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Unpredictable Love

Did anyone see this last Sunday’s New York Times piece “I Heart Unpredictable Love“?

It’s this really interesting little essay on how the brain likes drama. Well, maybe that is putting it too simply. But essentially it says there are studies showing that our brain is wired to light up when kibbles are given to us randomly, unpredictably rather than constantly.

If someone seldom tells you they love you, and then suddenly they do? Well it’s HUGE, compared to say, your mom who tells you that every day.

Similarly, when we’re in love with some douchebag who is emotionally unavailable, when we get a hit of sparkliness and wonder, it feels more special than…. well, healthy love without the dysfunction.

Perhaps there is some science behind why we reconcile with cheaters then. Ooh! Heart kibbles! I got one! They LOVE me! Swoon.

Funny, I read something like this article once, only it was about abuse. What makes abuses extra horrible is that it is unpredictable — the whole walking on eggshells thing. You don’t know where the trip wire is, and so when it goes off, it’s that much more awful because you cannot discern how to avoid it or control it.

All to say, if you’re with a wing nut, the highs are high and the lows are low.

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  • I think that you’re on to something here, CL. Very thought provoking.

    I wonder if the BS, when he or she is trying to reconcile, is getting the same kind of weird chemical rush that an OP and a cheater get when they are in an affair and ending an affair etc. I am NOT equating a BS with an OP in the sense of moral highground or whatever. But from what I can tell, based on reading around and trying to understand what the hell happened to me, I don’t think an affair is so enticing just because it is fantasy or pretend, I think it is exciting because it isn’t a sure thing. It can literally blow up at anytime. That’s the ultimate in unpredictability, right?

    I wonder if the same thing happens to reconciliation-minded BSs when they realize that they are suddenly *fighting* for their marriages. Again, the whole thing could go bonkers at any time, they are suddenly having to work at it, nothing is what they thought it was, and love/validation from his or her partner is anything but certain. And so, when the cheater reveals him or herself as wholly unpredictable and untrustworthy, the BS has even greater value for the crumbs he or she receives that seem to reflect hope and promise.

    Actually, the 180 is built completely on this premise. Because as far as I can tell, 180 = feigned/forced detachment, right? Detachment = an unpredictable supply of ego snacks for the cheater. And of COURSE that makes the bs look more attractive, because it has turned the marriage into a thing that is no longer certain. Except, what the fuck? Are you going to live your life permanently detached from your spouse? Really? Is that marriage?

    The fulcrum, of course, is the cheater — the one who is betraying his or her spouse. If this article you cited is correct, then that person is getting constant chemical surges. While in the affair before discovery, during discovery from both sides, after discovery (presuming the affair ends) then he or she gets it from the attempts at reconcilliation. It is like an intravenous drip of heroine. Imagine the level of that person’s withdrawal when things eventually calm down, i.e. the BS starts relaxing again and the affair partner is long gone. What happens then? They cheat again, that’s what happens.

    • YOu really hit the nail on the head, particularly the part about the BS running around grasping at crumbs and getting a feed off of that…but even more importantly in your comments about the 180.

      I hated the whole idea of that when I first found out. My thinking was this: I’m married, I love my spouse and if I start playing games what sort of marriage are we going to have, particularly if we survive this. So I was honest and I was clear. He wanted his OW and me. He couldn’t have that so I walked away. Not easily, mind you, but I did it..and that was really because I discovered other instances of cheating over the years and realised he was just all kinds of fucked up.

      But yes, the idea that we, the BS, are getting our own fix is completely valid and rings very true, at least with me.

    • Great insights Kristina! I totally agree that the center of the drama (and the chemical highs) is the cheater. That’s why they want to you to do the Humiliating Dance of Pick Me — it fuels the drama and the kibbles.

      I also can say, for myself, that kicking my ex was like kicking a drug. I thought of that a lot at the time (having a brother who did 12-step). It’s interesting to me, to read the brain science behind this.

  • I agree with all of this…so how do you fix it, or can you? Is a cheater like an alcoholic or a drug addict? Or is that being too polite. To the non-alcoholic or non-drup addict, the idea of not being able to stop something that is destroying your life is absurd. Is it the same for non-cheaters? I’ve seen my xw’s behavior and it baffles me!! How can you go from a normal, loving home, where you are taken care of, loved, where your kids are and throw it all away for one-night stands in seedy hotels, not knowing if you’re catching a desease, if the new guy is a psycho or what anything past the current moment holds in store??
    Is cheating a desease or a symptom of some other psychosis? Or is it just plain old fashioned selfishness and foolishness??

