July 7, 2023 • By Dennis Beaver
Why does someone stay in a romantic relationship with a fraud? We are talking a responsible person who should be aware that their significant other is dishonest and capable of causing them and their employer significant harm.
Is there a way for their employer, family and friends to help them see the light and get out of the toxic relationship? And if the employee refuses all offers of help, could this be a basis for termination?
Today’s story began with a phone call from the CEO of an accounting firm.
“One of our CPAs is involved in a relationship with a woman who is an emotional con artist. I am hoping that you can help him see the quagmire that he is in and the danger it creates for our firm.”
The following day “Chuck” dropped by the office. It was instantly clear that his extreme fear of being alone and obsessive need for companionship has exposed him to a peril he refuses to see or even accept as a possibility.
A Loveless Marriage
“We married young and had a son. I came from a very loving family, but my wife’s was the opposite. She was cold and lacked the ability to be affectionate. It became a loveless, horribly lonely marriage, but I remained in it until our son was 13 and then divorced.
“I am dating a wonderful gal who is the emotional answer to my needs. My employer hates her because she goes by different names, exaggerates and has claimed to be an M.D. which I found not to be true.
“I’m not worried despite what everyone is telling me. I can’t survive without what I had lacked for years: being loved, having someone to love. It makes me so happy to see how appreciative she is when I give her presents; my ex never even said thank you! I would do anything she asks,” Chuck repeated, rationalizing, “I am keeping just close enough to the campfire to be kept warm, but not get burned.”
Or so he thinks.
‘Meeting an Insatiable Need’
I spoke with Southern California clinical psychologist Dr. Kathe Lundgren, and California State University at Bakersfield psychology professor Luis Vega, and had two questions for them:
(1) What is the psychological mechanism for how an obviously bright guy like Chuck can get into this situation?
(2) Can his friends, family or employer help him? What can be done?
It is a Form of Addiction
Lundgren: She meets and is fixing his extreme need. She is his cocaine. He would go through withdrawal without her presence. A con artist knows what their victim’s insatiable need is and meets it.
You disregard what everyone around you is saying because they are filling that hole in you. Everyone is trying to talk sense to you but they do not see the hole. The victim becomes addicted to the behavior created by the con artist – literally just like drug addiction.
He is living in fantasy romance without seeing day-to-day problems or solutions.
Vega: Once we commit to allowing a con into our life, we short circuit our mind and heart in order to justify the relationship even when wrong signals appear.
It is easier to say, “I really love this person,” compared to thinking and feeling fooled – conned – as others are telling us has happened. The commitment – this vicious commitment – not only blinds us, but also binds us to what otherwise in a perfect state of mind we might see a deceitful, conniving, manipulating, as the “alert, alert” signs start to flash.
What Can Family, Friends or Employer do?
Lundgren: Chuck needs to invite her to family activities. She will tell different stories and will not be able to keep up with all of her lies – and this will get back to him. You want to create the environment where this can happen.
Vega: Be careful that your feedback does not create a boomerang of adding wood to the fire. This would predictably cause her to isolate him from family and friends in order to preserve their relationship. That is a real danger he faces.
A Clear and Present Danger to the CPA Firm
“Just picture Chuck working from home, his computer having accessed client files, and he takes a nap. This becomes an invitation for the girlfriend to search client files for her next mark,” observes attorney and business law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, David D. Schein.
“Either she agrees to a detailed background check, including fingerprints, photo scan and DNA analysis, or Chuck could be out of a job. It is that serious when you have a known con artist in such a close relationship to your employee, especially for a CPA firm. Even then, Chuck may be too great of a risk to the firm.”