By O.N. Ward
Every week, a chapter of my book, “Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned” (available via Amazon.com, just click on the title or book cover) will be published here on Lovefraud. To read prior chapters, please see the links at the bottom of the post.
Chapter 6: Love Blinds—Really!
If Paul had become annoyed with me for disappointing or inconveniencing him on our first, second, or even third date, I probably would have decided he was a selfish jerk and ended any meaningful involvement with him. So why did this small red flag go unheeded when it occurred on New Year’s Eve, a year into our relationship? Because his annoyance and selfishness occurred in the context of what appeared to me to be a loving, mutually respectful relationship. That is the problem, and it is not just a problem for me; it is a problem for most of us.
All a sociopath has to do is act as if he is a great guy and as if he loves you long enough until you believe that he does. Then, once you fall in love with him, his behavior will be interpreted through a rose-colored lens, and red flags, both small and large, are likely to be overlooked or excused away.
Shakespeare’s words, “Love is blind” (The Merchant of Venice), are part of our collective vocabulary because of their timeless truth. Confirming what Shakespeare noted centuries ago, a 2004 University College London study found that feelings of love dampen activity in the part of the brain associated with assessing the motivations and intentions of others. Being in love creates a dangerous blind spot. This is why so many sociopaths get us to fall deeply in love with them first by representing themselves as our soul mates.
The sad truth is, given the prevalence of sociopaths, especially among men, women should look for these warning signs throughout any developing romantic relationship. That’s when the signs are the most important to detect but also the most difficult to see. I discovered about twenty years too late, as I was in the process of divorcing Paul, that one way of magnifying these hard-to-perceive signs is to keep a handwritten journal. Writing by hand is slow, so as I tried to make sense of what was happening in the present and how it related to the past, the tedious process of writing by hand allowed me to make much needed mental connections. This helped me stay grounded in facts rather than the self-serving falsehoods Paul perpetuated. It is much harder to gaslight someone effectively if the person has documented what really happened.
Times of conflict or potential conflict are particularly important to commit to writing. When your needs clash with your partner’s, even over something small, what happens? Does he try to balance your needs against his and come to a mutually satisfying solution? Or, like Paul, does he try to get his way via manipulation, minimizing the importance of your needs, questioning the validity of your perspective, making you feel guilty, making you feel you misremembered or misrepresented something, making you feel sorry for him, or elevating the importance of his needs (e.g., “I have been soooo looking forward to sharing a New Year’s kiss with you”)? Even if a decision feels like it makes sense at the time, be wary if, over the long run, tradeoffs consistently favor him.
Keep in mind that if any self-respecting sociopath is seeking to ensnare you, he will offer compelling reasons to make you disregard any red flags you notice. He may encourage you to view them as “no big deal.” He may suggest that you are being too sensitive, selfish, needy, controlling, or that you can’t take a joke (e.g., “I can’t believe you really thought I was serious about you making coffee and staying up when you were sick. Obviously, I was just kidding.”). Any chinks in his armor, no matter how small, are a big deal if they reflect a lack of empathy or ethics. Early in a romantic relationship, these seemingly inconsequential hiccups may be the only glimpses you get into the hollowness of the sociopath’s heart, the blackness of his soul, and his unbridled need to diminish and control.
If you think I am being alarmist, please keep reading.
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Identifying names, places, events, characteristics, etc. that I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect the identity of everyone involved.