The Cheater Script
I’m going to go make a little wager here. I am willing to bet that when you found out about the affair, you had a conversation (or screaming match) with your cheater that had some similarity to this little scenario:
“Why an affair? Why that?”
“I haven’t been happy for years.”
“Then why did you stay?”
“For our family - I thought I owed it to you to try. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You could have told me you felt this way.”
“I was prepared to make the sacrifice for you by trying - I thought it would get better. I didn’t want to upset you.“
“You knew an affair would upset me, but you did that anyway!”
“I wasn’t trying to hurt you - it’s not that I went looking for it, it just happened. And then I realized that I deserve to be happy too.”
“But what about all our family vacations, our anniversaries, the holidays … all these and times when you would tell me how happy you were. You were happy!”
“No, I just acted that way for you and the kids - I was trying to protect you.”
“So why not protect me from this, by not having an affair?”
“I don’t know …”
“So the past ten years … it was all a lie?”
“Not all of it.”
“But you telling me now that you were unhappy then, that’s not a lie?”
“How am I supposed to tell the difference?”
Does this sound like shades of your own conversation with your cheater? This rewrite of your history with them is so frustrating. You were there dammit! You’re not stupid, or unobservant! You lived this history WITH them - you were the one they laughed with, danced around the kitchen with, whispered their dreams to. And yet here they are, telling you that your understanding of your history is wrong, that it was as manufactured and carefully preserved as the ever-lasting Twinkie/Twinky (I know, I know!).
The Fakery Bakery
In order to cook the perfect batch of fakery, the cheater needs to follow a recipe. The cheater script is a perfect recipe to whip up a batch of history-mystery for you.
Let’s look at the flimflam that has been presented to you in the conversation you just read:
1. “I haven’t been happy for years.”
If I say that I have been perfectly content, that doesn’t fit in well with my ‘and that’s why I am entitled to my affair‘ rationale, so paint me unhappy! In fact, let me stress the point that I am not just recently unhappy, but valiantly struggling against my unhappiness for years. That gives me pathos, grit, and means I am just a good person who crumbled under the crushing weight of unhappiness. Just don’t ask me the specifics because that part of my story is a bit foggy, and doesn’t hold up well under close examination.
2. “For our family - I thought I owed it you to try. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Lying to you was for your own good - I did it for you. See, I am not the sort to just up and leave, no - I paid my debt to you, I lived up to my part of the bargain. And whilst I DID know what else to do, I didn’t really want to do it … because leaving might mean I lose my home, access to my kids, money. I didn’t do anything else because I rather liked my lifestyle as it was, thank you very much, and frankly, I wasn’t actually unhappy anyway, but I won’t be admitting that any time soon.
3. “I was prepared to make the sacrifice for you by trying - I thought it would get better. I didn’t want to upset you.“
What an angel I am! Not only did I sacrifice my happiness, but I did it for you. I tried dammit, you didn’t! YOU failed ME, not the other way around. I tried, you didn’t - you didn’t do anything else but show up! And even then, I was putting you first - my concern for your feelings is admirable because I always gave them a higher priority than my own.
4. “I wasn’t trying to hurt you - it’s not that I went looking for it, it just happened. And then I realized that I deserve to be happy too.”
(This one generally comes with a single fat tear, sliding silently down their face in their anguish.) This wasn’t my fault, some force bigger than me engineered it - it was kismet. I resisted, but it was futile because the greater plan will always win. So … against my will and better judgment, I stopped fighting it. Even after my 10-year self-sacrifice, I was prepared to continue to be brave and unhappy, for YOU, but the universe showed me that I too, am worthy of happiness.
5. “No, I just acted that way for you and the kids - I was trying to protect you.”
See? I would do anything for you and the kids. I faked it, because I cared more about your happiness than my own. I wanted to make sure that you were all okay. It wasn’t really lying, it was protection, can’t you see? You are too weak or fragile to really cope with the truth, so I shouldered the burden for you. I bent under the weight of it all, but I did it selflessly.
