By October 13, 2016 3 Comments Read More →

A Sociopath’s Pity Play and Your Empathy Cement a Toxic Relationship

Husband Liar Sociopath

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 27 is so long, half of it appeared last week and the second half appears below.

Chapter 27: Nightmare On Elm Street (part B)

We moved into the house in late November. I had almost no help from Paul emptying boxes and setting up the house. I had no close friends yet who could lend a hand. My ability to service my previous clients waned. Most of my work was concentrated on three major clients. I lost one of them due to my unavailability.

Soon after the holiday rush, I went to the bank to get some cash. My mind scrambled when I looked at the account balance on the withdrawal slip. It couldn’t be right. I went to see a teller. It had to be a mistake. But it wasn’t. Paul had withdrawn $50,000 from our checking and savings accounts two days earlier, and there had been no automatic deposit for Paul’s salary that month.

When Paul got home that night, I asked him what was going on at work. He said he had no idea what I was talking about. When I told him about my trip to the bank, his countenance changed.

“I’ve been trying to protect you from this,” Paul said, eyes down, looking crestfallen.

A sinking, hollow feeling encased me. What now? He explained that the startup was having cash-flow issues. He told me it was caused by the tardiness of the investing partners to supply him with the promised next round of financing. He assured me the startup was achieving its sales goals, but its costs had been much higher than expected. To take care of his employees, Paul had not paid himself and had taken money from our personal account to meet payroll. He had meant to tell me, but he was just so distracted at work and worried about his employees that it slipped his mind. Also, before the investing partners would provide the next wave of financing, they wanted him to reduce costs even further. Everyone was going to take a twenty percent pay cut, and he had agreed to forfeit his own salary for an indeterminate time.

Blood pounded against my forehead. My jaw tightened. Was I even breathing? As I tried to form a sentence that would express how I felt—a cocktail of anger, betrayal, and fear about our finances—Paul blurted out, “I’m doing the best I can.”

He seemed to be fighting tears. “I can’t believe they’re holding me hostage by withholding the financing,” he continued in a strained voice. “I had to pay all the people who are working so hard. You know how important it is to me to follow through on my promises. I promised those people jobs and salaries. They’ve all gambled their careers on me. I can’t let them down. I’ll repay the money when the financing comes in. I just wanted to do the right thing. That’s all. It’s so important for me to do the right thing.”

“Is that why you’ve been so nasty lately?” I asked. Not aware of his tactics until almost a decade later, Paul’s pity play was working. As he tapped my empathy, my anger receded, giving way to concern about Paul and his employees.

“Have I?” Paul let out a long, audible sigh. “I thought I was doing the right thing by shielding you and not talking to you about it,” he said with soft, almost pleading eyes. “Especially after you’ve worked so hard to move us. I’m so sorry if it seems like I’ve taken it out on you—I’m just so tired, so worried.”

Notice the wording. Paul never actually took accountability for anything. He just said he was “sorry if it seems like I’ve taken it out on you.”

My heart melted. All the pain of the past year was trumped by my empathy for Paul. He was in trouble, and I was his wife. I wanted to support him. I wanted to help. I reached out and hugged him.

“I wish you’d let me know when you’re under that much pressure,” I said. “We’ll get through it. But you have to tell me what’s going on, because it comes out in other ways, and it’s really hard on me, especially not knowing why you’re on edge all the time.”

“You’re right, I should talk to you more,” Paul replied. “I really thought the cash flow problems wouldn’t reach this point. But I guess I’ve been so stressed, so worried about paying and providing for everyone else at work, and so exhausted. You’re my rock. It’s one of the things I love and admire about you. I’m so grateful for everything you’ve done. I don’t really deserve you.”

Paul’s kind words and praise felt like he had opened a window in a long-shuttered attic. Warmth and a feeling of connectedness engulfed me, pushing out the stale, stagnant darkness. Paul and I held each other tightly. Even though we were in crisis, it felt good to be in it together. Paul pulled away slightly.

“I have to talk to you about something else,” he said, his face stern, his tone somber. “I hope you’ll be relieved and not hate me.”

“What is it? What’s wrong?” I asked. My brain scrambled, my breath caught, and energy left my body—what else could it be? Then I inhaled deeply, steeling myself for whatever words Paul might utter next.

