Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life

The Chump Lady's Survival Guide


By Tracy Schorn

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Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life is a no-nonsense self-help guide for anyone who has ever been cheated on. Here’s advice not based on saving your relationship after infidelity — but saving your sanity.

When it comes to cheating, a lot of the attention is focused on cheaters — their unmet needs or their challenges with monogamy. But Tracy Schorn (aka Chump Lady) lampoons such blameshifting and puts the focus squarely on the-cheated-upon (chumps) and their needs. Combining solid advice that champions self-respect, along with hilarious cartoons satirizing the pomposity of cheaters, Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life offers a fresh voice for chumps who want (and need) a new message about infidelity. This book will offer advice on Stupid sh*t cheaters say and how to respond, Rookie mistakes of the recently chumped and how to disarm your fears, Why chumps take the blame and how to protect yourself, and more.

Full of snark, sass, and real wisdom about how to bounce back after the gut blow of betrayal, Schorn is the friend who guides you through this nightmare and gives you hope for a better life ahead.




Cheaters get all the glory.

When infidelity is portrayed in movies, novels, or made-for-TV dramas, cheaters are the tortured protagonists—sexy taboo breakers compelled by Forces Greater Than Themselves to love the forbidden Other. Tragic affairs are the stuff of pathos and romance. Oh, the crushing indecision, being torn between two lovers, thwarted by the cruel, cruel forces of monogamy. Poor cheaters. All they seek is happiness. And can you fault happiness?

Left offstage, standing in the curtain’s shadow, is the chump—the Obstacle to Happiness.

When mentioned in the infidelity books, the chump is the dullard whose inadequacies drove the cheater into another’s arms. The chump is the co-conspirator who Must Have Known and had some tacit arrangement with the cheater. The chump is the failure who wasn’t meeting the cheater’s needs.

Sexless, unkind, controlling, chumps are seen as complicit in their own betrayal. Oh sure, they have a right to be hurt. Mistakes were made. But chumps should examine how they drove their partners to cheat and strive to improve themselves. Why, if chumps only tried harder, they could win their cheaters back and save their marriages!

No wonder being cheated on is shrouded in shame. Who wants to admit they’ve been chumped? It’s bad enough to be humiliated in the most intimate of ways, but then the resources purported to help you blame you for your part in it all. Worse, they assume that your default position should be wooing back the person who just gutted you with betrayal.

Isn’t it time to change the infidelity narrative?


Being cheated on is not your fault.

I realize this is completely at odds with the message you’re probably getting from your cheater, blaming you for their happiness deficit. And it probably stands in stark contrast to your own self-recriminations—that you weren’t enough, that you work too much, that you spend too much time with the kids, or that your thighs are chubby. But you don’t need a PhD to conclude that we don’t drive people to do things. It’s common sense.

Since when did you possess superpowers?

Since when did you have the ability to compel people to act? Think about it. If you had a choice of superpowers—invisibility, flight, x-ray vision—do you think you would choose rejection?

Yes, I can make people cheat on me through my sheer suckitude! And if I concentrate hard enough, I can also make them hit me and drive them to drink!

We don’t make people abuse us. Our inadequacies, real or imagined, do not compel our cheaters to create dating profiles or develop a hooker habit. Those choices are completely on them—100 percent.


Listen, I’m not saying you don’t suck. I don’t know you. For all I know, you believe in One World Order conspiracies, have halitosis, and never clip your toenails. You may be perfectly dreadful to be married to. I’m simply saying you did not make your partner cheat.

Your cheater had an entire decision tree of options, beginning with difficult conversations, therapy, and divorce lawyers. They didn’t choose those things—they made a deliberate choice to fuck other people and lie to you about it.

Oh, but we can’t help who we fall in love with! Affairs are just little exuberant acts of defiance! Sure, cheaters may screw around, but that doesn’t mean they don’t value their marriages!

These are the messages out there minimizing infidelity. You would think being chumped was a rejection on par with not being asked to the prom, instead of the life-shattering event that it actually is.

Aside from being humiliating, disrespectful, and comically pathetic—infidelity is abusive. It is psychological abuse. You cannot cheat on someone without lying to and gaslighting them. (“It’s not what you think!” “You’re crazy!”) Throw in some blameshifting and minimization after discovery (“You drove me to it,” “I don’t see what the big deal is”), and you’ve got quite an assemblage of mindfuckery.

