Stay in Touch

Check out CL's Book

Is Every Cheater Mentally Ill?

Dear Chump Lady,

I have a question: my soon-to-be-ex is a megalomaniac, socio-psycho-pathic compulsive liar. He lacks empathy and borders on sadism. No, no border. He’s a sadistic sick bastard and remains utterly unapologetic, and justifies, deflects or plain doesn’t care about who he hurts on the way. “Every guy” has 3,000 hits of live lesbian butt sex on his computer (you stupid b*tch.) He is an alcoholic bully who barely hid his cocaine use… or his cheating near the end. When I found clues (baggies of coke, bitch’s britches) he either gaslighted or acted imperious and unaffected. I don’t know how he has time to work but he does — so he can miser away “HIS MONEY” and rage if anyone implies he’s less than generous. He’s a sparkle plenty Industry Turd, which comes with its own dimension of narcissism. He is an augmented narcissist.

Anyway, the question: There’s a tendency in this consciously uncoupled culture to overuse the diagnosis of the week or toss about half-assed concepts based loosely somewhere between Dr. Phil and the Urban Dictionary. When the psych told me I was suffering from P.T.S.D. it sounded so self-indulgent and trendy I was embarrassed. But as it turns out, true malignant narcissism and psychopathy are serious hazards that wreak havoc on those of us in its wake — whether the owners cheat or not. Not that cheating alone isn’t enough, but it seems like almost all of our cheaters here suffer some form of this?

I read a ridiculous article yesterday about “thriving after an affair.” The author’s Donna Reed approach to this abysmal prospect made me wonder: Is there any such an animal, just a normal guy who fucked up one night when he was drunk, say, who is not by definition narcissistic or sociopathic? Not that I’d stick around in any case, but I wondered your thoughts about this.

What about men who cheat and their poor wives don’t have a clue after 30 years? Maybe they cheated but don’t necessarily have a dual diagnosis? I guess it’s possible, but cheating — just like FORGIVING, Mz Thrive After The Affair — is a choice. There are undeniable traits of narcissism in cheaters, but they couldn’t all be DSM diagnosable… could they??



Dear Sara,

Sadistic? Unapologetic? Compulsive liar? My advice is: don’t wait around for a diagnosis — get the hell away. You don’t need to know what flavor of fucked up it is, you just need to know if this behavior is acceptable to you in your relationship.

What I like about Dr. George Simon’s work is that he untangles this particular skein so well. He views it all through the lens of “character disorder.” And character is something that is built over time, and while I suppose it’s more malleable and influenceable than personality (which you’re born with), it’s a slow thing to change. I like looking at this problem in terms of character disorder because it focuses purely on the ACTIONS of the person — the way their character is being demonstrated. Versus the more nebulous idea that they may be this or that diagnosis (NPD, Borderline, Histrionic, etc.)

The problem with a diagnosis like “sex addict” for instance, is that by giving it the label of addiction or mental illness some chumps will excuse the behavior. Oh, I can’t hold him responsible for his actions — he’s a sex addict. Implied there is that his actions are not a matter of choice, or personal responsibility, but part of a larger syndrome that He Just Can’t Help. He’s under the sway of powerful FOO issues that compel him to do Bad Things.

And being chumpy, by God, it’s our job to help, right? We can’t let them down! In sickness and in health! We’ll just get him the proper diagnosis and the right sort of help, and this can be fixed. Chumps buy the cake speak sex addicts spew that really they’re very sorry and need help, so just hang with them (and don’t impose any consequences) while they work through this ugly patch. What kind of person walks away from a sick person who wants their help? A HORRIBLE person, that’s who! And so a chump stays stuck.

Now, a cheater gets a diagnosis like sociopath or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, okay, there’s more a sense of Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter. But so few of these freaks get diagnoses. Why? Because they don’t tend to stroll into shrink’s offices looking for help. (Perfect people don’t need help.) If they wind up there at all, it’s probably because some chump dragged them by their ear. If that happens, being manipulative FWs, they’ll use therapy as a way to pick up new terms to mindfuck you with, or they’ll work on snowing the therapist that their cheating and lying is all your problem, and you’re the one who’s really sick. Or equally at fault, take your pick. Sadly, from what I read here, that happens all too often. Shrinks don’t see through the disordered. (Again, Dr. Simon riffs on this topic quite a bit — you can read more at his blog.)

So that puts the chump who is faced with a freak in the position of doing the arm chair diagnosis. Gee, it looks like a freak, it cheats like a freak, and it checks 12 items off on the Hare list. I think it’s a sociopath!

If you find yourself checking items off the Hare list and having A-ha! moments — your relationship is over, okay? Get OUT. Quit untangling the skein of their effupedness. RUN!

Now to the question — is there a mythical cheater who just has a one-night stand and is immediately very sorry? It’s possible. I think cheating is on a spectrum. And I also believe infidelity is culturally influenced. In some places, it’s tolerated and not considered all that aberrant. (Well, only for men, of course.) And consider, plenty of awful things have been culturally sanctioned that we now find repellant — slavery, beating children, homophobia, etc. Was everyone who hit their kid with a belt mentally ill? Every slave holder? Everyone who laughed at a minstrel show? No. They were part of a sick culture.

But even in times of sick culture — there are those who demonstrate empathy and those who do not. People whose heart goes out to the victims. Slavery had the Abolitionist movement. I imagine there must be mothers across time who felt if you hit my kid, I’ll take you OUT. And people who didn’t laugh at minstrel jokes. There are people who will always demonstrate character, even if it means swimming against the cultural tide, because they see the hurtful costs associated with certain accepted behaviors.

That’s why I think it’s important for chumps to speak up and describe the real costs and fallout from being cheated on. Drop the euphemisms and be specific. That’s how we change the narrative, CN.

In every age, in every culture, there have been narcissists and sociopaths. And my opinion is that these people are wired this way and have been since time immortal. Some people used their lack of empathy and cool reserve to become field surgeons, and some use it to become murderous dictators, and some get rich on Ponzi schemes. But these people have always existed. I think we’re kidding ourselves to think we’re all neurologically the same, and see the world in the same way. We don’t. Some people choose to be predatory. Without adaptive anxiety, you have some advantages.

How do we protect against freaks? By judging people’s demonstrated character over time. Not their sparkle. Not the pretty words they use. But by how they treat us and how they treat others. Do they connect? Do they feel empathy? Do they put me or my children in harm’s way? Do they take responsibility for their actions?

When we know OUR boundaries, it doesn’t matter what manner of freak you’re dealing with — the one-night stand drunk or the practiced serial cheater — if you know yourself, you know what you’ll tolerate or not tolerate. You see what it is, and not its “potential.” You’ll know your worth, and you won’t stick around for abuse.

I think the labeled freaks, the sex addicts, the NPDs, the sociopaths have agency. But also, it’s not personal. They’d play ANYONE for a kibble. You looked like a good mark, so if it wasn’t you, it would be someone else. It’s just what they do. It’s liberating to realize that. I’m quite certain my cheating ex was as crazy as a March hare. He deliberately conned me and hurt me. And he did it to women before me, and women after me. I don’t need to know what DSM flavor of crazy he is — I just know my life is so much better without him.

Is every cheater an NPD? Who knows? I doubt it. But everyone who cheats has behaved narcissistically. Infidelity is based on entitlement. If you’re comfortable with entitlement, if it doesn’t nag at your conscience enough to make you change your behavior, if you can carry on a double life, and you can react to the discovery of years of infidelity with rage and blameshifting — you’re a piece of shit.

That’s my diagnosis. And here’s my prescription — leave the cheater, gain a life.


This is an updated post.

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at [email protected]. Read more about submission guidelines.
  • Not much to add to CL’s wisdom. If anything, it’s just nice and VALIDATING to have all of that information in one place.

    More than anything, I think the character-disordered FWs make us chumps feel so crazy. And silo’ed… it’s lonely as a Chump. We feel alone in a vacuum. And when we try to reach out to others, many will squash it down. No one else can see it. Are we over reacting? What’s real? What’s normal?

    I think hearing my therapist and other therapists call out FW as an actual NARCISSIST was a relief. That feeling of “I’m not crazy! Others can see it!”

    I think the biggest take away is to trust your gut. Trust that you’re not crazy. And ask yourself as CL says “Is this behavior acceptable to you?” If you don’t want to live like that… Leave a Cheater and Gain a Life. It’s the only way to peace.

    • “And when we try to reach out to others, many will squash it down.”

