Overcompensation

I know I was shocked when I first heard the news.

I’ll bet you were too.

We trusted him. We respected him.

We felt like we knew him.

And then when the stories about his impropriety began to surface, we started to question.

Not only his authenticity, but also our own judgment.

Like so many that lead lives of misconduct, Bill Cosby hid behind an illusion of perfection. He played the father we all wished we had, and his off-screen demeanor paralleled his on screen performance. He always seemed kind. And patient. Making us laugh and making us learn.

And also making us look away from his behavior behind the scenes.

Causing those that heard of his behavior to question the veracity of the claims.

And perhaps even making those subject to his offenses question their own memories.

Because in so many ways, he was so good.

Too good to be true.

I never realized that my ex was also too good to be true in many ways.  I thought I was lucky to have a husband that I got along with so well that we never seemed to have areas of friction. I felt blessed that he was so patient with me and would strive to temper any anxiety I felt. I was in awe of his ability to solve any problem and I delighted at the fact that he always had an answer.

I trusted him. I respected him.

I felt like we knew him.

And then when the stories about his impropriety began to surface, I started to question.

Not only his authenticity, but also my own judgment.

And all too often, that’s how it is. Sometimes the wolves walk among us unshielded. But much of the time, the wolves are dressed in the finest wool, revered as the ideal lamb.

And who suspects a lamb?

Watch out for those who overcompensate. Those who seem too good to be true. Be wary when tensions never rise and irritation rarely shows. Be cautious around people who never sweat and never seem fazed.

Because all of us are a blend of both wolf and sheep.

And those who pretend otherwise are hiding something.

Related: Covert Abuse

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Covert Abuse

I’ve never thought of my ex as abusive.

Then readers tell me they recognize their (very much abusive) spouses in my descriptions of my ex.

And I wonder.

I read a story in the paper about a domestic murder in the county where my ex and I lived and I always half expect to see his name.

And I wonder.

Then I discover that security procedures were altered at my old school during my divorce.

And I wonder.

He certainly was never overtly abusive. There were no strikes or shoves and never any threat of physical harm. He never belittled or yelled or uttered lines designed to wound. I was not discouraged from seeing friends or enjoying excursions without him. He didn’t exhibit excess jealousy and always demonstrated respect. He was the same man in public with me as he was behind closed doors – attentive, affectionate, loving. I never feared him while we were together.

So then why was I afraid for my life when he left?

I inquired about a restraining order, but since there was no history of abuse and no threats of physical harm, I was denied. However, the police were concerned enough that they performed drive-bys at the house where I was living as well as the house where he was staying. The chief of police told me I was lucky; he related that many cases of marital fraud he encountered resulted in a murder/suicide.

I couldn’t imagine the man that had always touched me so lovingly intending to harm me. But then again, I couldn’t have imagined the rest of it either.

I didn’t know the man I was married to.

Was he abusive?

Domestic abuse, also known as spousal abuse, occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. From HelpGuide

When I read descriptions like that, it seems clear. He certainly was controlling me through his deceptions.

But then I see this:

Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over you. An abuser doesn’t “play fair.” Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under his or her thumb. Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you. From HelpGuide

Control? Check.

Doesn’t “play fair”? Check.

Fear, guilt, shame and intimidation? No.

At least not until he left.

And that’s when I realized I was terrified of him.

I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that he was abusive. Not overtly, but undercover. His was a clandestine abuse, hidden even to me until the covers were ripped back when he left, revealing the buried machinations.

His abuse was financial, embezzling from the marital funds while covering his tracks with ever-shifting balances, hidden credit cards and fabricated stories.

His abuse took the form of gaslighting, altering my reality to match his goals. He took it a step further by assassinating my character through lies told behind my back to those around us.

His abuse didn’t use whips; it used a gentle leader of manipulation. Velvet trimmed lies whispered into trusting ears. No need to threaten when I easily followed along.

His abuse gained in cruelty when he abruptly abandoned me with no money and no explanation, refusing all contact. Protector turned persecutor.

During the divorce, he upped the ante, painting me as the controlling one. Falling right in line with the favored “You made me do it” excuse of the textbook abuser.

He never hit. He never yelled. He never isolated.

But behind the scenes, he was pulling the strings I didn’t even know existed.

Virtual Reality

He noticed her as soon as her entered. An older woman, well dressed, standing at the counter watching the gemologist examine a rather large stone under magnification.

