But I love him.
“But I love him” (or her) means I can’t leave. As long as I feel love for this person, it cancels out any horrible behavior on their part. “Love” is the way chumps give themselves permission to stay immobilized.
And who can fault you for love? It’s so virtuous. Especially unconditional love. Isn’t that the gold standard? It’s what we promise children, it’s what’s lacking in every fucked up FOO issue. Poor thing, they didn’t get unconditional love.
When a chump says I cannot act in my own self interest because I love this person, I think several other things are going on. It could mean “I can’t imagine starting my life over.” Or “I miss the person I thought they were.” Or “I don’t want anyone to think I’m a failure, so I’m going to fashion myself as a crusader for Love Against All Odds.”
And I also think there is some real confusion going on about love.
Of course we love our cheaters. Most people leave these relationships while still retaining love for their spouses. Maybe they carry some of that love with them for the rest of their lives. It’s not like you wake up one day with a searing, moral clarity about this person that makes it so easy to leave them. No, you love and you leave in spite of.
Grown up love comes with conditions. You don’t get to abuse me. You may not endanger me. You may well love, but that doesn’t absolve you of responsibility for removing yourself, or your children from harm.
When you take marriage vows, you make promises to behave a certain way — cherish, honor, provide, be faithful. It’s not a vow to accept whatthefuckever. Yes, in sickness and in health. But sickness and health are seen to be quite outside our providence. No one asks for cancer. But what if you’re poisoning your own well? What if your cheater breaks the contract? Are we obligated to stay beholden to the terms of a broken contract?
You know who also stays stuck because they “love” the cheater? The affair partner. Isn’t that what they tell themselves? It doesn’t matter who I hurt — because I “love” this person it’s all okay. King’s X.
Healthy love doesn’t require accepting humiliation and abuse. Healthy love is reciprocal — it’s not toxically lopsided. More kibbles for me! None for you! Healthy love doesn’t demand the “pick me” dance. Healthy love doesn’t lie and obfuscate.
Some “love” is not good for us, and it’s not really love at all. Pedophiles “love” children. The addict “loves” their fix. When deciding to leave a cheater, chumps can borrow the language from addiction recovery — detach with love.
DETACH with love. But detach. Love, but do it from a distance. Love yourself more than to tolerate abuse and disrespect. Chumps hate to read “love yourself more.” Oh God, I don’t want to be the narcissist. I cannot be accused of selfishness!
You know what’s narcissistic? Thinking you can fix this. Thinking your love alone — your patience, your fortitude in the face of punishment — can change your cheater’s behavior. It’s just the opposite really. Your tolerance of that behavior reinforces to the cheater that they may treat you this way. You’re still there. Unconditionally. Taking it every day.
The most loving thing you can do for yourself — and for your cheater — is to leave. By levying a consequence that matters — your absence from their life — they have the opportunity to face themselves, to get help, if they’re so inclined.
And if it doesn’t matter? They never loved you. Not enough anyway.
This column ran previously.