The Chump Lady Survival Guide to Infidelity: How to Regain Your Sanity Once You’ve Been Cheated On by Tracy Schorn [June 2014]
It’s been ages since I picked up a book where, upon turning the last page, I found myself asking, “That’s it?!” Not because the book was bad, not because the conclusion was ill-suited for the pages that preceded, but because the experience of reading it was so good, it couldn’t be time for it to end. There had to be more. Please, could there be more?
Such was my experience reading Tracy Schorn’s The Chump Lady Survival Guide to Infidelity.
If you’ve recently discovered that your spouse or partner was cheating on you, or even if D-Day is some number of months/years behind you and you’re still struggling to heal, this book is a must-read, for three main reasons:
(1) It will help you understand your adulterous spouse’s behavior. Schorn holds that cheating is an inherently narcissistic act and that cheaters cheat because they feel entitled to. Why do they keep their “chump” (that’s the gullible, faithful spouse, hence the book’s title) on the line instead of filing for divorce and/or getting out of the chump’s life completely? It all goes back to their ego, what Schorn calls “kibble supply.” The cheater loves having the attention of both the affair partner and the chump, so the cheater will keep trying to draw the chump into triangulation with the affair partner. While my own faithless spouse did want a divorce, I found his “let’s still be buddies” routine absolutely bizarre–until I read this book. Then it all made sense.
(2) It will give you a solid plan of action. Raging at your faithless spouse is just one more way of satisfying their narcissist tendencies because you’re still reinforcing their view that the universe is All About Them, Schorn teaches you. You want to get to what she calls “meh”–to a point where you no longer care about anything that is happening in their life. The next part was the part that I really found useful: “no contact.” Schorn recommends going completely “no contact” if you do not have children with the cheater, “as little contact as possible” if you were unfortunate enough to breed with them. I never would have thought to implement this strategy with my own faithless spouse, but I have to say, it has been refreshing. The longer I go without being drawn into whatever drama him and his (now ex-)mistress have been creating, the better I feel.
(3) It’s funny as all get, and if you’re going through this, you could use a good laugh. I would sometimes just read sections of it to my commuter buddies, and it would always draw in a round of laughter. Schorn has talent in this department.
I do have some quibbles with the book–you know, beyond its inability to defy the laws of physics and become The Neverending Self-Help Book. I wish that it said more about understanding the Other Man / the Other Woman and whether or not to confront the affair partner. My own experience led me to conclude that you should never confront an affair partner unless s/he does not know they are an affair partner–and then you only confront the AP for his/her benefit. In terms of saving the marriage, it’s a pointless exercise, because the AP isn’t the problem, the problem is that one spouse is a cheater and a cheater’s gonna cheat, cheat, cheat, cheat, cheat. Even if the confrontation gets rid of the first AP, either they will quietly rekindle their relationship later, or another affair partner is sure to take his/her place. I wish this was in the book.
The emotional affair is another subject not covered in the book. Schorn has stated on her blog that she “doesn’t give [emotional affairs] the same weight as having a physical affair.” Well, no, I wouldn’t give them the same weight, either; emotional affairs do not carry the possibility of the horrifying bodily consequences of physical adultery—STDs, paternity uncertainty, love children, etc. Emotional affairs are a quieter kind of insidious in their marital destruction precisely because a spouse can carry one out without fully realizing s/he is having an affair, all the while insisting “it’s just friendship.” So one is like John Carpenter’s The Thing (subversive and difficult to recognize) and one is like the creature from Alien (everyone knows what it is once they see it). Are they the same weight? No, but they are both monsters that will rip your world apart.
I also think Schorn is harder on the possibility of reconciliation than I would be. She likens true reconciliation with the adulterous spouse to a unicorn, a creature that does not and never has existed. As a Christian, I would probably liken true reconciliation to an angel. I think angels exist, but most of the people who claim they have seen one are probably full of crap. Likewise, I think reconciliation and freedom from the sin of adultery can happen, but most couples who say their marriage survived adultery and now they’re happier and healthier than ever are probably kidding themselves. The Gospel account of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) implies that there is such a thing as turning away from adultery for good and being restored, so I believe in it, but I think it is a rare thing.
Finally, I’d like to caution that this is not a Christian book. Schorn says she is a “Methodist preacher’s kid,” but I do not know whether she would identify as a believer now (though she has certainly shown respect and sympathy for religion on her blog). [UPDATE: Tracy wrote to me to say, “I’m an Episcopalian these days. My husband is Catholic. We split the difference.”] What this means is that this book won’t help you work through what Christian forgiveness of an unrepentant adulterous spouse looks like (that’s a subject I hope to address in future posts). Also, Schorn has a potty-mouth and the book contains ample swearing.
(Book trailer below; swearing in on-screen text but not in audio)
If those are all things you think you can handle, then I would recommend this book, even for Christians. Maybe especially for Christians needing to heal from adultery. We’re told so often to be nice, “like Jesus,” we forget that Jesus was the guy who chased people out of the temple with a whip and said more about hell than any other figure in the Bible. There are times for righteous anger and times for aggressive action. Being married to an unrepentant adulterer is one of them.