      Damn if that ain’t the truth. I was reminded of that once again over the weekend. Kiddo had her school play. Former Switzerland friends also attended w/their kids to watch my daughter. It was nice of them to show up for her sake, but I it sucked to be reminded how I tried talking to them about what my ex and his new GF were doing (new GF was also part of that friend group) and they absolutely did not want to hear it. I’m rebuilding my social circle now (a slow process that was on hold for quite awhile thanks to Covid).
      I try to console myself with the thoughts that the people I’m connecting with now are more authentic, that I have more in common with but damn if the process doesn’t feel lonely sometimes.

    • Yes, it was so validating to hear my therapist call FW a narcissist. I never used the word, I just described things he had done and said and SHE said “he sounds like a narcissist”. She took me seriously, told me I’d been living in a war zone and my PTSD was real, and she really helped me break away from my thought patterns that had been shaped by a decade of abuse.

      • ISawTheLight, same… I didn’t realize FW was a narcissist. When my therapist first suggested it, I denied it. “But he’s not charming!” Then I learned about COVERT narcissists. And then other therapists recognized it too. It helped … even to get me to stop blaming myself for everything.

  • Hopefully not a dumb question, but I can’t figure out “FOO,”. Frogs Or Orangutans is as close as I can get?

      • Unless you are in software development… where ‘FOO’ is just a stand in for ‘whatever’ you need it to be when you are writing example code. So, when I read something like FOO issues, I read ‘whatever kind of issues that they want to blame their behavior on’.

    • Frogs or orangutans, that’s so awesome! Lol!!
      I remember the first time I saw BFF written and I thought it was “ best f’ing friend” and felt that was highly inappropriate for the mainly elementary or middle school level kids using it, haha!
      I won’t be able to think of anything else now when I see FOO. Nice!👍🤣

  • I agree with CL that there is a spectrum. I’m sure there are cheaters who have a one night stand, feel terrible about it, and don’t do it again. That is, IMO, a small minority of cheaters.
    I also agree that culture plays into it, as does upbringing. If kids see cheating in their families go unpunished, they can learn that it is acceptable. The lower the EQ, the more likely that is to be their takeaway. I do think that to be a cheater you need a low EQ, and you need to be the sort of person who prefers fantasy over reality. For many of them, that is the problem, not a diagnosable mental health condition. Character flaws don’t necessarily indicate a flaming character disorder. However, it doesn’t matter why they do what they do. It also doesn’t matter if the cheating might have been a one-off. You’ll never be able to fully trust that person again. This applies even if the cheater was on the milder end of the fuckwit spectrum.

    • Regarding the one night stand, feeling terrible about it, and never doing it again.

      In order to have a one night stand, don’t you have to put yourself in the position of *being available* ? No-one *makes* someone put themselves in that position, surely they *choose* to do it ? It’s deliberately putting yourself into a scenario where a sexual encounter is possible, even if it doesn’t happen.

      As for the feeling terrible, never going to do it again business, I suppose it’s possible, but it still doesn’t take away from the fact the person deliberately put themselves in that position, and *chose* to do it.

      As you say, not a person to put any trust in.

      • I always say, if you stab someone in the back, does it matter how many times or how big the knife was?

        Not to me.

    • Yes, It ultimately doesn’t matter why or how bad. My ex self-reported to me over 80 individual transgressions which ultimately was a gross underestimate and trickle-truth. I actually asked my therapist at what point should one throw in the towel, that is, how many times of cheating are a deal breaker?!?! One, ten? Forty? She looked me in the eye and said TWO.

      I stopped untangling the skein. Which is why I love CL’s idea of breaking it down to basics: Is this (behavior, relationship etc) acceptable to ME?

      • Yeah, two was my limit. I came to a place for forgiveness after I discovered the first affair. Four years later I discovered affair #2 and I just knew he wasn’t going to change. Even then, it took me a while to leave, after some personally self-destructive behavior (nothing drastic, but I was a bit of a mess and it took me a couple of years to find even footing again).

      • Two? Really? One can be enough if you feel it is. CL often says, and I agree, it doesn’t matter the number of transgressions, one, two, or 32. Is it acceptable to YOU? Is the relationship acceptable to you? If it isn’t, then you have the right to end it. I’m actually kinda flabbergasted your therapist said a number that wasn’t…ONE.

        No, I don’t think every cheater is mentally ill or has some serious personality disorder. That’s not within my education or credentials to diagnose. It is a spectrum.

        The r/relationshipadvice subreddit is full of people who are asking “I made a mistake and had a one night stand and now my wife is divorcing me/girlfriend left me, how do I get her back?” posts. Most of the comments on those threads are “Bro, you don’t get her back. You fucked up and this is the consequence. If you really want to show you’re sorry, you respect her choice and leaver her alone. Don’t pull this shit with the next one.”

        But it’s also full of posts like “My wife left me over one screw up” and the “screw up” was he left his phone on the table and wife found text messages from ho bag number 17 and the comments rake him over the coals and he still doesn’t see why he deserves getting dragged through family court.

        Either way, the chump gets to decide what counts as “enough.”

  • Yes, this. All humans are a little crazy, but it is a spectrum and the inclination to lure and abuse mates is surely on the nasty end of it.

    My skein untangling has led me to wonder about narcissists: how much of them is nurture vs nature. Are they all fucked in their protoplasm or are they almost normal and simply do the same shitty thing over and over until it is so ingrained, they couldn’t do otherwise if they tried. Im sure there is, again, a spectrum; and for the victims, it doesnt really matter. By the time we realize that they will exploit us at every turn, its time to go regardless of the genesis of their pathology.

    One of my key errors was buying into the social narrative that Things Get Better. While that is true for somethings (like hopefully the fate of gay teens for whom that phrase is meant to encourage) it isnt true for deeply disordered people who aim to use empaths. I held out WAY too much hope for my parents and first spouse – hoping they would gain insight and choose better. I wish someone had told me when I was 14 or 24 or 34 or 44 that my only option was to get the hell out

    • Do you think you would have listened? I didn’t like it when my friend told me the only way to deal with my difficult husband was to leave him (didn’t know he was cheating then – it would have made it much easier). But I was so caught up in “for better or worse” I didn’t want to hear that I should leave… I sure wish I had listened as it would have saved me some really bad years.

      • I know I wouldn’t have listened. I had to get there on my own. Even my attorney told me not to file until I was sure, and waited patiently until I was. I am extremely loyal and wasn’t raised in a family that divorced, so I was determined to make it work. But there’s no saving some relationships.

        • While he wished I wouldn’t, my attorney wasn’t surprised when I dropped my initial divorce motion for a reconciliation. He knew that I was the kind of person who needs to give people a second chance. My attorney also wasn’t surprised when I filed again a year later and saw that motion through to the end.

      • When people jumped to “leave” I didnt listen…I was so not ready to hear that.

        At the time, it would have maybe been more helpful to hear that I should make my decisions based on how he acted right then assuming he would never change. That might have helped me inch towards leaving. When he died, I had saved about $40,000 and scoped out apartments. I knew I would need to get a car since all of them were in his name alone (control much?).

        The Catholic tv channel had a show completely devoted to stories of abysmal marriages that were miraculously transformed. That kind of stuff packed a lot of hopium in my pipe.

        I have a clear memory of trudging up the stairs at work…in supposed wreckonsillyation and emotionally beaten down for the 8000th time and Cheater was blaming me for the fact that we lived where he chose to live. I told God “if there is a place where he would be happy, he should go there. I wont try to stop him” I thought he would move to California but within 2 weeks, he died.

        • I told God, “if there is a place where he would be happy, he should go there. I won’t try to stop him.” …within two weeks he died.

          I snorted coffee reading this. Hope he feels comfortable and welcome in hell.

          • He was Catholic as am I and I really believe in Purgatory. Why I believe that is a longish story but Im comfortable with it. Im sure there have been days for him where Hell might have been a relief from facing his actions on Earth.

    • I wonder about the nature v. nurture question as well. Interestingly, my ex is adopted and his adopted mom is hugely character disordered which made me think “Okay, nurture it is”. But then my daughter did some research and found the names and some relatives of ex’s birth parents who are both deceased. His bio dad (who was not married to bio mom and not named on birth certificate – thank you “23 And Me” for the DNA test!) turns out to have been a serial cheater as well (death bed confession that he had “other kids” besides the siblings from multiple women they knew about). So the question remains since ex got a double dose of disorder from both adopted and bio parents, none of which in any way excuses his treatment of me and our kids. Since my daughter hasn’t spoken to her father in six plus years, he doesn’t know she found out this information. It would be mildly interesting to know his reaction but not enough so that I would break NC to give him the information.

