How Did This Happen?

When your life is emptied out and your love swept away into the dustpan, you can be forgiven for asking “How did this happen?”

But you still aren’t likely to get an answer.

So how can we live on in the debris of what was everything to us, but turned out to be nothing worth protecting to him?

I was reviewing articles and videos this week that tried to provide insight to avoiding men who were covert abusers. I didn’t find much worth sharing. Then, in a FB post there was a link to an article of advice from women in their 40’s to themselves in their 20’s. The headlining piece of advice was “Leave after the first lie”. My whole body was nodding. There it was. That’s how this happened. And then I realized I never recognized the first lie. Or the second. Or third. Or any of them after that. Understanding how this happened means understanding why I didn’t know he was a liar until after discovery.

Now, by liar I mean someone who lies as a matter of course as opposed to someone who has lied a few times over the course of a life, and not about life-changing things. A liar is someone whose allegiance to truth is merely functional. Truth and lies are both just the ways you get to where you want to go. That’s a liar.

 With this in mind, I began to think back to find out why I didn’t know he was lying as much as he was telling the truth. Here’s what I have to offer on this right now.


Practice makes perfect

He has been lying for most of his life. While we are most likely clumsy liars, he doesn’t even skip a beat when he does it. The sheer amount of lying experience that he has acquired through the many years of his life means he’s going to be better at lying than most people are. In other words, he’s really experienced and really good at it.


Lying doesn’t keep him up at night

The practicality of lying eliminates (for him) the hurdles most of us would face when we lie. For him there is no moral hesitation or ethical dilemma to resolve before, during, or after he lies. Lying does not present conflict within himself anymore, if it ever did. His personal comfort with lying is profoundly convincing and reads to us as evidence of truth. Yes, he knows right from wrong, but it just doesn’t matter to him.


He mimics the values we have in order to look like someone he’s not

Although he has no inner conflict about lying, he knows that other people do and has learned to mimic the core values he needs to demonstrate in order to blend in with the group he wants to be in. He knows what those values are, how they work, and what the vocabulary is around them. He can employ that knowledge when he needs to demonstrate those values, but he can also set them aside to pursue his own goals. He is not the genuine article. He is a core value faker. But he’s very good at it. His association with you, whose values are authentic and practiced consistently, also helps to make him more believable. So, he can act as someone who is truly appalled at lying and can articulate the problem and issues at stake in lying because he’s learned that material. And then he can lie himself without skipping a beat.


You love him

The power of our integrity, moral consistency, trustworthiness, and other personal attributes work for him as well. As mentioned above, we make him more believable to others, but we also make him believable to ourselves. Our capacity for accepting people as they present themselves means that we do not look for reasons to distrust him. Even though he is actually siphoning off the positive energy of our life and presenting it as his own, we cannot imagine that is what is happening. There is nothing within us to suspect or be familiar with such a deep level of personality and character deformation. And, he fools others who do have specific skills in that area. Once he has our love, he is anchored to the best thing he could ever find to continue, develop, and protect his con. Even when we discover it, the pain of withdrawing our love from that con nearly finishes most of us off. Discovering we have given our love to a primary relationship based on lies fractures us, heart, mind, body and soul. But not him. It’s very hard to go on without fighting for him, first. He knows this conflict will at least buy him time if the con is discovered.


Any doubts you express will be turned back upon you

Before I married, I raised many concerns about his mother’s behaviour toward me and toward him with our pre-marriage counselor, other experienced clergy, and long-time friends . I raised them directly with him as well. In fact, everything I named was evidence of her covert incestuous relationship with him. Even if we did not have that “name” in general use, the patterns of behaviour were obviously problematic. But any time I raised these issues, I was named as the problem. I was “too strong”, “too feminist”, “too intense”, “too insecure”, “too defensive”, “too reactive”, etc. Notice how some of these contract each other? It doesn’t matter. It’s my fault. That’s the message. I fell victim to the standard operating procedure for a woman bringing a complaint—I was patronized and insulted because it was just too good of an opportunity to resist putting me in my place. In the early years of marriage I continued to seek professional help for her escalating offensive behaviours and his passive acceptance of her interference and relentless criticisms and warnings about me. I found no support. When a woman is strong, intelligent, and articulate, it is hard for others to imagine she is a victim of abuse. It had to be my fault. At one point I was ready to leave and tried to find work in another province in order to get away and think more clearly about what was happening. But I couldn’t get a job, so I returned back to my marriage and kept trying. He never knew how desperate I was even then to get away. The early “honeymoon” years were a hideous nightmare of emotional and sexual abandonment with the added bonus of the one-two punch for abusive control by him and his mother. They also used spiritual bullying to try and shut me up and keep me in line. What I didn’t know was that he was also engaging in sexual and sexualized activities the whole time. These men pick strong, independent, courageous and articulate women that no one sees as needing help or advocacy. So we don’t get those things even if we ask for them. Our ability to locate the lies of our bondage through the skilled and caring help of others is curtailed and shut down.

Let’s just stop there for this week. That’s five powerful forces at work in your relationship that hold you back from recognizing the lies that are a hallmark of his true identity. It’s still hard for me to go back and pull these experiences up to the light of truth for (now) informed and courageous reflection. I understand if it’s hard for you to do that. Maybe just take one of these forces and spend some time reflecting on how it is at work in your relationship and how it impacts you in destructive and dangerous ways. Pace yourself. We are, after all, human beings who thought we had finally found someone to love, and someone to love us. This work is a sorrow. It continues to be a sorrow over nine years later. And I need to leave it now, myself.

So, brave sisters, know that I understand. The details of your heartache are uniquely yours, but the patterns of this experience are widely shared. You are not alone. The terrible violence against your heart, mind, body and soul are known to me. I use the correct vocabulary to discuss these things because when we do that, we get better faster. I also believe in your life, no matter how many hits you have taken. I know that you can rise from this grave and go on to live an abundant life. A different life. But an abundant one.

 If his lies have you tied up in knots, use a discounted trial session and let’s talk it through:  If you have further questions, contact me:

With you


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Diane Strickland