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The Power of Spackle

Do you ever wonder now what you ever saw in your cheater? Once they lit the moon, and now you’re mortified to recall your life with them.  WTF?

After infidelity, it’s not uncommon to feel like you never knew who that person was at all. That you loved a holographic projection of a loving spouse, but really some sicko was behind the projector. Or maybe you still cling to the idea that they were once a good person, but got abducted by aliens and replaced with an amoral jerk. Who WAS this person and how could they have deceived me?

Well, folks, maybe part of it was you. Maybe you spackled.

Spackle is filling in the gaps and creating a smooth surface from what was once an unsightly blemish. Add a little sanding and paint — and voila! A normal looking surface!

Relationships all possess some spackle to one degree or another. For instance, I look past my husband’s penchant for “Polka Pimp” t-shirts and dressing like a teenage refugee. If anyone asks, I’ll tell you he is the most handsome, brilliant, wonderful husband on the planet, and not a flaming dork. Conversely, when I enter the house, I take my shoes off in the most inconvenient traffic paths imaginable. I don’t know why. No one can break me of this. It has driven everyone who has ever lived with me crazy. My father used to punt my shoes down the hallway or hide them from me. If you ask my husband, he’d tell you I’m a delight to live with. I know I’m not. I know that my shoe habit among other idiosyncrasies (snoring, complaining about Texas weather, organic food snobbery) make people want to strangle me, but my husband is nice and looks past my insufferable qualities.

A little spackle is kind. Necessary, if you want to remain happily married. Too much spackle, however, is dysfunctional — delusional even.

What does bad spackle look like? Making continual excuses for bad behavior. Creating a positive narrative from spotty evidence. Constructing “underlying issues” that explain destructive choices.

Spackle examples: He isn’t really a cheater, he just has “bad coping mechanisms for stress.” She isn’t really a failure because she hasn’t kept a job in 20 years, it’s because she intimidates her bosses. They can’t handle how clever she is and so they undermine her. He isn’t a mooch. He has a lot of potential and is going to stay at home and write that screenplay for a few years.

Sparkly people (narcissists, Cluster Bs, whatever you want to call them) are really good at maintaining an air of being All That. They so believe it, that you do feel a little crazy around them if you don’t believe it too. And face it, most of us want to believe that we chose the smartest, best looking, most fabulous person as our spouse. Because that reflects well on us. We spackle out of self interest, as well as love.

The problem is that a lot of cheaters are frauds. They really wouldn’t look normal to the outside world if anyone knew their true selves. We are there to spackle and smooth their image to the world. We are of use to them. We polish and finesse and build them up. We are so invested in that image, that we do this work gladly, sometimes unwittingly. If the cognitive dissonance between what IS and what we want it to be, is too great, then we stuff that down. Until there comes a point at which you can’t pretend any more.

Infidelity is liberating in a sense, because the true person is revealed. You weren’t going crazy. The emperor really didn’t have any clothes. But damn it, if you weren’t one of the idiots saying he did.

And why is that?

1. We want to believe. We have a vested interest in thinking our world is normal and safe and we chose a good spouse who reflects well upon us.

2. They really do believe they’re better, and so we buy it too. Why would someone act smarter than me, if they didn’t possess the accomplishments to go along with that air of superiority?  Wow. They must actually be smarter and more accomplished than me!

3. We don’t look at the evidence. If you pay attention to actions and not lip service, it’s pretty easy to spot who is sincere in our lives and who is a waste of space. But often those conclusions are painful to draw, and so we’re sucked in by pretty words and attitude. We construct realities based on spackle and no substance.

When I was dating my husband, he used to tell me his ex was “smarter” than he was. She was a serial cheater and a pretty stupid idiot to lose someone as great as he was, so I asked him more about that. “Well, she was a National Merit Scholar in 1983.”

Seriously? I mean nothing against National Merit scholars, because that is a fine accomplishment, but 1983 was a very long time ago. And when he met her, she was flunking out of college, and he wrote her term papers. How did this translate into “smarter” person? My husband has two advanced degrees at impressive schools and is a successful lawyer. The ex by contrast seemed to a be a person who floundered a lot in life and never accomplished much, by way of further academic or worldly success.

I said to him “okay, so what has she DONE with her life?” that makes her so smart? And he was gobsmacked. He really couldn’t come up with anything. He’d never looked it like that before. She believed it, so in the face of all evidence to the contrary, it had to be so. He believed it and fed her the ego kibbles that let her believe it. (Because apparently, it was very important to her to be smarter than him.)

