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 25: Paul’s House
Paul’s ideas about our next house and my ideas could have not diverged more. He wanted to build a $1 million dream house from the ground up. To me, it was absurd. Houses take money, time, and energy to build. We had none of those to spare. It was already March. I wanted to be settled into a new house by July to allow Jessica to make a few friends before starting kindergarten. That wasn’t enough time.
Paul started staying in Connecticut during the week to work and commuted back to our home on weekends. In typical Paul overachieving style, he worked nonstop on the start-up, often not even having enough free time to call home in the evening. It was not as if I was swimming in free time either. I was scrambling to prepare our house to sell and to look into towns, school systems, and preschools in the area surrounding Paul’s new office. I also needed to purge, pack, and organize our belongings, continue to be a mom to Jessica and Daniel, and spend some final quality time with friends I would never be living near again, not to mention finish projects for my clients. If I had any free time, I wanted to keep my business alive and ensure a smooth move for Jessica and Daniel, not build a house.
Our financial present and future were gutted overnight. Not only had we invested a considerable amount of our money in the new venture, Paul’s gigantic pay cut made my income jump from inconsequential to meaningful. The time and effort required by such a quick move with two young children, not to mention building a house from scratch, would crash my income to almost zero, just when we needed it most. To keep our overall financial and personal risk at acceptable levels, it was clear to me that we needed not only to avoid building an expensive house but rather to buy a small, conservative house or rent. I even suggested that the kids and I stay in New York and that Paul rent a small apartment in Connecticut until the new venture proved viable.
Paul would not hear of it. He would not consider living apart. (Remember Jenny’s role in Paul’s life as maid, housekeeper, and sexual partner?) Paul was certain the new venture would be wildly successful. Didn’t I have faith in him? He insisted the family stay together. How could I value our family so little that I was willing for us to live apart? Case closed.
Paul found a builder with a lot on a remote road and a floor plan that the contractor promised could be built in three months. Paul loved it. Including all the extras Paul wanted, it would cost a “mere” $1,000,000. To humor Paul (a stupid idea), I agreed to look at it only as part of a broader house-hunting effort that also included much smaller, less expensive houses.
I hated the lot and the floor plan. I knew it would take significantly longer to build than the contractor claimed, and it certainly would never be done by July. Every house in which I had ever lived had brimmed with character and warmth. This house was big, boxy, isolated, dark, and cold. Not a neighbor in sight. Not a child to play with. Not even a good place to put up a swing set for Jessica and Daniel. Nothing. It was completely uninteresting—big, remote, and expensive.
Paul saw it differently. It made a statement. It had lots of room for entertaining his current and future employees and for his family to visit. It would also have ample space for both of us to have a home office. Paul did not care that it would be dark, because he was rarely around during daylight hours anyway. He did not care if it was isolating for the kids and me either, because he would not be the one driving twenty minutes to the closest park. For Paul, it was ideal. He had to have it. And he was so busy that he wanted to seal the deal immediately and not waste another minute looking for other houses. He had a company to run. Decision made!
I could not agree to buy this house. It was light years beyond my comfort zone for financial risk. It was also wrong for the kids, and it was wrong for me. I knew I would be miserable there. Besides, despite what the builder said, I was certain it would not be finished in time for Jessica to start the school year there. Therefore, it would require an interim move and result in even more disruption in our lives. With great confidence and conviction, I told Paul, “No.”
He was shocked. He wanted the house. It was his dream. Weren’t we supposed to support each other’s dreams? He came up with a plethora of reasons why I should not even think twice about the expense. Think about all the money we had saved that he had made! He assured me that he had complete confidence his new business venture would be successful, telling me about all the milestones the business had already reached on time or even ahead of schedule. Soon, he’d be making the same level of money he did as a partner in his former firm. I’d been to business school, too, though, and I knew the odds of any new venture succeeding. It was risky. It would take a lot of time, and it might even fail.
Further, when I pointed out the people I knew who had built even small houses from scratch and that none had been completed within the timeframe our builder was promising, Paul told me how distrusting I was and that I didn’t understand that this house would be the builder’s sole priority and that the target date was totally feasible. According to Paul, I was being an alarmist. I just did not “get it.” If I did not want to be involved in the day-to-day decisions about the house, he would take care of it all.
I did not back down. Even if I thought spending the money was prudent (which I did not), and even if I thought the builder could finish on time for us to move directly into the house (which I was sure was impossible), and even if Paul would be the one to coordinate all the work with the builder while I orchestrated the move and all the logistics with the kids, it still did not matter to me, because I DID NOT EVEN LIKE THE HOUSE.
“Paul,” I said, “I get that this is your dream house, but if we’re going to spend a fortune building a dream house, then it should be my dream house, too. It isn’t. I don’t even like the house. I don’t want to live there. Maybe we should rent.”
“I don’t have time for this, Onna,” Paul snapped. “I’m exhausted. I have a business to run. I’m working ‘round the clock. Not just for us either. I have people depending on me for their livelihood, to pay their mortgages, to feed their kids. I can’t spend any more time looking for a house when people need me and I’ve found a perfect house for us!” (How odd that he insisted he did not have time for more house hunting but that he had time to make all the decisions involved in new construction. Hmm … Sociopath math!)
“Paul, no,” I insisted, clear in my logic and convictions and holding my ground calmly.
I did not realize it at the time, but Paul had been using multiple manipulative techniques to get me to see it his way. These included trying to make me pity him for how hard he was working, and making me feel guilty because he needed to get the house decision behind him so he could focus on the start-up’s success and make sure his employees could get paid. He had tried to make me question my assessment of our assets and the amount of financial risk with which I should be comfortable. He told me that I was simply wrong about how long it would take to build a house, even though I had researched it and had overwhelming data to support my view. In other discussions, he even tried to convince me that my understanding of the rotation of the earth and the seasons was incorrect by arguing that a north-facing house set tightly among tall trees would be full of natural light.
