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 17 : The Twilight Zone
With my biological clock ticking loudly, once we had been at our new jobs for eighteen months, Paul and I decided it was time to have children. After just two months of trying, the pregnancy test registered positive. I danced around our house. At last, I was going to be a mother!
Oddly, Paul showed little interest in our developing child. He had no desire to accompany me to any of my doctor appointments, not even the ultrasound or amniocentesis. Although my obstetrician’s office was no more than fifteen minutes from Paul’s office, I attended each checkup alone. I tried to convince myself that I did not mind. After all, as a rising star at work, Paul was simply too busy for such things. I was grateful that at least he attended Lamaze classes with me on weekends.
In preparation for the birth, I started maternity leave two weeks prior to the due date, allowing me to transition my assignments smoothly to my colleagues. Paul did not scale back at all. Just days prior to the official due date, labor pains started late in the night. Apparently, baby Jessica was not positioned correctly. As a result, my baseline pain was agonizing, and the accompanying labor pains unbearable. At 1:00 a.m., as I lay in a warm bath to try to take the edge off the assault on my body, Paul sat in the hallway just outside the bathroom with his computer balanced on his lap working on a presentation for a client. There wasn’t much he could do to help me right now, he reasoned, other than keep me company and remind me to breathe. He could do that while clicking away on his laptop.
Trying not to be disappointed by Paul’s lack of attention, I took pride in my stoicism and attempted to breathe as I had been taught to avoid screaming from the pain. I was such a good, supportive wife for an ambitious consultant. This was just another example of how independent I could be, how understanding I was of Paul’s grueling work demands and his goals. He loved me for how much I supported him, his ambitions, and his dreams, right?
Wait! Wait! Wait! For God’s sake, wait! I was in labor with our first child. It was one o’clock in the morning, and I was in agony. Was it asking too much to have Paul focus exclusively on me? Apparently, it was. But he had already conditioned me to demand little and accept less. Now that I was about to give birth, why would I expect more?
Jessica’s birth was complicated medically, but she greeted the world healthy and beautiful. While at the hospital, Paul was the perfect doting husband and new father. Our time together there was a wonderful reminder of the man I had married and why I loved him so much. He was so thoughtful and kind, captured perfectly in pictures as the proud, loving new father and devoted husband. This was the man with whom I fell in love at Yale. This was the man I married. This was how he would be all the time if he did not have such a demanding boss and if he was not so dedicated to his firm. I was smart and ambitious. I loved and respected him for being smart and ambitious, too. Once he had accomplished what he wanted in his career, he could put this career on autopilot, and things would calm down. There would be more time for us and for our new family. I was sure of it.
I could not have been more wrong. Jessica’s birth became another notch in Paul’s belt at work. He made sure everyone knew that he had worked on a presentation throughout my labor; all framed as a demonstration of his incredible dedication to his firm, not his being an inattentive husband. Within days of my return home, he decided he had to attend an optional out-of-town, weeklong seminar. My mother had planned to visit after Jessica’s birth but had to cancel due to my father developing unexpected health problems. Ruth, Paul’s mom, moved up her visit. I was grateful for her help an much needed advice about being a new mother. This was the first time we had spent a lot of time together, just the two of us—or the three of us, including Jessica. I felt close to Ruth, as if I had a second mother.
As in the hospital, in front of his mother, Paul was a doting husband and father who couldn’t wait to make me a cup of tea or cuddle with Jessica. Yet, once we dropped Ruth at the airport to return home, Paul’s attention waned. He was consistently too tired and too busy to help with Jessica, to talk to me about any of his work assignments, to listen to my concerns or triumphs as a new mom, or to be a meaningful, loving husband and companion. But he wasn’t too busy to criticize me for choosing to breastfeed Jessica, to find the dinner I made boring, to think my choice of clothes was “off,” or to express annoyance that I picked out an outfit for Jessica that he did not like. I wanted a partner in life, a husband, a co-parent for our beautiful baby girl. Isn’t that what I had signed up for?
It might have been what I signed up for, but no sociopath can ever be a loving husband, much less a loving, engaged parent. Remember, they are not capable of love or empathy. If a sociopath cannot care about or love his own children (unimaginable to nonsociopaths but simply an extension of sociopath math), why have children at all? Aren’t children just an unwanted distraction and financial drain?
Among the reasons sociopaths have children is that children provide sociopaths with something they crave—power and control. Not only does being a parent give someone complete control over the developing life of his or her children, even better, it gives the sociopath almost complete control over the other parent. If you want to hurt or control a loving parent, there is no better way than by hurting or manipulating the child the parent loves.
“Stand by Your Man” may have worked for Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, but if your man’s a sociopath, it’s a really, really bad idea. If I had been collecting data and fed it into a statistical regression model to help me understand Paul’s behavior, what would have been clear was a significant correlation—that Paul’s conduct was exemplary in public yet increasingly dismissive and even contemptuous of Jessica and me in private. He wasn’t a doting husband and father. He was an actor performing when he had an audience. I had entered a twilight zone of subtle erosion. I didn’t realize that, so, instead I struggled to understand what had happened to the man with whom I had fallen in love at Yale.
Could Paul be depressed? Sleep-deprived? Could something else be wrong? Clearly not. To see “wonderful Paul,” all I had to do was to watch him interact with someone other than me, such as his team of junior associates at work. When they visited our home to see Jessica, I saw the man with whom I had fallen in love—attentive, helpful, kind, and soft-spoken. That begged the question, “What’s wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?” followed by, “How do I need to change to encourage the loving, attentive man I married to focus on me and our child? How do I fight for a marriage that all too quickly has lost its luster?”
Perhaps these are understandable, even admirable, questions when dealing with a normal person—to look for the role I played in the loss of a connection or spark with my husband. But these are self-destructive queries when your partner is a sociopath. A sociopath’s relationship to a targeted individual is akin to the relationship of a black hole to the surrounding cosmos: It sucks in all matter, energy, and light, returning nothing. It is never satisfied, emerging from every cosmic meal demanding, “MORE!” Asking “What can I do to make things better?” or “What more do I need to do to make our marriage work?” just brought me closer to the black hole’s gravitational pull, from which escaping with my soul would prove almost impossible. Gravity always wins!
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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.