And not to pick on just my husband. I did this too. I constructed all sort of reasons why my cheating ex was really a good person and not a freaking abusive wing nut. He had an “inferiority complex” for growing up the son of a coal miner. He had mommy issues. He had daddy issues. The problem was really the OW, he needed to feel needed and she was just manipulating him! You name the delusional excuse, I had it.


Lesson learned: If you’ve got a little ding in your wall, spackle is good. But it’s nothing to build the foundation of your house out of.


Ask Chump Lady

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  • I think I fell into the ‘I want to believe’ category.
    Everyone always told me what an amazing guy that ex was. He was smart, handsome, helpful. He carefully cultivated a persona of the guy that would come help you with anything, help you move, help you with that remodeling job, (“Help you out of your panties, M’am?”)
    People would constantly tell me what a great guy he was, and what a lucky girl I must be to have him in my life, with the implication that he was really too good for me and I should be grateful that he lowered himself to earth, from the heavens above, to be with me.
    I know I stayed with him much longer just because of how crazy I felt that I didn’t see this fantastic guy that everyone else saw anymore. What I saw in him initially was his potential and I took that to be the reality, when it wasn’t.
    I was dealing with a man that was jobless during our marriage for 8 years, while I struggled to keep us afloat. through our marriage he had been fired from 4 different jobs, cheated on me with a minimum of 3 different women, never helped out at home, and spent money recklessly while somehow convincing friends and family that I was the one that was irresponsible with money.
    I’m ashamed at how long it took me to realize what he really was, instead of what he liked to project to others. He was nothing BUT spackle!!!!!

    • Amen sister! My ex sounds similar to yours (smart, handsome, charming, handy etc…) I was always told he was such an AMAZING guy. Everyone just loved him. And what a father!!!!!! He was a stay at home dad for 4 years while bartending at night to keep us financially stable. What a sacrifice for his family… EXCEPT, he was hooking up with women while he was at work. Yes, what a father indeed, to sacrifice his career track to become a bartender and get paid to indulge his narcissistic side (for his family, of course)! All the while, I was the one with the stable job, the benefits, the everything. But all i ever heard was, “Oh, you are soooo lucky to have a man who is willing to be so involved with his daughter!” Yes, yay me!!!! Don’t be too hard on yourself Roxie… most of us go into our relationships with good intentions and just assume that our partners do the same. And when they fall short we see it as our time to be supportive and “help them along”, because that is what we assume they would do for us. Expect they are a little to focused on themselves to really be bothered with what we might need.

      • All very true. I was the supportive one, the one who always took care o things, who made the excuses for whatever went wrong in his life. Then, the last year of our marriage I was in a serious funk – which has since been diagnosed as depression. His response? Instead of what he had been (I now know) doing all along, having affairs, he went nuts, screwing around all over the place, including with one of my friends and then ‘fell’ for a young co-worker. His excuse? I wasn’t there for him emotionally and she took care of him that way (also with sex and naked pictures, but, you know, that didn’t really matter).

        So after years and years of me holding him up and being there for him the one time I really needed him he bailed. Why? Because it was no longer about him. My therapist pointed out, very aptly, that if something was wrong with me it was his job as my husband to be there for me, not look elsewhere for attention, and the fact that he wasn’t says it all: he’s completely self-absorped and seems to truly believe that his needs come before anyone else’s.

        His behaviour since I booted him shows that he has not changed one iota.

        • Well, good for you for having the strength to BOOT him. It is so very hard. Mine is booted as well, but it’s a struggle to figure out the line of having contact with him re: our kid and letting things slip back into “too familiar” territory. Maybe as time goes on, it will get easier (we’ve only been apart for a month).

        • This is me. All the way. I have dumbed myself down for so long and made everything about him. He has even resented the children for the amount of
          attention they needed. For a number of years, I was depressed and asking daily
          for help. I figured that the one time in thirty years where I needed him to step up, it wouldn’t be too much to ask. It was and all he could think of to do was hook up with a howorker. Wow. I think I’m awake now.

        • This is exactly what happened to me… After a decade of taking care of everything, him, his family, our home, shopping, finances, business, and cleaning up after his messes when he f*cked up, I went into a freaked out/depressed state over the fact that we were still struggling (mainly due to his laziness). I was tired of being married to a man-child. But he always had so much POTENTIAL. A rock star with a zillion friends/connections, super talented.