    • I think, just like chumps and others who encounter abuse from family or so-called friends, disordered people get deeper into the disordered behaviour gradually and through reinforcement of those behaviours. They don’t all start as moustache twirling villains tying damsels to the railway tracks with an evil endgame already mapped out but getting away with minor boundary transgressions with little consequences or at least minor ones where the payoff compensated for the discomfort experienced with said boundaries gradually leads them to push to the next level of abuse. Having said that no person with concrete values and empathy for others is going to be interested in this kind of interpersonal exploitation but for those whose primary mindset is what’s in it for them, it’s experiencing the cause and effect of their testing others boundaries to see who is open to having their resources stripped. I think that’s why some of them are so incredibly angry when they finally have consequence imposed, they’ve been getting away with resource harvesting for so long that their sense of entitlement is so entrenched.

      • I’ve wondered this myself. My ex called me a “peach” to my family and later my mom said she privately wondered if he would have taken that position if I pushed back on his shenanigans. Would it have kept him in line or would I just have been divorced years earlier? We will never know and, being at meh, it doesn’t really matter now.

        • Interesting though, Fern. I think if you have to monitor another’s behaviour to keep them on the straight path, then they don’t have that internal self-regulation needed to not veer off into the weeds when they are presented with covert opportunities to satisfy usually subverted impulses. But I know what you mean, if I had asked more of fw earlier in our relationship re pulling his weight, instead of being easy going and picking up the slack because I loved him, I have no doubt he would have left earlier.

          • Excellent point. On the plus side I would have more self respect but perhaps part of my chumpy self would have always wondered if I bailed too soon.
            And I wouldn’t have my awesome children.

      • Your theory of the disordered makes a lot of sense to me. I found with my mom, everytime she got away with shitty behavior and no consequences, she got more demanding and difficult. She might have been somewhat selfish as a young person but yea, the payoffs with no downside lead them to the next level of abusing those in their orbit.

        For my cheater, his entitlement was to not ever take accountability for something going wrong. He made all plans and decisions posing himself perfectly so whatever went wrong, he could blame on me. He got older without getting wiser or stronger because he never accepted responsibility…eventually he was a 45 year old man with the coping skills of a 22 year old cheater.

      • A person I know who does research said that catering to a narcissist makes them worse.

    • The concept of genetic criminality traipses into Nazi territory. It’s actually the core of totalitarianism which forms around the idea of an “objective enemy” or born enemy to contrast a supposedly elite and morally transcendent caste (usually the same people championing totalitarianism). The MacArthur Foundation was funding the Law and Neuroscience Project which drew flak for doing “Minority Report” research to identify genetically criminally-prone populations. Not surprisingly, the direction of the research became really racist and ultimately came up with nothing but tobacco science theories. This had echos of the infamous Federal Violence Initiatives in the 80s and 90s which sought to find “crime genes.” Various researchers involved in the initiatives were busted for things like performing unethical spinal taps on black children in state care and trying to prophylactically drug entire minority high schools in Pennsylvania on the theory that boosting serotonin would make black males less violent. But again, all that time and funding never came up with any proof that criminality or violence are genetic. It gets worse. There’s also the Dunedin longitudinal study to prove the Maori are criminally inclined… never mind more than a century of racism, suppression, displacement of children, extreme poverty and destruction of culture. Never mind the study coincided with the oil and gas industries’ struggle to grab Maori bloodlands.

      Too often when geneticists hunt for the elusive crime gene, they’re prone to ignore mitigating circumstances and factors. For instance, certain conditions like the XYY or Klinefelter syndrome were once believed to incline affected men towards crime. Then it turned out that most had impaired intellect, therefore more likely to be poor and at risk and easily manipulated into aiding and abetting criminal endeavors but otherwise weren’t any more prone to violence or criminality than the general population.

      The whole genetic wild goose chase starts looking like a turf war for name rights and funding, especially because certain global industries would pay good money to “prove” that certain populations are less than human. Like the private prison/slave labor industry. Or because one of the obstacles to global wars for oil and gas, for example, is the public’s distaste for collateral killings of civilians and children in exploited countries. I think the rate of collateral deaths in the war on terror in Pakistan and the Middle East were 22-to-1 civilians and children to enemy combatants. Conundrum. Protests in Western countries, etc. But if you can convince the first world public that those poor dead kiddies were genetic bad seeds destined only to become adult super terrorists, then it’s no big deal.

      Crime gene theories have many useful and profitable applications. That’s one reason why I tend to be hesitant to buy into the idea. The other reason is that this line of research consistently comes up empty. There will be headlines blaring that some new gene or other was discovered that proves X or Y but the the studies in question will never be replicated. There are brain scan studies that get flak for not ruling out the many other viable causes for structural changes in the brain aside from genetics. But, nevertheless, every ten years or so there’s a new push, the same old zombie theories get resurrected in headlines and the same old study designs attempted that amount to little or nothing.

      • When I went deep into skein untangling, I read a lot of science about “callous unemotional traits” (aka, the brain science around sociopathy). It made sense of what I was dealing with. There’s wasn’t an empathy chip. If a shrink asked him, “How do you think that made Tracy feel?” it was like you were speaking Swahili. Did not compute. I do think there is a basic wiring issue there. I understand how saying “basic wiring” can open a Pandora’s box of the “criminal gene” problem. Where it breaks for me is, you might be missing an empathy chip, or have zero adaptive anxiety — but what do you do with it? Become a fighter pilot? Or swindle pensioners? Take up surgery or serial cheating? To abuse anyone, you have to suppress empathy and some are better at it than others. Anyway, none of that matters when you realize whatever causes the behavior is NOT behavior you want to live with.

  • “If you’re comfortable with entitlement, if it doesn’t nag at your conscience enough to make you change your behavior, if you can carry on a double life, and you can react to the discovery of years of infidelity with rage and blame shifting — you’re a piece of shit.”

    Like most chumps, I knew when to back off and avoided the rage. And therapists (especially marriage counselors) bill for facilitating remaining conversations which are filled with pity and blame shifting. We are exposed to ever increasing blogs and podcasts where advertisers pay to keep victims of narcissistic abuse in place, instead of telling them how to move on.

    We need billing codes for legal services and moving trucks, not mental health diagnosis.

    • “…remaining conversations which are filled with pity and blame shifting.”

      Nailed it.

  • “. . . But by how they treat us and how they treat others.”

    I may be projecting, but I think this is where many of us get tripped up. We see how they treat others — even if it’s not constant, even if it’s not over the top, even if it’s little acts and words of shittiness every now and again — and think, “Well, the good outweighs the bad, we all how our issues, and they certainly would never act that way towards me.”

    And then they do. Usually far more harshly and consistently then they do others.

    • Interesting – that was certainly the case with me. The great thing, to me, about this group, is all the common experiences.

    • Same here, UXworld. FW treated me so well for so long that when the games started, I thought they were just going through a rough patch. Finally I realized even if I was the only one they ever *treated* that way, I couldn’t *live* that way. That’s when dimes started dropping and I learned FW plays games with other parts of their inner circle. That knowledge has helped me keep NC because I don’t want FW anywhere near me the next time they play their games with the wrong people.

    • “We see how they treat others — even if it’s not constant, even if it’s not over the top, even if it’s little acts and words of shittiness every now and again — and think, ‘Well, the good outweighs the bad, we all how our issues, and they certainly would never act that way towards me’.”

      And, not only that, but they “mean well.”

      By overlooking some of FW’s shitty behavior toward others, I feel that I became a little shitty myself–a sometimes accomplice who didn’t always speak up and who made excuses. 🤦🏻‍♀️

      • I came close to that situation myself, [email protected]. My head was swiveling for quite a while after the dimes started dropping, but I also knew to my very core that if I would be defending the indefensible if I continued any sort of relationship with FW.

      • Looking back, I’m ashamed for the times I was an accomplice. I also made excuses and didn’t speak up.
        I’d tell myself he mean’t well, or he had good intentions. I should have known better.
        I was brainwashed into thinking his shitty behavior was “normal.”
        TI made so many excuses that when when his shitty behavior was directed towards me, I wondered if I deserved it.

        • He did shitty things to people without them knowing. Sending anonymous letters, reporting neighbors anonymous phone calls to the Sheriff’s department to report that their car didn’t have recent tags, the city if their lawn hadn’t been mowed. Then when he’d see the same neighbors he’d be friendly and chatty.
          Overly polite and friendly to outsiders, it would be weird especially knowing it wasn’t genuine.
          Especially to women, he’d help them with their coats, pull out chairs for them to sit down, give them his chair if they were standing. If someone mentioned that their husband or knew someone had cheated on their wife instead of just listening he’d pretend to be disgusted and angry. So full of shit.
          It makes me cringe to think I was married to such a weasel.

