
I’ve lived with insufferable, and let me tell you – my husband is a dream to live with. He does his own laundry. He pays the bills. He’s organized and considerate. He remembers every birthday and holiday and gives thoughtful gifts. He’s affectionate. I could go on and on before you gag me – my point is – the man lives his life constantly in consideration of others. If I’d fault him for anything, it’s being codependent. For flinching at being on the receiving end of gifts.
But, no, he went through life convinced he was impossible. Because his ex told him so. He’d warn me – oh, hey, I know I’m difficult. WTF?
It was a mind fuck. And look, I’m sure he was difficult living next to the chaos of someone who was not doing her laundry, paying bills, or considering her family. That shows a person up. So what’s a cheater to do? Turn that shit AROUND and pin the “difficult” tag on YOU.
Demonizing someone, of course, makes it that much easier to cheat on them too. See how that works?
So, if your cheater told you were bad in bed, or don’t know how to fold socks properly, or are a hippy chick – I give you permission to erase that bullshit. You’re YOU. And I can’t wait for you to discover a world out full of people who dig you, for you. Who relate to your true self, and not some cardboard cut out. Enjoy!
This all rings so true. STBX had me painted as the ‘tough’ and ‘strong’ one, the one who said what needed to be said and fought the battles. The truth was that I did that because he was so passive aggressive he couldn’t even tell his father to back off when building a deck. So I got stuck in the role of being the ‘outspoken’ one. And sure, there’s some truth in it, but it’s not everything that I am.
Also, in the last year and being much less in contact with his family, I notice that they tend to slot everyone into roles: this sibling is the homey one, that sibling is the one into money, this one is the logical one, that one is the one who married beneath them. It even extended to everyone they knew (I wouldn’t call anyone a friend, to be honest): every person that passed in and out of their lives was given a one-dimensional tag and that was that, they never strayed from that opinion.
Hell, several relatives were living with tags given to them two decades earlier, when they were in their teens or early twenties, as if they hadn’t changed one iota in that time.
Now, of course, I have a new tag to add to the old ones: bitter, angry and vengeful, all because I won’t go along with the bullshit stories STBX is making up about what happened in our marriage. He simply does not want to tell people he is a massive serial cheat so says it was all about an already broken marriage. Yes, a marriage that was apparently broken for more than a decade but he stuck around until I found out.
Sorry, feeling venty today.
I’ll add that in the year since I threw him out I have slowly come back to the person I really am, in all my complexity. My strength is still there but my fun and brains and sauciness has come back…and I’m really feeling like ME again. It’s sort of scary and exhilarating at the same time.
I hate that I forgot who I was/am.
Ooh. The “bitter” tag. Yeah, that’s a one size fits all, gets trotted out a lot.
Bitter hippy! I like this.
Slotting everyone — that rings true to me as well. My ex did it with more than just me. (Although I’ll take “hippy chick” over OW’s “bipolar alcoholic.”) He did it with co-workers, his sister, her kids.
I guess when you’re really narcissistic, there just isn’t a lot of mental real estate left over to figure out other people.
Great column. This is another example of a cheating spouse abusing their position of trust in a marriage. You never suspect that your spouse would make up things about you, manipulate you into believing you are what you are not, deceiving you even about the story of your own identity. It’s truly cruel and Machiavellian.
I was pegged as cold and harsh and rule-obsessed. I was given a printout from the Internet showing that I met the criteria for Obsessive Compulaive Personality Disorder. On my first D-day, I was told, “You seemed so independent and self-reliant. I didn’t think you needed all of me.”
In reality? Yes, I like things to be generally predictable. And guess what? Living with a serial cheater who sowed chaos everywhere to cover her tracks didn’t make for a lot of predictability. So I was constantly trying to clean up messes and reach a concensus to avoid problems from reocurring. Not a recipe for matrimonial harmony. But after my divorce, I realized (REMEMBERED, really) that I am more than the sum of my organizational habits. I like sentimental movies (“On Golden Pond” anyone?), folk music, unruly dogs, old pickup trucks, traveling, and a bunch of other things that didn’t fit neatly into the pigeon-hole into which I’d been stuffed.
Reminds me of the CL motto, “Leave a cheater, gain a life.” The life you gain is often the one you left behind, or rather, the one your cheater convinced you never existed.
I like that: the life you gain is often the one you left behind. It’s pretty much how I feel right now. And yes, I had a serial cheater as well and I ran around ‘fixing’ things – and I didn’t even know what I was fixing half the time. That’s the joy of living with a cheater: you know something’s off but you don’t quite know what.