    • My therapist, once the cat of his serial cheating was out of the bag, said right to STBX that he was like an alcoholic – when things weren’t going well for him, usually career-wise, he didn’t reach for a bottle, he reached for a woman. STBX poo-pooed that notion but I thinks it’s an apt analogy. And to be honest I have no desire to live with someone like that. AT least not anymore.

  • I’ve given up trying to understand what motivates/drives the cheater. I’ll never understand them. All I know is that they are toxic people who will hurt you without giving it a second thought.

  • I agree with Arnold. It is pointless to figure out the why of someone else’s actions.

    What I would think about, cajun, is where any impulse that you might have to “fix” comes from. Because the truth of the matter is: there is no one who can be “fixed” by someone else. Change comes from within.

    That is the biggest BIGGEST mistake I see all over the place. The fact that people actually believe that they can be good enough or sexy enough or vigiliant enough, or happy enough, or controlling enough or sad enough, or pathetic enough, strident enough, threatening enough or whatever enough that they can actually fix someone else.

    Vigiliant, sexy, good, happy, sad, controlling, pathetic, strident all of those things can *influence* another person’s behavior short-term. e.g., I could have threatened my ex with access to our son and said: “I will put the screws to you so hard and you will lose access to our child if you leave me.” and that may have stalled him, but it would not have changed him. He would have remained out of fear not because he’d seen the light of my worth.

    The only thing that could change him was him.

      • There are a lot a good people out there. So, why waste time trying to change someone who, most likely, is incapable of changing.
        It is not about intellect with these folks. many are smart as heck. But, they just have a huge sense of entitlement and no or little empathy. And, this is not going to change at the adult stage in life(Apologies to Paul on the road to Damascus).

    • I guess I should consider myself lucky. I knew exactly what motivated my cheater wife even before I busted her on D-day. I’d stumbled upon a confidential message she’d exchanged with her OM’s best friend wherein she proudly described their porn star-like performances.

      It was all very simple.

      It was all about the sex. My CW was bored, horny and wanted hardcore sex like a porn star, and she got it.

      She denies it still because it’s embarrassing, especially for a woman to want sex like that (going against stereotype–it’s usually men who are considered sex-crazed pigs, but they’re not). She also denies it because it does make her look like a whore which she desperately wants to avoid.

      But it’s also those same denials that confirm that the confidential message that was intercepted is almost certainly telling the truth, or she wouldn’t be working so hard to deny it.

      Well, at least I know.

      • RJ, it is the big lie we are fed about women and cheating. I am convinced that they do it for sex every bit as much as men do.
        That Michelle Langley person on “Women’s Infidelity” has a lot to say about this and it rings true to me.
        Not that the motivation really matters sex, emotional support, money, whatever. Bottom line, they are not honorable people.

        • I’ll let the secret out: we ladies really like sex. A lot. And we even like it dirty and loud and in crazy places. The whole madonna/whore thing is so old school, although I’m sure there are women (and men) out there who are dignified and missionary only during sex. Most of us want to have much more fun than that.

          We want to sweat.

          • LOL Nord! And it’s true.

            But RJ — on the “porn-star” performances? I’m not believing that. I still think the main thing about affairs is how it makes the cheater feel — like they ARE the super hot porn star. (Even, in fact, if they’re a squidgy, middle-aged soccer mom, or whomever.) It’s about fantasy.

          • Thank you, Nord. We hear all this crap about women needing “emotional connection’ etc and that their sex drives are lower than men’s. How absurd.
            Look, you guys are multi orgasmic, need no recovery time and are capable of doing a large number of men in a short period of time. Think a body with those capabilities does not come equipped with a decently high sex drive? How would that help from an evolutionary perspective.
            Hypergamy is out there and it is pretty prevelant. Studies show that abbout 1 in 10 kids is not the product of the husband,un beknownst to the husband.

  • My ex-husband had it in him to be a wonderful person–and I thought he was until I discovered he had been cheating on me after over 25 years of marriage and then when confronted he abandoned his family (yes child too), for his trophy 1/2 his age girlfriend, and his life with them took priority over everything else–so I put him in the douchebag category. It took me a long time to see that he belonged in this category and I blamed myself for being deficient in some way and being responsible for bringing this upon our marriage. Our child keeps us in touch, but I am afraid that when I was fed kibbles–they made me gag! I have too much pride to swoon for them and find them demeaning. Without going into a lot of detail, after years of devotion to the marriage– kibble crap is’nt going to do it for me–this betrayal was too great.

    • Oh Still Waters! 25 years of cheating?! For some reason, I’m having visions of Nelson Mandela on Robbin Island doing 26 years of hard labor. That’s a very long sentence. I’m so glad you’re free now — and the kibbles ain’t doing it for you. I’m sorry you ever blamed yourself, because you know that guy is seriously fucked up. Trophy girl’s problem now. She can nurse him in his agedness and Depends wearing life stages. All for the joy of scant kibbles. Not. Your. Problem. Any. More.