    • My ex was the opposite of this – always treated everyone he dealt with “in the world” very well – wait staff in restaurants, someone stranded along the road, etc. He was always courteous and polite, eager to help others. It took me a long, long time to understand that was a mask he wore out in the world that fooled everyone, including me.

      • Same here. I did not and do not see the shitty behaviors toward others but the lifetime cheating and blameshifting on me was/is shitty.
        The master of covert impression management appears to have a good relationship with his grown children, coworkers and people in his community. (His siblings are more wise to his ways but tolerate and invite him to all their family gatherings.
        Definitely affects my ability to trust

        • You are not alone in that, Lauren. I knew my ex for years before we started dating, we dated for years before we got married and we were married for decades. Over that long span of time he fooled me, my family and all of our friends so I have serious doubts about my ability to trust anyone again. Fool me once…

          • Same here about the years I knew him, dated and was married.
            The number of years especially starting at a young and inexperienced age exacerbated acceptance and lack of objectivity- the slippery slope or frog in boiling water.

            So grateful he continued to show me who he was.
            Digital media- emails and cellphones not available in early days – finally became indisputable black and white evidence of reality he could use to easily deny reality in earlier days.

  • Sometimes you get to decide you’re leaving. Other times, you’re escaping the madness. I’ve observed that cheaters on the way out who have a sure place to land, are much more brazen and careless about what you’ll discover. That said, people drinking, shamelessly whoring and doing coke and being needlessly cruel and destructive, aren’t looking for safe. They’re going direct to crash and burn and if you don’t escape, you’ll be doubly hurt.

  • By my anecdotal evidence, I estimate that about 50% of people are horrible human beings. Sure there’s a spectrum of horribleness, some treat retail workers like shit and others are cannibals, but all horrible. About 50% of my own family I put on the narcissist / have zero empathy for others spectrum and it’s worse in FW’s family. They exist as functioning human beings and I think most are actually faithful to their partners, but just total assholes at life completely incapable of putting themselves in another person’s shoes. My biggest fear now is that my kids will end up with someone like this as their significant other. This is also why I plan to remain single for the rest of my life. Decent people are so rare to find, if you find one hold on to them.

    • Perhaps some personality or character traits are stronger than others within individuals? If you are talking about these things on a spectrum for the overall population, you have an easier time deciding which factors make one person more horrible than another. Maybe we all have degrees of good or bad behavior available in our psyche and that is where choice comes in.

      My father had many horrible character disorders, but to my knowledge he did not cheat. He chose to do something or not based on the cost, to him. He probably could have done many other horrible things, but there would have been a monetary cost, or a risk of losing his “status.” Being cheap was his overall controlling characteristic. The Ex, father of my children, could not stand to be alone. He needed the attention, even if it was negative, of having another person around. He wanted someone available to do the things he did not want to do, and he was always trying to figure out how to use other people to accomplish his goals. He literally did not want to buy the cow, but he expected the biggest portion of the cows milk. He would not care for the cow, or feed it, or milk the cow, but he always consumed the milk without a thought to other people’s need for milk.

      I know my fantasy world of revenge, or comeuppance, had some very horrifying scenarios. If my brain conceived of these things I could have chosen to act upon them. But I chose not to, because other factors of my personality and character overruled those actions. You’ve heard the expression “he’s not worth the lead in the bullet”? or “he’s not worth jail time”? Bad people choose to do things they think they may be able to get away with. If they do get caught, there is always another chump available. Consequences are avoidable for crimes of no compassion or empathy. If we convince ourselves the person has a curable illness and we can fix it, we are choosing to stay for more pain. If we leave, another chump will step into our place.

      I think my survival instinct is my overriding character trait. I cannot waste my time “fixing” someone who doesn’t want to be fixed, or worrying about what will happen to the next chump in line. In order to survive, I can leave and take care of building a sustainable life of freedom from that particular user. I can have compassion for other chumps by posting experience on CL’s site, but the other chump has to choose to listen and follow the advice. I am responsible for my survival. I took responsibility for my children’s survival until they came of age. Now they are responsible for themselves.

      As CL points out, I don’t need to diagnose the disorder I wish to avoid. I just need to know I don’t want to be around someone who acts in such an offensive manner. I remember the story of the two wolves that live within us. Which wolf do you want to feed?

  • Passive aggressive introverted narcissism is something that I feel is harder to come to terms with. It’s subtle over a long period of time manipulation. He’s such a nice guy except when he’s not. Not every fuckwit is over the top in their behavior.

    • Oh, yes. That’s what the ex was like. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy until I married him. He seemed different on the honeymoon. By the time I left after 25 years and 5 kids, he was obviously a flaming narcissist. But he hid it from everyone except for me and the kids. The marriage counselor even said that he probably has a personality disorder, “but I can’t stop liking him.” :shudder:

      • Yup. FW was a charmer, a philanthropist, always the life of the party, witty, clever, helpful, etc. And he was like that with me (people were envious that I had such a wonderful boyfriend) until after we were married. He continued to be wonderful in public. Behind closed doors he was a monster. No one, NO ONE, sided with me in the split (out of “our” friends – my family and best friend were definitely supportive). Even at his funeral people were singing his praises.

      • I find it particularly horrifying that those ‘different on the honeymoon’ types are so damn calculated in the mask they offer, and drop it immediately once they consider their victim trapped. So much more sinister thank those that are merely consumed by their own entitled impulses.

    • Yeah, I had this too. It’s a mind fuck coupled with damn near no one believing me when it got really bad because “he’s so nice, he would never say or do that.”

    • Yeah, I relate to this. Mine was never aggressive with ME (although he definitely aired that side at other people — he should have gotten nailed with assault charges on a few occasions, but wasn’t)… but that feeling of being invisible, not being valued, was basically omnipresent through the relationship. Every so often I’d snap and just have to disappear/get away, and that’d trigger the love-bomb/hoover, but otherwise I felt just so not enough, all the time. Didn’t matter what selfless acts of service I gifted to him — there was always something different that he wanted, and I wasn’t providing. It’s pretty wild how much energy I’ve got now, even with more responsibilities on my plate.

      • CL used the phrase “the ever-moving goalposts” to describe that. Spot on and, unfortunately, I didn’t know that was a common thing in FWs.

  • My ex s-i-l came from a family with one parent mentally off who used cruelty to get her way and the father was an enabler. She should have run away as a teenager instead of when a wife and mother. I assume she never attached to any of them. It doesn’t matter to me, I still despise her. Once she was gone he realized he had been the frog and the water was boiling.

    My one thought is that if your spouse, family member, friend, coworker makes you feel bad, sad, or small you don’t need them in your life. Relationships should be positive and reciprocal.

    CL, you are an international treasure.

  • In a recent post three or four or more chumps mentioned that their cheaters killed themselves. That’s not something I hear often. The US suicide rate is 13.42 per 100,000 individuals. Is it higher among cheaters?

    Fraudster, in yet another bid for my sympathy, called me months ago and claimed he was in a locked psychiatric facility because he attempted suicide, then told me he faked it. I have no way of knowing if any of this is true–if he was in a psych facility, and whether he faked, or really attempted, or made it up completely. Before that, he told other friends that he was facing going to jail. No idea if that’s true, although I know he committed credit card fraud for his online Schmoopie, and given the amount he stole from me, he might have stolen from others. I know he’s now in assisted living, and appears to be either mentally ill or pretending. I wouldn’t be surprised if he faked a suicide attempt, mental illness and physical frailty in an attempt to get out of criminal charges or conviction.

      • My ex committed suicide. He’d dug himself into such a deep hole he couldn’t see a way out. All his horrible behavior finally caught up to him. The facade was crumbling. OW left him before he’d found a replacement for her (he abused her too, and I guess he thought she’d tolerate it), I wasn’t interested in reconciliation, the courts were tending in my favor in the divorce/custody, all the evidence of his abuse was coming to light (it’s harder to claim your ex wife is crazy and making things up when your exgf is saying the same things about you, and we both had hard evidence), his irresponsibility with money had left him broke, etc. Rather than try and repair the damage he had caused, he just checked out.

  • Next Generation update…

    Little Hammer turned sixteen last week. She asked me if she could go out for pizza after school with some kids. She showed up at home soon after. What happened, I asked. One kid brought out the vodka disguised in a water bottle, and was pouring it into the soda cups under the table. He offered it to her. She got up and left.

    This same guy likes her and she told me the other day that she doesn’t like him and is staying away from him. Why? Not just the drinking but she told him about an incident that happened here a couple of weeks ago where a tree fell on a home during the storms and killed a two year old. He cracked a joke about it.

    She doesn’t care why. She thinks he’s a jerk.

