A few weeks ago in The New York Times, reviewer Meghan Daum writes up a new book dealing with infidelity discovered by a trusting wife (author Jen Waite) and the fall-out from that, as well as the steps out of her private hell with her chronic cheater. From the New York Times review of A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal:"Author Jen Waite retraces her steps through a relationship that first gives her the "strange sensation of seeing the world in color for the first time" but eventually reveals itself to be a series of setups at the hands of a master manipulator….the memoir is a study in "gas lighting"—making someone feel that she is crazy or only imagining things….
Waite has a knack for showing the ways that cognitive dissonance can chart pathways in the mind that cause emotional confusion to obscure rational thought…
By the end, she has decided to pursue a degree to become a therapist specializing in women recovering from sociopathic relationships…the book works best when Waite is sharing what she learns about destructive personality disorders and what makes certain people vulnerable to those that have them."
I went out and bought the book, finishing this page-turner by the weekend. I'm always eager to learn about personality disorders, and about partners' experiences, especially when the emotional upheaval of subtle manipulations against the partner is articulately conveyed by the author, and this book does not disappoint.
I am definitely recommending this book as partners will likely see themselves in it and recognize the dizzying distortions brought on by a supposedly-committed husband who lies so easily. And so frequently. The author skillfully conveys the precise ways her own reality was so thoroughly affected by what she did not know, what her husband withheld from her about his sexual behaviors, and how he mixed that in with a few truths here and there. The perfect recipe for psychological abuse.
The first glimmer of hope for her own sanity starts to return when, after putting together the pieces about her husband's secret sexual life, she takes her newborn baby with her to return home to her family's house. Once there, she finds a therapist who she hopes will help her make sense of her imploding reality. In her first session with the new therapist, she conveys her story and asks what the therapist thinks.
From her book:
"Some of his behavior sounds to be on the psychopathy spectrum", she (Lisa the therapist) says carefully.
"Pathology?", I ask. I knew it. He's a sociopath. Now this very smart woman just needs to tell me the exact steps I need to take to heal, and I can start to feel like a person again instead of an empty, aching shell.
"Pathology basically means having destructive, uncontrollable tendencies. I mean, his lying is….insane...Or the clinical term would be 'pathological'. He also seems to have a pathological desire to live a double life….He's so unwilling to face his lying and pathology that he would rather create...a charade…to validate his version of reality...it sounds like he lacks empathy and an inner moral compass but that he truly justifies his actions to himself. That's to say, it sounds like he believes his own lies".
I turn this over in my head. It makes me feel better to hear that Marco doesn't seem to even be aware of what he is. That he isn't actually an evil mastermind who looked at me five years ago and thought, Her. I'm going to destroy her.
"So, he's acting on pure instinct?" I ask, finishing the thought spinning in my head.
"That's what it sounds like. I also have to warn you, you should prepare yourself to find out about more infidelity that happened over the course of your relationship. It's basically impossible for someone with these types of pathological tendencies to stay faithful to one partner".
My stomach drops. "Oh, no, I know why you would think that, but I really don't think he cheated before this…." I start and then stop. Even to my own ears I sound desperate and pathetic. I can't explain that there is no way he was cheating before November. Because I just know. So, for now, I acquiesce. "I suppose anything is possible".
Leaving Lisa's (the therapist) office, I feel more grounded than I have in months. I am still lost inside the maze of my own mind, but now I have something to hold onto, a cleat in the rock that I can cling to with my fingertips.
I have a consultation with another therapist set up for tomorrow, so we'll see. But I do get a really good feeling from Lisa.
At the end of my consultation the next day, the very sweet woman ponders my story and then says, "If you really want to save your marriage, then I think the first thing we need to do is get Marco to attend a session with you."
….this time, I say, "Um. I think I want to keep seeing Lisa".
Very good instincts in this woman, though, as with most partners' experiences, her husband tries repeatedly to showcase his own hardships as justifications and explanations. More on that seductive tactic in another review of this book in Vice today.
Fortunately for her, the therapist she chooses educates her, validates her and steers her to safe ground.
If you're looking for a good book to power you through Labor Day weekend, offering you validation and insights into the all-too-common pathology underlying chronically deceptive sexual behaviors, this book may be just the ticket for you.
It also offers hope for reclaming your sanity once again, starting with identifying these behaviors and naming them for what they are.