          So I stopped enabling. I asked him to step up. I asked what he was going to do to contribute more. I asked what his goals were and where he wanted to be in 5 or 10 years. He kept dropping lines to friends and family about wanting children, so how was he going to make that situation happen (we didn’t have health insurance at the time and he made poverty level income)?

          Did he step up and try harder? Did he try and comfort me? Discuss the issues like an adult? Make a 5 year plan? Go out and hustle for more work?

          No. He proceeded to get wasted everyday and become a ‘gigalo’ (his words), and carry on multiple affairs while lying to me (and the other women, telling them he was separated or divorcing). All the while supposedly supporting my efforts to find a new job in a new city to better OUR situation. (Again, me working hard and making all the efforts, for US).

          Of course, once I found out about the one affair (the one OW that got super needy and attached), I soon found out about the other booty calls. Then about the previous OWs throughout the relationship. Then about the occasional Craigslist call girls.

          For a while I was able to blame the drinking, until I realized that he was a compulsive liar, and it was clear he knew exactly what he was doing.

          I may never had known ANY of this, ever, had I not sunk into a funk.

          Even now I notice that our conversations are all about him. He never asks how I’m doing.

    • Oh Roxie, I totally understand. 🙁 The ex that tried to kill me was exactly like that. I am glad you were able to escape from that. They are really good at PR to make everyone you know think they are God incarnate, but in reality they are demonic inside.

      I really, truly feel for you on this.

  • More amazing insight, CL.

    I think I would add a 4th point, though. 4) You are prone to Spackle.

    As you have said, all of us spackle a little, or at the very least we learn to live with the minor cracks. we all have our own quirks, in fact, Ishare the shoe habit CL describes. LOL. But I think there is a spackling continuum, and some of us spackle very little, some of us spackle a bit more, and some of us come with bottomless buckets of spackle, and we spackle everything, all the time. Where you sit on that continuum does not make you bad, but I think it does make you vulnerable to the sorts who need lots of spackle. People who have a limited tolerance for spackling will not attract, nor be attracted to, spackle hogs.

    I havebbeen around narcissists before…I have gone out with actors and musicians once or twice. I could smell the entitlement on them, so I never was that impressed, there was just no hook for me. They would have required much more spackle than I personally carry in reserve. I have just about enough to spackle over the cracks of emotional nitwits in order to make them appear to be worth the effort it takes to get them to open hp. This is probably why I never attempted reconciliation. That would have taken a waterfall of spackle. Just did not have it in me.

    • Great points and beautifully made! LOL at “bottomless buckets of spackle” and “much more spackle than I personally carry in reserve.”

      I probably have too much spackle as I attracted spackle hogs in my past. I have a mental cartoon of a feral pig and troughs of spackle.

      • Ok, so I spackle too much also. Why? How do you fix that, so you quit or are you destined to keep getting played?
        I’m over the XW, but dammit if I still don’t defend her at times. I think maybe we cover up other peoples flaws because we see ourselves as flawed? A form of insecurity in ourselves, if you will. Or maybe, it’s not spackle we are applying but, neosporin and a band-aid, thinking we can heal their flaws. A spackler can fix anything and it makes us feel sooooo good!
        Problem is, no amount of ointment can cure what is wrong with a cheater, that particular ailment is at their core.

          • I definitely have a bottomless bucket of spackle and have been with a hog for most of my life. I am a spackling addict.

    • Ooooh. Musicians and actors DO have that sense of entitlement and think that everyone wants them. This lead singer of a band pursued me. Red flags popped up and I ran away! Funny thing is, he still whines and says he wants me back and that he loves me. DUDE! I only went out on ONE date with you and found out weeks later you have a wife and kid. If I knew who his wife was, I would tell her so that he won’t kill her with AIDS.

  • My ex also wants me to continue to spackle now that our M is over. You know, he’s still this “great guy” in every other way, so there’s no need to discuss the A with anyone.

    Yeah, except that I threw out my putty knife and canceled my subscription to Spackle Of the Month Club.

    I was definitely a spackler; so many people asked me what I saw in him after they learned about the A/end of our M, and when I look back, I can see how I spackled his behaviors for others: “Oh, he’s just having a bad night… he’s not feeling well… he’s worried about…” No, maybe he’s just a douche that I keep covering in spackle. That sounds about right.

    • Ha! My STBX is FURIOUS that I won’t spackle anymore. He wants to go with ‘the marriage was crumbling’ story and I’m instead going with ‘I discovered that he had been cheating for years, including with a friend of mine and during some pretty key moments in our life’. This makes him angry because it’s forcing him to deal with the truth and it means I will no longer be his protector. He doesn’t like this at all.

