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 33: The Question Is Not What You Look At But What You See (Henry David Thoreau)
For months, I had to fight the impulse to recoil whenever Paul touched me. Yet, if we did not have frequent sex, Paul’s impatience with me grew even worse. Instead of sharing intimate moments with my husband, I felt like I was feeding a beast. If I did not feed the monster, it would devour me. I had to keep him satiated to keep myself alive. Not surprisingly, our sex life was still not frequent enough or satisfying enough for Paul, so he added this to my growing list of shortcomings, which included: bad gift-giver, poor cook, complainer, incapable of meaningful conversation, lazy, controlling, demanding, and jealous. Due to my broken promise to Paul, he also made it clear that he considered me dishonest and a liar. Who was this person Paul kept describing? Certainly not me! Equally importantly, who was Paul?
While Paul was away, I stumbled across another major withdrawal from our accounts that he had failed to run by me ahead of time. This time he had taken money from our brokerage account. No matter how scared I was, no matter how deflated I felt, no matter what the consequences, this could not continue.
The night Paul returned, I waited until after the kids were tucked into bed, and then I told him I could not go on like this any longer. I did not care what the therapist said. I was sure Paul was having an affair, that he placed no importance on the kids and me, and that he was making key financial decisions without consulting me. I was miserable. Our marriage had to change or end.
Paul denied any inappropriate involvement with Anne-Marie. He launched into a smokescreen of diversion and distractions by telling me that he was certain I was accusing him of having an affair to cover up my own string of infidelities. I know now that it is not unusual for sociopaths to project their own unethical, tawdry behavior onto their victims, but I did not realize it at the time.
“Who with, the mailman?” I snapped. “I hardly see another person. I’m either running the kids around, attempting to keep my own business on life-support, trying to keep the house spotless so we can sell it, doing everything else around the house, because you’re too busy to rake a leaf or shovel a snowflake!”
Paul listed the multiple affairs he suspected me of having—my boss in Minnesota, my dentist in New York, and now he wasn’t sure who it was, but he was sure it was someone. (Notice the attempt to avoid dealing with the issue at hand by attacking my character, putting me on the defensive.) He rationalized the money as just another oversight and would not admit to forcing the monstrosity of a house on me—still insisting that it had been our decision and that I was an adult and could have said “No.”
When Paul refused to acknowledge that any of my concerns—including those about Anne-Marie—had even an iota of validity, I mentioned what I had overheard in the park. Paul diverted the conversation immediately by grilling me about who the employees in the park were. I refused to give him descriptions or even the genders of the two employees. At midnight, after a tearful two-hour conversation in which I felt like I was hitting my head against the wall, I got up and walked across the room toward the foyer, leaving Paul sitting alone on the couch.
“Where are you going?” Paul demanded. “We’re not done!”
Paul was not convinced that he had pounded me sufficiently into submission, into buying his twisted version of events. This included that Sally had betrayed him and was undermining his authority and needed to be fired, and, if I were a loyal wife, I would never talk to Sally again.
“I’m leaving, Paul. I’ve already talked to my parents. I’m taking the kids and driving to Vermont. Now. Whether you’re screwing her or not, you clearly care more about Anne-Marie than you do about the kids or me. When the house sells, we’ll split the money and get a divorce. I’m done.”
It was a perfect time to leave. I felt clear and strong. My family was relatively close. I still had a career that could be resuscitated. More importantly, Paul had so depleted our assets with his investment in this company and the debacle of the house that we had few assets remaining about which to argue.
As I crossed the oversized, ostentatious, totally wasteful foyer to head upstairs to get Jessica and Daniel, I felt Paul’s hand on my arm—gentle, not aggressive. “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me.”
I turned to face him. Paul looked crestfallen and dejected, as if every muscle in his face had lost its tone. Still, I felt ice cold, resolute. I didn’t care.
Sobs exploded from his body, and he doubled over and collapsed to the floor, clinging to me and pulling me down with him. “You’re right! You’re right! I’ve been too tired and stressed to admit it, but I’ve been a horrible husband. I’ll change. I promise. From now on, you and the kids will be my top priority. Just don’t leave. Don’t leave me. You are the only one I’ve ever been able to count on. I know I haven’t shown it for a long time, but I love you. I know you still love me. We were great together once. We can be again. Don’t go. Don’t leave me.” Paul’s body heaved violently. Tears fell on my shoulder as he cradled against me, holding me like a child holds a precious doll in a storm.
I realize now that this was all an act—just pulling out “I’ll change” and “pity me” from his sociopathic bag of tricks. But then …
“Paul, I can’t do this anymore,” I replied stoically, my body stiff and unwelcoming.
“Onna, please, please don’t leave,” Paul begged. “Everyone’s deserted me. You’re the only one I can count on. I don’t know how I’ll go on without you. I don’t know what you heard, but I had to let Sally go, because she was undermining my credibility. She was worried everyone was working too hard. She was being too mothering and too protective. You know she’s like that. I talked to her; I asked her to stop. She couldn’t. It’s just too much in her nature to care too much, but we had work to do, and she was eroding my leadership. I did everything I could to avoid it, to work with her. It was devastating. I’ve worked with her for years. Letting her go was horrible.”
I felt my resolve weaken as the part of me that has way too much empathy for others started to connect to Paul’s apparent pain. My body relaxed slightly as he continued.
“And the investors are being so unreasonable and demanding results that I don’t know if I can deliver. I’m working ‘round the clock. The reason I’m so loyal to Anne-Marie is that she’s loyal to me. She’s the only one who understands the dire situation the company’s in and is working and sacrificing as much as I am to save this startup. I know it looks bad. I’ll never put Anne-Marie in front of you and the kids again. Just don’t leave me. Don’t leave me alone. From now on, we’ll make every decision together. I promise. I’ll update you every week. I’ll never take our money for the business again without asking you. And if I do, you can take everything we have and I’ll let you and the kids go without a fight. Just don’t leave me. ”
Paul’s limp body folded in on itself, and he collapsed into my lap like a terrified little boy. My resolve melted. I had never seen anyone so vulnerable, so in need.
Something inside me stirred. Finally, he tapped the part of me that I valued most, but the part of me that, if unprotected, could be turned against me—my empathy. Once he tapped my empathy, he could unleash one of the ultimate weapons sociopaths have used throughout history to get kind, loving people to take actions and make decisions that are against their own self-interest—pity. He was my husband, the father of my children, and he needed help, a lot of help. He was expressing profound remorse and promising to change. Doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance? If I turned my back on him now, what would that say about me?
“I’ll stay, Paul,” I said. “But things have to change, and they have to change starting tomorrow.”
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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.