I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time now and am learning tons about all the different kinds of fuckwits out there. For some reason I really need my cheater to be a narcissist. I’m stuck on the idea that if he isn’t a narcissist then maybe there was something wrong with our marriage. A lot of things point to him being on the narcissist spectrum, but then other things don’t fit the profile. I would love your diagnosis of our marriage history.
We met in college and dated for five years before we got married. We had what I thought was a great marriage. Lots of friends and family, financially secure, active sexlife, two kids. The sour note in our wedded bliss was me finding out about visits to porn sites and strip clubs. It was incredibly painful to discover that he would take his wedding ring off when visiting the strip clubs. It was very hurtful too that he didn’t seem very sorry about it. He kissed my butt for a little while, but otherwise seemed very annoyed that I was hurt. He supposedly stopped those activities, but I guess I don’t know for sure. We moved on from it. I felt very loved and I adored him and thought he was the best thing ever in spite of how he had hurt me.
Then one fall he started to get distant and mean. He lost weight and became preoccupied by his appearance. I remember saying to my friends, “If I didn’t know better I’d think he was having an affair.” Fast forward a couple months and I confront him with the big question. He denies an affair, but says he has lost feelings for me. I spend a month trying to get to the bottom of what went wrong.
Finally, I ask his best friend what’s up and he tells me the truth — that my husband has been having an affair for about five months. Our friends and I stage a confrontation to which he responds with violent anger. The next year was a time of limbo. I believed in unicorns and was pick me dancing like crazy. Throughout that year we went to counseling he was putting very little effort into our marriage, but was not ending it either. Just when I would feel like I had had enough, he would do something kind or initiate sex and I’d get my hopes up again that maybe the “affair fog” was lifting.
When his stash of love notes from her appeared in our bedroom, I kicked him out. He left, but then returned the next day humble and somewhat remorseful. He said he needed space. He needed some time to think things through. Then he intiated sex. Stupidly, I complied because I believed the unicorn was in sight. He leased an apartment a few miles away and he would come and have dinners with the kids and me. I gave him his space and continued the pick me dance. As his lease was ending, I asked him for his decision and he said he didn’t see us working out. I waited almost a year for him to file and he never did, until I finally told him I wasn’t going to file since it was his deal. Couple months later he did and now he and “Schmoopie” are getting married.
Is he your average cheater? Was it an exit affair? Is he a narcissist? Will you please give me Chump Lady’s diagnosis? I’m hoping it will help give me more closure on this painful chapter of my life.
I diagnosis him as a cake-eating fuckwit.
Does it matter what flavor of crazy we diagnose him with? That’s untangling the skein of fuckupedness. Is he a narcissist? A pathetic guy having a “midlife crisis”? A pileated yellow-bellied nitwit? It doesn’t matter. What matters is — is the way he’s treating you acceptable to YOU?
That’s the ONLY person we need to untangle here — you. What are your deal breakers? What do you think is acceptable behavior in the marriage? Is he good enough for you?
For some reason I really need my cheater to be a narcissist.
I get it. If we give him a label (like “mid-life crisis” or “narcissist”) then we can explain the phenomenon of discarding people who love us. If he’s a victim of a stroke, or a brain tumor, or has an affliction like “sex addict” (it’s just a brain disease!) then all this crazy has meaning. And better yet, perhaps it can be FIXED!
Similarly, if it’s something immutable like a personality disorder — he’s just a narcissist and he was born that way and has no empathy synapses and he can’t change — then we’re off the hook. Nothing to be done! He’s a disordered fuckwit! It wasn’t me, it was HIM!
I’m stuck on the idea that if he isn’t a narcissist then maybe there was something wrong with our marriage.
There was something wrong with your marriage — he wouldn’t quit cheating on you. You had nothing to work with.
That’s either an acceptable situation to you — I’ll let him eat cake and keep devaluing me — or it is not — I’m getting a divorce.
You tried limbo. You chased. You let him eat cake for a LONG time, including dragging out a divorce, but in the end, this marriage was not sustainable with three people in it. He married the affair partner, now he needs a new hypotenuse. Please ensure it’s not you.
Andrea, I don’t argue that every cheater is a certifiable personality disorder. I’m not a shrink, I’m a chump. I argue that the act of cheating is narcissistic. You cannot cheat on someone without suppressing empathy for them. Lack of empathy is the hallmark of narcissists. Maybe they overflow with the milk of human kindness in the other parts of their lives, but cheaters lack connection and compassion for their chumps.
Moreover, you cannot cheat on someone without emotionally abusing them with lies, gaslighting, and blameshifting. It’s not what you think! I’m not having an affair! You’re crazy! To cheat on someone is to devalue them. Worse, cheaters turn it back on chumps and blame them for the abuse.
Cake eaters USE chumps. That’s not an “exit affair” (which I’m beginning to believe is a pretty rare unicorn too). To sustain cake eating (and yours sustained it for, what, a couple of years?) means the cheater is extracting value from the chump, using them for kibbles, and maintaining a position of privilege (all the attention on ME! Dance everyone! DANCE!) for their own advantage (AND PAY MY BILLS WHILE YOU’RE AT IT!).
Cheaters avoid responsibility and the consequences of their bad behavior. They act entitled. Yours flew into a “violent” rage when confronted.
Whatever you want to call these dynamics and the idiots who dish out this crap — it’s deeply messed up. Personally, I think to maintain a double life for any significant amount of time, to keep suppressing your empathy and using and abusing people, means you’re disordered and belong on Planet Narcissist.
It helps to learn about personality disorders and narcissists and sociopaths because it gives us a framework to understand that such people exist. They don’t play by the same rules. They’re wired differently. Chumps imagine that if they hurt their partners, they would be eaten up by guilt, or admit it, or accept consequences. We’re baffled when people don’t play by the rules of civilized conduct. (Which keeps us getting played. This gesture has MEANING! I got a KIBBLE! The FOG IS LIFTING!)
Dr. George Simon talks in terms of character and I think that’s more useful. Character is on a spectrum. Character can change, but it’s very difficult because authentic growth is hard and painful. You have to give up entitlement and exchange it for humility. You have accept consequences. You have to feel other’s pain, and why when there is a shiny new source of kibbles?
Your ex had lousy character. He treated you appallingly and devalued you. For quite awhile there you let him — that’s what you need to puzzle out — why? Not is he this or that kind of narcissist — maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. But why were you the kind of chump who didn’t serve his ass.
I asked him for his decision and he said he didn’t see us working out.
It was never his decision — it was yours.
This column ran previously.