After Unwittingly Falling In Love With A Sociopath: Feeling “Off,” Subtle Anxiety, And A Sense of Unease

Husband Liar Sociopath

By O.N. Ward

Every week, a chapter of my book, “Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned” (available via, 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 13: Knowing, Without Knowing We Know

A chronic, subtle sense of unease, anxiety, and feeling that something is “off” are classic symptoms of being in a relationship with a sociopath. These feelings became my constant companions.

The Iowa Gambling Task is a classic study designed by neuroscientists at the University of Iowa and discussed at length in a book by Antonio Damasio, one of the researchers. It demonstrates how we can sense that something is wrong and feel anxious without understanding what is making us feel that way.

In their study, subjects were given four decks of cards, play money, and instructions to draw cards from any of the four decks until they were told to stop. Each card in the deck triggered a payout or a loss of varying amounts. The decks were rigged so that two of the decks had positive expected payouts while the other two were downright punitive and would result in large losses for the participant. Players’ anxiety and tension were measured via the electrical conductance of their skin, the same technique used in many lie-detector tests.

At first, a player’s choice of decks appeared random. But soon, players experienced tension and anxiety while reaching for the decks with negative expected payouts. Players also started avoiding these decks long before they had a logical explanation for their choices. One of the things this experiment shows is that our anxiety and tension can signal that something is legitimately wrong long before we realize it consciously or can offer some sort of explanation.

What do the results of this card experiment have to do with living with a sociopath? A relationship with a sociopath is just like thinking you are drawing cards from a fair deck when, in fact, you are drawing cards from a deck that is stacked against you. You will feel anxious and on edge. Although participants in psychology experiments are debriefed so they understand what has actually transpired, in real life there is no guarantee that you will ever understand the root cause of your negative feelings. Without understanding the root cause, you may never remove yourself from the person or situation triggering the feelings, hence feeling anxious and on edge become chronic.

Let me elaborate on this finding by conducting a simple thought experiment. Imagine the tension in the study’s participants if they had been required to keep choosing from the punitive deck, not all the time but as frequently as they did from the nonpunitive decks. Their anxiety and tension would have persisted and likely escalated. Imagine now that, due to heightened tension and anxiety, a player asks to avoid these decks. When the experimenter asks why, the player explains that certain decks seem associated with big losses.

Imagine if the experimenter appears to listen with great empathy and compassion (as a sociopath would) but then explains that the decks have been balanced carefully. If the player perceives differences, it is just a matter of being unlucky early on in the study or that she is one of those people who is overly sensitive to negative feedback. In fact, the experimenter was just like her; he had a similar impression when he went through the experiment himself, but almost no other player has made that comment. Further, it is important to the study for her to continue, and the lead experimenter will not pay her for doing the study unless she completes it—although the assistant experimenter would be happy to help her out if he could.

In light of the information that there is no valid reason to be upset, and with her ego on the line to prove she is not “overly sensitive,” the player persists. Several outcomes, none of them good, are now likely. Her anxiety and tension will persist and build as she is required to take actions she senses, accurately, are contrary to her interests. As her anxiety mounts, maybe she will stop the experiment again and reiterate that she is sure two of the decks are minefields and ask permission to avoid them. To reassure her that the decks are, in fact, balanced, the assistant will offer (although he suggests he might get in trouble for it) to take the decks aside and check them. Maybe they got scrambled. She waits. He returns, assuring her that the decks are even. Again, maybe it is just randomness that made some decks appear more or less favorable than others.

Alternatively, maybe, as the assistant suggested earlier, she is just overly sensitive to negative feedback. In fact, another experimenter is looking for people who consider themselves exceptionally sensitive and tend to “over react.” Maybe she would like to sign up for this study as well. Not wanting to appear unusually weak or overly sensitive, she persists with the experiment in spite of mounting anxiety every time her hand reaches for the two punitive decks.

