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 22: The Show Must Go On
“Where secrecy or mystery begins, vice or roguery is not far off.”
— Samuel Johnson
Keeping my life all but invisible and inconsequential to Paul was not the only pillar upon which the “success” of my marriage (i.e., lack of tension) depended. Another pillar was accepting living in an information void. Secrecy is symptomatic of sociopaths. They use it to cover things up—gambling, other women, and various self-indulgent pastimes of which the average spouse might not approve. Perhaps they also tend toward secrecy because it makes them feel powerful to withhold information—to know something to which no one else is privy. No matter the reason, I learned to live with only scraps of information about where my husband was on any given day or night.
Whether because I was almost forty when I had Daniel, our second child, or for some other reason, my second pregnancy was complicated. Daniel was to be delivered by planned C-section. Unless Daniel decided to come into the world exceptionally early, Paul and I knew our son’s birthday in advance. Yet, with the C-section just days away, I did not know where Paul was, only that he was out of town traveling on business somewhere in the US. Emotionally, I felt minimized and abandoned. Rationally, I told myself it was no big deal. If Paul was out of town and there was a crisis, how useful could he be to Jessica and me until he returned anyway? I was just being foolish and needy to want more information. It would be okay, especially because my mother had come to help.
I loved having my mother at the house, because it was such a rare event. We spent a few days shopping for Daniel and Jessica and stocking the house with food. We wanted to make sure Jessica would feel like an important big sister, not a displaced sibling. My mom had not been at my wedding to Paul, and she had not been there for Jessica’s birth, due to my father being ill. Also, because Paul disliked my brother, I never saw her at Thanksgiving anymore. As a result, I was overjoyed to be spending rare mother-daughter time with her at such a special moment in my life.
The day before the C-section, everything seemed to be going as planned. Paul arrived home well after I had put Jessica to bed, and I was tired and fighting sleep. I tried to stay awake, but with my eyes heavy, I said goodnight to my mom and Paul and went upstairs to bed.
A few minutes later, Paul joined me in the bedroom. As he closed the door behind him, it seemed to shut with a particularly loud thud.
“Are you going to explain this?” he snapped.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, truly shocked by Paul’s anger and clueless as to the cause.
“You’re excluding me from everything! You aren’t paying any attention to me. You’re making me feel like a stranger in my own house!”
“You heard me,” Paul said, simmering with anger.
“I’m about to have a C-section tomorrow. I’m exhausted. I don’t understand!” My pulse quickened, and my mouth went dry.
Paul left the room, closing the door hard but just short of slamming it so as not to alert my mother. I heard his footsteps go down the stairs, and then the TV turned on.
I burst into tears. Like a child reprimanded by her father for something she did not do, I wanted to run to my mother for support, to feel the warmth of her arms around me and hear her soft voice telling me it would be okay. But I was an adult, almost forty years old. I didn’t want my mother to worry about me, and I was ashamed to be in a situation where on the eve of giving birth to my second child, the man I married would treat me so poorly. And why?
What had just happened? What had I done? Had I really pushed Paul away? He had been working around the clock, like usual. He had not taken any time off to get things ready for the baby. That was his choice. I wished he had. But asking Paul to focus on me and “us” never went particularly well, so, as usual, I had gone about doing all the preparation for our second child myself, with a little last-minute assistance from my mother. He was the one who had chosen to be so remote. Why was he angry with me?
Sleep that night was elusive; the interaction with Paul kept replaying in my mind. When Paul came to bed hours later, I pretended to be asleep. I did not want to talk to him. I remained as still as I could, curled up in a near fetal position, positioned as far from Paul’s side of the bed as possible without falling off the edge. I did not want him to touch me, even by accident. At such a precious and precarious time in my life, on the eve our second child’s birth, he was being a selfish ass.
The next morning, exhausted, deflated, and profoundly hurt by Paul’s verbal attack the night before, I got Jessica ready, and my mom and I drove her to her half-day preschool. On the morning of my second child’s birth, I should have been feeling a mixture of joy and tension. Instead, I felt frightened, unnerved, and was battling back despair. When Paul finally awoke, I hugged him and told him I loved him but that I was unsettled by our interaction the night before. I was certain he would shake off the insanity of the previous evening and focus on making sure I was feeling positive for the big day ahead, hug me, and say he was sorry. He didn’t. Sociopaths are never sorry. They have no remorse, and they are never wrong. If they are angry, it is always someone else’s fault.
It did not matter that I was going to have a C-section that morning. Paul’s needs had not been met the night before. As a result, Paul felt abandoned, overlooked, minimized, hurt, and not in control.