    • I discovered more than a decade of cheating, minimum. Couldn’t go back further than that because his email from before that was long gone. Ha! Doesn’t matter, though. He’s a big ole cheater, turns out he was that way with everyone before me and he was even ‘cheating’ on the current woman. What. Ever.

      My life now, my goals now, my future now. He can piss into the wind.

      (and did I mention that he told me I’ve embarrassed him by telling the truth? hahahahaaha! Sucks when the mask is ripped off, eh?)

  • Thanks Chump Lady, each day I draw sustenance from your website as I try to wrap my arms around what happened and try to understand it. For a long time I just couldn’t really face it; I just ended the marriage and shucked my feelings into a corner and focused on being a Mother. Now, I am trying to work through all that happened, and life is good, I do feel free! I have begun dating a great man, who is brilliant, kind, understanding and great fun! Nonetheless, not a day goes by that I don’t wonder whether the new relationship will end, or whether there will be an awful discovery and I am in a delusionary state and my world will be shattered again.

  • Thanks Chump Lady, each day I draw sustenance from your website as I try to wrap my arms around what happened and try to understand it. For a long time I just couldn’t really face it; I just ended the marriage and shucked my feelings into a corner and focused on being a Mother. Now, I am trying to work through all that happened, and life is good, I do feel free! I have begun dating a great man, who is brilliant, kind, understanding and great fun! Nonetheless, not a day goes by that I don’t wonder whether the new relationship will end, or whether there will be an awful discovery and I am in a delusionary state and my world will be shattered again.

    • Less likely that there will be cheating, Still, since you are dealing with a man. It’s the guys that really have to worry 🙂

  • Arnold,

    My work puts me in contact with many men, most of whom are married–I would say that many more men are out there cheating on wives and girlfriends, than wives and girlfriends cheating on men. For men it seems to be so tied in to their feelings of self-worth, potency, and a feeling of entitlement as society has always turned a blind eye/wink of an eye at this type of behavior.

    That is not to say that women do not cheat, nor that it does seem that women seem to be struggling for equality in this area to demonstrate their attractiveness and prowess in love making and being equal to men in being capable of acting like total scum bags in relationships too. But without turning this into a gender issue–I think the vast majority of women still attach a lot of emotion to entering into a sexual or emotional affair with a man, and not vice-versa.

  • I don’t know, Still. I think many women that cheat do it purely for sex, but are stigmatized if they admit it. Somehow, there seems to be this weird notion that it is more justifiable if there is emotion attached.
    I guess we run in different circles. I see more women cheating. Check out that website, Talk about marriage(CL goes there). Seems there are more betrayed men there by far.
    I know that is not probative.
    But, really, I agree. This should never be a battle of the genders. We are all husrting from this. It does sort of rub a lot of men the wrong way, however, when most of the books and the literature seems to use, predominantly, the male pronoun when talking about cheaters. Same with literature on abusive spouses.
    I read that, actually, in the 25-45 demographic, one study found women cheat at a greater rate than men. The study went on to say that the stats for women are dragged lower , pretty much, strictly by inclusion of women over 60 or so. Take those folks out, and it is fairly equal.
    Two fastest growing demographics for cheating,: senior men(thanks Viagra et al) and 25-45 women.

  • Arnold,

    IMO women are on track to cheat just as much as men due to the societal changes and greater opportunities to cheat; there are more women in the workplace, the rise of internet social media has also facilitated this, as well as their rise to financial independence. The statistics on infidelity vary greatly, they can easily be manipulated, but also will depend on honest disclosure as well–so we will never really be certain. Because infidelity will dependent on moral interpretation, i.e. PA vs EA, or if a young single person cheats with an older married person–is the young person guilty of infidelity or only the married person, etc. The bottom line is, the lack of moral turpitude exist in people that are not exclusive to one gender.

    I have noted in the habitual cheaters I have come in contact with, they continually rewrite their lies, their truth is a moving target–their truth is continually rewritten in an effort to justify, mitigate and shift any accountability for their actions. In the truth about deception website there are some interesting statistics on cheating, including that 2/3 of the women cheated on never knew their spouses were cheating (which makes me fell less of a dolt!) cheaters are masters and mind manipulation. It would be really interesting to know, if there is some kind of genetic propensity toward this behavior, if it is due to some kind of deficiency in their child hood (feeling unloved and looking for love elsewhere), etc.

    • I have no stats to back this up, but this is just a gut feeling I have had for a loooonnnngggg time.

      If you catch someone cheating, it is not the first time they’ve cheated on you. It is just the first time you’ve caught them. In my experience, cheating is a coping mechanism for some people (whether they are severely disordered or simply slightly neurotic), and it is a habit. It gives them a surge of good feeling chemicals and it helps mitigate the pain of whatever they are currently trying to avoid (usually, ironically, something they do not like about themselves).

      Moreover, the more careless they become about it, in my opinion, signifies a willingness to lose their primary relationship. If they are being super careful and covering their tracks, the primary relationship still matters. By the time they are so sloppy that they are getting caught, they don’t care if the marriage fails (or at least that’s what they are telling themselves). Of course when d-day happens and they lose the source of consistent affection (i.e. their spouse) the marriage then becomes a source of excitement, because then they get to try to “win” that situation back. There is something about chaos — or the threat of chaos — that floats these people’s boats.

      Unless someone really does serious hard work and finds better ways of coping, if they cheat once they will cheat again. And honestly, I think if they’ve cheated on their partner once and the partner knows and forgives them, they probably see that person as “less than” and someone not to be respected because there were really no serious consequences. In fact, it just validated them in some sicko way, i.e. “I can be really bad and this person will forgive me, so therefore I must not really be bad.”

      Again, this is my opinion and I have no hard stats to back all this up, but based on the things I’ve seen all over online and with cheating I’ve come into contact with in person as I’ve been digging around into infidelity, this truly seems the case and it crosses gender lines and economic lines and all the rest.

      • I agree with this, completely. Affairs are like cockroaches, if you find one, no doubt there are many others that go undetected.
        I think it is possible that someone caught could stop in the future. But, it is much more likely that they will not. They love this crap.
        Think about it. To pull off a longish term affair, a person must be very comfortable with lying incessantly. Thye must be accomplished in subterfuge. That takes practice.
        If you could , really, get a handle on how your cheater has lived, really know about their past, I think you would be amazed at the crap they have done.

    • I have read, and believe, that the vast majority of affairs go undetected, Still. So, as you note, I doubt there are any accurate stats broken down by gender.
      I do, however, take issue with the often mentioned belief that, for some reason, women cheat for different reasons than men and , usually, want some type of emotional connection. My experience, and that of many of my male friends is that many women just want sex, and do not want a connection.
      There is , however, a big societal stigma attached to women admitting this, so, I don’t know how to prove it , other than anecdotally. I can tell you that when I was younger, it was not uncommon to be approached by some woman wanting sex. Same with my buddies.

  • The woman who was cheating with my STBXH, was extremely horny based on her emails. She thought her husband was hairy and fat and beneath her as a mate, even though he was wealthy and faithful. Oddly, she was somewhat overweight herself and had never in her life held a job and was qualified to do nothing. Sex seemed to be her main interest in life.

    I couldn’t believe the emails she wrote to my husband, they sounded like a teenage porn novel. Very raunchy. She talked about how lubed she was getting just writing to him, and that’s the mild stuff. Some of the voice mails I heard, too, are now in retrospect hilarious, although upsetting at the time I first heard them. She sounded like a pouty horned out underage call girl. She was all breathless and demanding to go somewhere special to “do it.”

    Worse yet, she spoke as if would just jump at her command, and you know what, he did. I lost respect for my husband after hearing some of her voicemails. I never spoke to my husband as if I knew he would automatically jump at my command. For example I would never leave a message saying in a commanding voice “Call me!” I would always say call me if your are not too busy. I say that to everyone, I never just expect that they will jump to calling, at my command. It’s only polite. But this woman is a serial cheater and likely a narcissist, IMO.

  • Yes, the “jumping at my command ” deal. Very prevalent with the NPDs. I beleive both my XWs were NPD.
    But, I never realized the sense of entitlement was so deep that I could not reason with them.
    In my first marriage, we had two boys, one severely disabled. While my xw was out having relations with strange men, I was home almost every night taking care of the kids by myself.
    Idecided to keep track of her nights out for 6 months. She was out 112 out of 180 nights , most times until after midnight. Once, she raged at me for having failed to clean and put away one glass out of the many dishes I would do by hand each night.
    I finally told her that I was unhappy about all her time off, and that our boys would often not see her for 3-4 days at a time.
    She looked amazed and irritated. She told me “of course I get to take more time off then you. I have more “friends(affair partners) than you.”
    At that point I had an “aha” moment. I realized that in her world, with her value system, the stats made no difference. The basic premise from which she operated was completely different than mine and other fair minded folks. She never disputed the stats. It was just her interpretation of them was filtered through what she thought shoud have been a well accpeted premis” that she deserved more than other folks, the peasantry.

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