He argued that we could get around the horrible school system in town by sending the kids to private school. The fact this would involve time-consuming admissions applications for me to do at an already stressful time and would entail me driving Jessica to and from a private kindergarten in another town instead of her getting on a school bus for the local public kindergarten did not concern him. That private school would be another huge financial commitment at a time when our income had been slashed did not register to him as problematic either.
To me it was all beyond crazy. It was so insane that I could not believe Paul did not see it. He had to be so stressed and tired from working on this startup that he wasn’t thinking straight. What else could it be? All I had to do, I was sure, was point out all of the issues to Paul when we were together on the weekend and when he was rested, including that I did not even like the house, and the issue would be put to bed. How could it end any other way?
Chapter 26: Paul’s Way Or The Highway
Paul agreed to discuss the house with me when he was back from spending the week in Connecticut. The conversation was brief.
“Onna, this is simple,” he said. “I’ve more important things to do than to keep looking for a house when I’ve already found the perfect one. I don’t know why you’re being so difficult and melodramatic.”
“Paul, I’ve explained why I don’t want that house, and it’s my house, too,” I said.
“The house is perfect. You’re being ridiculous!” Paul said in an icy tone. “I’ll make this really simple. I’m buying the house. The paperwork’s waiting for my signature. If you and the kids want to move there with me, great. If not … ” a penetrating stare punctuated a long pause, “I’m buying it and moving in with or without you. You can’t stop me. I don’t need your approval. You have a decision to make.”
Paul glared at me as he pushed his chair back from the table. Then he got up, walked out of the house, and drove away.
I started to shake. Like a dam overrun by raging storm waters, tears poured from my eyes and down my cheeks. Was Paul serious? Was he really saying that if I did not agree to the monstrosity of a house he was leaving Jessica, Daniel, and me? My mind flooded. I had always been so supportive of Paul’s dreams and goals. How could this be happening? Daniel was two, and Jessica was five. I knew we did not have the perfect marriage, but weren’t we making it work?
Our house in New York was already under contract to be sold. I had put my business on hold and had no income of my own. My medical insurance and the insurance for the kids were all through Paul. (This was prior to health care being universally available.) So much of our net worth was now invested in Paul’s new company and future. What was I going to do? Where would I go? Where would I live? Was I going to be divorced twice? Was I going to become a single mom? All over a house?
Panic gave way not to clarity but to self-doubt. Why was Paul doing this? Was he under so much stress that he needed to check the house off his list so he could focus on other things? Was he right? Was I being unreasonable? Unsupportive? Selfish?
Then a completely different thought bolted through mind. Was this about Anne-Marie? Was he leaving me for her? I was the one who had made the sacrifices, but would she be the one who would benefit romantically, emotionally, and financially?
Others have noticed that sociopaths try to make their partners jealous. It is as if they are signaling that their partner had better meet all the sociopath’s needs or they will move on to someone else who is clearly enamored with the sociopath and waiting in the wings. Paul had been using this technique on me for some time, but I did not know it. All I knew was the panicked stream of thoughts coursing through my head. Should I fight for my marriage? For my family? What was best for Jessica and Daniel? Would Paul try to take our children from me? Would Anne-Marie end up being a stepparent to by children? It was all a blur.
I was terrified of the idea of my marriage and family falling apart—of the possibility of losing full-time contact with my kids, and over what, a house? Was any material possession worth that?
Although no material possession is worth losing an important relationship, this was not about a material possession. It was not about a house. It was about power, control, and who Paul truly was and is. When charm, deception, gaslighting, lying, and other nefarious manipulation techniques did not get Paul what he wanted, he threatened, bullied, and attacked (emotionally, psychologically, and financially). I had given Paul everything he’d wanted so consistently by succumbing almost seamlessly to his manipulations that I had rarely encountered the aggressive, bullying Paul, so when I did, I was ill prepared. I did not know what was going on or what to do. All I knew was that I was scared.
Two agonizing hours passed. Finally, Paul’s car pulled into the garage, and he walked into the house. Part of me was sure this was all a bad dream and that Paul’s position and disposition had softened while away. Another part of me knew he was serious. I had glimpsed this heartless Paul before—on the last day of our honeymoon and on the eve of Daniel’s birth—but I had shaken it off and assured myself that I had been tired, confused, oversensitive, or high on ready-to-give-birth hormones.
“Well?” he said. His jaw was tight, his eyes cold and emotionless.
There had been no change of heart. Fearful of how the man standing in front of me might explode my life, I swallowed hard before answering. “If the house is that important to you, we’ll make it work.”
“Right,” he said. Then he went to the family room, sat down, and turned on the TV.
Too bad it was not until fifteen years later that I read and truly understood Gavin de Becker’s words in The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence. In his book, he asserts that if you allow someone to disregard you when you clearly say “no,” you are essentially signaling to them that they are in charge. Although Mr. de Becker wrote this regarding criminal behavior, it seems applicable to my situation with Paul as well. I had said no to the house, but Paul refused to hear it. He wanted and expected total control over not only our home but also over my life. The red warning flags were flapping loudly, but I was too afraid to stand my ground—too afraid that my relationship with my children might be at risk. No one who loves you would ever put you in such a position. No one who loves you would ever force you to make an important decision quickly and out of fear. Paul did not love me and never had. I was just too afraid to see it.
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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.