Now factor in cheaters unilaterally risking your health and your family’s home life. Infidelity sounds a lot less jolly after you’ve paternity-tested your children. Or had your feet up in stirrups for a full STD screening after years of assumed monogamy. Or lost a pregnancy to an undisclosed STD. Or found your children’s college funds spent on sex workers. Or stumbled on evidence that the cheater fucked someone else in your bed.

We don’t tend to hear that side of the story because, well, it’s a bummer. Chumps are just a spot of collateral damage. Hey, don’t take it so hard!

So who was picking up the slack while the cheater was out chasing the butterflies of aliveness? Who was rocking babies, packing school lunches, and bringing home their paychecks? Who existed in the same less-than-stellar marriage and didn’t blow their boss? Chumps. Cheating takes time and resources away from the marriage—so, just by virtue of being there and not screwing around, chumps are usually the more invested partners. Not perfect partners, but committed ones.

But the real injustice of chump blame is that it trivializes loving someone with your whole heart. It faults trusting and believing in the commitments made to you. Oh, don’t be a Pollyanna! Everyone cheats. Monogamy is so unnatural. You’re left exposed, feeling foolish for having loved someone so unrequitedly. And you’re left questioning, not the audacious blameshifting of cheaters, but your own lack of sophistication.


Chumps accept the responsibility for cheating because it gives us a sense of control. When your world has just been shattered, control is a very seductive commodity. Hey, if this is my fault, then I can fix it! Why, I’ll just make some adjustments, turn a few knobs, and prevent this terrible thing from ever happening again. And if I fail? Well, it’s because I didn’t follow the “Affair-Proof Your Marriage” recipe carefully enough! My bad. I must try harder.

A more difficult question to answer is this: Why do the majority of infidelity resources indulge in chump blame and peddle the ridiculous notion that you can single-handedly save your marriage?

First, it’s profitable. “Send me $399 and I’ll affair-proof your marriage” is a far better business model than being a cold bucket of water. There is a lot of money to be made on false hope and the notion that we can control scary outcomes.

Second, asking a marriage counselor if your marriage can be saved is like asking a barber if you need a haircut. They’re in the business of fixing relationships, so they tend toward optimism. In fairness, you’re buying their services believing your marriage can be saved (or why else would you be there?), so they’re not far off the mark thinking they can help you.

Third, in many quarters there is a cultural bias toward saving marriages and avoiding the dreaded specter of divorce. Your religious, cultural, or family structure may not be neutral on the subject. The women’s movement and the divorce reforms of the 1970s did a lot to fight the stigma of divorce, but, sadly, the shame surrounding “failed” marriages still exists.

Fourth, a lot of therapists are still not hip to personality disorders as they relate to infidelity. There is a nonjudgmental therapy bias of “I’m okay, you’re okay. We both brought issues to the marriage.” The notion that disordered people don’t play by the same rules of moral conduct is lost on a lot of people, not just therapists. That is, until the day they find their pension funds embezzled, their scoutmaster indicted, or their wife missing on a yoga retreat with her soul mate. Then suddenly character disturbance becomes a pertinent area of interest.

Anyway, I’m not in any of those camps. Chump Lady is your friendly cold bucket of water. I’m the buddy who grabs you by the lapels, looks you square in the eye, and says, “HEY! Wake up! You’re being PLAYED!”

I’m not here to help you save your marriage after infidelity. I’m here to help you save your sanity and protect yourself. But before I get into the particulars, let me skip ahead to the end of the story and tell you how it all works out: You survive this. Actually, you’re going to be triumphant. Yes, it’s going to hurt like a motherfucker; yes, it’s going to test your mettle, and you’ll probably screw up a few times—but you will overcome.

How do I know? Because what’s the alternative? Let this define you? Get pulled into the undertow and drown? Become one of those brittle cyborg people fronting a fake life, writing insipid holiday newsletters that never reveal what a sham they’ve become? Is that what you want? To lose your soul?

Look, cheaters might try to take your kids, your house, your retirement accounts, your wedding china, and your dignity, but they cannot take your fucking soul. You own that. Infidelity will not break you. It’s a sucker punch to the gut for sure, but it’s not a death sentence. It’s a horrible loss. A loss of trust, of innocence, of personal safety, of family as you thought you knew it. There’s so much to grieve and, I won’t lie to you, processing it all feels like it will take forever. You can’t hurry the misery along; you just feel it. But I promise it’s finite.