    If only I had her standards and boundaries at sixteen. I was so color blind at her age. You can’t see red flags if you are wearing rose colored glasses. Wanting to belong and feel part-of, and coming from a family in which I was starving for love and acceptance made me vulnerable to accepting any crumbs of what appeared to be love and acceptance.

    I find it helpful to keep my focus on WHAT someone does, not the WHY. I’ll
    leave the “why” to the professionals, who are rarely, if ever, sought out by people concerned about their deceptive, harmful, and abusive behavior toward others.

    PS….we went to Disneyland for her birthday. We built light sabers at Savi’s Workshop. Totally cool experience, if you have the means. I chose the Protection and Defense light saber kit…..Little
    Hammer chose the Peace and Justice kit. They are hefty, high quality, and realistic. Curiously enough, having a faux light saber makes me feel a lot better.


    • “If only I had her standards and boundaries at sixteen. I was so color blind at her age.” Velvet, you too deserve praise. I’m sure some of her awareness and morality is due to your good parenting.

    • One thing I have learned since being chumped is that I placed more importance on the Nice Guy behavior and dismissed/excused the dishonest and adverse behavior because of the Nice Guy/Gal behavior.

      I had it backwards.

      Untrustworthy people usually have a convincing, well-honed Nice Guy/Gal act. Safe and trustworthy quality people don’t do Nice Guy/Gal stuff AND lie, cheat, disrespect, betray, abuse, steal. Quality people respond as if they care about you when you speak up. Quality people care about how their behavior affects others. Quality people don’t have secret double lives while Doing Good in full view of others. (Do-gooders who boast and broadcast about their altruistic pursuits are a red flag for me. I wonder if they would do the same if no one knew? Many charities were surprised to learn that JFK Jr. was a patron after he died. A class act.).

      Gordon Getty, for all his money, with his secret sexual double life and formerly secret second family, is a bankrupt, poor man IMHO. You couldn’t pay me to be Ann Getty. (He could have paid me to be the ex-Mrs. Getty.)

      Traitor Ex works hard on his Nice Guy image. It kept me confused and disoriented. It still throws me.

      Now, in my deliberations about someone, when looking at the Pro and Con list, what’s on the Con list is the evidence I prioritize.

      • I also believe, as I was taught by the two very good wise therapists I’ve had in my life for 37 years (as I had no wise elder relatives) that affairs are dysfunctional relationships, cheating and lying is not healthy behavior, and the individuals in those relationships have deep serious problems and lack the skills required for successful long term intimate relationships.

        That’s enough of an explanation for me, and I don’t want those kinds of people as spouses, romantic partners, or even friends.

      • VH exactly ~ you think the occasional tantrums, offfhanded insults, etc are “he’s just having a bad day” but it is actually who they really are. In my case, the tantrums, insults etc occurred often out of context to anything going on and were consistently about how special and superior ex was but his greatness had never been recognized, or how hard done by he was. I remember walking out of a gathering one day with local families and commenting that one of the mums was very attractive (he was not a leerer so I was just commenting as I would to a female friend). As I loaded the baby and two kids in the car, he said, in a really nasty way: “if I’d looked like her husband I’d have ended up with someone like her, but instead I ended up with you”. I’m not up myself but I was about an 8 when we met and he was close to a 3 but a “nice guy”. I thought he must be joking, but realise now he wasnt. He was so filled with envy and rage that others had more than he did, husbands had better looking wives than he did, etc. He concocts scenarios so he can maintain a state of pathological envy.

        After we separated he said something in an email to make me realise he had deliberately used the “nice guy” image to manipulate me the whole way through, to induce shame that I had taken advantage of his good nature, etc. Please dickhead ~ I just found out you had a double life, that wont work anymore.

        • Interestingly this variety of misognystic loser is now very visible on social media, complaining women dont take any notice of them, they cant get a date, and woe is me. Andrew Tate caters to them, from his jail cell that is.

    • Big typo…

      leave the “why” to the professionals, who are rarely, if ever, sought out by people UNCONCERNED about their deceptive, harmful, and abusive behavior toward others.

  • It is telling that in the letter, the author has received a formal diagnosis of PTSD. Our culture is very good at diagnosing the Chumps. It always has been, looking back at hysteria. It is dangerous because my ablest FW has already mentioned wanting to understand how my mental health diagnoses will impact our parenting plan and custody. Society prefers the Chumps to be sick and the FWs to be poor misunderstood saps who just made -“a mistake” (singular).

  • One thing you have to realize is that cluster B personality disorders aren’t really mental illnesses. They’re just people who have personalities so evil and abhorrent that they were studied and named. Those people can choose not to do evil things to others but they like to do evil things to others so they do. There’s a story about a borderline personality disorder college student being in a psychology class and the professor says “People with BPD see people as an object like a pencil. It might be their favorite pencil and they love it but when they wear it down and it’s no longer useful, they throw it away because it’s just a pencil to them. That’s how they use and discard people too.”

    BPD girl took to social media to sob for pity and said, “I mean, yeah that’s true but did he have to say it?! It hurt my feelings!”

    So, they are all like that and it is not mental illness. All cheaters choose to use people like that. Those with personality disorders just make their abuse a whole lifestyle.

    And anybody who wants to come at me like, “Well, I have BDP and…” miss me with that shit. None of you are welcome in my life in any aspect and I’m not giving you any attention.

    • This. A personality disorder is really just a clinical way to categorize an odd, unusual, or dangerous personality. Outside of Cluster B many are treatable. Cluster Bs lack empathy and rely on exploitation and they generally aren’t treatable.

      • Yeah, my understanding is that for Borderline PD, evidence-based therapies are decent at reducing suicidality and self-injurious behaviors but not really that great at fixing the relational dysfunction. I’m sure there are some people who get better in all areas, but I imagine it takes decades of consistent boundary setting from the family. And there is just no reason to put up with that for years. There is no mental illness where we are required to excuse abuse.

    • I’ve come to see personality disorders not as a mental illness, but a ‘wiring issue’ that was always genetically inherant, formed by early childhood experiences of abuse/neglect or a combo of both. It’s like the difference between hardware and software. Mental illness is a software malfunction, personality disorders are the limits of the actual equipment. To a greater, general extent, you can defrag the software so that it works better, but you can’t be empathetic if the empathy chip is missing from the hardware.

      • The thing is that you don’t need to ever feel any empathy to make the decision not to treat people in a way you yourself would not want to be treated. Personality disordered people despise being treated the way they treat others. They know exactly what they’re doing unless they also suffer from severe mental retardation that makes logical thought impossible. And I don’t think someone with that type of severe cognitive impairment would be diagnosed with a personality disorder.

        You can never have a single emotion in your life and choose to act in an ethical way based purely on logic. It is extremely simple logic. So either they are so stupid they need constant caretakers and can in no way function as independent adults or they’re evil because they choose to be.

  • Lundy Bancroft addresses this in his book, Why Does He Do That. It is a myth that abuse is caused by mental illness. He estimates about 20% of the abusive men he treats have Personality Disorders. The tip is if they have a severe and pervasive patternof interpersonal problems in multiple areas of their life including work & community. If the problem is confined to the home ( spouse/children only) they are an abuser. Abusiveness is a pattern of behavior designed to exploit others. Bancroft also asserts the majority of abusers are not from abusive homes. It’s simply a behavioral pattern they choose.

  • For me the road to healing was trying not to name it, dissect it or find out why. Trusting he sucked. His character sucked. He didn’t possess any of the qualities I imposed on him. He didn’t change, I did. I was able to see who he was. His real character, or lack of character.

  • My ex had multiple diagnoses. I didn’t find out until he had left the area and announced that he wasn’t coming back. Our mutual therapist then explained. They aren’t supposed to do that, but she was always a bit “off the books.” In his last session with her, she told him he was “utterly full of himself” and “about to blow up the family.” So he quit and some months later blew up the family.

    She had always been a bit prophetic, even telling me much earlier that he would have a suicide attempt, which he did during the first time we separated. The second time, he just took off, and I really don’t know a whole lot about what happened after that. There was an old girlfriend there, and he had various women he was doting on, and the rest he wouldn’t tell me.

    After I shared with the therapist what the months had been like leading up to his abandonment, she announced that he was on the malignant side, but she’d have to talk to him to be sure. She told me to get out of there NOW, but I putzed around a bit longer, thinking that somehow he’d turn around. Nope, he got worse. She predicted that too.

    Ultimately, I decided that actions spoke louder than words and that I didn’t trust him AT ALL. We divorced, and it was high conflict and crazy the whole way, typical of disordered people. And yes, the therapist predicted that too, so thankfully, I found my powerhouse attorney with 40+ years of experience and a specialty in high conflict divorce.

    And no, the diagnoses didn’t matter. What mattered was that I had to get away from him.