As my husband completed his transaction, paying for the new battery and taking possession of his watch, he couldn’t help but overhear the exchange between the woman and the expert.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I don’t know how else to tell you. The stone isn’t real.”

“The bastard!, she exclaimed,”The other one wasn’t real either.”

Through the remaining conversation, my husband was able to glean that the woman had recently been divorced and the jewelry was awarded to her in the proceedings with an assumption as to its value. Only now she was learning that part (or maybe even all) of what she thought she had to her name was worthless. And a lie.

Perhaps she was spoiled, and looking for more than her substantial settlement, but my husband read her as more panicky than pampered.

When Brock recounted this story to me, my first thought was to the duration of the deception. Did her ex husband gift her that jewelry twenty years ago with false stones in place from the beginning? Or, as I was afraid my ex may have done, were the real stones replaced at some point with lookalikes so that the husband could surreptitiously withdraw from the marital funds?

My heart ached for the woman. Not only does it hurt terribly to discover you’ve been living in a virtual reality, it is disorienting beyond belief once those goggles come off and you have to decide what is real. And what is illusion.

The mystery of the woman and the ring mirror the one question about my first marriage that still haunts me – did I marry a false man or did I marry a real man who was replaced at some point with a counterfeit? 

That’s one mystery that will never be solved. All I know is what he was at the end was certainly no diamond, despite how he acted.

And when I went to sell my ring at the conclusion of the divorce, my stone was still real. I guess he wasn’t clever enough to squeeze that stone for cash. Thank goodness for small blessings:)

What Happens To the Ones Who Leave?

What happens to the ones who leave?

The ones who lie and deceive and then walk out the door into their next chapter without so much as a glance behind.

Do they feel pain? Guilt? Remorse?

Are they happy with their decisions and in their new lives?

Or do they regret the choices that ended their marriages?

For many of us, we will never know. Even if you still have contact with your ex (or keep tabs on his or her whereabouts), the life they put on display for the world may well be a front. And even if they do come back, crying about how upset they are, do you believe the tears? Or are they of the crocodile variety?

It’s common to wonder how your ex is doing. After all, they were once your partner in life, and how they felt directly impacted you. And now that they’re gone, your mind still seeks that information. Perhaps your mind even seeks retribution, wanting to see them face the consequences of their choices.

For a long time (longer than I like to admit), I needed my ex to be in pain. It was almost as though I saw it as some sort of tug-of-war with only a limited amount of happiness to share between us. And so I had to pull his away to ensure that there was enough for me.

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But that’s not really how it works, is it? It’s not as though his okay and my okay were mutually exclusive. I could be okay on my own regardless of how he was feeling.

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So why do we have such a strong drive to see those that hurt us be hurt in kind? Does it mean that we’re somehow malevolent if we harbor feelings of vengeance and pray for karma to hurry up and do her job?

I don’t believe so. In fact, I see these feelings of revenge as coming from a basic human need.

The need to be understood.

Intimate betrayal and deception is one of the most acute pains that one can be subjected to. It’s a deliberate act, carried out by the one you trust the most, that leaves residual tenderness for a lifetime.

And we desperately want someone, anyone, but especially the one responsible, to understand the depths and quality of that pain. We want them to feel it so that we can be understood and, in turn that they can know what devastation their actions have caused.

In even the most mundane of circumstances, it is beyond frustrating and isolating to not be understood. In fact, I’m feeling this way now after a day of attempting to teach math and interact with my colleagues with absolutely no voice. All day, I wrote commands on the board and tried to pantomime how to find the slope of a line only to be greeted with puzzled expressions. I would spot behavior across the room and be unable to do anything about it until I finished with the current student and navigated through the maze of desks. All I wanted was to be able to get my points across.

To be understood.

But not being able to talk for a day or two in a middle school is nothing compared to not being understood by the spouse that caused those feelings in the first place.

That goes way beyond frustrating and isolating.

In fact, for me it went into rage.

I was angry for a long time. And that anger feeds upon itself. I not only felt an immense need to be understood, I also wanted him to face punishment for his actions (it seemed only fair) and I wanted find some pleasure in knowing that I was doing better than him. Petty? Yeah. None of this was pretty.

I didn’t care where he was or what he was doing. I just wanted him to hurt. To feel guilty. Maybe even a little remorseful.

And it was my now-husband who made it clear to me that I had to learn to let the anger go. That it wasn’t hurting my ex, it was hurting me and, in turn, my new relationship. Releasing that anger was a process. I had to enlist some mental choreography to shape conclusions that let me find peace. It was a process. A slow process.