      • I’m dealing with the same thing. He would not even tell our neighbors why were we were selling the house. He told them we were looking for another house. We were, just not the same house!

        He was appalled that I was speaking with friends during this time. I was told that our marriage was no one else’s business and that no ones understands our special bond. Apparently I didn’t understand it either!! If you consider lying, cheating, being on the brink of bankruptcy for hiding and not paying bills, frequenting happy ending massage parlors, bullying, threatening and trying to get his way by whatever means necessary at the end, a “Special bond” then so be it. Amazing the things they can hide from you all the while being the life of the party and everyone’s friend.

        But I’m the one with issues?! Apparently being honest, trusting and having morals are all character flaws in his narcissistic world.

    • I’m right there with you MovingOn. First off he won’t even admit the affair even though I found both their cars at his apartment at 2:30am (we are not divorced yet) and put a note on each saying “I Know”. But he doesn’t want me to speak to any of his family and friends. I spent years spackling his behavior to them.

      “We can’t come for dinner mom, he’s working” Not! I would lie for him to anyone and then console him for having to work so much. He’s such a narc that he even encouraged our children to lie to his mother about things like a trip to an amusement park. I never liked it, but went along with it b/c I spackled his reasoning as mommy issues.

      Well, I have now sat down with both our children and told them that we were wrong to encourage them to lie and that they should never feel like they have to hide things in their lives from the people they love. I also called and told his mother the highlights of how I know he cheated.

      I have thrown my spackle away and won’t be getting any more for quite a long time.

  • These folks hate it when you will no longer cover for them. Thing is though, that I was covering for so many years, that getting the truth accepted was not terribly easy.
    Add to that the the NPD types are fabulous actors, playing to outsiders, while I was not all that good at it , and it was tough.
    Best thing you can do is just accept that some folks will see you as the bad guy, no matter what.

  • Oh, I LOVE this post. I recognized myself immediately – I’m the Georgia O’Keeffe of Spackle, the Frida Kahlo of the Spackle arts. Seriously. The huge elaborate works of spackle art I’ve produced fill a giant interior art museum, and how I’m enjoying these works, now that I know what they really are. Not just with my mega-cheater XH, but with the lovely and extensive galleries of narcissists I’ve deal with over the years. I’ve been restructuring these Sparkle art works using giant buckets of spackle remover and an ice axe. It’s the biggest fun ever. I’ve been doing this for a while, without really knowing what was happening. This post illuminated the process.

    Chump Lady, you are a righteous babe. Thank you one million totally real times just for being here. ‘Spackle’ is a concept I find immensely useful in getting on with my life and digesting the wisdom that lies within the pile of shit my cheating XH handed me. Because you got two choices with the buttload of manure the cheater dumps on you: you can wallow, cry and stink, or you can use it to fertilize your new garden of beautiful wisdom blossoms. I did both, and the garden is better. And I didn’t do it alone, I had many graceful and generous people to help. I’m pleased to say that Chump Lady has joined that treasured group.

  • Oh shit, man. I was the freakin’ Spackle QUEEN! Oh boy did I spackle the hell out of my exes. I am glad that I learned how to stop that. I am glad that I now realize that I should trust that fearful feeling in my gut and get away instead of saying “Nena, you’re being a bitch! Nobody’s perfect. Why are you so judgmental?” That almost got me murdered.

    Men spackle too, I know. I think that maybe we want something so badly that we try to gloss things over. Or maybe we were abused growing up and therefore our gut feeling had faded away from being talked out of so much.

    I wish that I ran into this site waaaaaaaaaaaaay sooner back when I was going through all of this.

    Oh well. I have a good man now. And I can finely tune that my red flag system for other situations with people.

  • SpackleMama here, after 30 years of playing Spackling The Flag without my soon-to-be ‘HAS-BAND’ even realizing I was doing it (of course he’s so delusional, he thinks he’s smooth as silk and I’ve been just telling it like it is)!

    Mine’s not a cheater, just a workaholic with fits of very serious verbal abuse (horrible) who is bizarrely, literally incapable of empathy. SO WEIRD! I thought he was perhaps autistic (spackle!) but he’s not — just textbook Narcissist? Unless he really is sociopathic, w mental cruelty. Not an actor, just a professor AND, get this: he is the Big Cheese of one of those Politically Groovy organizations dedicated to a “more just and compassionate world.”