In this scenario, her body is in constant “fight or flight” mode, because she is in a negative situation. But since someone she trusts, someone who seems to show considerable empathy for her, is telling her she is misreading the situation, she does not leave. By the experimenter discounting the player’s perceptions and reasoning, not only does she experience ongoing anxiety, she has less confidence in her ability to perceive and assess the friendliness or hostility of her environment. Her self-confidence and self-esteem take a hit. Her hard-wired fight or flight mechanism, crafted over millions of years of evolution to signal danger, is dampened.

If this is truly just an experiment that takes a half-hour of her day, no long-term damage is likely. But living with a sociopath is like being stuck in a rigged experiment that never ends. Being in fight or flight mode is great if you are trying to outrun a nasty dog. Living in fight or flight mode constantly is profoundly unhealthy—both physically and emotionally. In addition, having someone you trust continually contradict your perceptions and undermine your decisions is intellectually and emotionally corrosive.

Other potential outcomes to this thought experiment exist. Choosing not to experience constant anxiety and having all of her efforts to understand what is going on fail, our player might continue to go through the motions but give up emotionally as she realizes she can do nothing to control a situation she perceives as negative. This possibility sounds a lot like “learned helplessness,” a term introduced by psychologists Steven F. Maier and Martin Seligman. Learned helplessness is linked strongly with depression. To avoid expending energy in an unwinnable situation, it might be best to just resign oneself to one’s unpleasant fate—to give up, to not care, to disconnect. The problem is that once a person learns that it is futile to try, this behavior is not easily unlearned. As a result, the person does not attempt to exert effort to advance his or her interests in future situations, even when the situation is different and new efforts are likely to yield positive results.

Being in an environment for an extended time in which the connection between effort and results is severed can change a person, leaving him or her chronically depressed. Is it any wonder that more than ninety percent of women involved in long-term relationships with sociopaths become depressed or anxious?

Start from the beginning:

Chapter 1

Go to previous chapter:

Chapter 12

Go to next chapter:

Chapter 14


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

Posted in: Uncategorized

Comment on this article

127 Comments on "After Unwittingly Falling In Love With A Sociopath: Feeling “Off,” Subtle Anxiety, And A Sense of Unease"

Notify of

Yep I read about word salad in a article yesterday my counselor gave me. Something else I have noticed is everyone of us if we spell something wrong we have to correct it! As if everyone is not gonna know what we meant. I do not know about you all ,but I did not use to do it. I knit pick myself now frantically! Because if everything was not said perfectly right It was world war three! (Sometimes) but I never knew when it would be so I made it habit. Still got knit picked all to hell but I gave it my best!

My ex did this to me so I know exactly what you endured. His abuse was… if he could show that even one word was incorrect, then everything I said was invalidated. To be constantly invalidated is emotionally VERY painful, esp when it comes from someone close to us. So I ended up trying SO hard to be PERFECT and of course, the stress of it made perfection impossible. What followed was the blame, that it was MY fault, that he HAD to do harmful things to me b/c “i MADE him” since I was the one who was incorrect. I failed to have a meal ready so he HAD to go find his own meal (at some woman’s house, there were so many I didn’t know which one)… that he didn’t WANT to be unfaithful but by being incorrect he was forced to… by ME.

The pain of such logic ripped me apart. I went into a deep depression b/c all my actions were used to justify the harm done to me and I was helpless to STOP it, in fact, as it was pointed out to me, I was the one doing it to myself. He was just complying with what I made him do… and I was expected to submit since it was my fault.

It took a while for me to figure out the catch 22 he bound me up into. I did not have LOVEFRAUD or advice. I was alone. And I didn’t know about sociopaths. The opposite. I thought he could NOT be a sociopath b/c everyone liked him and NO ONE liked me. People HATED me. (I didn’t know then about how sociopaths smear their victims).

