Just because an abuser is not raging does not mean he is suddenly safe or honest or genuine. An abuser’s words cannot be trusted. He is an artful deceiver and, in many cases, an out-and-out liar. Words are simply a tool that can be fashioned to support his desired reality.
Of course, a healthy relationship should be grounded in truth, honesty and mutual concern, but the abuser does not share these values. His primary concern is his own welfare, and where honesty should reign, he will not hesitate to construct and reconstruct a psychological house of mirrors that his victim must slog her way through, her objective being to somehow find some hard truth to hold onto amid the confusion. The typical abuser seems quite adept at avoidance, deflection, deception, redirection, feigning ignorance, shifting blame or simply lying when the need arises.
In one such scenario, he might arrive home with an outlandishly expensive tool or toy that is either unnecessary or unaffordable (probably not the first time), but it’s something he wants. Shocked by his spontaneous purchase, you may broach the issue by saying, “I thought we agreed we would not make any big purchases without discussing them.”
“I never agreed to that,” he might respond without apology. Or he might make you the bad guy by saying, “And I thought this would make you happy,” or defend his decision by offering, “This is something we need.”
As you try to explain your concerns about more pressing financial priorities, he will say something like, “You always have to take the fun out of everything,” or “I try to do something nice for you, and this is the thanks I get.” He will make sure you know that you are the wet blanket on his crazy-maker’s fire. It doesn’t matter to him that the situation was uncomfortable for either of you because, when all is said and done, he still got what he wanted.
You will look for ways to make sense of his illogical form of communication, to find some common ground amid the nonsense. But, if you want truth, the truth is that it doesn’t matter to him if you are confused, frustrated or disrespected. How you are affected or what you think or feel about a given matter doesn’t matter. His end game is to make sure you understand that his truth is the truth, whether or not it is true.
Maybe you have heard some of the abusers’ “liar” phrases intended to diminish, confuse and divert attention and responsibility away from him.
- I don’t know what you are talking about.
- I never said that.
- I already told you; you just weren’t listening.
- You misunderstood me.
- You may think you told me, but you didn’t.
- I don’t remember that.
Initially, we buy into this stuff, doubting our own senses and assuming that our communication skills just need work. But, when the pattern of deception and the lingo become engrossed in the lifestyle, the utter corruption of character cannot be overlooked.
After years of such crazy-making, I could not put stock in much of anything my husband said, and he would shame me for not trusting him. Even if caught in an outright lie, he would rationalize his behavior, lie about it, blame someone else or offer a cool apology and insist that the matter be dropped. After all, that’s what words are for.
He could also manufacture conversations that had never taken place. I remember standing before my husband with my mouth open as he cited fantasy conversations we had never had or claimed to know what I was thinking or going to say before I said anything. He was simply diverting attention from himself by putting me in a position where I had to defend myself about something that never happened. Lies are not limited to the abuser’s behavior.
Perhaps one of the most insane conversations I ever had with The Liar took place a couple of days after we separated. A friend who watched our youngest daughter a few hours at her home after school every day recounted to me to a strange situation that took place a few days earlier. She shared that my husband had failed to pick up our daughter at the usual time one afternoon, and he called to inform her that he had forgotten that he had a doctor’s appointment and then had a flat tire on the way home.
She didn’t believe his story, and neither did I. I had to add to her account my suspicions that he was in a relationship with another woman and, in that context, his story made perfect sense. So, in a telephone conversation a couple of days later, I confronted him. The ridiculous exchange went something like this:
Me: So, I understand from talking to Jackie that you were late picking up Amberly last Thursday.
Him: I called Jackie to let her know that I would be late. I forgot that I had a doctor’s appointment, and then I had a flat tire on the way home.
Me: You didn’t mention a doctor’s appointment to me.
Him: So? I don’t have to tell you everything I do.
Me: So, which doctor did you see?
Him: What does it matter?
Me: Because I want to know.
Him: Why do you want to know?
Me: Because you had an obligation that you failed to meet that put Jackie in a difficult spot, and I think you’re lying.
Him: You’re accusing me of lying?
Him: So, you’re really going to stoop so low as to check up on me?
Me: I shouldn’t have to, but I will.
Him: You’re being ridiculous.
Me: It’s not a difficult question to answer.
Him: I see a lot of different doctors.
Me: I know. Which one did you have an appointment with?
Him: Hmm. I don’t remember.
Me: You don’t remember which doctor you saw last week?
Him: Okay, I didn’t have a doctor’s appointment. But, I did have a flat tire.
Me: So, you lied about not having a doctor’s appointment?
Him: What’s the big deal? It’s none of your business. But, I did have a flat tire.
Me: Which tire?
Him: I don’t remember. What difference does it make?
Me: You don’t remember?
Him: It doesn’t matter. I got it fixed and picked up Amberly on my way home. Who do you think you are, my mother?
Me: Where did you have it fixed?
Him: I don’t remember.
Him: Okay, I didn’t have a flat tire. I was downtown, and I just lost track of time.
Me: What were you doing there?
Him: Just looking around and spending some time relaxing. Why do you care?
Me: You already lied about your doctor’s appointment and the flat tire, and now you’re being evasive. So, who were you with?
Him: I don’t remember.
Me: You don’t remember who you were with last Thursday?
Him: Did you see me? [Yes, he really said that.]
Me: Would your story change if I did?
I waited. Then I heard him talking softly to himself, as though he thought I couldn’t hear him.
Him: Her parents have money. Maybe they hired a private detective to check up on me. They would be the kind of people to do that. Then he spoke aloud.
Him: Okay, I was with someone.
Him: A friend.
Me: What friend?
Him: So, now, I am not allowed to have friends?
Me: Give me a break. Just tell me who you were with.
Him: Okay, it was a woman friend.
Me: A friend…
Him: Yes, she’s just a friend.
Me: Then why didn’t you tell me about her?
Him: Because you wouldn’t understand.
Me: Oh, I understand.
Him: This is exactly why I don’t tell you things. You always make too big of a deal out of everything.
No, the truth is that I had failed to make a big enough deal out of too many things. I believed I could somehow navigate the house of mirrors my abuser constructed. I learned the hard way that you cannot make straight the ways of the crooked, you cannot reason with the unreasonable, and you cannot trust the words that fall from the lips of a pathological liar.
If your abuser is anything like mine was, step back and take a good look at the kind of man you are dealing with. There is no sense wasting your precious time and energy on a person to whom truth means absolutely nothing. There is no right way to live with a liar.
Epilogue: Not long after that conversation, my then-husband broke off his relationship with that woman. Several weeks later, the man sent me a beautiful bouquet with three vivid red roses along with a long, sentimental love note that said the roses symbolized the past, the present and the future. He went on about the good times we had shared, how he intended to rectify his mistakes and then passionately petitioned me to wait for him, stressing how much he loved me. I soon discovered that, when he sent me those beautiful roses, he had just initiated a dating relationship with another woman.
I still love receiving flowers, but I don’t really care for red roses anymore.