Ahh well…here’s to (re)gaining life!
Great insights, CL, that really hit home for me too:
“First, he liked to collect things. (Three cars, three motorcycles, umpteen fuck buddies). I was like wife action figure Hippy Chick. A coveted part of the Total Wife Collection.
Second, it was a way to make me Other. To feel superior to me. What would you know? Youâ€™re a â€œchick.â€ A fluffy, unserious, colorful accessory.”
Sounds a lot like my ex-fiance on both counts. Thanks so much for nailing him for me!
“I guess when youâ€™re really narcissistic, there just isnâ€™t a lot of mental real estate left over to figure out other people.” Too funny, CL!
Hi to everyone, I’ve been lingering and reading for a bit. I’m new to figuring out how I was used and tossed. So, this blog and everyone who contributes is really helpful to many of us out here.
I was thinking recently how he liked to compare himself to Pacino in “Scent of a Woman”, he was cheating from the beginning of our relationship with multiple woman… Some were friends of mine others he would make sure we were at the same function (i would only realize it later… gave him some perverse pleasure). Anyway, back to Pacino, he wasn’t close to that! He is handsome and charming and has that “way”, but Pacino didn’t use woman and treat them like objects (feel free to correct me on this). He was portrayed as genuinely liking them. Much different from my x. So, in thinking about how he liked to put labels, that were not accurate and not pleasant and often cruel, on me, I’m recognizing the grandiose labels he put on himself! Simply amazing!
My ex enjoyed the perverse pleasure of being at the same function too. One of his OW was at our wedding! Sickos, huh?
LOL at the labels they give themselves. Great point. Yes, for them the labels are super star, brilliant, sexy, charismatic. Just part and parcel of the magical reality they live in.
Well, he was probably a short little guy with Napoleon complex. Was he blind, as well? Booyah.
Unfortunately for him he had no complexes whatsoever, Arnold. And yes, he was soul blind, which is working for him for now (booyah!).
Another thing STBX did, when I first met him (and wow, was this a missed red flag), was to label people I knew, whom he had just met. One girl I knew back then was, well, quite covered in blonde fuzz. He named her Peach Head. Another he named something very rude. Why? Because he thought that guy might have liked me. So he made up the rudest name he could think of and used that all the time. I was so in love I kind of laughed and went along with it, which now makes me feel quite bad, because that guy was really nice (and yes, he probably liked me).
The names seemed funny at the time but now, looking back, I see that they were cruel and based on tearing people down.
So weird how we miss these big things that could have saved us a lot of trouble. Then again, N’s are geniuses at making us feel like we are the BALLS.
Mine did that too. Ugh. And as for “making us feel like we are the BALLS” – it’s very 8th grade, mean girl — isn’t it? Well Sally is a bitch, and Jenny is conceited, but you’re okay. You can be part of my cool club. Meanwhile, the mean girl is telling Sally and Jenny that you’re a conceited bitch and they can be part of her cool club.
Divide and conquer.
The disordered love to put other folks down to elevate themselves. Pretty common.
My ex also has the old Madonna/Whore thing in spades. What is it?!!! Really baffles me how men still harbor this attitude or disability or whatever it is.
I was “the lady” my ex couldn’t sully by screwing. He went to all his “bad girl” “friends,” mostly married or likewise unavailable, for the hot sex he sadly withheld from me. Then I was relabled the “jealous maniac” when I left him for serial cheating, lying, alcoholism — all part and parcel of his dis-ease, whatever the hell it is, and all of which he still vehemently denies. Sad…but not my problem anymore, and the longer I process the loss, the more the relief I feel for dodging the bullet and not marrying him! To HeadCase and others new to this site: Welcome. You’re among friends.
Yikes. Yeah, how could you pass up a serial cheating, lying alcoholic? Just beggars belief.
It’s an insight into just how whack they are to think they’re All That.
What an interesting topic. I have to tell you, I think it is difficult not to form opinions of others and “label” them. I think the more evolved amongst us realizes that whatever we imagine someone else to be, whatever “label” we give them, there is much more to the reality than we could ever really know. But we respond to people the way we do. It just sort of is what it is. Whether or not we “use” those labels against someone, in order to manipulate them or intimidate them, that is also a distinguishing factor. But as soon as you meet someone you start forming opinions. Human nature.
