There was an article over at HuffPo once on how a cheater should tell their spouse they’ve been having an affair. A discussion on tell versus don’t tell. (I’m not going there — duh, TELL. Yes. Of course.) But what interested me about the interview with Dr. Scott Haltzmann is his peculiar warning that cheaters might “break down in sympathy.” Otherwise, I thought his advice on the whole was good — be honest, expect much drama (short of physical violence), express remorse, commit fully to the marriage, and be immediately transparent.
And then I thought…. yes and no one does this.
Not one single cheater I have ever heard of in my years of reading on infidelity boards, or heard about here, or known in real life. Not one single cheating person has behaved that way. And certainly not right out of the starting gate.
I mean, I don’t want to rule them out. I want to believe they exist with the other unicorns in their fairy forest of “post-infidelity marital bliss.” (Read the article for that nugget.) I’ve just never seen one.
What I have seen, after the discovery of an affair — even after it is confessed (versus stumbled on to) — is denial, lying, blameshifting (you drove me to it), minimizing (it was only once), and other sorts of mindfuckery, paramount of which is controlling the narrative. They dribble out the “truth.” They omit. They obfuscate. I’ve never known a single one to say “Tell you about that time I hired a hooker in Phoenix? Oh sure! Her name was Mandi and she came highly recommended on flooziesonthefly.com for discerning business travelers. It was a discreet encounter for $399.99 and included….”
Yeah. No. That never happens.
I’ll tell you what else never happens — they don’t “break down in sympathy.”
Break down? Yes. That happens a lot. Do we project sympathy on them? Oh sure. Mine said he was sorry all the time. But when they lose their shit, it’s for THEMSELVES. Oh fuck! I’ve been found out! People might think horribly of me. My chump might divorce me! They will take away my beautiful cake! I need to control this outcome! We assume this freak out is about us, the chumps — it’s not.
Cheating is a narcissistic act, so to assume that upon discovery the cheater is going to lead with humility? That’s nuts. Cheaters disrespect chumps. They don’t prostrate themselves before their betrayed spouses. Cheating is about gaining advantage, getting more kibbles. Why would a cheater want to lose the upper hand, when not forced? To cheat, especially over a period of any duration, you have to be really good at maintaining a double life — at lying with a really straight face. People with that skill set tend not to possess qualities like shame and deference.
But we sure wish they did. I think it’s very difficult for chumps, especially in the early days post DDay, to discern what they want to see, from what they are actually seeing.
If you want to reconcile, I think what you should take from that interview is the unicorn blueprint. To have a marriage to save, these things must happen. And then watch and see if they happen, and how quickly, and what must be threatened.
If you see a unicorn, let me know.
This column ran previously.