    • This therapist sounds not exactly ethical.

      I have no way of knowing, of course, but something seemed quite off there.

      • I’m not sure that’s the case, though I can’t claim any expertise in professional ethics for therapists. If you are treating a couple and you see that one poses substantial risk to the other (even if it’s “only” psychological risk, as opposed to physical risk), maybe there’s an ethical duty to warn the person who might be harmed.

        • Yes, she shouldn’t have done that. Ultimately, I decided for that and other reasons to move on. She really wasn’t helping me through separation, so I found someone who did.

  • “And being chumpy, by God, it’s our job to help, right? We can’t let them down! In sickness and in health!”

    Regarding this one aspect of CL’s great argument, I just want to point out that some cheaters, like my own FW, used the “in sickness and in health” line from our wedding vows to justify cheating.

    Here’s the contorted logic:
    1. He, FW, is (at times) mentally ill, according to him. Nothing diagnosed. He felt depressed.

    2. I, Spinach, am more “psychologically stable” and didn’t always support him when he was feeling bad. [Note: A severe chump, I did support him. In fact, some might argue that I catered to him, which wasn’t healthy. But I digress.]

    3. Because I failed in this way, I violated our marriage vows, thus leaving him free to do his own version of vow violation. (e.g. lying and cheating for 2 1/2 years.)

    #falseequivalence #myheadhurts #justificationking

    • Gotta hand it to him — that’s some pretty impressive mental gymnastics. #Floored #ItsNotMyVault

  • This is SO important and now that I’m out of my acute painful story, this helps illustrate why changing the narrative in general is so important. (Just like how changing the narrative around CL’s examples was important, even for people no longer experiencing it). We humans can do better and love better

  • This recognition that it was never personal is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand… I don’t have to feel bad about myself — I didn’t do anything wrong to cause this. On the other hand, I spent 10 years, and had 2 babies with someone who never even “saw” me, and I’m not even sure at 4 months out just how much spackling I did or what specific moments should have tipped me off. But I’m starting to unravel the sociopath tells that I blew off before… never again, and hopefully I can teach my daughters the same lessons without them having to shack up with any fuckwits.

  • Excellent response, CL!

    I also believe cheating is on a spectrum. In addition I feel it’s related to nature, nurture and environment. Long before we met these people they were socialized in ways that contributed to development of character, conscience and courage – or lack thereof. During this time they also learned to become presentable among others and project confidence along with the ability to survive in this world – or failed to. We chose the ones that, on appearances, had the promise of living and loving together with others. Many of us built lives, careers, families and a future with these people…until it all blew up from disorder and dysfunction.

    There were clues, signs, and niggling suspicions all along the way if we’re honest with ourselves. Not enough to recognize impending disaster, but enough to trade the bad for the belief that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and that we’re together with another to offset one another as we grow.

    When character, conscience and courage are missing and the cover of appearances, coping skills, impression management and functional behaviors erode to ashes, the gig is up. It’s over.

    It’s not a Chump’s place to build-a-man (or woman). That can be accomplished far easier with a Mr. Potato Head. We married to gain a partner, not a project. Whether they’re mentally ill or chose a one-night stand should be irrelevant.

  • I can’t remember where I read this (HellofaChump, maybe you can help out here?), but evidently there’s a push now to re-write the Cluster B disorder descriptions in the DSM to account for the notion that they all (narcissism, borderline, antisocial, etc.) are manifestations of the same core issue, which is a lack a clear sense of self, likely stemming from developmental deficiencies – i.e., not having a caregiver who can see a kid for who they are and giving them real love and respect. So, it sounds like even mental health professionals are increasingly less motivated to untangle the Cluster B skein! But it’s also true that the particular manifestations can matter. My aunt was textbook borderline, and it’s helped my cousin a lot to learn about that disorder in order to work on healing from her abuse – to understand his own past better, and not to feel so alone.

    I also think it can be useful to untangle the skein *a little* as to which manifestation might be going on with our ex-FWs, particularly if we have to parallel-parent with them, just because to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Recognizing that there’s likely some complex toxic Cluster B brew going on with my ex has helped me lower my expectations to below zero. Getting as close to No Contact as possible is still the goal, though – and that includes mentally. As soon as we know the basics and can set our boundaries appropriately, it’s best not to give our ex-FWs any more of our precious mental real estate.

    • “I also think it can be useful to untangle the skein *a little* as to which manifestation might be going on with our ex-FW”. I agree. Learning about narcissistic behavior made it easier to predict how FW would act/react so I could prepare myself (“There he goes again, right on schedule”), and also allowed me to take things less personally. It showed me that I needed to stop expecting any empathy or understanding from him, and to realize that he would never cooperate (unless it benefitted him to do so, and even then…). It made “coparenting” easier to navigate, and allowed me to heal from all the abuse (particularly his constant insults and criticism of me) and separate from him emotionally.

  • Regarding cultural and societal norms. Read an article about an Indian woman married to some love goddess st 12, so she could be a sex slave whore to support her parents. Now she is an adult and is mad at her parents because she sees her sisters were married off and have families, and she cant get married now because of the stigma. And thats evidently a thing in India, you pimp your daughter out and it is religiously sanctioned.

    • Yes, all true. Indian culture is viciously misogynistic. Hence the horrifyingly high rates of sexual assault and domestic abuse. Then there’s the bride burning tradition and the reality
      that women who marry a man their parents don’t approve of can be murdered by their own relatives and the law looks the other way.

    • I was surprised to learn that my American, middle class community accepts infidelity. I’m fairly sure the vast majority – including family members and employers – will not confront a cheater or affair partner. The same people will speculate about the chump’s role in accepting the behavior.

      So is cheating really a character defect or is it a socially accepted behavior?

      • It’s a reflection of character defects that is socially acceptable because a lot of people have the same character defects- dishonesty, entitlement and selfishness. These defects may manifest in other ways than cheating, but these kind of people do enable each other, whether they are personally cheaters or not. So if somebody thinks it’s no big deal and justifies it, you know the kind of person you are dealing with.

  • FW was diagnosed bipolar – which in a way helped to explain the fact that he could go days without sleep and hence I was obliged to do the same. It also, to a degree, might help to explain his constant spending and getting us into debt, despite having two very good salaries. And the chaos he caused was just unbelievable! But I kept thinking I couldn’t leave him “because he’s ill”. But you know what, we have excellent health insurance and he had all the treatment available to him that he could wish for – but it was up to HIM to take it, not me! I’ve mentioned before that when I ended up having to empty his farmhouse when he buggered off, a psychiatrist’s report fell out of a book and in it the psy wrote that he thought FW was also a covert narc! I wasn’t supposed to see that, obviously, but man oh man did it put another spin on things. Once I’d accepted that it was up to him to do something about his mental health it became easy to turn off the empathy tap and get the hell out of Dodge!

    • My father was bipolar. He also would go for days (and nights) without sleep, although he didn’t expect this from my mother or from us (his children). He was also suicidal when depressed, violent when in either a manic or depressed state, with both my mother and us, and he sexually abused me. Oh, and a cheater, too, although my mother did not tell me this until after he (finally) committed suicide at age 72. I’m sure that one reason my mother didn’t leave him was the guilt engendered that “in sickness and in health,” although as in your situation, my family had excellent health insurance. But, like your husband, my father did not believe that he was mentally ill. In his mind, the source of his problems was always someone else. After he killed himself, I discovered reports from doctors he’d seen in an attempt to get the FAA to give him his pilot’s license back after it was suspended for flying too low (a case of his belief that the rules didn’t apply to him!); maybe because he’d hired them, they were careful not to use the words “mentally ill,” but what they did say made it perfectly clear that’s what they meant. (He was not, by the way, subsequently cleared to fly.)

      My experiences in my FOO primed me for life with my now-ex, and when he began acting in what I considered a mentally disordered manner I, too, stayed for far too long. I credit CL’s lesson on character (“look at the behavior”) and her lesson on reciprocity (some mentally or medically compromised people are not able-and therefore available–to be in a relationship) with giving me the lenses that allowed me to see clearly and to end my marriage.

      • Oh yes, that’s another point I missed. Nothing was EVER his fault! I’m not sure if that’s related to the bipolar or just the fact that he was an AH!

        • Oh, I think this goes along with general A*holiness! My XFW was not bipolar but my, oh my, everything (and I mean everything) that went even slightly wrong was totally my fault! It’s raining? That must be my fault! We missed the bus? My fault obviously! The turkey was overcooked? Oh, absolutely my fault…and so on. Always my fault apparently, so it took me some time after the divorce to stop apologizing in advance, to anyone in my vicinity, if anything ever f’d up!

