THE BLOG
06/26/2013 06:03 pm ET | Updated Aug 26, 2013

The Fear That They're Going to Be Better for Someone Else

I blog about infidelity and I get the same letter over and over again. It goes like this:

I know he's a liar and a cheat. He did 14,357 unspeakable things (all described). I can't let go because I know if I do, he's going to change and be different for the other woman! And after all this work I've done, all this history we have, I will miss out! I wouldn't be able to bear it -- the two of them together being perfect while my life sucks! Help. 

(Forgive the gender pronouns. It works in reverse too. Men have the same fears their wives will be fabulous for the other man.)

Once upon a time when I was married to a cheater, I suffered from a bad case of They're Going to Be Better for Someone Else myself. Which, when I look back on it, was pretty delusional. I was his third wife and (unbeknownst to me at the time) all the marriages ended over his infidelities. Years later, I got the validation as well that he's still the same old scumbag when someone wrote a profile on him at Cheaterville.com, saying he targets single mothers. (I was a single mother. The other woman was a single mother.) Oh, but at the time of the marriage, I was truly stricken by the thought that I was going to miss out on something wonderful if I got Mr. Cheaterpants out of my life.

Because, you know, he did the "remorse." He did the therapy. And the problem was, I wasn't patient for the results. Or so he told me. It didn't seem to be sticking, all that insight and sorriness. But when I thought that the other woman would get him? Suddenly I could imagine him 100 percent new and improved... for her.

WTF?

Why do we assume someone who is demonstrably awful is going to be better for someone else?

A few thoughts.

1) You've bought into the idea at some level that the problem is you. You're not special. You're not worthy. They only act this way because you are lacking in some fundamental way. A lot of save-your-marriage-at-any-cost therapists bombard chumps with this message too. What was missing from the marriage that forced them to cheat? And cheaters are so very good at the blameshifting, sending you the same message, that hey you suck, you didn't do enough to keep me satisfied. All you know for sure is that you aren't enough. Then they try to keep you off balance so you'll do the Pick Me dance so they can keep eating cake. It's all very natural to wonder if the other person isn't the magic elixir that will make them happy.

Because that is what's important here -- their happiness. You've bought into that too.

2) You've been on starvation rations. When you're with a narcissist, you give an infinite amount more attention than you receive. I call this traffic in affection and attention "ego kibbles." We all need some kibbles, especially from our partners. But when you're on starvation kibble rations, those kibbles take on an inflated value. Every now and then, your cheater will sparkle, just enough to keep you hooked. And being at the center of the laserbeam of sparkles is addictive. So when you see your partner turning on the sparkles for someone else? You turn into Gollum. My precious kibbles! My precious!

They like it like that. Keeps you dancing for them. Keeps them in cake.

3) You have tunnel vision because of the sunk costs. It's galling and depressing beyond words to consider the wasted time and energy spent on a bad relationship. You want something for your investment. You've been putting fistfuls of quarters into that slot machine and now it's going to pay off for some other idiot? Hell no!

The house always wins. Your cheater is keeping the quarters. They already spent them. Sure, they might spit out a few here and there to keep you playing. But please just walk away. Let the next sucker play the rigged game.

4) I believe in miracles. Let's say they change. Does it really change the 14,357 unspeakable things they did? I had to get to the point where I didn't care anymore if he was Mr. Perfect for someone else. He wasn't Mr. Perfect for me. Those unspeakable things were deal breakers. I couldn't trust him again. It was destroyed. I had to walk away from my investment.

Chumps need to trust that they suck. Could they be better? I suppose some of them could, sure. But they choose not to be. Put another way -- they're really good at selling, but not so good at sealing the deal. Who doesn't love sparkles? You did. The other person does, now at first. But for whatever reason, these people don't enjoy commitment, they enjoy selling. They're snake oil salesman. Like all salesmen, they project an air of exclusivity -- act now! This is very, very special! But it's rubbish, and then they're on to the next town.

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