Many of us have been taught that for someone like Paul to have feelings like this, he might have been treated poorly as a child. Perhaps his mother or father did not give him the love and attention he needed, and this resulted in oversensitivity or a feeling of emptiness. If this were the case, than perhaps, insight, understanding, and love would help make Paul feel whole again.
Having studied psychology as an undergraduate, I certainly thought this was plausible—that love and understanding were likely antidotes to Paul’s “moments of weirdness” (i.e., self-absorbed nastiness). From what I knew about Paul’s childhood, Ruth had children so close in age that at one point she had three children under the age of four. Perhaps, as the oldest, Paul felt increasingly displaced and craved the attention he wanted but could not get from his overwhelmed mother and inconsistent, alcoholic father.
Such potential explanations actually distracted me from the truth, made me believe change was possible when it wasn’t, and kept me in a toxic relationship far longer than if I had known to consider that Paul might be a sociopath. Wondering if someone involved in a difficult relationship might be a sociopath is a question we should all know to ask, because even though they comprise just one to four percent of the population, by their very nature, sociopaths must be even more common in high-conflict relationships. Sociopaths can come from loving parents or abusive parents, intact homes or broken homes, rich parents or poor parents. Sociopaths are simply hardwired differently, with studies indicating that a significant amount of their nature is genetically determined.
If I am right and Paul is a sociopath, no elaborate explanation is required to account for his behavior. It just comes down to sociopath math. In Paul’s world, Paul is the only one who matters—ever. If his needs are not being met, that is unacceptable, and someone else is to blame. Seeing as he truly cared for no one other than himself (including Jessica, me, and our unborn child), it was of absolutely no concern to him that his behavior might upset me at such a critical time. Should he have been concerned that I would tell someone about his acerbic behavior? Of course not. He would just deny it, and seriously, who would believe me?
My mother stayed behind to pick up Jessica from preschool and bring her to the hospital to see her new brother and me. As Paul drove me to the hospital, my despair was unshakable. I fought back tears. It was another moment of clarity. No matter what Paul was feeling in this situation, wasn’t my physical and emotional health—as well as that of our unborn child—paramount? Paul had not taken any time off from work until the day of the C-section. If he had wanted to be involved in any of the shopping or preparation, all he had to do was ask. How selfish and contrived to say now that I had pushed him aside, that I had been ignoring him, that I had kept him from being involved.
Paul did not talk to me in the car, but his body communicated his contempt—eyes straight ahead, jaw and shoulders tight. When we arrived at the hospital, I struggled to speak during the admittance process, and my voice cracked continually. My eyes pooled with water, releasing an occasional droplet down my cheek. As I wiped each tear away, I apologized to the admitting nurse.
“She’s just tense and worried about the C-section,” Paul explained with a tender tone to his voice and a charming, relaxed smile. He put his arm around me and drew me close. “You’ll take great care of her, right?”
“Aren’t you lucky to have such a great husband,” a nurse said. “He’s a keeper.”
I felt sick.
This quick change in persona from monster to nice guy (or nice guy to monster), and the failure to acknowledge it subsequently, is characteristic of sociopaths. The monster was the real Paul, who was now evident more and more, but only when there was no adult audience other than me. Even though the evidence of Paul’s true self was mounting, I still had no idea to what I should attribute his behavior. I still had no idea that the “nice Paul” was, in fact, fake. As in the hospital, sociopath Paul was rarely visible to anyone but me. His public persona was saint-like. This meant I was all alone in my observations.
Since no one else seemed to witness this callous behavior, it made me doubt myself. Maybe it was just me. Maybe I was losing it. Maybe Paul was right that I was selfish, controlling, and overly sensitive. If that were true, shouldn’t I try to change? Shouldn’t I feel lucky to have a Prince Charming in my life who cared about me in spite of my considerable failings? If I was really as flawed as Paul thought, would anyone else ever love me? If not, shouldn’t I do everything possible to hold on to my marriage with Paul?
If I told my mother or a friend what had transpired the night before, would they have said, “I bet Paul’s a sociopath, that your marriage is a fraud, and that you should end it now before it gets worse and ends badly”? Probably not. Even a friend or my mother would find my reports of Paul’s behavior so incredulous that it would be easier to assume I was simply overly emotional on the eve of a C-section, that I had blown some interaction out of proportion, or that it was just a misunderstanding. Such exchanges with Paul left me more and more emotionally raw, “off,” and overly sensitive, so this conclusion that “it was me” would probably have seemed more reasonable than the possibility that, without provocation, my husband had acted so callously on the eve of our son’s birth.
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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.