If you let this pain crack open your heart and you accept the vulnerability and chaos, you’re going to be a better person for it. You will never be smug again. And that right there makes you 99 percent less of an asshole than most of the general population. You’re a survivor who knows what every other disaster survivor knows—life can unjustly fall apart. You can only rebuild. And the only people who are worth spit are the people who aren’t afraid of your pain, who’ll walk into your cracked open heart and not blame you for it.

“What did you do to make this bad thing happen to you?” Fuck those people. You were chumped. Someone’s crappy, entitled behavior did this to you. You trusted and got played. You don’t control what other people do, but you do get to control how you’re going to respond.

Begin by having some compassion for yourself. Be a better person for this shit hand you were dealt. You’ve now got the ability to walk into other people’s cracked open hearts, and while that might not feel like a gift right now, it is a huge gift. You will appreciate every good thing that comes after this and every good person. You will see the world in Technicolor. You’ll know who your friends are and who is a waste of space. You’ll be wiser and stronger. A farmer I know calls these sorts of gifts “hard blessings.” Not obvious blessings, but the kind that come after a devastating hailstorm wipes out your crops.

Anyway, my point is this: Buck up. You’re going to navigate this shitstorm just fine. Let’s get started.


Dear Chump Lady,

My husband has a weird relationship with his cell phone. He’s in IT, so I just thought he likes devices or something. But he takes it into the bathroom with him and spends a lot of time in there. Like an unnaturally long time. I thought, Is he looking at porn? Obsessed with Twitter? Communicating with space aliens?

I know it’s wrong, but I snooped. While he was sleeping, I looked at his phone and saw a text: “Hey, Sexy Beast. I miss you!”

Then I looked at his photos and now I know what he was doing in the bathroom—dick pics!

I immediately confronted him and now he’s furious with me. I “invaded his privacy.” The woman who called him “Sexy Beast” is just a “work friend” and I have friends, so what, now I am the friend police? The dick pics are just something he does. It was a joke, and apparently I can’t take a joke.

He swears he’s not cheating on me. What do you think?



Dear Humorless,

I think jokes should be shared. When you have such an awesome sense of humor, why hide it under a bushel basket? How would he feel about showing his boss those texts? I mean, it’s just a few innocent chuckles between coworkers. I wonder how the Human Resources Department would enjoy his dick pics. Go ahead and suggest that.

If you find that, wow, there are a lot of people out there who fail to appreciate his brand of “humor,” consider yourself gaslighted. He knows this is inappropriate, so he is going on the offensive with blameshifting—you are violating his privacy. You don’t want him to have friends. You don’t have a sense of humor. The problem is you and couldn’t possibly be him. See how that works?

People who care about your feelings don’t mindfuck you. Generally, only guilty people do that.

Of course I don’t know if he is cheating anymore than you do. All you can do is review the evidence and weigh how plausible his explanations are. Do you call any of your friends “Sexy Beast”? Do you find taking snapshots of your genitals to be an enjoyable pastime?

You can approach this problem several ways. One way is to simply ask for transparency. Review the cell phone records. Ask to see his phone (without the password protect) and his computer history. Check his social media messages. People who have nothing to hide, hide nothing. If he balks or makes excuses? That’s a bad sign.

If he makes this about your lack of trust in him, own that. “Yes, I am upset and alarmed by what I discovered.” And press forward. If he thinks the snooping or asking for verification is a bigger crime than his apparent cheating, you have another bad sign.

Another approach is to go stealth and gather more evidence. By confronting him immediately, you put yourself at a disadvantage. Now he’s on high alert. Cheaters often just go further underground when confronted, and will only admit to what you have direct evidence of. (And, even then, they’ll minimize and gaslight.) To do the full covert Soviet spy thing, you might want to look into a voice-activated recorder and Velcro it under the seat of his car. Consider putting a keylogger on his computer. Hide a GPS in the car to record where he travels. Or use the “Find My Mac” application on your iPhone or iPad when he’s out.