I have an advantage in this over many of you; I don’t have children. And I can’t even imagine what it feels like to see your ex hurting your child. It’s one thing to let go when you were the one who was hurt. It’s quite another when it’s your child. In fact, I see this with my mother, who can still be brought to tears when talking about my past even when I’m smiling because of my present. For you parents, all I can say is do everything you can to teach your kids to be resilient while taking care of yourself. Practice modeling for them what you want for them. And be willing to learn from them; kids often have wisdom that we overlook.

For the most part, I’m past the anger now. In fact, at this point, I want him to be okay. Partly for him, because regardless of everything else, this was a man I loved deeply for many years. Partly for me, because I feel better knowing that I’m not putting any more bad energy out into the world. But mainly for the others that will cross his path. I want him to be okay so that others will be okay. When I saw him and (I think) the other wife hand-in-hand at a festival a couple years ago, I really did hope they were happy. Goodness knows, I was happy I wasn’t the one holding his hand.

But want I want has nothing to do with reality. If he is a narcissist or sociopath, he is incapable of feeling guilt or remorse and most likely will never change. If he has compartmentalized his actions and his past to the point where he no longer remembers the truth, he will not feel pain but may continue to inflict it upon others. If he has spent so long living in a house of lies that he can no longer find the door, he will remain forever trapped.

Even though I no longer harbor a secret desire to fill his car with fire ants, I don’t really worry about how he’s doing. Because I trust that if he has been able to feel the pain from his choices, he will change how he responds in the world. And if he has not felt the anguish, then the negativity he spreads will come right back to him.

And as for me? I no longer have a need to feel understood by him. I think if he was able to understand how it felt, he wouldn’t have done it in the first place. I no longer care to see him punished; I put my faith in karma. And I no longer need to feel superior that I’m doing better than him because my okay is now completely and totally independent of him.

Besides, I’m just happy to be happy.

And I’ll be even happier when I have my voice back:)

When Would You Want to Know?

Brock and I have been talking a lot about marriage lately – our own, others and just marriages in general. Last night, on the drive home from the last holiday party of the season, he asked, “If your ex had come to you and admitted he screwed up, would you have wanted to stay and work on the marriage?”

“It depends,” was my initial response. “If he came to me towards the end, after years of lies and betrayal, it would have been too late.”

“Yeah,” Brock uttered in agreement.

“But if he had come to me early on, before it went on too long, then I would have tried to make it work.”

“Makes sense. I know I would do anything I could to save our marriage if there was a problem.”

And I believe he would; he’s not the type to try to hide from a problem.

But then the conversation took a different turn, discussing what happens when a spouse screws up once. We both agreed that in that case, we would not want to know as long as the offending party accepted responsibility, addressed the underlying issues that led to the infidelity and ensured it never happened again.

In other words, if the spouse made a mistake in judgment rather than possessed an error in character, we wouldn’t want to know about the situation as long as it could be remedied and a repeat avoided.

I feel weird even writing those words. After all, the secrecy and lies are what ultimately tore apart my first marriage. And the thought of my spouse withholding such sensitive information causes me some distress.

But knowing it wouldn’t be any better.

These mind exercises are challenging for me. I’m one of those people absolutely built for monogamy. Hell, I even turned my cheek the first time Brock tried to kiss me because there was another man in the picture. When I am in a relationship, I develop a sort of tunnel vision where I don’t even recognize other men as potential partners and, if I ever feel an attraction to somebody, I make sure that I am never in a situation that could lead to making a bad decision.

So I struggle to even imagine how someone who has overall good character can make a mistake that leads to infidelity. But I know it happens. Even good people can make bad decisions.

It’s what you do after that defines you.

It was a strange conversation to have with my husband, essentially laying out a roadmap of what to do in case of infidelity:

1) Set yourself up to be successful; avoid potentially dangerous situations.

2) If you screw up, take responsibility and fix it (STD testing, counseling, etc.).

3) Don’t reveal to simply alleviate guilt. And never, ever shift the blame to your partner.

4) If you need help, get it.

It felt odd to talk openly about these worst-case situations, especially because in my first marriage, any talk of infidelity was simply, “Don’t do it.” (And we see how well that turned out!) But we’re all human and humans can make mistakes.

It’s what you do after that matters.

That doesn’t change the fact that I desperately hope this remains nothing but a thought exercise!

How about you? Are there situations where you would rather not know?

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