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 11: The Honeymooners
We spent our honeymoon hiking, horseback riding, wine tasting, and sleeping in. I had wanted to go on a particular hike, but we never did. Finally, I told Paul that I was concerned that we were leaving without going on the one hike to which I had so looked forward. Paul looked at me, incredulous. With his loving eyes engaging mine and his voice gentle and silky, he explained that I must not have expressed my needs clearly. Of course he wanted me to be happy and to do things I wanted to do.
I was confused. How could Paul have misunderstood that this hike was the number one thing I wanted to do on our honeymoon, aside from getting married and spending long, lazy mornings in bed with my new husband? Hadn’t I brought it up multiple times? I replayed the week in my head. I had mentioned it to Paul, and each reason Paul gave for not going on the hike had made sense at the time and had been expressed considerately. One day he had a headache. The next afternoon he was tired. Another day he said he had heard about a prettier hike, saying we could go on “my” hike tomorrow. But when tomorrow came, he wanted to go for a bike ride. Shouldn’t we add some variety instead of hiking two days in a row? Hadn’t we done enough hiking already? The next day, he wanted to go into town and do some shopping. It seemed strange that somehow we had not done the one thing I had wanted to do most, yet we had done everything on Paul’s priority list. I let it go. I thought, “It’s no big deal,” and I had just married my Prince Charming. We did lots of things I enjoyed. Why sweat the small stuff?
The truth is, I had communicated my desire to go on the hike clearly, and Paul had steered away from my preferred activity for the simple reason it was the activity I had chosen. Sociopaths lie and manipulate simply to lie and manipulate. Perhaps it makes them feel superior and powerful to get capable, intelligent people to make sacrifices and take both the smallest and the largest actions against their own best interest—from not going on my preferred hike or not telling my family where I was getting married to compromising the type of job I really wanted after business school. Sociopaths enjoy being puppeteers. They manipulate for the rush of feeling in control and weakening others so they can manipulate and dominate them even more in the future. It is as if they are on a marathon of erosion. Like raindrops on a mountain, each small sacrifice I made or wave of self-doubt I felt shaped me so that over time, no sacrifice for Paul was too big and my self-confidence was eroded completely.
Why did I fall for Paul’s manipulations, which—in hindsight—make me look like a spineless sap? I am only human, and under similar circumstances, the majority of women would have fallen for them, too. Ask any introductory psychology student, and he or she can tell you about the concept of “cognitive dissonance.” We dislike inconsistency (i.e., dissonance) and we strive for consistency, especially within ourselves—our attitudes, behavior, perceptions, thoughts, etc. If, for example, we become aware that our attitudes and/or our behavior are inconsistent, we are motivated to make a change to create consistency.
When my honeymoon came and went without us going on “my” hike, I experienced cognitive dissonance. If Paul truly loved me, the honeymoon should have reflected my interests and preferences as well as his, but it did not. To make the unpleasant feelings associated with this mental disharmony dissipate—to resolve the dissonance—I had several options. I could have lowered the importance of one of the factors creating my mental discord. Perhaps the hike really had not been important to me. Alternatively, I could have added an element or reframed the situation to eliminate the dissonance. Perhaps, as Paul said, I had not communicated my preference properly, so he was not at fault. I could have also reminded myself that overall Paul was a wonderful guy and worth a little sacrifice here and there. Another possible way to resolve the dissonance was to conclude that I had just married a lying, manipulative weasel.
Unfortunately, for me to decide that Paul was, in fact, a dishonest, scheming, controlling rat was highly unlikely at that moment. With the wealth of information I had telling me that Paul was a wonderful, empathetic, honest guy, and the fact that I had just made the immense emotional investment of marrying him, a misunderstanding about a hike a few days earlier was unlikely to trigger that conclusion—although, in retrospect, I wish it had. With that avenue to resolving the dissonance blocked, I was left with the alternatives. And there was nothing stopping me from engaging in the mental gymnastics of tapping all three of these strategies—the hike was not that important to me, I was an ineffective communicator, and Paul was worth the sacrifice. Case closed! Cognitive conflict resolved! My new husband was a wonderful man. Onward!
In isolation, any single dissonance-creating episode would have been inconsequential. Yet, the fact that this and future incidents appeared so trivial made them inordinately dangerous, because they slipped under my radar. As a result, they did not sound an alarm that might have caused me to resolve the dissonance by recognizing that Paul was dangerous and controlling, and that I needed to get him out of my life as soon as possible.
Mountains do not turn to rubble in a day. Each drop of rain and gust of wind slowly erodes until, hundreds of millions of years later, there is little left. In the same way, insidious, slow erosion is part of a controlling, abusive person’s toolkit, and it was a major part of Paul’s. From one day to the next, I would not experience a perceptible shift in what I considered “normal” for me and for my relationship with Paul. Yet, from one year to the next, the cumulative effect proved ruinous.
Although human beings are wired to resolve cognitive dissonance, very few people understand their minds work like this, and few people, therefore, think this can happen to them. They are stronger, smarter, better educated, more perceptive, and more psychologically astute than those naÃ¯ve victims, right? News programs and reports are brilliant at blaming the victim by pointing out the victim’s naivetÃ©, and, through the nature of the questions asked, assuring us that the victims chose to blind themselves to reality and should have known better. These commentators and investigative reporters do us a tremendous disservice. They need to become better educated about how the human mind really operates. Unless we seek to understand and counteract the automatic workings of our brains, we are vulnerable to the manipulation of these master puppeteers. Sociopaths count on that.
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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.