There is a plethora of spyware technology available. The legalities of using it depend on your state. (Make sure you do your research before you do anything in this area.) If you can afford it, also consider hiring a private investigator if you suspect an affair.

Cheaters rely on chumps’ continued trust and cluelessness. Eventually, with any luck, he’ll get sloppy. Then it’s up to you to believe the evidence and draw painful conclusions.

But the big question to ask yourself, Humorless, is what are your deal breakers? What does your gut say? Do you want to be in a marriage in which you feel unsafe? Would you rather your concerns be met with compassion and reassuring actions, or hostility and mindfuckery?

It’s either okay with you that he has online sexual flirtations (or worse) with other women, or it’s not. He either admits the obvious inappropriateness of his behavior and straightens the hell up, or he doesn’t.

The point when you’re considering wiretapping your husband is also the point when you have to admit that you don’t trust the man. No one can sustain hypervigilance for very long. Figure out what your deal breakers are and start enforcing your boundaries. If your husband won’t cooperate and work to restore your trust, if he cannot respond with honesty and transparency, you don’t need any more evidence. This is a nonstarter.

That is, unless you want to share your marriage with Mr. Sexy Beast and his dick pic pals.






This chapter is for those of you who just found out your partner cheated and may still be curled in the fetal position. Pause for a moment from the vomiting and crying and find your badass. It’s time to take back your power.

I know you’re in shock, and I know you’re grieving, but I want you to be a field marshal now and not a damp mess spilled over the furniture. The important thing is to protect yourself and not succumb to the following common rookie mistakes.


Discovering that you’ve been cheated on is a monumental shock to the system. It’s often described as an out-of-body experience. So it’s pretty common to totally forget you have a body. Sleep? Food? Hygiene? You’re too busy piecing together affair time lines of the last eighteen months, monitoring social media, and cross-referencing your cell phone bills, dammit.

Stop. Go make a tuna-fish sandwich. Don’t forget to eat. You’ll probably stare at it lifelessly as if tuna fish were some theoretical construct and not sustenance. That’s normal. Choke it down anyway. You need to keep your wits about you and that’s absolutely impossible with insomnia or an empty stomach.

Sleep deprivation will make you crazy and you don’t need any help in that quarter now. Consider a temporary sleep aid. Exercise will help with sleep too (and the gym is a marvelous place to punch things).

The fight-or-flight adrenaline you’re producing is a natural reaction to being ambushed. Practice self-care for the battle ahead. The longer you stay in a state of disbelief and paralysis, the more opportunity your cheater has to keep taking advantage of you.


Remember what I said about cheaters not playing by the same set of rules as you? You just woke up to find out you’re in the fifth inning of Cheater Ball. When did the game start? What’s the score? Your cheater isn’t going to tell you. For cheaters, part of the game of Cheater Ball is denying they’re playing Cheater Ball. Work from the assumption that your cheater has a very different agenda than you do and that your well-being is not at the top of it.

Cheaters’ actions clearly demonstrate that it is all about them. Affairs are decided upon unilaterally. Your cheater did not consider your health, your feelings, your children, or your shared finances. So why would you think you can achieve consensus with this person now?

There is no great awakening. Discovery does not transform cheaters into honorable people. It does not make them suddenly appreciate what they could lose. No, discovery kicks their manipulation game up several notches. Cheaters want very desperately for you to go right back to being their malleable chump-in-the-dark, and to prevent ugly consequences from raining down on them. The best way to make sure that happens is through manipulation.

Actually, manipulation is just a continuation of their existing strategy. You can’t cheat on chumps without lying to or gaslighting them. Cheaters are not about to change tactics and go with unvarnished honesty now. Remain highly skeptical. Judge cheaters by their actions over time—a long time. Don’t assume friendship and mutuality where it doesn’t exist.

Your job right now is to protect yourself (and your children, if you have them) from further harm. That doesn’t make you churlish, selfish, or unkind (things your cheater may accuse you of). That just makes you a smart person who is enforcing boundaries.


Most cheaters will lie and gaslight you unless you catch them dead to rights, and even then they usually only fess up to what they think you already know. If you confront them before you have evidence, there’s a good chance they’ll take the affair further underground.

If you’ve discovered evidence of an affair or someone has outed an affair to you, put all your evidence in a safe place (preferably a lawyer’s office in a fault divorce state) before you confront your cheater. Email it to a trusted friend, to another account you’ve set up, or put it in a safe-deposit box. Never reveal your sources.

If you’re in the fortunate position of knowing you’re a chump before your cheater knows you know—you’ve got a tactical advantage. You can get your financial and legal ducks in a row without interference.

If your discovery was sloppier (as it often is)—if the cheater confessed, if you stumbled across evidence of an affair in front of your spouse, or if you lost your shit before you read this—don’t worry. You can still put your affairs in order (I pun). It’s just going to be more difficult because your cheater will be pulling out all the stops to keep you from imposing consequences. Just stay strong and keep protecting yourself.


But! But! This is all just a terrible misunderstanding and he’s very sorry and we’re going to work it out! Please, still see a lawyer.

Why? Because you’re a chump. You’ve demonstrated that you can be played. Your cheater is counting on that, and now that the infidelity has been discovered, the pressure is on to manipulate you further. You need the cool head of legal advocacy. Even if you do not go through with a divorce, seeing a lawyer means you know exactly what your rights are, what you could be entitled to in a divorce, what decisions you should and should not make concerning your finances, your children, exposure of the affair, moving out, having sex with your spouse after discovery, abandonment, temporary support, and so on.

Another reason to see a lawyer is that your cheater may have already done so. Don’t assume it will always be you who will have the option of pulling the plug. Your cheater already has one foot out the door in this marriage; this person could abandon you at any time.

I know seeing a lawyer makes it real and scary, especially if you’re not ready for the ugly “D” word. It can feel like putting the cart before the horse. I haven’t decided yet if reconciliation is possible! Won’t I antagonize my spouse by seeing a lawyer?

First of all, don’t worry about antagonizing your cheater. Seeking legal counsel is not a sin analogous to infidelity. Your cheater certainly didn’t worry about antagonizing you by engaging in an affair. Just see a lawyer. You don’t have to announce it to your cheater. Just do it.

Second of all, you are in CRISIS. Bitchslap yourself, please. You need professional help to sort through this mess, and your lawyer has seen it all before and knows how to navigate this. Admit it—you do not possess this skill set.

Lawyers know what moves cheaters may make and how to block those moves, or mitigate the damage legally. Knowledge is power. The very worst thing you can do is trust the cheater who created this clusterfuck to set things right. No, go on the offensive. Find out what is in your best legal interest and call the tune on any potential reconciliation. If you aren’t hiring this lawyer for your divorce, you’re damn sure hiring them to draw up your post-nup.

What’s a post-nup? Talk to a lawyer. A post-nup can vary from state to state, but it is an uncontested divorce settlement. Like a pre-nup, a post-nup is a ready-made settlement in case of divorce, which sets out the terms of asset division and custody, if appropriate. If you reconcile, you’re taking a risk that your cheater will not cheat again. A post-nup is your “get out of jail free” card if they cheat again or you just can’t hack reconciliation.

Remember, sorry is as sorry does. Only cheaters control whether or not they cheat again, so remorseful cheaters should be keen to sign a post-nup—because it’s a useless document, right? Because they’re not going to cheat again, right? Because they want to demonstrate their remorse, right?

You cannot put provisions in a post-nup like: “If you cheat again, I get to gouge your eyes out with a rusty spoon.” It’s simply an uncontested divorce settlement.

How do you find a lawyer? Asking for a referral can be awkward. If you ask someone you know, you’ve let the cat out of the bag that, yes, you’re having marital difficulties. You might not be ready for that. So, consider the anonymity of an online community or referral service. SuperLawyers.com is a good resource. (No, they don’t pay me to plug them. I just happen to be married to a Super Lawyer.) Super Lawyers are the lawyers other lawyers recommend; they’re the top tier in their field.

Make sure you get a family law lawyer


On Sale
May 10, 2016
Page Count
240 pages
Running Press

Tracy Schorn

About the Author

Tracy Schorn is a journalist who runs the successful infidelity blog Chump Lady (ChumpLady.com), and whose snarky wisdom and cartoons have helped thousands of chumps leave cheaters. Tracy is a regular contributor to Huffington Post Divorce, recognized by Babble as one of the Top 10 Relationship Bloggers, and is a relationship blogger for the BlogHer network. She lives in Lockhart, Texas with her husband, also a former chump.

Learn more about this author