          • The fact that I apologized to perfect strangers for behavior that was not in need of apology took me a long time to kick. I was so used to feeling apologetic for…being me, I guess.

  • Either I missed this post in the past or I wasn’t ready for the message, but this is absolutely the best post I have read on your site, and you have written A LOT of things that have helped and entertained me over the years. I struggled for a very long time with the term “judgment”. My mother drilled into me that I should never judge anyone. It created a conflict in my mind and I felt like a bad person when I made a judgment. Who was I to judge? It took me a very long time and years of therapy to finally understand that I was not judging the person but the actions. I have continued to follow you even though I am way past meh. I follow you because your message of asking if it is acceptable and identifying what abuse looks like, helps me in all of my relationships. I can’t thank you enough.

  • It’s a fascinating topic, yes there are disorders, but they are labels to categorize in order to better assess and manage them. If diagnosed with a disorder, you have a responsibility to treat and manage it.

    What I have found very interesting in this journey is many people do not want to step outside their comfort zone to work on their disorders or issues because the process is painful and leads to introspection, you may not like what you see. So for them, hurting others is better than them hurting themselves.

    At the same time, I feel sad for them as they are missing out on the fullness of life, they are stunting themselves. You see this all the time with people. I am thankful for this paradigm shift in thinking, I am at meh and can see the world in a different light, what beauty that is, and my ex will miss out.

  • Another insightful piece from ChumpLady. Just great!
    I still remember the way I felt inside, the day you replied to me that the X’s cruel and slimy behaviors were enough cause for me to leave, and start the divorce. Even if he was some type of mentally ill, I didn’t have to feel guilt. I could put that burden down. It was the biggest relief, and my life improved from those first steps. So grateful for this group here!

  • i’ve reached a point where i just refer to my X as dysfunctional. there’s a lot going on–active alcoholism + narcissism–but i prefer to just think of him as dysfunctional. he’s got PROBLEMS and they’re his to deal with from now on.

    i think what i am is tired of thinking about this guy, dealing with his chaos, worrying about him. i’m just tired. it’s time to push him further into the past. simply put, he’s no good.

    i have strategies, of course, and a lot of them come from CL. i use them. but i’m trying really hard to focus on my own life. i’ve got more important things to do. this is, of course, easier said than done.


  • Therapists have sketchy backgrounds. My MIL recommended a PHD psychologist or Psychiatrist as a marriage counselor during RIC. Good advice. They are more aware of PD. My therapist told me my husband was a narcissist. I knew he had OCPD, but I was surprised by NPD. Took me awhile to understand he did. I did alot of research about it. Yup hes a narc! Dude was spot on.

    My MIL also told me to look up Dr Simon’s work on character. Again spot on and thanks.

    However, she divorced his dad many years prior and he was abusive, alot of chaos there. I would imagine she knew about this all previously. It would have been helpful to get this info 18 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child newly married and considering divorce and abortion because I found out he had cheated while we were dating because of me discovering HPV when pregnant. If I had been aware of his PD and poor character I may not have stayed. I was pregnant and didn’t want to get an abortion. I wanted my child to have an intact home. As it was I felt duped into marrying someone who represented themselves a certain way but wasnt that person. But spackler that I am I reasoned he didnt cheat during our engagement of 2 yr. Except the time I broke it off bc he wasnt setting an actual date for the wedding. Perpetually engaged. The next day he came running to me crying and setting a date. Find out later, Lo and behold that night I broke it off, he ran into a howorkers arms and screwed her. So he came running back because he didnt want her. She wasnt very attractive and she was going nowhere in life. Loser! Assume she gave me HPV. She was hoping to score a man. Didnt work out for her, he just used her like he uses all women. But they think hes such a nice guy! His mom has her own issues, but he was her favorite. She parentified him, said he was an angel, and looked at him as her success story. Well educated because I went to professional school and encouraged him to go to professional school, successful marriage, because I am a good supportive wife who makes a nice home for my family and successful kids, again because I raised them, brought them to afterschool activities, therapy, MD, camps, while he worked 90 hr weeks. He was very involved with weekend soccer, Ill give that to him, and as kids got older decided he should go to parent teacher conferences. Made him look like a good dad.

    So yeah, the other women see a good thing. Think they are gonna waltz in an replace us! Ha! Good luck! Are they gonna go to post graduate school? Are they gonna build a successful business? The home is getting sold. Do they think hes gonna buy them a nice house and car? Do they think the kids are gonna be nice to her and they will have holidays together? Go on expensive vacations? Most of our cool vacations were paid for by me and my business for CE conferences. Or I arranged the whole thing, while he bitched and moaned about spending money and taking time off work, part of his OCPD. Does she think he will cook and clean and make a nice stable home she wants?

    No! We make it look easy and make them look good! The women should be going lesbo and trying to date us! Good riddance to dead weight!

  • Much like some sites no longer try to quibble about the diagnosis when it comes to sexual orientation, is he gay, bi, etc etc and just look at the actions and say men who sleep with other men. This streamlined things because you’re no longer stuck in the loop of trying to define a person by a label but simply by what they do and then able to address the behaviour in term of its impact on you and your tolerance of it. So if we are dealing with a person who maintains secret sexual and intimate relationships outside the agreed boundaries of your relationahip, lies, is deceptive and steals time money and energy from the relationship to spend on those people, is that acceptable to you?

  • I love labels. I can now move on with my life having watched every Sam Vaknin video ever made. I know with 99 percent accuracy what FW will do next ~ now I have the label the behaviour that comes with it is entirely predictable. 25 years of cognitive dissonance not knowing what the hell was going on ~ labels have freed me.

    Most of my DV clients sheepishly say “I think my partner has narcissism” (because it is now stigmatised to label people even though it is often entirely accurate and helpful to the victim) then go on to describe behaviour absolutely consistent with narcissism, whether covert or overt. The label helps victims understand what’s happened, why they feel like they do, and why they need to escape/ go no contact.

    Narcs feel entirely comfortable with their behaviour so they wont be heading to the psych for a diagnosis unless it suits their agenda. Why would God need a psychiatrist?

    • ” I know with 99 percent accuracy what FW will do next ~ now I have the label the behaviour that comes with it is entirely predictable. 25 years of cognitive dissonance not knowing what the hell was going on ~ labels have freed me.”

      THIS. It helped so much. I watched thousands of videos on YouTube (Sam Vaknin, H.G. Tudor, Dr. Ramani, and many others). It is so true that narcissistic people are predictable, and that allowed me to prepare myself. So if I made a request about parenting, I’d be ready for the inevitable insults of my character, the stonewalling, the stalling, the anger. It allowed me to observe his behavior like I was watching a nature video narrated by David Attenborough “Here we see the narcissist throw a temper tantrum. Observe how he resorts to ad hominem attacks because he has no other basis on which to argue.” It allowed me to walk away from the relationship emotionally.

  • I love this forum and CL’s simple prescription. If you’re living in a dictatorship, you can’t tell the truth about it until you cross the border to a democracy with a functional free press. Sometimes you can’t even think the truth about the dictatorship because it will show on your face, in your gestures, your response time and you’ll be punished. It’s the same thing when leaving an abuser. YOU won’t even fully know what happened or who they really are until you’ve escaped because you weren’t really free to think those thoughts in captivity.

    I think the OP’s questions about what’s wrong with cheaters and jaundice towards the current era of “psychiatric inquisition”– where everyone armchair diagnoses everyone else and labels are either profit algorithms or become easily weaponized– are valid. But what simplifies the question of what’s wrong with cheaters is seeing most cheating as a form of domestic abuse and most cheaters as abusers. To quote a DV legislative advocate, “Not all criminals are domestic abusers but all domestic abusers are criminals.”

    The only exceptions I can think of relate to abused women from authoritarian countries where women aren’t allowed to divorce who cross the border and try to start new lives whether or not they’re able to get official annulments; or statistics for battering victims who sometimes engage in “exit affairs” (“escape affairs”) as a means of securing body guards as they face the 70-fold risk of being killed when leaving a violent abuser. Because the latter risk falling prey to protection racket dynamics and ending up entrapped by subsequent abusers about fifty percent of the time, it’s hardly the perfect solution. But when resources and protections for domestic violence survivors continue to be woefully inadequate, I’m not going to judge. Even if I was a practicing Christian I wouldn’t be able to accept that God would punish someone for breaking vows to a batterer. In any case, the exceptions prove the rule. Cheating is mostly abuse.

