Today’s Chump Lady rant goes out to “Tim,” a therapist who left a thoughtful review of my book on Amazon the other day. He gave it 4 stars (out of 5), which was very kind of him. So it’s probably churlish of me to put his review through the Universal Bullshit Translator, but my blogging fingers got itchy when I read his criticism that I “leave no room for grace.”
Chump Nation, hold my beer.
Tim, how can I put this gently? I don’t write for nice, mild-mannered marriage counselors. I don’t write for cheaters. I write for chumps.
Meditate on that for a moment. Okay, maybe 45 moments. Now bill yourself $150.
The whole idea that a chump should “leave room for grace” for cheaters — is not the mission of this site or my book. The tagline is “Leave a cheater, gain a life.” I’m selling exactly what I’m advertising. I don’t review Amazon cookbooks on Texas barbecue and inquire why there aren’t more vegan recipes. Similarly, I wouldn’t come to a book, which brazenly encourages readers to leave cheaters, and wonder why it doesn’t discuss happily reconciled relationships. Or ponder the likelihood of their existence.
Now, maybe grace-for-cheaters is your job as a therapist, but I’m not a therapist, I’m a chump. Cheaters’ grace is above my pay grade. Moreover, the whole meta level idea — that any worthy discussion of infidelity must include a grace-for-cheaters caveat — is offensive.
Tim, consider our radical perspective here — an entire discourse around infidelity (blog closing in on 15 million views and God knows how many book sales) that does NOT revolve around what the cheater wants, needs, or might become.
What makes chumps chumps is having spent entire relationships being lopsidedly, slavishly devoted to cheaters’ wants, needs, and potential. And now, having been fucked over, we reject cheater centrality — in our lives and in the greater infidelity discourse. Chump Nation is about what the CHUMP wants, needs, and can become (mighty). That distinguishes this place from 99.99999 percent of the rest of the infidelity resources.
Now to UBT further misconceptions from your thoughtful review:
:: Disagreements ::
> You are a “chump” if you focus on hope for your marriage.
From the author: “Asking a marriage counselor if your marriage can be saved is like asking a barber if you need a haircut.”
Let me first admit that I am in partial agreement with what the author has to say on this point. Too many counseling services and products promise (for a fee) to help a betrayed spouse save their marriage without the cooperation of the betrayer. And when these methods don’t work, the wounded partner is left to shamefully conclude, “I couldn’t get that right, either,” accepting inappropriate blame.
We should probably throw religious leaders into this mix as well. Many well-meaning people are too quick to direct a betrayed spouse into attempts to save their marriage. That is a risk they are not required to make and should not be pressured to do so.
But denying hope for a healed marriage is a shift to the opposite extreme. The book leaves very little room for this consideration. In fact, the author wants to push chumps in the opposite direction. She writes, “I’m not here to help you save your marriage after infidelity. I”m here to help you save your sanity and protect yourself.”
Here’s the truth: there is hope. I’ve seen healing in marriages, the kind of healing that moves a couple back into connection and trust. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, many couples do not experience this. But marriage healing after an affair is not a foolish hope.
The best healing choice for some is to leave their marriage, but that is not only choice for everyone.
Tim, what makes someone a chump is NOT that they hope for their marriage. (That would make them an ordinary, married person.) What makes someone a chump is that they were PLAYED by a con. They were duped, lied to, had their health risked, were UNKNOWINGLY cheated on.
If that happens to you, and you want to reconcile? That makes you a volunteer, not a chump. Now you know. I might call you a unicorn (because I think your odds are long), but chump just means you were the victim of infidelity. Someone did this to you.
Also Tim, hoping to reconcile your marriage should NEVER be inconsistent with protecting yourself. Hell to the NO. I’m arguing that if a cheater resists you protecting yourself (particularly your finances) or setting boundaries like transparency and STD testing — you’ve got jack shit to work with.
But denying hope for a healed marriage is a shift to the opposite extreme. The book leaves very little room for this consideration.
I make logical arguments why reconciliation is a long shot, and that if you do it, do it with protection. Which I find preferable to slouching towards grace toking a hopium pipe.
Reconciliation is a myth.
From the author: “I liken successful reconciliation to a unicorn—a mythical creature that I want to believe in, but that is rarely sighted.”
There are many examples of marriages that somehow managed to avoid divorce after infidelity, but fail to experience a genuine return to intimacy. Online forums are filled with stories of people who tried to fix their relationship yet remain disappointed and frustrated. I can understand the tendency to conclude that reconciliation is little more than an empty dream.
But couples can and do reconcile in ways that are satisfying to both of them. Some of them are open about their stories, while many remain private about this part of their lives. Every decent affair recovery therapist I know can account for many marriages that are strong despite the devastation of an affair.
Reconciliation is not the only outcome, but it is a true one.
Yeah, about those “affair recovery therapists” — got any longitudinal studies on those marriages? Or just the self-reporting of people in affair recovery therapist offices who want to recover from affairs? Or the self-reporting from affair recovery therapists themselves? (“Oh yeah, we’ve got STRONG numbers! Short on the sides and longer on top?”)
Leaves no room for grace.
From the author: “This is what enforcing a boundary looks like—the cheater decides to commit to the marriage then and there—or you put their crap in Hefty bags and throw it on the lawn for the raccoons.”
This book is a great counter to the common tendencies of “chumps” to overlook the severity of the betrayal. Forgiveness and trust can be granted too quickly and easily.
But I want to live in a world that values grace and makes room for it. I know it is empowering to embrace justice and agree that many betrayed spouses SHOULD be taking a much stronger stand for their own well-being, but there is a way to balance grace and justice. I believe we are better people when we do.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that traumatized spouses should just roll over with an “It’s okay, I still love you attitude.” Real grace will still establish real boundaries. Grace is not the same thing as trust. Some cheaters should never be trusted again, but I would still encourage a consideration of grace, not just pure justice.
Well Tim, I want to live in a world where cheaters don’t fuck over vulnerable, trusting partners. Where men don’t rate sex workers like Amazon purchases, or pregnant chumps don’t discover abnormal pap smears at their pre-natal screenings, where faithful husbands don’t have to paternity check their children, or the middle-aged aren’t abandoned for much younger models, and families aren’t left when the new shiny wears off. Heck, Tim, I’m such a crazy dreamer, I wish child support was enforced!
We don’t live in that world.
What makes you think we didn’t already offer cheaters grace and get kicked in the teeth? Again and again and again and again? (Four D-Days here, Tim. FOUR. What’s my grace score?)
There is a way to balance grace and justice. Justice is just natural consequences — the relationship ends. Grace is — no one backs up over the cheater with a truck.
What’s grace to you? Wishing cheaters well? We don’t wish our exes ill — we just wish them nothing. We reject revenge. We reject their centrality. Meh.
You want “grace”? Meh is Really. Fucking. Hard. It’s a goddamn achievement.
Cheaters have one primary motive.
From the author: “Why do people cheat? Because they can. It’s that simple. People cheat because they value their autonomy to engage in affairs more than they value your well-being.”
No motive justifies betrayal, but it’s not accurate to say that every cheater is driven by the same reason. Every cheater is 100% responsible for their choice and its consequences, but understanding an affair means giving attention to the unique vulnerabilities at play.
These vulnerabilities are not reasons or excuses. The unfaithful spouse had a multitude of other choices they could have made, but understanding the various influences at play in a person’s life is necessary for healing, whether or not the marriage survives. Many cheaters did not choose to cheat before, even when there was an opportunity to do so. It’s important to gain insight into the vulnerabilities at play so that appropriate changes can be made and necessary boundaries established. Only then can there be a secure return to trustworthiness.
Yes, at the core of every affair is selfishness, but cheaters do not all pop out of the same mold.
This is similar to the grace point — it’s NOT MY JOB to ask what drives cheaters. Is the guy who pistol-whips your face and steals your wallet driven by his desire for cash, or how much he hates your haircut? Does it MATTER? Are you going to preach “grace” to the guy with a shattered nose? Or deliberate over mugger motivations as the victim lays there bleeding? Chump Lady is calling 911. Meditate on grace all you want to, I’m mopping up blood over here.
Dude, there are no “unique vulnerabilities” at play. There are only so many ways to manipulate a person, all of them very well trod. Cheaters say the same stupid, banal shit.
Cheaters don’t change.
From the author: “I believe people cheat because they give themselves permission to cheat—and that’s a matter of character… After suffering my own series of false reconciliations, reading infidelity boards, and running my own blog, I’ve yet to see the grateful, prodigal unicorn.”
I doubt the author would claim that a cheater could never change, but it seems clear that she believes it is so rare that it is a near-fantasy. I wonder if her story has attracted like stories.
Over 20 years ago, I was a cheater. I am not a cheater now. And I know many other former cheaters who have long years of evidence pointing to their trustworthiness.
Some spouses have always been and will always be cheaters. Some spouses cheat once and never cheat again. And some were habitual cheaters who, like addicts, become “sober” in their relationships.
Thank God there is hope for us!
I don’t preach “once a cheater, always a cheater.” However, I do think once a cheater, you’ve put a bullet in that relationship and no one owes you reconciliation. Your character may change (I’m glad it did), but the person you fucked over is still fucked, and shouldn’t be expected to invest in your potential.
I wonder if her story has attracted like stories.
Yeah Tim, millions of like stories. Or as scientists call it — “one hell of a data set.” Oh hey, here’s an actual scientist who did the largest study ever on infidelity that vindicates leave a cheater, gain a life. Psychologists asked over 5,000 women chumps about their relationship break-ups. Turns out the chumps fixed their pickers, learned from the experience, and had better future relationships. They also experienced more personal growth outside their relationships.
Five thousand people? Those are my numbers before noon. I got more chumps here than ever walked through your door or sat on your shrink sofa, Tim. I believe in the grace of self-worth. I see miracles of mightiness here every day. Cheaters are just the catalysts — the grace is all ours.