This LOVEFRAUD site was a GODSEND for me. I didn’t find it in time to avoid damage but I did find it in time to HEAL from what was done to me. You are far, far further and I am so Happy for you. This is a great resource, and now there are others that sprang from this example as others have learned that the abuse was NOT THEM, it was a Sociopath doing the abuse TO THEM.

yes I blamed myself for everything to NotWhatHeSaidOfMe I too got the famous you are doing it all to yourself. I too was forced to just except how he treated me, under the catch 22 he created where I was the reason he acted that way. the fact of the matter is this everything he did to me is textbook It is all the same! like AnnetePK said after you see it and see how their minds work it’s so simple everything was done for one of two reasons. to control or to destroy. Really in my opinion it was all to destroy they just needed the control to get that job done the goal was and always will be destroy as many as possible.I am beyond amazed, saddened, and totally pissed off that anyone would do such a thing to another human being purposely. I refuse to let him destroy me. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me including put my mind back together. though one of the Devils minions dismantled it! I will only be lost for a little while then I will be me again only smarter,stronger, and even more compassionate!! hugs to you stay strong doll!!

I could not agree more IHateHim yes he gave hints ,but only after he tried to make me think he was the most sentimental and careing person on this earth. To hook me!!
I too am glad I can read that people feel just like me and I am as normal as I thought! He kept telling me I was not normal I would say there is nothing wrong with me. You and your psycobable is not normal. No one understands you! He’d scream and say I don’t care about what everybody else says. You never listen to me and I am the one that is right they are all wrong!
It’s all so obsurd how I knew how wrong he was yet he still got to me, poisoned me, and even how I act and react, what I believed about myself ect. I think the reason is that even though I knew he was talking crazy I thought me knowing that was enough. I did not know it was slowing methodically getting to me.

Exactly – “only after he tried to make me think he was the most sentimental and caring person on this earth” – I couldn’t agree more! They mirror us at the beginning and pretend that they care like we care; they pretend that they have empathy like we do. UGH. It totally sounds like he was projecting his characteristics onto you. And I know what you mean – they definitely methodically get at us. They very insidiously and subtling tear and wear us down.

Thank you so much NotWhatHeSaidOfMe I don’t feel like I am doing so well but you seeing it means something!😊 I am gaining a lot of insight from this forum I know that! Reading books mostly suggested by ya’ll and my therapist. I am a song writer and a singer country music and some rock is all I really lend myself to here is a song I wrote about this abuse I actually have two that was about the abuse and I wrote them before I knew what he was and what he was doing.
This is one it is entitled “the mess he left of me” the lyrics are copywrote how ever it has not been composed yet!
Hope ya’ll like it!

Your out smooth talking some new victim tonight.
Making her believe everything is perfectly right
being fooled by the best. You’ll ruin her for the rest.
You’ll twist her mind walk away and leave her a mess.
I know cuz I’m cleaning up the mess you left of me

I’m cleaning up the mess you left of me
The price I pay for believing in you foolishly
my heart is broke to the point pain is all I see
With no help from you I’m cleaning up the mess you left of me.

I didn’t even know a man could be so mean and cruel.
You gave me the best then went and changed the rules.
You changed who I am stripped me of all my pride.
I can’t get it back no matter how many tears I’ve cried.
I’m all alone cleaning up the mess you’ve left of me.

I’m cleaning up the mess you left of me
The price I pay for believing in you foolishly
my heart is broke to the point pain is all I see
With no help from you I’m cleaning up the mess you left of me.

I pray you never put someone through that kind of pain again
I pray no one ever plays your game there’s no chance the’ll win

I’m cleaning up the mess you left of me
The price I pay for believing in you foolishly
my heart is broke to the point pain is all I see
With no help from you I’m cleaning up the mess you left of me.

That’s my escape!! That and Jesus and yes I have said get behind thee Satan many times (I actually said it to his face the one and only time he tarted to put his hands on me) He got furious and the thing is I don’t even know where it came from just came out! you can call his Demons out by name too! Demons of racing thoughts, Demons of deppression, ect ect any emotion you do not want to have is one of his Demons!!
Thank you for everything all of you!

I agree AnnettePK mine definatly makes clear choices can’t stand people taking the high road and he has nothing but violence and porn on the brain!! Enjoys it!! That being said these patterns are not gonna change at age 49 so he can hang it up he is who he is and he will pay the consequences if there are any for people like that!!

Send this to a friend