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Empathy Fueled Deceit

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 This0is0Fine (original poster member #72277) posted at 10:46 PM on Monday, November 21st, 2022

So I was thinking about empathy the other day. By itself, it's understanding how someone else feels. In order to manipulate and deceive someone, you have to anticipate how they will behave based on the information they have available.

So to start this exercise in empathy driven deceit, the WS buys into the lie "If no one finds out, no one gets hurt". This is a foundational belief that allows many of conclusions of a WS to take place. I don't think holding this belief is inherently due to a lack of empathy, and is more due to a lack of ethics. In fact, even under the golden rule, if they *really* believed it, they would say "If you cheated on me, I'd rather never suspect and never find out".

So starting from there, we can get to some very common phrases that a WS might use. For example, "I didn't tell you because I didn't want to hurt you". Since it's the telling that would hurt, they use empathy to NOT tell you. They know the truth would cause you to be upset (they put themselves in your shoes to know this). Thus it uses the empathy function of the mind. I would share more examples here, but as many areas that are "avoiding consequence" could equally be thought of as "employing empathetic deceit". I've seen it suggested the WS knows just how much pain their BS can take at once, and that leads to trickle truth. Admitting an amount that feels appropriate, but not "unnecessarily hurtful" to the WS.

If the WS really didn't have empathy, they would likely be more upfront about their behavior. It is the knowledge that what they are doing is wrong and painful that leads them to hide it. They have to anticipate how we will feel in order to manipulate and deceive us. The same way a white lie is used to save feelings, but on a much larger, self-serving scale.

Essentially, it's not the lack of empathy that allows them to lie and cheat. It's the selfishness, lack of ethics, and lack of compassion that drive the WS to lie. Empathy is used all along in order to determine what lies to feed the BS.

I don't think this necessarily helps anyone here, but I thought I'd share.

Love is not a measure of capacity for pain you are willing to endure for your partner.

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Butforthegrace ( member #63264) posted at 11:14 PM on Monday, November 21st, 2022

I couldn't disagree more. Fundamentally, it's about what empathy is/is not. Empathy is about understanding the feelings of another, from the perspective of the other. Withholding the painful truth of one's own cheating from one's spouse is rarely about empathy, because in most cases, the betrayed spouse would prefer to actually know the truth, no matter how painful. If the cheater truly had empathy, he/she would understand that from the betrayed's perspective.

Empathy requires, among other things, courage. Cheaters withhold the truth, and lie about it, and sneak, because of cowardice. Cowardice, my friend, is anathema to empathy.

"The wicked man flees when no one chases."

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Grieving ( member #79540) posted at 11:18 PM on Monday, November 21st, 2022

Is it empathy, though, or just not wanting consequences?

My husband and his married AP leaned hard into the "it would hurt them too much to know" justification for lying to their spouses.

Their hypocrisy became glaringly evident when I found some indications of the affair and calmly confronted my husband. For a month I begged for the truth and made it clear that I would much, much rather have the truth than be lied to, even if the truth was terribly painful. He’s known me for decades. He knew I was sincere.

True empathy would have been acknowledging what I said about needing the truth and then telling me the truth. Instead, he doubled down on the lying. And his AP was adamant that the lying had to continue.

They just didn’t want consequences, and they excused their perfidy to themselves under the flimsy rationale of not wanting to cause pain.

I do think my husband and many WS’s don’t want pain to occur. In an ideal world they could do whatever TF they want and no one would mind. But that’s a shallow, unrealistic, meaningless form of empathy.

Married for 20 years with two kids when my husband had a six month affair with a coworker. DD1: 6/2020. DD2: 7/3/2020. Reconciling

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Tanner ( member #72235) posted at 11:33 PM on Monday, November 21st, 2022

Its selfish empathy. They are doing it to cover their own ass and not face the shitty behavior. They feel they are great people and the AP validates it. Nothing my WW did was with me in mind or to protect me, it was all about her and her feelings.

Dday Sept 7 2019 doing well in R
BH M 31 years

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 This0is0Fine (original poster member #72277) posted at 11:36 PM on Monday, November 21st, 2022

Cowardice, my friend, is anathema to empathy.

Is it empathy, though, or just not wanting consequences?

This I think is the main thought I'm wrapping my head around a little in this thread. Are they really just afraid of the consequences, like we so often say here.

Maybe not trying to give the weight of the WS's excuse a ring of authenticity or be an apologist. I'm just wondering if so much of what we call "avoiding consequences" isn't somehow fueled on the belief that they are truly minimizing the pain their already selfish actions have caused.

Normally I'd be all in on the "they just don't want consequences" rationale for all the lies and trickle truth. Sometimes I think that an extension of other reasoning may actually be true. That perhaps in their mind, the reason they don't say "I'm seeing someone else" is the same reason they don't say "I don't like the way you made dinner".

And maybe I'm just splitting hairs on empathy and compassion. Maybe caring about how the other person actually feels instead of simply predicting how they would feel and behave is what matters here anyway.

Grieving, I appreciate your thoughts and experience in this case, because how clear you dashed apart his internal lie of "no one gets hurt if no one finds out".

Love is not a measure of capacity for pain you are willing to endure for your partner.

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nomudnolotus ( member #59431) posted at 12:40 AM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

What does having empathy mean?
Empathy is a broad concept that refers to the cognitive and emotional reactions of an individual to the observed experiences of another. Having empathy increases the likelihood of helping others and showing compassion.

Nothing you're talking about is showing empathy.

It's justification for bad actions.
It's lying to protect themselves.
It's lying to themselves so they don't feel badly (if they even feel badly).


People with real empathy do not cheat on their spouses because they can understand the pain this would cause, and they have compassion for their spouse.

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humantrampoline ( member #61458) posted at 12:46 AM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

Well, I can sort of see your point and sort of not.

A person can lie because they don't want to hurt another person. They can also lie because they are avoiding consequences for their actions.

People don't hide their shoplifting or embezzlement because they don't want to hurt the business owner's or shareholders' feelings. They simply don't care about their feelings, and they want to avoid consequences.

Lying doesn't necessarily show empathy. It does make a good excuse internally or after the fact.

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Cooley2here ( member #62939) posted at 2:47 AM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

I don’t think you can calm what they do or feel is empathy. I consider empathy benign. People who cheat are totally disinterested in what other people feel or they would not do it. I realize that a lot of life is in the gray area but in this case I think we are talking black or white. Cheating is lying and when you lie to someone who trusts you that’s not empathy.

When things go wrong, don’t go with them. Elvis

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RubixCubed ( member #51615) posted at 5:22 AM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

Empathy - Not a chance
Cover your ass selfishness - Absolutely

"But I'm trying, Ringo. I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd."

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humantrampoline ( member #61458) posted at 5:52 AM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

I struggle with this concept. I try to sort in my head when I speak up and when I don't and why.

In SI, people generally agree if a married acquaintance makes sexually suggestive advances, you should tell their spouse. I'll admit that I haven't at times, and I don't know if I would in the future in same circumstance. I don't know if that's empathy or cowardice.

Here's an example. A few years ago I was visiting my in-laws. My SIL's father (husband's brother's family, I'm not close to this SIL) and his male friends were there. Dinner and wine flowing. I went to the bathroom and met SIL's father on the stairwell. He had a headlight or hat with headlight that was a gift and shined it on my cleavage and said something like, "This is great for lighting up things I need to see up close!". He said something else inappropriate. I laughed and said, "You're such an asshole" or something similar and pushed his shoulder and went by him. I can't really see telling his wife. I don't think I told my husband. This man acts mostly the same in public, but I'm not usually his object.

When I don't speak up, is that my empathy for his wife or my desire to not be involved? Am I a coward or a pragmatist who thinks everybody knows what he does and how he acts toward women? I honestly don't want the consequences for calling him out in public to the family. His wife should be told, but I don't want to tell her. I think she knows. I don't want the consequences of being honest.

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Butforthegrace ( member #63264) posted at 12:29 PM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

I'm just wondering if so much of what we call "avoiding consequences" isn't somehow fueled on the belief that they are truly minimizing the pain their already selfish actions have caused.

It wouldn't surprise me to learn that many waywards follow tortured logic such as this to justify their selfish and cowardly decisions, but it's a reverse logic. A wayward's (incorrect) subjective belief that they are being empathetic does not equate to them having empathy. In a similar way, many serial or mass killers convince themselves they are doing the work of God, or some other higher power. "God told me to skin you alive." That doesn't equate to the the victim actually being blessed via the torture.

The self-induced belief that they are "sparing" the BS pain, that's not a species of empathy. It's just logical fallacy molded into whatever self-serving bullshit the wayward needs to tell him- or her-self to justify his or her fucked up behavior.

[This message edited by Butforthegrace at 11:02 PM, Tuesday, November 22nd]

"The wicked man flees when no one chases."

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Tanner ( member #72235) posted at 12:50 PM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

Years ago I was offered an opportunity on a business trip to have a ONS. For that split second I thought like a wayward, I was justifying in my head how I "deserved it". It was the Devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. I told the group good night and went to my room, alone.

When I thought of what it would do to my W and kids it made me sick inside. That was where the empathy begins and ends. Had I cheated on my W, and kept it from her, it would have only been self serving.

When I got home I told her the full story.

Dday Sept 7 2019 doing well in R
BH M 31 years

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zebra25 ( member #29431) posted at 1:05 PM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

I think the logic they follow is, if no one finds out than I get to continue having my A. It is also how they maintain control during and after the A. If they don't tell their spouse than they get to decide if they are going to continue to cheat and have secrets while staying married.

I didn't tell you because I didn't want to hurt you translates to I didn't want the A to end or I didn't want to face the consequences (divorce, separation, tarnishing my image).

"Don't let anyone who hasn't been in your shoes tell you how to tie your laces."

D-day April 2010

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Hannah47 ( member #80116) posted at 3:51 PM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

For example, "I didn't tell you because I didn't want to hurt you". Since it's the telling that would hurt, they use empathy to NOT tell you. They know the truth would cause you to be upset (they put themselves in your shoes to know this). Thus it uses the empathy function of the mind.

Perhaps it’s a matter of definition, but I’m not convinced that this is empathy. It can be simple mentalizing (or having a "theory of mind"). Theory of mind is the capacity to ascribe mental states to others in order to predict or explain their behavior. "Mental states" here include beliefs, emotions, desires, intentions, thoughts… While both mentalizing and empathy require recognizing someone else’s mental state, empathy additionally requires sharing the mental state of the other person.

The WS in your example follows this logic: Telling will hurt my spouse. I don’t want to hurt my spouse. Therefore, I will not tell.

They don’t need to use empathy to think "Telling will hurt my spouse" – they only need to ascribe an emotional state of "hurting" to their spouse and have some indication that their spouse might be hurt if they tell. However, they don’t need to share that emotional state, they don’t need to feel what the other one is feeling. In fact, their emotional state in the same situation might even be completely different. It’s the same as me thinking "Buying flowers to my Mom will make her happy" – I don’t need to use my empathy in order to think that. I just need to assume my Mom is capable of having mental states and I need to have some indication flowers might make her happy (perhaps she told me, or I know that some other people were happy when they got flowers). I don’t even need to fully understand why someone would be happy if they get flowers – perhaps I don’t share that sentiment.

Empathy can kick in during the second step: "I don’t want to hurt my spouse". However, as others have already indicated – there are plenty of other reasons why one might not want to hurt their spouse. It does not necessarily involve empathy. In fact, it might be due to very selfish reasons. One could also argue that if empathy kicks in during that step, WS would likely behave differently. Perhaps it’s me, but I don’t see how someone could "feel what the BS is feeling" and continue the betrayal (unless they are a masochist).

Nevertheless, it’s an interesting perspective.

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humantrampoline ( member #61458) posted at 5:53 PM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

I don't think we get to have it both ways with empathy, and that is what bothers me here.

At SI, many advocate not publicly outing an AP because it may hurt the OBS or their children. Do we take the same attitude with rapists or child molesters or other criminals? No. The concern in not publicly revealing the truth in infidelity is justified by empathy for the perpetrator's family.

I would personally want to know if someone I'm interacting with has committed infidelity. Isn't that "I would want to know in the same situation" the whole basis of empathy. I certainly want to know if the AP is your electrician or contractor or nanny or a person invited into your house on the basis of conducting business. I would thank you for putting that on a Google review. It's often recommended NOT to do something so foolish and unwise here.

Rapists and child molesters may seem extreme, so maybe consider sexual harassment and date rape and male rape. I think at heart there is a part of not revealing that is shame or not wanting public blame to fall on you.

Perhaps I'm sensitive to this because I experienced sexual harassment in a male-dominated field early in my career. When I was thinking of revealing, I heard things like, "no one will want to work with you ever again" and "what about his career". I didn't hear, "what about his wife and children?". But that deceptive empathy argument is stated here with exposure. I'm sure it did affect his marriage, his wife, his career, and his children when I exposed. Was that supposed to be my primary concern?

Again, I never exposed BIL's FIL's totally inappropriate behavior. But with consideration of empathy, I would have wanted that revealed to me in the sane situation. I didn't want the fallout. That's hypocrisy.


Edit: I guess I'm saying if I acted in true empathy, the feeling in my heart of would I want to knowif i were in the situation, I would have considered my husband, my FIL, MIL, SIL and SO, and this man's 2 friends. I would have come back to the dinner table and said, "Hey. That asshole cornered me on the stairs where I couldn't get passed him, and said rude and inappropriate comments and propositioned me". Because really, I would want to know to keep a huge distance with him. Instead I employed a deceptive empathy that tells me everyone wants a nice, happy dinner. Convenient for me.

[This message edited by humantrampoline at 6:16 PM, Tuesday, November 22nd]

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BluerThanBlue ( member #74855) posted at 6:08 PM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

Empathy would stop someone from cheating, not help them hide it.

BW, age 40
Divorced WH in 2015; now happily remarried to a great guy

I edit my comments a lot for spelling, grammar, typos, etc.

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 This0is0Fine (original poster member #72277) posted at 6:16 PM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

I think I'm pretty convinced I was just having a bit of an errant thought along the lines of "what if WS's are telling the truth?"

I do still wonder, as you go down the line of the slippery slope, when do you move from showing appropriate discretion and managing your business vs. being deceptive.

Lets say you develop attraction or a crush on a coworker or friend. You don't act on the crush, you are just aware of it. Does your spouse deserve to know this? Does it help them to know this? Let's say you place boundaries on that work relationship because you are expressly aware of the crush. Does your spouse deserve to know you've set up those boundaries? Should you already be super open/transparent with your spouse? "Hey, there is a new coworker that I've found myself attracted to and shares a lot of similar interests with me, so I've set up some rules to make sure it won't develop into an affair. Just thought I'd let you know."

It seems like a lot of "showing discretion to not worry your spouse" turns into "being deceptive" when/if one of those boundaries fails. It's just not clear to me when one ought to start disclosing something like this. Is the logic always flawed in the first place or does it just become flawed after "something" happens?

Love is not a measure of capacity for pain you are willing to endure for your partner.

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humantrampoline ( member #61458) posted at 6:34 PM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

This0is0Fine,

I, for one, agree that you have a point with deceptive empathy. It's hard for me to admit, but we all employ it to a degree. It serves a purpose. Honestly, if my WH had told me he was missing his AP after D -day, I would have told him to leave immediately. If he had those feelings, and he didnt say he did but I hear its common, was that his empathy for understanding my feelings or a false empathy and protective behavior to save his marriage?

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Tanner ( member #72235) posted at 7:42 PM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

Lets say you develop attraction or a crush on a coworker or friend. You don't act on the crush, you are just aware of it. Does your spouse deserve to know this?

Temptations and random thoughts enter our brains constantly. I don’t act on them so there is nothing to tell.

Now if I was dangerously close to crossing a boundary with someone I would disclose, just as I did after the business trip I talked about up there^^

The problem with the WS is they don’t disclose the little boundary bumps so they can keep their options open. They like the attention.

Dday Sept 7 2019 doing well in R
BH M 31 years

posts: 2007   ·   registered: Dec. 5th, 2019   ·   location: Texas DFW
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SadieMae ( member #42986) posted at 8:24 PM on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

A couple of months ago, my MIL came for a visit. She told us a story about our nephew that lives with her. He's only 10. He's allowed to have a water bottle at school, but they aren't allowed to bring anything except water. So she finds and buys him clear drink add-ins. This way he "isn't breaking the rules."

This was such an eye-opener for me. As a child, I was taught to follow the rules. As a child, WH was taught that as long as you can get around the rules, they don't matter. IMO, that's more the mentality of "if no one finds out, no one gets hurt."

[This message edited by SadieMae at 4:00 PM, November 22nd, 2022 (Tuesday)]

Me: BW 40 on DDAY
Him: WH 40 on DDAY (FlawedBroken)
Together over half our lives.
D-day 3/9/2014
TT until 6/2016
TT again Fall 2020

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