Dear Chump Lady,
Why are these so called experts so rabid about blaming chumps for their part in creating a situation where they got betrayed? Can’t they just admit that cheaters are sick fucks? Ugh.
I loved my ex-husband and he knew it. I did the whole forgiveness thing and he acted remorseful and ultra loving. Our marriage went bad, he was bad. I have no responsibility or accountability for his dysfunction. Blame his mother!
WTF is wrong with these people that insist in blaming us???
Good question. I think the bigger question you’re asking here is why is infidelity such a big shrug in our culture. Something we should tolerate in a marriage, work through, and stick with — unlike, say, alcoholism or physical abuse. (Other things chumps have been blamed for “driving” spouses to in the past too.)
If you understand the cultural assumption, I think you will understand the blame.
First, I think it’s a result of poor critical thinking. We don’t make people DO things and control outcomes (ah, that we did… if that were the case, that winning lottery ticket would be MINE!) Shrinks perhaps are guilty of getting too deep into the weeds, looking at the “causal” influences that drive behavior. Oh, he must have deep neurosis, insecurities, and inadequacies that drive his desire to cheat. The marriage must be deeply unfulfilling and it’s that environment (created by the chump) that creates the conditions in which cheating occurs. So if we change the environment (bad chump! improve chump!), we can fix the cheater. And if we shore up the cheater (poor sausage, what did that bad self-loathing make you do?), we can improve the marriage.
This is why I like Dr. George Simon’s work, because he debunks that whole poor sausage, inner neurosis shit, and says essentially, no, what you see is what you get. They have disturbed characters. They actually DO think they deserve to behave appallingly and don’t feel one bit ashamed about it.
The more cynical of us would point out too that the whole Reconciliation Industrial Complex is predicated on fixing cheaters and chumps. And you’re not going to keep a cheater in therapy unless you put part of the rap (or all of the rap) on the chump. Chumps will take that shit sandwich out of desperation to save the marriage, to feel a sense of control in a terrifying situation. Yea! I can fix this! I control this outcome! Show me how! Sell me that book! The couple goes round after round, and the therapy bills go up and up, because no one is prepared to call the cheater on their shit. (Reconciliation is a delicate thing, don’t scare the cheater away!) Oh sure, they have to admit they cheated, but that’s easier to admit if you have a bunch of therapy-approved “reasons” why it happened. (Bitch set me up.)
Second, chumps get the blame because IMO a lot of people view the dynamic of an abusive relationship through the lens of who they identify with, or essentially, who they’d rather be — cheater or chump. And let’s face it, the Devil always gets the best parts. People who haven’t experienced infidelity can fantasize about an affair. All that crap is in our popular culture — the star-crossed lovers, the harridan and the poor long-suffering husband who has his head turned by the ingenue. It’s natural to find other people attractive, or sexually fantasize about people who aren’t our partner, so when it comes to imagining who we would be in the Hypothetical Cheating Situation — a lot of people are going to go with cheater over chump. They can fantasize about being edgy and bohemian and risk taking for hot sex. They can’t imagine being used, abused, and defrauded. (Very sucky fantasy there.) To avoid guilt (or critical thinking) about who we identify with, it’s helpful to come up with reasons for Why Chumps Deserve to Be Cheated On. They were controlling, sexless, withholding, etc. They held our hero back from reaching his Full Creative Potential. Now the sexy fantasy can move forward. Now we don’t have to feel bad about cheaters we admire, because hey, they had their reasons.
Third, I think chumps get the blame for cheating because our culture excuses it. Lots has been written about whether or not we live in a more narcissistic age. Articles point to technology as a reason why cheating occurs, gosh, it’s just so easy! So let’s everyone lower our expectations about monogamy. But I would argue that Ashley Madison isn’t the reason that people cheat. You’d never know Ashley Madison exists if you didn’t go looking for it. No. You cheat because you gave yourself PERMISSION to cheat. And that comes from within. And, IMO, that inner conversation has changed for a lot of folks because it’s okay to be a narcissist.
Sure, some people are wired wrong. They’re truly sociopaths. They’re going to be hurtful monsters because they’ve got zero empathy. Nothing in their head sets off alarms that actions are wrong. In the parlance of shrinks, they have “no adaptive anxiety.” But not every cheater has a personality disorder — some are just greedy, permissive, little piggies.
Eons ago I was a student at the London School of Economics, and my favorite class was Prof. Donnelly’s “The Ethics of War.” I remember this fascinating discussion about the history of submarines. For years, the technology existed to build submarines, but the British wouldn’t do it because it was considered unsporting and sneaky to come up on people from below, attacking them from under the water. You might say, oh, but all’s fair in war — and you’d be wrong. There were lots of rules about engaging in combat. What changed, argued Donnelly, is the ethics. The culture had to decide first that it was okay to fight this way. The British had to erode their ideal of what was sporting and what was not. And only THEN could the technology go forward to build a submarine.
We don’t have guillotines for babies. Even though we could build such a contraption. For baby guillotines to take off with any great success, first we’d have to agree as a society that it’s okay to guillotine babies. (To use an extreme example. We have no reason to execute babies, oh but I’m sure more evil minds could invent one… but we can think of reasons why we need to use submarines to spy on and attack our enemies.)
When chumps take the blame, it erodes the ethics around cheating. Chump blame creates cheater permissiveness and rewards entitlement. And that’s why it is so important to speak out about infidelity as a chump. To take on the commenting trolls or the boorish uncle at your next family gathering. Dude, cheating is pathetic. It’s what losers do. It makes your dick look small.
So, go fight the good fight, chumps. Don’t take the blame!
This column ran previously.