“We need to sell the house,” he said. “The mortgage is too big now that I’ve agreed not to be paid. I may not get paid again for a very long time.”

Sure, I hated the house. It was big, dark, and expensive. But moving again so soon? Selling a house again? Moving the kids again? Looking for a new home again? All the time, all the disruption, all the stress, all the logistics. I had just finished unpacking boxes! I had just gotten my life off hold, and now it was going to go on hold again to facilitate another move, triggered by Paul’s my-way-or-the-highway decision! I felt weak, numb, hollow, followed by an unpleasant mixture of disbelief, anger, betrayal, and frustration with myself for not talking Paul out of the house. Hadn’t I tried—really hard? Why hadn’t Paul listened to me about the house? But I knew bringing this up would do no good.

The kids would be impacted profoundly—a new house, a new school, new friends. It was too much too soon. Not only that, Paul had gone “top of the line” on everything in the house. He wanted everything to be perfect right away. No phase-in process. No long-term plan. All perfect. (All perfectly sociopathic—I want it now! Now! Now! Now!) I had given up discussing his spending, because I never prevailed when we had conversations about his dream house and, such topics only fueled the growing tension between us and left me defeated and fighting tears. The housing market had dropped since we had committed to building the house a little less than a year before. With all the extras, which certainly would not be valued by someone else, we might lose $200,000 or more on the house. I couldn’t believe it. Would we have any equity left?

But what other choice did we have? Now that Paul wasn’t bringing in any money, we had to sell the house. I also needed to focus on ramping up my income as much as possible. Losing a client could not have come at a worse time. We could not buy a single thing we did not absolutely need, and we had to start cutting coupons for the things we did need. I had done it before business school. I could do it again.

“Paul,” I said, “I’ll support you under two conditions: that you sell the BMW and that we go to marriage counseling. Things have been horrible. I can’t continue like this.”

“You’re right,” Paul said. “I’ll put the BMW up for sale tomorrow, and if you pick a marriage counselor, I’ll go.”

I sighed. As I exhaled, a damn burst inside me, unleashing suppressed pain, doubts, and fears, and sending tears cascading down my face. This wasn’t bad, this was good—Paul had agreed to go to marriage counseling. Maybe we had hit rock bottom. If we could survive this, we could survive anything. Maybe everything was going to be okay.

Start from the beginning:

Chapter 1

Go to previous chapter:

Chapter 27A


Identifying names, places, events, characteristics, etc. that I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect the identity of everyone involved.

3 Comments on "A Sociopath’s Pity Play and Your Empathy Cement a Toxic Relationship"

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  1. becomingstrong says:

    Life with a sociopath is and will always be the same- losing everything. No matter if the sociopaths loses and remakes money their behavior will always lead to the loss of just about everything. Unilateral money decisions, loss of jobs/careers and divorces all lead even the most productive sociopath to lose most of it. Your future is what Paul gambled. Probably the truth is Paul told all his workers YOU were behind the purchasing of the opulent home. He probably told everyone how ‘selfish’ you are. It was all your fault he was having money issues.

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  2. DoneWithThat2 says:

    Ugh! I can feel the nausea rising as you tell your story. I read the other day that they love reeling us in, “come closer so I can slap you”. Thank you O.N.Ward for telling your story.

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  3. Aware says:

    Thank you for sharing O.N.ward my story could have been very similar to yours if I had taken him up on his business ideas and him wanting me to consider buying his parents home with him. My ex, like yours didn’t admit to wrong doing, he would say “I’m sorry for all I did” but not once admit to anything in particular.
    Like your ex, he showed fake emotion, fake crying all the time. I remember the first time he “cried” he didn’t wipe his fake tears from his cheeks, it was as if he didn’t want me to miss his performance. Its unbelievable what I went through and continue to suffer even with him out of my life.

    WOW WOW WOW is what I think of when I look back at all the bullshit, the lies, the cheating and gas lighting. Speaking of gas lighting the last incident… I mentioned what he had said to me not once but twice, he said “I can get anyone I want” he told me he never said that!
    I’m working on self acceptance, self love now, and look forward to help from LF with moving on just like he has done. All the words meant NOTHING to him, I believe he wanted a cover, a stable woman to be his beard.

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