Moreover, I know that others have opinions of me, some of which are more accurate than others. It seems to me important to remember, and this comes from beating down the ego and emphasizing self-awareness in oneself, is the fact that no matter what others think of you, or how they label you, YOU must know who you are so that you not become dependent on someone else’s opinion of who you are (or should be) to navigate the world comfortably AND/OR so that you are not in a position where someone can come along and manipulate you into believing whatever projection or label or whatever it is that they might hang on you. You are your own best defense against being mindfucked into believing the worst about yourself.
Ultimately, my none of my romantic relationships has ever defined me or mindfucked me into not knowing who I was. The person who did that for me was my mother, actually. And what that made me do was try to please her by *being* the me she wanted me to be. Of course this has led to a fair amount of ridiculous co-dependent behavior with her because the psyche wants to be free, and even though I don’t consciously know what I want or need, I do unconsciously, and rebellion ensues.
Of course this has informed my romantic relationships, so I tend to end up in situations with guys who act like she did — emotionally witholding and yet seriously needy and all wrapped up in a nice passive aggressive bow — but those guys were NOTHING compared to her. I was first and foremost always what my mom “labeled” me as. There was no other more powerful presence in my life. The journey out of that has been really difficult and has happened in fits and starts. I’m not sure it will ever be over, really. But I am sure trying like hell to be better informed, and more aware of who I am.
Building up my “self-awareness” muscle has been really freeing in terms of how sensitive I am (or vulnerable I am) to the pressures that others might bring to bear on me. Now in dating situations, as soon as I realize that my needs are not of significance or someone wants me to fit into the image he creates for me (which happens ridiculously often, doesn’t it?), I protect my boundaries and assert myself.
One other thing — CL, you said that your husband’s wife labeled him as “difficult to live with”. I do get the thrust of what you’re saying, but is it possible that for her, for whatever reason, maybe due to a fundamental difference in values (i.e. she valued the freedom to cheat, he did not), he WAS difficult for HER to live with? But because you two share values he does not seem difficult to you? Do you know what I mean? The thing there is: your husband, or you or me or whoever may be feeling “defined” by someone else need to not buy into that. But see, those of us who are prone to spackle, me included, probably also enjoy working in clay and as such sculpt ourselves (or allow ourselves to be sculpted) so that we fit into the mold that our partners have built for us.
It is sometimes easier to buy into the bullshit than to persistently stand up and allow the voices of our true selves to be heard.
Ahhh….I see we are the children of the same mother, separated at birth. Welcome back into the fold.
I like what you wrote about the impact your mother had on your romantic relationships because I absolutely see that with myself as well. She was kind of nutty, definitely had issues with intimacy and love, wanted me to be a certain kind of person, was always taking and rarely giving (and when she did I was so bleeding grateful without even realising it) and yes, I think I modelled that in my relationships.
So a serial cheater who made me feel like I was damned lucky to have him (had no idea about the cheating until I found out about all of it) and gave me little, yet expected it all from me…yep, I was hooked and it seemed normal.
So I guess that’s my part in things but the nice result of all of this? I have boundaries, I have A LOT of self-awareness, and I’m pretty sure I’ve broken the cycle. Never again, no way, no how. I get a full on man or I stay single.
“I think it is difficult not to form opinions of others and â€œlabelâ€ them.”
Yes, but it’s the INTENT of the label that mattes. Most of us label for the sake of social short-hand. E.g., “Willard is a Ditto-head (listens to Rush Limbaugh), so I’ll steer clear of politics with him. ” It may be an over-simplification, and fail to fully honor the complex and wonderful human symphony that is Willard, but it is an honest intent to capture some actual aspect of his personality for the purpose of getting along better with him.
Contrast that with what I think CL is describing, which is an intentional spin–or even an outright like–about someone, a lie CALCULATED to get them to act in a way that benefits the liar, and often does real harm to the subject of the lie.
Agree Nomar, completely. But even more reason that each person has to really take responsibility for understanding who they are as an individual and can enforce boundaries.
Because the thing is, people who are consistently able to enforce their own boundaries are less likely to be taken in by the kinds of asses who would do the things that CL is describing — i.e. INTENTIONALLY wearing someone down or berating them or whatever for his or her own gain. My analyst says to me: healthy people with clear boundaries don’t stay long in relationships with unhealthy people. But if we’re not taught to enforce our boundaries (or are encouraged to NOT have boundaries) from a young age, we’re vulnerable to all kinds of crap treatment.
“But even more reason that each person has to really take responsibility for understanding who they are as an individual and can enforce boundaries.”
But in a marriage? Really?