    As a former advocate for domestic abuse survivors who had to study mountains of research and tomes on batterer psychology and “victimology” as part of training, I honestly can’t see much or any difference between most cheaters and batterers. The MOs, tactics, psychology and demented, ornate rationalization systems of perpetrators are identical give or take broken bones. Give or take broken bones, the effects on victims are pretty much identical, especially considering current views on the role of coercive control in intimate partner violence. Most battering victims cite psychological abuse, control and coercion as the most paralyzing and damaging elements of DV even beyond physical assault. Statistically, most batterers operate on a “beat by need” basis, more often preferring less athletic, less legally risky means of controlling their prey. Like interrogators from the former East German Stasi, the most “skilled” never have to take their hands out of their pockets to collapse victims’ egos. Coercive control, like the Stasi, “breaks souls, not bones.”

    I think part of the reason cheating isn’t generally recognized as a stock tactic in domestic violence has to do with biases and ignorance in the justice system, helping professions and culture. I never personally encountered a long term DV survivor or survivor of coercive control who wasn’t also cheated on at some point if not chronically by their abusers. But most survivors learn not to mention that aspect of their experiences because bystanders, officials and helping professionals are too prone to assume victims who also report cheating are fabricating stories of abuse out of “jealousy.” To the extent that clinical literature is built on survivor narratives, the cheating element also mostly gets left out of literature.

    Directly criminalizing the act of cheating is too problematic although because cheating is rarely “just cheating” and tends to come in tow with a range of abusive behaviors that– taken as a whole– fit with criminal or civil definitions of coercive control if not DV, there’s some hope that chumps could one day have justice on their side. But for now the way chumps are viewed and treated by social contexts and authorities hinge on how battering victims are generally treated by social contexts and authorities. The built-in, systemic censorship of discussions of cheating within DV has to stop. Like I’ve mentioned before, I saw DAs refuse to try perfectly documented cases of domestic violence simply because victims mentioned perpetrators’ infidelity. DAs who are political animals will look for any excuse to drop non-sexy cases but that would be harder to do if the bulk of clinical literature included cheating as an abuse tactic in discussions of intimate partner violence and coercive control. To the extent that cheating should rightfully be viewed as a “red flag” for potential intimate partner violence and a potential part of the system of abuse, at the very least the gaps in recognition and censorship amount to “failure to warn” and, at worst, arguably cost lives.

    In an era where laws and policies are often founded on cellular science (for better or worse, depending on whether it’s junk or legit science), if anyone wants to take an effective route to change things for chumps and do an end-around on psychobabbling infidelity apologists who can count on the dearth of actual science behind their claims, stopping the conditions that censor discussions of cheating within DV and CC are a great place to start applying political pressure and funding. Aside from advancing coercive control statutes, we need more statistical and clinical research on the role of infidelity in DV and coercive control, updated comparative studies on abuser/cheater psychology, more research investigating associations between cheating and other sexual offenses or crimes, etc., etc.

    It’s not an accident to stress research on abusers more than effects on victims. Victim studies are important but, in a knee-jerk, political sense, the public assumes that where the investigative lens is aimed should go the blame. The subjects being studied are seen as the bendable point that can be changed to fix social problems. That’s one big reason I think the question of “what’s wrong with cheaters” is important. The other is that studying them like bugs helps people avoid them.

    • “If you’re living in a dictatorship, you can’t tell the truth about it until you cross the border to a democracy with a functional free press. Sometimes you can’t even think the truth about the dictatorship because it will show on your face, in your gestures, your response time and you’ll be punished. It’s the same thing when leaving an abuser. YOU won’t even fully know what happened or who they really are until you’ve escaped because you weren’t really free to think those thoughts in captivity.”

      This is so well put. I didn’t recognize just how badly I had been abused until I got out. Then I looked back and was absolutely horrified at what I had lived through and even tolerated. My PTSD didn’t kick in til 2-3 years after we split. My anger didn’t manifest til then either. My therapist told me that was normal because our bodies/brains won’t let us fully experience those traumas until we are in a safe space. She said I hadn’t been angry while I was living with my abuser because anger was dangerous (I definitely had a fawn response rather than a fight response to my abuse). Once I understood that, it took away my fear that I was turning into an angry, bitter person. I let myself fell those emotions and they eventually dissipated. My PTSD didn’t completely resolve until FW died (occassionally I still get triggered, but it is rare) and I knew that he couldn’t hurt me anymore.

  • 👏👏👏 BRAVO Tracy !!!
    I read everyday with anticipation and today’s was a “starred” keeper for future reading.

  • I’m really glad I came to read this at the end of the day to gain the benefit of everyone’s contributions. My ex was an addict/alcoholic. A liar, a cheater and a thief. Opportunistic. Faux remorse. Highly charming but manipulative and full of shit. I read the Hanes test and almost everything on there applied to him.

    Unfortunately, I stayed too long thinking things would get better, but also now recognize that I had fallen into the cycle of abuse even though he never physically hurt me. The toxic emotional and psychological abuse were enough. Only when I couldn’t take it anymore and kicked him out did I finally see it for what it was.

    He was a psychopath and the woman he shacked up with was the same as him. It’s been 4 years since he’s been out of the house. Almost 3 since the divorce was final. I’m now in a serious relationship and it’s been really hard to trust because I’m not used to being treated well. I’m suspicious of good intent and actions. It’s hard to adjust when you’ve been used to waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    Being with these people is so utterly damaging. I’m grateful I’m out. I’m glad I’ve had the resources and energy I need to heal and that my two kids need to heal. We three are still works in progress but we’re doing so much better not living in a toxic environment.

  • My FW XW is not the norm. At least, I don’t think she is. She works hard to make herself look good to our kids and for our kids (yes, image management is big w/her). She simply has an abundance of wrongful entitlement. She always has.

    I think a large part of what happened was she decided I wasn’t providing her w/what she wanted in life anymore (bad husband appliance! Bad!), and proceeded to seduce and was reciprocally seduced by her rich, older married boss. So, I had to go and so did our family structure, so she could make a new one that fit her sense of entitlement better.

    If she could have had some honesty and courage to tell me she was unhappy w/our marriage and was leaving me to find someone else she deemed better (without having her boss or someone else immediately waiting in the wings), it still would have devastated me, but hopefully I would have eventually found at least some respect for her. I don’t claim to be perfect myself, and I would still have been deeply hurt.

    But no, that’s not in her character makeup. So, respect for her is out the window for me. I doubt she’ll ever truly get why. When she’s asking for me to be cordial now, she doesn’t even seem to grasp that, 1) when you do this trifecta of abuse that is infidelity, there’s no guarantee that ANYTHING you do will ever persuade your former spouse or partner to ever forgive and forget what you did in order to try being cordial w/you again, and 2), not even trying to show ANY remorse for your horrible abuses does not endear you to the spouse or partner you so royally fucked over, or encourage them to EVER think about being cordial towards you again.

    Oh, and exit-affairing your spouse or partner really encourages them, once they’ve found their strength to survive what you’ve done to them and the family, to exit YOU out of their lives as much as possible.

    I’d say fuckwits need to embrace the idea of civility is the best they’re likely to ever get from us, but no matter where they are on the spectrum of fuckwittedness and infidelity, that always seems to be beyond their mental and spiritual ability to grasp.

    Sorry, fuckwit. You didn’t want me in your life so much you were willing to fuck me over/deeply betray me? Well, wish granted! Oh, but there’s a side effect you didn’t foresee to me swallowing that bitter pill. I no longer have any respect for you (wrongfully entitled whore springs to mind), and therefore the less I have to interact w/you, the better.

    May all my fellow chumps have a wonderful rest of the week ahead. You all deserve it. I just found out yesterday (I’m getting this in very late) that I’m not losing my full-time status w/FedEx (my boss informed me today that in the 50 year history of FedEx, they’ve never layed anybody off, unlike many other companies right now). Which makes me happy. Best wishes, everybody.😊

    • Very similar situation, minus the rich boss part. The entitlement knows no bounds. Our mutual counselor, whom she stopped counseling with (because who needs it, I have nothing to learn), said I was just a stand in until she found her replacement, she’s a narc.

  • This is an excellent article. Kudos for you, CL.

    Trying to clinically diagnose someone who just way too screwed of her/his/our/their head(s), is just a waste of effort and time.

    One thing about personality and character, is that subcinical prognoses are descriptive patterns of conduct (pretty much like the prognoses that comparatively Nurses do on a daily basis), and just enough to understand shitty people just enough to plan your escape and all the associated logistics.

    The majority of the screwballs out here (and everywhere) are subclinical (means “discoverable” but not diagnosed procedurally, by a healthcare professional),

    I wholeheartedly agree that a prognosis is just enough and anyone who has been hampered even for their personal and physical integrity, can relate.

    Even if traumatic experiences are felt in simlar ways, common experiences lead to common triggers, so reducing empathy gaps is of utmost importance.

  • >
    %d bloggers like this: