What Donald Trump and serial cheaters have in common
President Trump’s lies and gaslighting look familiar to anyone who has ever had a partner cheat on him or her — and it’s crazy-making.
I’ll admit it — I was not happy that Donald Trump became our 45th president. Give him a chance, many said, and I was willing to do that. But as he began surrounding himself with racists and bigots, and as one dangerous nominee after another was confirmed and one important program after another was dismantled, it’s became harder and harder.
Every day since he took office, I have awakened to a “what fresh hell is this?” and it’s making me anxious and depressed. Oddly, there is something about Trump’s language and actions that feel all too familiar — he lies, and then tries to convince us that he’s telling the truth and everyone else has it wrong, aka #alternative facts and “fake news.” Lately, he’s even begun calling respected news outlets such as the New York Times and CNN “enemies of the people.” As a 30-plus year journalist, that is absolutely not true.
Still, his behavior reminds me of what it’s like to live with a cheating spouse.
It isn’t pretty.
My former husband had been having a long-term affair. Whenever I asked him about what felt suspect, he denied everything and turned it back on me — I was being paranoid, suspicious, distrusting. Even when I finally had undeniable proof, he just amped up the denials and blaming. Soon, I began to question my own thoughts; was I making this up? Was I overreacting? My gut kept telling me no, even if he kept telling me I was.he kept up the charade until I demanded we go to counseling.
Trouble with the truth
Ultimately, I realized he has trouble with the truth.
And so does Trump.
Many people, including me, believe Trump is lying about many things, including his ties to Russia, but let’s just look at a few lies we know to be lies. In his embarrassing press conference last week, he insisted he became president with the largest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan. When a reporter called him out as being incorrect, he said, “I was given that information.” But it’s wrong information — a quick Google search is all you need — and to continue to repeat bad information is lying.
Then there’s was the leaks-are-real-reporting-about-them-is-fake thing. It’s impossible for both of these to be true. It’s like a cheating spouse who is caught cheating but tells you that you are wrong to know what you know.
Then there’s constant calling out of the media as fake news. We all know that, yes, there’s been a lot of real fake news recently; thankfully, it didn’t influence the election. But to call the New York Times, CNN, CBS, NBC “and many more” fake news is a lie. Again, it’s just like when a cheating spouse puts the blame on his or her spouse; It’s not me, it’s you! And the more the cheater keeps repeating the lie and defending himself, the more the other person begins to doubt herself. It’s crazy-making. This is called gaslighting, a term psychologists use “to describe the use of deflection and distraction and blame by one person to hide some truth, or to benefit in some way, at the cost of another.”
Which is why Trump’s talk feels so familiar to me.
So if you’ve never experienced adultery, now you have a glimpse of what it feels like. If you have, well, I’m sorry; welcome to the club. Except, it’s easy to know what a cheating partner wants — to continue have sex or whatever with the affair partner. Thus, he or she will continue to lie and manipulate to keep the affair going. We really don’t know what Trump actually wants to do as he lies to us, what his motivations are. It’s easy to imagine the worst while hoping for the best. But I’m listening to my gut — as I did with my former hubby’s affair — and honestly, I just don’t think it’s going to be good for us. Plus, I was able to see the bills and receipts that left a paper trail of deception; this is why it’s so important to see Trump’s taxes.
How can we continue to trust someone who continually lies to us and never apologizes — or even acknowledges a mistake, let alone works to correct it or build trust? I don’t know about you, but I long ago made a vow to myself — no more liars in my life.
Cheating = abuse?
Some people call cheating abuse; I do not. A one-night stand is not abuse. It isn’t the affair per se that’s the problem — it’s what happens after the affair is discovered, if it ever is. But the gaslighting, lying and manipulation that come with the discovery of serial cheating is most definitely a type of emotional abuse and highly destructive. Still, for those who believe all infidelity is abuse, I would guess they’d say Trump right now is abusing Americans.
Many people, including therapists, advise people to walk away from serial cheaters and liars. But, as Esther Perel notes, there are many ways spouses can betray each other beyond just affairs — denying sex, being neglectful, indifferent, contemptuous, asexual, demeaning and insulting — all of which can be is as damaging, and sometimes more, as physical abuse.
We have a president who is lying to us, for reasons unknown (to us, anyway), as well as being contemptuous, demeaning and insulting. Is this a person we can truly trust? Is this a person who is bringing out the best in us?
Want to learn how to talk about monogamy with your partner? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.