I have an idea of marriage as the one place in the world where I don’t have reflexively think in terms of “enforcing my boundaries.” I mean, why would I marry a person who requires vigilence against malicious manipulation, you know? If that is wrong, or naive, or failing to take personal responsibility, well, I’m sunk. That’s how I was raised, that’s how I’ve lived for 49 years, and that’s how I’m wired.
You know, trusting your spouse—to be honest, to have your best interest at heart, to avoid tearing your guts out—that is NOT pathology. That’s the way it’s SUPPOSED to be. That is a HEALTHY attitude toward marriage. But getting involved with cheaters, we end up expressing that healthy impulse toward a very unhealthy person, to our personal injury.
Well, maybe not within the marriage, nomar. But, while courting, you need to be vigilant, IMO.
Agreed. STBX labelled people based on their physical quirks. Nothing major, but something that made them (in my eyes) unique, but which made them (in his eyes) mockable.
Sure, I say ‘oh, yeah, Mary with the curly hair’. He would say, ‘Mary with the pubic hair on her head’.
It’s a big difference.
Yes, and describing Mary in a humiliating way to you has the INTENT of humiliating your friend and thereby you, or forcing you defend the your friend agianst him and thereby “earn” his anger, or getting you to ACCEPT his humiliation of your friend and thereby be a shitty friend, or, or, or. . . .
It usually has nothing at all to do with Mary.
It’s just nine flavors of mind-fuck ice cream.
Nomar — unfortunately, and since we’re all in the same boat here, the answer is obviously yes. 🙁
The thing is, with better boundaries I would not have ended up in the marriage I was in in the first place.
But the thing is — even though we love and trust and adore and know they have our best interests at heart, even THEN we have to have our own identities and boundaries because without them we are vulnerable.
And that is why we see so many BSs, poor trusting, vulnerable souls, on these reconciliation forums who have no boundaries and who are brutalized again and again. And yet they stay. How many d-days do you have before you cry uncle? Well, with someone who has no idea of who they are and are totally dependent on the opinion of their spouse (or are only defined as “wife” or “husband” or “in this couple”) and that’s where all the self worth comes from, then that person is crippled in a way that makes them incapable of moving on.
Of course that’s not to say that we must be in relationships wearing full suits of armor. Those we love we let in closest. But we always must know who we are independently of anyone else, so that in case of the unthinkable, we can act on our own best interests.
Kristina, everything you say makes a lot of sense. I just think a large part of the brutalizing happens not because of some fucked up quality or defect in the betrayed spouse (potentially a form of blaming the victim, when you think of it), but only because the betrayed spouse was a good spouse to . . . a mean, nasty, rotten cheater.
We lose so much when we go through the meat grinder of infidelity. I didn’t want to lose the part of me that was open, honest, and trusting as well. I don’t feel like I’ve changed much since my first marriage, I just picked a much, much, much better partner the second time around. And one is also willing to make herself vulnerable–by trusting me.
Nomar, I see what you’re saying!
Not blaming the BS by any means. Not his or her fault that a spouse cheated or was manipulative or whatever else. That’s on the spouse.
But I guess I am suggesting that post-infidelity, and this was helpful to me because I wanted to take away something positive from the experience, it does not hurt for someone to self-reflect and understand what hooked us into a relationship with that sort of personality. There is always a hook and the hook goes both ways.
Is it my “fault” that I was trusting? Not at all. Is it on me that my boundaries were in such disarray that I allowed myself to be in a position where I was not expressing my needs and making sure that they were met? You bet it is.
Of course that’s me and how I’m navigating this. By no means do I think that this is the “only” or “right” way to go about it. It is simply what works for me.
I’d agree that a usually healthy marital trust can (espeically when a co-dependent is involved) edge over into Spackle territory. I would certianly cop to that wrong move in my first marriage.
Hey Kristina, you wrote: is it possible that for her, for whatever reason, maybe due to a fundamental difference in values (i.e. she valued the freedom to cheat, he did not), he WAS difficult for HER to live with? But because you two share values he does not seem difficult to you?
Oh, I’m sure he was difficult for her to live with. Yes, a definite difference of values. But two healthy people can share different values (I value clean laundry, you do not) and not make it a personal attack — i.e., you are a difficult person, or difficult to live with.
A lot of it, I think, is that cheaters busy as they are with cheating, do not invest a whole lot into the marital/family relationship. So things slide. They’re absent physically, mentally (and probably laundry-wise). And the other spouse is picking up the slack and probably resenting them for it.
But really — my husband is easy to live with. I’ve had two other husbands to compare him with — and he’s the bomb.
