For months people have asked me if there were signs.
That they could live with a liar and not know it terrified them. That they might have no say in the goings on under the roof of their marriage is most peoples’ deepest, darkest fear. That we have no true say in our own life because someone takes it away from us without our consent, and without us ever even fully knowing is a very scary thought.
That is exactly what happened to me.
I was caged in a marriage where I knew there were many things wrong.
I habitually confronted those things, in deadly accurate terms.
I knew exactly what was going on. I named the person, the start date, and the ongoing nature of it. But I was rendered powerless by a refusal to own the truth. So I had no choice but to carry on. No proof. Just a gut feeling. All of my dearest friends knew my gut feeling. All of them agreed there was cause for concern. All of them agreed I had no recourse but to confront and take the answer at face value, which is exactly what I did.
And my life in my marriage was forever tainted by this deep and profound knowledge that something was wrong. My trust vanished. My joy vanished. My friends and my children were my life. My spouse was a person in my life.
I watched this person become someone else over the course of two years. And did my best to raise our family just the same: his mistress’s shadow hanging over my children’s father, hanging over my head. There was another woman in our family. Her words impacted everything he said and did. She was a part of my marriage, judging me and advising the course of our family from afar.
I suppose I could have up and left. But to uproot 3 small children, with no financial prospects at all and on unconfirmed suspicion of an affair, made little sense. But there was always doubt. Always fear.
In retrospect, now that the smoke has cleared, I am sorry to say that yes indeed. There were warning signs, and I am now able to name them. These are the horrendous warning signs, of which I was a victim for multiple years of my life: if these make your heart pound, your hands sweat, if they make you go to a scary place, you are not alone. They did for me too. I am crying as I write this because I know this will ring bells for more than one person.
- Character assassinations that are profoundly inaccurate. When people do terrible things to their spouses, they find ways to justify it. The easiest way to do this is to villainize the victim. In my case I was beat to the ground verbally with assaults on my character. #1 on the list was that I was irrational. Another was demanding. Another was that I was cold. More than once I heard “you don’t know me and you never cared to.” And, “there is no room for me in our marriage.” I took these to heart. I took them to therapy. I worked on them every day in good faith. They destroyed my self esteem and love for myself because I believed them. I heard them so much that I believed I was all of those things. Of course, he never once agreed to go to couples therapy with me, nor attend therapy himself. He was more than happy to let me carry the load, beat myself up, and work on all my “problems”. Those things were said so frequently and so cruelly that they wore me down completely. But one day my heart and my soul said, “Sarah. You are none of those things. Not even close.” And of course, I wasn’t. When people have something to hide they will often go full court press. Beat you into the ground so that you feel like you’re drowning. If you are on your heels playing defense it’s very hard to go on offense. If your spouse or partner is doing this to you, this is abusive plain and simple. And beyond that, more than likely, there is an underlying issue with them that they are attempting to hide by making you feel so bad that you won’t notice what they are up to. And if you do notice, they will roll out the horrendous and heart shattering insults on your character so that you are so destroyed you don’t dare question anything. That is what happened to me. My spouse tried to portray me as someone I was not. And in doing this, he managed to victimize himself to himself. He also managed to devastate my self esteem. That is what allowed him to participate in a covert affair for so long. He would sometimes say things about me that were so out of character, even for him, that it made me wonder who had fed him those lines. Someone had. Someone fed him poison, and it was regurgitated to me in the cruelest of ways. Those character assassinations, that in no way represented who I was, absolutely leveled my self esteem and put him in a mental space to justify the affair.
2. Meaningless Lies. When your spouse lies about little and irrelevant things, it is a safe bet that there are larger lies on the horizon. I frequently heard my spouse embellish stories when we were out with friends. He would add details that never happened. More than once on a drive home, I would confront him and say that those things never happened. He dismissed me wholeheartedly, saying that he must have misremembered and it wasn’t a big deal. He would trot out how irrational I was and how silly of me it was to even notice something that. Sometimes it was a big deal to me though, because those stories often involved me and representations of me that were utterly inaccurate. This bothered me deeply, and made me wonder what he said about me and his life in my absence. By the way, this is a purely logical inference, that where there are small lies there are bigger ones. Think of all the ways in the world in which this is true: where a small part is visible above the surface there is a huge portion of it underneath. This is true of small and meaningless lies. It shows an ability and willingness to misrepresent, and assert control over any aspect they feel like they’d like to.
3. Witholding of Relationship Information on the Grounds of a Character Flaw in the Other. There were many small lies over the years, but a few of them were big to me. The best examples I can give are lying about money, and lying about personal habits (tobacco, where he was, who he was with). When I caught him in these lies that had an impact on me too, I confronted him. Never on the tobacco itself, but on the need to lie in the first place. One day I said to him, “just because you might not like my reaction doesn’t mean you get to NOT tell me. That isn’t your right. And that’s not how marriages work.” He of course knew I was right. Unfortunately, after that conversation he fooled me because from then on he was careful to be forthcoming about everything BUT the affair. He’s a smart guy. The cruel character assassinations continued though.
I had never given him reason to withhold the truth, and even if I HAD reacted poorly, it is STILL wrong to withhold information your partner DESERVES to know in a marriage, just because they don’t feel like sharing or getting any grief from their spouse. A spouse is by definition an equal partner in a marriage. As soon as one spouse unilaterally controls the flow of information, there is a problem. They are hiding something.
When I confronted him on the bigger lies, or more accurately the nondisclosure of the truth, the response was always the same: I couldn’t tell you because you get so irrational. If you reacted better I would tell you. There’s no room for me in this marriage so I feel I can’t tell you things. And of course, these horrendous words would shut me right up. If you are in a relationship and things you have a RIGHT to know about are being withheld from you, with the excuse that if you were a better person they would tell you, your spouse has something to hide. It’s an abusive excuse to lie. Plain and simple. God I hate to say that so much. But if you are reading this and your palms are sweaty and your heart is pounding, there is a reason.
These are unacceptable occurrences in any relationship, let alone a marriage. Just unacceptable. If you are suffering from any of these things, seek help. Know you are not alone. MAKE your spouse get counseling with you. Don’t let them be in charge of that decision. Because they’ll never go. Liars don’t want to face the truth until THEY decide to.
This life is yours. This life is precious. And so are you.
So this is an answer to the often asked question. Yes. Absolutely there were warning signs.
As the heaviness lifts and I regain my sight, I see so clearly now that I was none of the things he said I was. Not one of those things. I am grateful every day, for what it’s worth, to be free of someone who thought so little of me. I am grateful every day for my freedom. Painful and horrible and scary though it has been, I wouldn’t have it any other way.