6. “I don’t know …”
Well, I do know. I had the affair because I wanted to, because I could, because I deserved it, dammit! But saying it like that might make you think less of me, even though I am human, and I have minor failings. So, to spare you the pain of seeing the person you love diminished in your eyes in any way, I say I don’t know. Again, I do it for you baby, selfless to the end …
7. “Not all of it.”
Well, I really was telling you lies when I was covering up and hiding my affair from you. In truth, the past 10 years were just as you remember them, but that doesn’t fit my story - betraying a perfectly happy relationship would make me nothing more than a lowlife cheater.
I’ve created this whole back-story for myself where I struggled for years and eventually succumbed, but I am not a sordid cheater like other cheaters. I am a better class of cheater than that. So I will keep protecting you because I can see how upset you are, and I am not callous, so it’s important that I convince you that my affair was justified, because anything else would make me a scumbag, and I am not! I am valiant and heroic and committed …
Well, yes. Shit, you’ve got me. If I keep straight-faced and calm I can stay on top of this. Deny, deny, deny.
When in doubt, say nothing. You have the right to remain silent, right? Trickery! Entrapment!
… and so was born the perfect history-mystery cake, churned out like the ever-lasting twinky from the cheater fakery-bakery. Your cheater has had time to prepare their story for you, and it’s perfectly understandable how you might buy it. After all, you’re devastated, confused, and desperate to believe them. And that’s exactly what they were hoping for.
As if finding out about the affair wasn’t difficult enough to deal with, you have probably found yourself facing your cheater’s own version of this type of fakery.
All you need to do is swallow a few of these delectable fakery morsels to find yourself in a state of perpetual confusion, self-doubt, and a puddle of tears on the bakery floor. Your history is being quite nimbly deconstructed and reconstructed, and is now looking like something you don’t recognize at all.
Your past as you know it is unraveling, and this newly told version of events erases a considerable part of how you saw your relationship. You probably tie much of your identity into your contribution and commitment to your family. You’ve probably invested most of your energies into your family, home, and relationship, and now are faced with someone (who shared your history) whitewashing over the top of it.
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
~ George Orwell
You are not crazy or stupid. If you missed signs of their ‘unhappiness’, it’s because they weren’t there, or they were deliberately concealed from you. Your only crime here was to believe your cheater when they told you that they were happy, committed, and faithful.
Don’t let yourself be flimflammed by a cheater trying to protect and preserve their story while the truth wriggles away like a snake in the grass.
Read our posts on Gaslighting: Gaslighting - the fine art of making you believe you’re crazy and Denial & Obfusction
Don’t Let Nonsense Stand as Fact
Don’t be cowed into accepting a distorted presentation of reality (or blame for your cheater’s affair), in fear that it will make them leave. If they leave it will be because they want to, not because you refused to be the scapegoat for their affair.
Be authentic. If your cheater tries to rewrite history, trust your own memories and assert the facts. If they try to muddle reality and re-frame life to fit in with their self-protection or rationalizations for their affair, recognize it as manipulation and don’t be frightened to voice the truth.
You may be tempted to indulge your own disaster fantasies of your cheater and the other person walking happily into the sunset, soulmates, together forever, united by their perfect love. Heed my advice and quickly glance over your shoulder, and into any dark corners, for unicorns and evidence of glitter.
This perfect happiness story that you’ve built up for yourself has come from your own wounded self-esteem, and from your cheater’s tall tales of their luuuuuuurve. Understand that they’ve spent a long time carefully creating and nurturing the story, honing it to just the right balance of personal heroism, self-sacrifice, and valiant defense of your emotional well-being. It’s a good story, but it’s incredibly light on the truth.
“That’s how it is with legends. The greater they sound, the more must’ve got left out.”
~ Tim Tharpe