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 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 20: What Double Standard?
Blinding me even further to how emotionally vacant my relationship with Paul was becoming was the joy and exhaustion of motherhood. It was beyond anything I had ever experienced, anticipated, or imagined. My love for Jessica was so profound and deep, as if I had discovered a hidden, untapped well of joy inside me. Once Jessica was born, I knew I could not return to work full-time.
My unexpected shift in priorities wasn’t the only thing that nixed the possibility of returning to my firm. A new career opportunity for Paul added to the mix. Within two weeks of Jessica joining our family, Paul’s firm asked him to open an office in New York City. It was a huge compliment and reflected the high esteem in which the partners held Paul. His senior partner and mentor would be the lead partner in the office, and Paul would be his right-hand man. I resigned and became a full-time mom and logistics coordinator for our move back East.
The New York metropolitan area is exorbitantly expensive, so we bought a small house in a suburb that allowed Paul to commute into the city. He continued to work around the clock, often staying in the city overnight to establish the new office or travel to service his out-of-town clients. I did not mind. In fact, we got along better when Paul was away, because the white space in our relationship was less apparent when he was not there. When he was away, we spoke on the phone each evening. I updated him on Jessica and other issues. He rarely talked about work, other than telling me about his long hours, demanding senior partner, and how little sleep he was getting.
It was a happy time for me. Not only did I have Jessica and the excitement and fulfillment of watching my child grow and blossom, I found Renee, a wonderful woman to care for Jessica a few days a week. I used this time to launch a small advertising and public relations consulting service. It was perfect. I could work at 9:00 a.m. while Jessica was with Renee or at 9:00 p.m. after putting Jessica to bed.
With Paul rarely home, my odd working hours had almost no impact on our marriage. I booked between twenty and thirty hours a week, and because Jessica was asleep during at least half that time, it allowed me to be an almost full-time mom to her. Becoming close friends with several moms in the neighborhood who had children Jessica’s age came easily. My family was now only about a five-hour drive away, and Paul’s mom was only two hours away. While in Minneapolis, I had been running on fumes. Now I had a full tank of gas and was out cruising in a red convertible on a perpetually brilliant sunny day. Life was good. I felt lucky, successful, fulfilled, and even joyous at times.
Paul rarely informed me of his travel plans for work—just what day he’d be leaving, what day he’d be returning, and about what time. Business trip after business trip, he neglected to give me any specific information. He had a cell phone now. Why did I want to know what plane he was on or what city he was visiting or the hotel at which he would be staying? If I needed to get in touch with him for any reason, I could just call his cell and leave a message. He’d get back in touch with me when he could.
I trusted Paul. I certainly did not want to appear overbearing or controlling, as he accused me so often of being when I asked for specifics. I wanted to be a great wife who understood and supported the career demands of her superstar husband. Why should I care about what flight he was on or where he was staying as long as he came home safely? A colleague of his joked that he had never known any husband who was given such a “long leash.” This comment was a welcome reminder that I was not a controlling person. Yet, if my behavior suggested to others that, in fact, I was the opposite of controlling, why did Paul consistently accuse me of being controlling? I had no answers. It was just another nagging data point that refused to fit within my current framework. I would have to wait over a decade for a “light bulb moment” of resolution.
One night, I was expecting Paul home from a three-day business trip. At about 10 p.m., I was seconds from being finished with my work when I heard the door open.
“You’re home!” I called from my home office so Paul could hear me. “I’m just finishing up. I’ll be right there.”
Paul did not respond or pop into my office. Instead, I heard the television go on. I finished the last sentence I was writing, saved the file, and powered off my computer. No more than a minute or two later, I greeted Paul in the family room.
He scowled. “I’ve been away for three days, and you can’t even get up to say hi?”
As always, I stupidly went into defensive mode, explaining myself and assuming he had some valid reason to be upset with me instead of labeling his complaint as a setup to establish that I was somehow selfish and inconsiderate, when that was far from the truth.
“Paul, I didn’t know when to expect you home. Anyway, it’s great you’re here. How was your trip?”
“I can’t believe you didn’t even get up to say hi,” Paul repeated.
“Paul,” I replied with as caring a tone as I could muster, even though I was growing annoyed, “I was just finishing up. I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal. We’re talking about sixty seconds. You could’ve come in to see me. I just needed to finish the thought I was writing down. I didn’t want to lose it and—”
“It’s pretty disappointing after how hard I’m working for you so you can spend time with Jessica.”
