The Cheater’s Playbook


My ex left behind a letter, typed and in duplicate, when he unexpectedly exited my life. That was followed a couple weeks later by a suicide (attempted) email, sent to both his other wife and my mother. Since I had no other explanations, I poured over those words for months, looking for answers.

His words were cruel, dismissing my importance in his life and emphasizing his unhappiness (which he blatantly denied up until he left). I internalized his sentences, saw them as a direct reflection on me.

And then I connected with others who had been cheated on and summarily dismissed. I was shocked to hear that they had received many of the same words from their ex.

“Do all cheaters read the same playbook?” we joked.

But behind the quip was something deeper – if they all recite the same lines, maybe those words have more to do with the cheater and less to do with me.

I read the letters again, this time with a different perspective. He was making excuses. Maybe for the benefit of others, but even more likely, in an attempt to assuage any guilt he may have felt over his actions.

The context of these words matters.  People certainly can change and relationships that once were a good fit may not be any more. Some people choose to handle the end with respect for the other person. When these word are spoken in that context, they can be valid and true. Others make different choices and use these words to try to excuse their deceptive behavior and to try to pass blame on to the other partner. In that context, these same words are poison to the receiving end.

If there is a Cheater’s Playbook somewhere, these phrases would certainly be found within:


I’ve never felt like this for somebody before.

Hmmm…that’s funny. Because I seem to remember you using some of the same proclamations of love with me that I uncovered with your new paramour.


He/she just gets me.

Do they even know you? I wonder what sort of front you have presented and if your mask has had the opportunity to slip?


I just wanted a chance at happiness.

So do I. Funny thing, though. I don’t perceive lying to others as a prerequisite for happiness. In fact, if I was hurting someone I cared about, it would make me pretty damn miserable.


I haven’t been happy for a long time.

So why didn’t you say something? Spouses certainly get to know one another, but full-on mind-reading is still science fiction.


I didn’t mean for it to happen.

Oh, please. You may not have had the intention to cheat from the onset, but you certainly made lots of choices that led you to that conclusion.


You’re imagining things.

I wish I was. That would be preferable to realizing the truth, that the person that I loved and trusted most in this world decided to act selfishly and destroy my world as a result.


This wouldn’t have happened if you…

Nope. Not taking that on. If there was something you were not happy about, it is YOUR responsibility to bring it up and provide an opportunity for it to change.


I never had a chance to…

I am so sorry (said with much sarcasm) that you didn’t get a chance to date/enjoy your childhood/have adult time without children. Choices have consequences. You don’t get to pretend they don’t.


I need someone who pays attention to me.

So do I, but you’ve obviously been turning elsewhere. And whatever you nurture, grows.


You don’t appreciate me.

Well, I don’t appreciate this, that’s for damn sure. And be honest with yourself, have you been acting in a way that deserves appreciation?


You don’t understand me.

You’re right. I don’t. I don’t understand how you could just throw away all that we have worked to build. That’s not who I fell in love with.


I’m just not attracted to you anymore.

You know, there have been many moments when I’m not attracted to you. But our vows are bigger than that. Commitment sometimes means putting in the effort to reignite that passion.


I never meant to hurt you.

Well, you did a great job of it nonetheless. What exactly did you think the repercussions of this discovery would be? A welcome party for your affair partner?


I never loved you.

That certainly fits your actions. I don’t know what’s worse – thinking you could do this to someone you love or realizing that you faked your feelings the entire time?


In order to begin healing, I had to realize that his words were projection and misdirection. I had to learn which of them to ignore and which contained some element of truth. Because one thing is certain about cheaters – they lie. And so often the words they share upon their exit are nothing more than little drops of fiction, breadcrumbs that if followed, lead to the wrong conclusions.

Thank you for sharing!

9 thoughts on “The Cheater’s Playbook

  1. Thank you! I have been ruminating for so long on his exit words, believing myself to be all that he said. Some of those on the list, and more – apparently I am bipolar (absolutely not), negative, unable to negotiate (but we bought his parents a house and holidays, mostly with the money I was earning, wouldn’t I have just said “No,”?), lacked affection, whereas she was “ all over him” ( 25 years younger), put the kids first ( what about when I was at his bedside through 3 life threatening illnesses and have hardly any recollection what I did with the kids at that time – I had to arrange for them to be with relatives, so I could be with him 24/7), was not frugal enough ( but was earning a lot, and bought clothes ( not excessively) to look nice for him), and worst of all, I was a bad Mother ( but ….didn’t he also say that I put the kids first?). These words still stick to me like glue. I am really struggling to realise that after nearly 40 years of marriage, he thought so little of me, and was able to lay all the blame at my feet. It is devastating. I am striving to rebuild faith in myself.
    Lisa’s blogs have carried me through.

    1. That part where he contradicted himself and claimed you were a bad mom and also were accused of putting the kids first- that right there is your reality anchor that tells you how his words are not based in fact. Use that to remind yourself as needed that he was trying to put the blame on you in order to excuse his actions. Also, consider that maybe it’s less that he thought so little of you and maybe a little more that he can’t stand to look at himself.

      One thing I did in the aftermath was gather up all the cards/emails/etc where people said nice – and true- things about me and kept them close. It helped remind me that I wasn’t who he claimed I was.


  2. Oh my goodness! All of those phrases from the “playbook” are all of the ones I heard too! I can still hear those words echoing in my head, I can still feel that reaction I had in my stomach, I can still see him sitting so calmly as he said them. It’s been hard not to let those things affect me and how I see myself.

  3. Wow this is so correct. So many of the excuses my wife gave me, trying to make me feel like I was the problem, like I was the one who led her to crossing our marital boundaries. Sure I admit I was never perfect, but I seriously tried to be the best husband I could be even when going through so many horrible circumstances (losing a couple of jobs over a 2-year span that really struck me to my core as a provider for my family).

    So what does my wife do? Instead of having my back and helping me when I’m down, she goes off and has her little 2-year “fantasy” emotional affair with the married youth pastor at our church that she worked with (all while my two high school-aged kids were right there, too). She made the choice to break our covenant vows. She made the choice to quit loving me. SHE made the CHOICE!

    Once again, I know I’m not the perfect man in any way, shape or form, but I would never screw my wife over the way she stabbed me in the back. I’m still fighting what I feel is a dying battle four years after exposing the affair. We spent 2-plus years in individual and marital counseling and it seems like it was all wasted money as she still remains cold and disconnected.

    Why do I even keep fighting for someone who have no faith will ever cherish, love and pursue me? Trying to hold out thinking that God can heal what once seemed like a good marriage. For the sake of my three children (including one who is still at home and in high school), I want so badly for our legacy to be more than just a dead relationship. I pray for a restorative, healthy and vibrant marriage.

    But, as the months and years go by, am I just blowing smoke up my ass? Will I ever be happy and be able to really trust and forgive a woman, who for some crazy reason I still love, who has absolutely zero desire to make things right between us? Will she cheat on me again and destroy what is left of my heart that has been shattered into a million pieces and that she stomps all over daily? I just don’t know.

Leave a ReplyCancel reply