I recently read your book, and it’s helped me a lot to not contact my ex-boyfriend (which had previously been very difficult), and to fully acknowledge his bullshit answers on evidence that never made sense.
I first (yes, first…) discovered his cheating about three years ago. It came with the baggage of gaslighting and blameshifting that made me question my actions and sanity, and feel horrible about myself.
There were a handful of instances that I’m aware of. He only admits to one of them, however, because it was the only one where I had evidence he 100% without a doubt cheated — he gave me an STD that he still insists was caught from a dirty toilet at work. (Luckily, it was an easily cleared STD).
Yet, there was a lot of good in our relationship that I miss all the time. The love, fun, companionship, emotional support (I know, that’s in contrast to what I wrote above). And, yes, I was addicted to our great chemistry — not just sex, but the way our personalities clicked and we enjoyed each other’s company.
My question is this. I’ve lately been more upset with myself than him. Upset with myself for staying as a “knowing, passive chump.” The first time I was blindsided, but then I spent three years working on our relationship despite the knowledge, pain, and lack of trust this was causing me.
I painfully kept everything a secret, and only told a few people and my counselor. Now I am single again, middle-aged, and he has moved on with his reputation intact with his friends and whoever else he meets. I should have walked away three years ago (or 2 or 1.5…) with my head held high, calling him a bastard, telling my friends and family, and knowing that what he did to me — including the gaslighting and blameshifting — was very wrong.
I’m so angry at myself for not being a stronger, more confident person with how I handled this. I’ve even told him a few times that if my self-esteem was higher and my upbringing more positive, I probably would have left right away. He actually seemed to understand and acknowledge that. (We have a strange dynamic of being loving and supportive on a lot of stuff while all this was going on in the background).
Your book (which I love, btw) discusses reaching “Tuesday” when the pain stops. What are good ways to reach Tuesday and no longer feel pain over my own passive chump behavior? I’m so angry at myself for not being stronger, more confident, and leaving him sooner. His actions may have chipped away at my self-worth, but so have my own.
Dear Regretful Chump,
Hey, don’t feel so bad. At least you’re untangling the right skein of fuckupedness — your own. So many questions here focus on “Why did the cheater do this to me?!” (I don’t know. Bad character. Entitlement. Bats?) When the better questions is “Why did I accept this shit?”
That’s a harder one to answer, but it’s really important work. Helps you shore up your defenses, examine your vulnerabilities, and do an internal chump audit.
Answering these sorts of I’m-kicking-myself questions is difficult, because I never want to traffic in chump blame. Intimacy makes us vulnerable — it is the very act of taking our defenses down. But we can pull the drawbridge back up when our boundaries are attacked. There’s always some risk to loving someone, but you must love yourself more and not tolerate abuse.
So let’s look at some reasons for staying with cheaters after discovery. First I’ll outline the why’s, and next the antidotes to the chump condition.
1.) You only have so many tools in your toolkit. How we respond to adversity is pretty seat-of-the-pants decision making. This crap broadsides you. So we reach for the tools in our life toolkits that worked before.
For example, when I got chumped I went with two tried-and-tested Tracy tools — I studied the hell out it — and I tried harder.
These are not bad tools. In fact, they’re great tools if you’re trying to finish a masters dissertation in Southern African history. However, they’re terrible tools when dealing with a sociopath. It’s like being armed with a wine opener when you should’ve had a ballistic missile system. (Actually, the all-purpose tool here is RUN! RUN AWAY!)
Which brings me to Fight or Flee. Those are tools. There’s also Freeze and Fawn (stayed paralyzed in indecision, or suck up and pick-me-dance.) If you want to do a deep dive into co-dependency stuff, read about the Four Fs.
Your tools are not necessarily pathological. They work in a lot of other healthy situations, but when you’re in an unhealthy situation, don’t arm yourself with a cork screw, okay?
2.) You had sunk costs. You enjoyed this guy, or whatever it was he was projecting and you were attracted to him, and you invested deeply in a dream of a future with him. It’s easy to let sunk costs blind us. (MUST KEEP INVESTING UNTIL I TANK THE ECONOMY!)
Bad guys aren’t always bad. They have hooks. No one wants to date an ogre. They want an ogre with aftershave and witty banter. But when you’re seeing deeply bad stuff (he cheats, he gives you an STD, he mindfucks you) — realize that witty ogre is a package deal with bad guy ogre. Figure out what your values are. If you just want a plus-one who smells good, this won’t hurt. If you want a life partner, it will hurt.
3.) You were afraid. Who are you without a plus-one? Do you matter?
Now I am single again, middle-aged, and he has moved on with his reputation intact with his friends and whoever else he meets.
Yeah and so? There’s nothing wrong with being single or middle-aged. And YOU moved on with your reputation intact. You didn’t cheat. No reason to keep his secret now is there? Forget about how he presents himself — how are YOU presenting yourself?
Never need someone THAT bad that you’ll trade away your values.
4.) He mindfucked you. Of course, it’s hard to stay true to your values when you stick your head in the mindfuck blender. The whole point of which is to make you question yourself, erode your values, and let the freak keep extracting value from you.
5.) Our culture doesn’t support chumpdom. Nearly every single resource out there on infidelity, except this one, encourages reconciliation with cheaters. Therapists do this (hello Reconciliation Industrial Complex), rom-coms do this (steamy affairs! edgy! chumps? controlling shrews who deserve their fate), Disney fairytales do this, (if I kiss an ogre, the rose in the glass won’t wither and he’ll turn into a prince!)….
OMG so much bullshit. And then there is the Esther Perel Industrial Complex (affairs are just exuberant acts of defiance!) No wonder the experience is shrouded in shame. You’re the dullard who wasn’t Meeting Their Needs. And he’s the Sexy Beast grabbing all the Happy with gusto.
Don’t despair, chumps. We’ve got antidotes:
1.) Learn new tools. You know why my book helped you? Because you learned a couple new tools for your tool kit — like giving yourself permission to be strong, or decoding mindfuckery.
It made sense, because the corkscrew wasn’t working. You had the wrong tools for the problem. The right tools make all the difference.
2.) Create a new life. You got sunk costs? Make new investments. In YOURSELF. Not a fuckwit.
3.) Be brave. Bravery feels much better than capitulation. Whatever freezing and fawning have going for them (rest from exhaustion, the occasional kibble), bravery kicks ass in self-respect dividends.
4.) Recognize mindfuckery. He can’t mindfuck you if you recognize it as mindfuckery. It’s not a smoothie in that blender — it’s bullshit.
5.) Change the narrative. Now that you’re out, make it easier for the next chump. Don’t wear the blame. What you did — love, trust, invest, give too many chances — is not a crime proportionate with cheating, emotionally abusing, and risking a chump’s health.
Heck, feel free to tell people you regret staying with a cheater. That counteracts the pernicious propaganda that cheating Makes Relationships Stronger. The more you call it out, or wrinkle your nose at Esther Perel, or just rock on as a single, middle-aged woman — the more you model MIGHTY.
We need more examples. That’s your job. There’s your Tuesday.