    OMG. If you knew this guy’s mind’s inner workings in the freakin’ bedroom, what misogynistic sick scenarios he’s fond of, woah. But My Spackle habit was so bad, HE had to leave me! Waited til both kids left home & I was diagnosed w/ degenerative disc disease, chronic pain; he convinced me to quit my job & career in Dance, took me to Hawaii & told me there we were through. Wouldn’t leave our house so I lost that too. But there, in the basement, I think I left my pail full of white spackle… and bags and bags and bags … a 30-year supply!!!! GOOD RIDDANCE.

  • Wow, this hurts. It hurts!

    I overlooked that ‘my’ friends didn’t really like him. So what did this chump do? Drop those friends and pick up with his friends (some of whom are lovely).

    The friends we have made since, are my friends. Becuase he had made NO FRIENDS after the age of 16. Maybe one (that he is envious of, because he has just bought a flat in Kensington London costing £millions which he can because he has no kids).

    I overlooked his social akwardness. I overlooked the ‘pattern of selfishness’ identified by my IC in the second session.
    I bleated and whined about his endless buying of stuff, but accepted it when he ignored me. I have just put away his reels and kit from his time when fly-fishing was going to fill his inner void. I mean, how many reels does one person need? Why are they all top of the range?
    I overlooked some seriously red flags. But the truth is? I really did love him a lot. He wasn’t all bad. Just when I got boring and he wanted to look for someone else, ie the last 10 years of our marriage – who am I still kidding!!!

  • I tell my family that I was my husband’s “beard”. That’s a term gay folks use for the wife of a gay man…she’s his “beard”. As long as he’s married to her, he’s legitimized as a heterosexual man. Similarly, as long as my husband was married to me, he was legitimized as a successful family man. Even though no one could figure out what he did for a living (he’s constantly unemployed), even though he was sometimes socially awkward (just wouldn’t talk to people when he didn’t feel like it), and even though he hadn’t done anything of substance since college (he was the man then, though!).

    Being married to me, a successful and (if I must say so myself) charming woman, legitimized him. Like: he must be doing something right if she’s with him.

  • What is amazing, is how all that spackle crumbles off when you wake up to reality. And look at this person you once thought the moon of, and go, “Who the hell are you? – Do I even know you?” Certainly changes the scenery when that spackle is gone.

    • Uh, yeah. I’m self-amused at it since I’m going through this very phase now, the crumbling off. I’m realizing how much much spackle I did since the very beginning of our relationship, almost to the point of feeling shame of myself for being so naive. As you say, the change of scenario from being spackled to seeing it all crumbling down as it is in reality, is appalling and, to be frankly, surprising. Was it really THAT different all this time? I’m defying temptation to run to my spackling viscose solution again, a big part of me still wants it to work. But what am I thinking! Some things just can’t be unseen, I just long for better times when the spackling scenario looked so fine and comforting. I’m sad… but I will not wear sunny glasses again.

  • As soon as I quit the spackle he said he wanted out of the marriage. He found someone else to spackle him before saying he wanted out. Just goes to show that its all about him and the ego. Can’t function on their own. JUST GOT TO BE SPACKLED! Shows you just how weak they really are.

  • So after reading “The Power of Spackle”, I have decided that I am going to use my power of truth to despackle my stbxh.

    Now when anyone asks, I simply tell the truth. Them: “Why are you getting divorced” Me: “Because he cheated on me” Them: “How do you know” Me: I then review the highlights of the litany of lies that I have uncovered. They usually come to the same conclusion.

    Also, on FB I no longer hide my venting posts from his family. Last night when he decided to have OW and her kids over to his apt. for pizza and games with my kids, I was very upset. I posed the question on FB “Why do people think it is ok to play house with another woman, her kids, and your kids? When you aren’t even divorced yet!”

    Image is all important to him and truth is all important to me. He won’t give me the truth and I don’t give a damn about his image.

    Despackle them all!

  • my XH was like that, he would put himself down. say he wasnt good enough, say he was a loser. i was always telling him that he was a good man, that he just made a bad choice or decision. that everyone makes mistakes. and to be fair, he never really ever made the same mistake again.

    maybe i am just a fool but i really thought we had a good thing going. maybe my situation is a little different since my XH did not serial cheat or cheat with the same woman for 10 years. but ya, i still make excuses for him.

    it is hard for me to let go after 14 years. it is harder for me to believe that i mean nothing to him. but we are still just beginning our journey. divorced for 2 months. i am just waiting for him to come back and tell me he made a mistake. YA, You did!!!

    anyway. it is good to read this

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