This is an interesting topic. And something I have been thinking A LOT about lately. Who am I? We all go through this identity crisis after the break-up of “who am I if I am not X’s wife/husband?” For me, this is really a quandary. I have been with X since I was 19. Now, 16 years later I realize that he has been the focus of my entire adult life. Don’t get me wrong, I am a very independent person. A great career, wonderful friends, close family, beautiful kiddo. But when I think about getting back to the person I once was… I am at a loss. I was a kid when I met him.
Instead, I guess I will be finding out who I am for the very first time. Which is kind of exciting, but also, totally intimidating.
He was always quick to discount others and categorize them. And eventually, I became one of “them”. For him, it was my job that was the problem. I work in Law Enforcement and eventually he decided that my job was making me too much of a stick in the mud for his lifestyle (drinking, staying out all night, partying). Oh, plus I didn’t like it when he stuck his dick in passing vaginas. But, see they UNDERSTOOD him. They worked in his industry (nightclub/restaurant) and so they understood what it was like to live in the “gray area”. You know… DUI’s, drug use, staying out all night. It’s all perfectly acceptable in “his circle”. Once he adopted that lifestyle and and didn’t approve, I became the enemy.
But now, I am on to better things… eventually. Life will get better. It has to.
It will get better. You will rediscover long-dormant parts of yourself and discover new parts. You will blossom and grow and become the woman that’s been buried inside for a very, very long time.
It won’t be easy and the road will be rough at times but the you that will slowly emerge will be a gift to the world.
It will happen and you will feel like you should have felt all along: whole and healthy and completely you. This sort of crap tends to rip aside our blinders and we either sink or swim. Well, I say swim, swim with gusto and leave him in your wake.
As Dory would say… “Just keep swimming; Just keep swimming; swimming; swimming!”
Thanks Nord for the encouragement. So needed and appreciated!
What Nord said. It absolutely will get better.
Your ex sounds like a real man child. You, on the other hand, sound like a grown up bad ass. Law enforcement? And am I remembering right, you supported him while he occasionally tended bar?
Oh yeah, addition by subtraction. No question.
Ha! Thanks friends! Yes CL, he tended bar as a career after our kiddo was born so he could stay home during the day with her (no daycare). Since he worked in a nightclub, he actually made more money than i did, so I didn’t technically “support” him, but I certainly was the only grown up in the house.
And yes, I am in Law Enforcement. I spend my days exposed to the worst of the worst of what people do to the people they “love”. You see, my specialty is domestic violence and forensic interviewing of children who are victims of crime. My job is tough, but I am thankful for it every day. I love what I do, and I love helping to put these jackasses in jail. Now, I’m moving on to getting my own jackass out of my life…
Yes, addition by subtraction is my mantra these days. It’s a little foggy at the moment, but as I put more distance between us (time and space), it should become clear.
I’m thankful everyday that I found this blog! EVERY SINGLE DAY!
Isn’t it true that more kids are killed by women, Dani?
Arnold… I can’t say that has been the experience in my department. But we are a fairly small department, so wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. I would say the abuse of children that we investigate is primarily adult male on child. But again, I can only speak for my department.
Hmmm. Unusual, according to what I have read.
I’d say the line of work you chose, one that is literally build around protecting others, is Exhibit A of your co-dependency. Join the club. And Exhibit B is your cheating man-child bartending oh-so-edgy (and I’d guess not-so-gracefully aging) cheating ex. Sounds like you did a lot of “protect and serve” for him as well.
Dani, I think you rock. What amazing, important work you do. Thanks. I’m sure you’re a gift in those children’s lives.
Nomar… true words my friend. And actually, my X is aging gracefully… on the outside. But inside he is a giant mess. Both emotionally and physically. I have to say that I dodged a bullet in not sticking around to see the aftermath of the damage he is doing to himself.
Not my problem anymore…
Live and learn, Krisitina. Me, I totally blew it, ignored red flags that were cropping up ,despite the mirroring and masking. I knew my XW was not nice, but denied it to myself.
I got some great kids out of the deal, though.” So, I got that going for me, which is nice”.(you guess the movie for that quote).
And I am not “passive”
I made up a joke to remind myself of that:
there are two people
one has never dealt with her mistreatment of her mother
her mother’s illness
her mother’s death
or the guilt of all that
she is now destroying her marriage as a distraction
one has just finished bathing two boys
explaining to one who misses his mom why mom doesn’t come home for supper all the time (trying hard to be respectful of mom)
planning tomorrow’s actions re moving his dementia-stricken mother
researching the market for writers with training experience
Question: Which one isn’t passive?
Answer: The one who complains the most.