I could not change Paul’s perception that I was being uncaring, inconsiderate, and unappreciative. The absurdity of Paul’s accusations in light of what had actually happened—that I did not immediately stop my work to jump up and see him when he could have easily walked into my office to say hello—penetrated me. What was really going on? My mind percolated. Did Paul view our relationship as so lopsided—he entitled to come and go as he pleased but me needing to be available to him the second he was ready to talk to me or wanted something from me, including to simply not be alone? I did not sleep well that night.
This was sociopath math in action. Yet, even when Paul’s behavior grew more extreme, it would take me years to label it as such. If it was not evident to me that in Paul’s mind he was allowed to change our wedding date, work on vacations and while I was in labor, be in the office all weekend, and stay in the city night after night, cancelling personal plan after personal plan for the sake of his career, but that I could not be busy or distracted the second he wanted something from me, a mis-delivered UPS package a month later made it unmistakably clear.
To accommodate a client deadline, I was expecting an overnight package on Friday with materials I needed to work on that day to prepare for a client conference call first thing Sunday morning. I had agreed to the weekend conference call to help my client, a business school friend, prepare for a last-minute but critically important Monday morning meeting. Ironically, over the weekend, Paul had promised not to work on Saturday so we could hang out, have some quality time together with Jessica, and then go out for a grown-up dinner—just the two of us. Paul rarely kept such promises. Still, I had scheduled Renee to stay with Jessica on Saturday evening so Paul and I could go out to dinner.
Unfortunately, the client’s assistant wrote down my address incorrectly. By the time UPS and I figured out where the package was, the best they could do was deliver it on Saturday morning. I told Paul what had happened and that I would need to work for about four hours during “our” Saturday together. I had no choice. It was either work on Saturday to meet the Sunday morning deadline or let down an important client and business school friend. As Paul had worked through vacations, weekends, evenings, and holidays—even through my labor pains—I naively expected mutual respect for my work demands.
Paul’s reaction caught me off-guard. “I can’t believe you’d do this! You’re going to ruin the time I took off for us to spend together?”
Nothing I said seemed to appease Paul. Our bed on Friday night felt icy cold. I got up early Saturday morning with Jessica. Paul slept in.
As soon as the materials arrived, I got to work so the project would not loom over the day. The plan had been to work on it on Friday when Jessica was with Renee. I asked Renee if she could come during the day on Saturday, but she could not. Nor could a few other baby sitters I called. With no one to watch Jessica while I worked, I hoped Paul could help. But when he finally got up, Paul crashed in front of the TV. Couldn’t I appreciate how tired he was after working so hard all week?
The assignment took longer than I had hoped, especially because I had to keep Jessica occupied as well. I felt horrible, putting in toddler movie after toddler movie to keep her distracted so I could get some work done. Finally, by midafternoon, I was finished. For dinner, I got dressed up—washed and styled my hair, put on makeup, a nice dress, and jewelry. Paul looked handsome. I was looking forward to some rare and much needed one-on-one time together.
“I can’t believe you worked today,” Paul said as soon as we pulled away in the car.
“Paul, I explained what happened,” I said. “I didn’t plan it to be this way. It was just a mix-up. The project should’ve been done by Friday, but the client made a mistake.”
“Still, the one time I put aside time to be together, and you work!”
“Paul, this happens to me all the time with your work demands. Cancelled plan after cancelled plan, and I just roll with it. I understand that things happen and clients and partners can be really demanding.”
“But you said it would take you about four hours, and it took a lot longer.”
“I did my best,” I said. “What was I supposed to do? And besides, I was distracted a lot because I had to watch Jessica.”
“So you’re saying it’s my fault,” Paul snapped.
“That’s not what I said. Can’t we just try to enjoy our dinner together?”
“I’m sorry,” I said, hoping Paul would reciprocate and apologize for his lack of support and understanding and that we could put the incident behind us and enjoy dinner.
But “I’m sorry” never crossed his lips. Sociopaths do not apologize, at least not in a sincere way. If someone made a mistake, it was not Paul. If he felt bad, someone else was to blame—me.
Puppeteer Paul was at it again, pulling strings and manipulating me into feeling apologetic and sorry for him when his behavior was selfish and unsupportive. Although I understand many of his techniques now, back then I was clueless. As a result, I was no more than a marionette, being controlled by the tug of twine or, more accurately, by a disapproving tone or look, by the withdrawal of attention or affection, or by just by the right choice of words.
Once we were at the restaurant, in view of other people, Paul acted like the perfect doting husband. I put on a brave face and went through the motions of enjoying a rare evening out. Inside though, like a flower deprived of sunlight and water, I was dying.
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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.