I was married to a narcissist. Of course I didn’t know he was a narcissist when I met him. And I didn’t know when I divorced him (although I was utterly sure he was a pathological dick by that point). Narcissist wasn’t a term I associated with my ex-husband until years later, when I heard more about the traits and realized he was text book.
Ironically, I think sometimes its hindsight that helps you see a narcissistic relationship for what it was.
By the time I left, my self-esteem was at an all-time low. My thoughts about myself were rock bottom. The confidence I’d had at 21 when I first met him had diminished and I often felt anxious, second guessed myself, and didn’t really have a good sense of myself anymore. I got really used to those feelings – Feeling bad about myself, not considering myself really worth anything. Remembering that there was a time I did feel good about all of those things, but it was long ago, before I met them.
A lot of people have asked me since I got divorced and started being honest about my marriage, why I didn’t leave sooner
Why spend a decade with someone who makes you feel like shit? It’s difficult to explain. I didn’t stay with him because I lacked self-esteem or confidence in the beginning, it was him who caused those things to disappear over time. And he didn’t make me feel shit all the time. In fact sometimes, he was bloody lovely. He was the man I’d fallen in love with all over again and I clung to those moments, wishing they’d last whilst slowly over the years realizing that they never did.
Narcissists are clever creatures. If they were utter arseholes all the time, of course you’d leave
But the thing is, it just isn’t like that. They’ve got their skills refined. They’re pro’s at manipulation, convincing you that they’re the best guy out there, whilst slowly pulling the rug and seeing what happens. So I spent a decade with a narcissist, not because I was weak, or insecure, or had terribly low self-confidence to allow such a person into my life. It’s because quite frankly, I didn’t know he was one.
A narcissist always has a plan, and that plan involves you not being able to leave them
I moved to Kent to be with him after a few months. We lived a few hours from one another, and he expressed that he could not move, no negotiation. It was down to me if we were to be together. In my early twenties I just saw it as an adventure, not anticipating that my world would become fully reliant on him. Sure I’d have no friends or family nearby, but I was moving to somewhere new and exciting, with the man I was in love with, it would be worth it! And my friends and family, they weren’t too far away. I’d have plenty of opportunity to go back and visit them. No problem.
But I think a narcissists ultimate plan is for you to never go anywhere else. So they begin this slow suffocation of freedom, or it was at least of mine. Because of course if it happened quickly, you’d likely leave. He took his time with it. Showed me a perfect fantastical persona. Love bombed me so I couldn’t ever believe he’d be anything but the loving, kind, affectionate, full of romantic displays and generous compliments person I got in the early stages. It’s intense. At the tender age of 21, I believed it was just what true love was. I didn’t realize that this was the beginning of emotional abuse – intermittent and carefully placed in between all these lovely ‘nice guy’ vibes.
Later on he said I may as well get rid of my car, he’d drive us around in his, it would save money
Made sense. Work was only a twenty minute walk from home for me. So you do. But then he didn’t want to drive to see my family and friends. Says he didn’t like who I was around them. Doesn’t think I should go out on my ‘girly nights’ anymore, he should come along too (and if I really loved him, I wouldn’t want to spend any time apart). And now there isn’t an option to go places by yourself. You try to make friends in the new location. but he makes it difficult. Comes hours earlier than he’s supposed too to pick you up and waits outside. Texts constantly to ask when you’ll be done. Accuses you of flirting or cheating when you do go out. You can’t get a car again now, so you’re stuck.
These choices I made. He lead me to them of course and I made them to please him, but they were mine. I agreed with the decision about the car. I chose to move to Kent. And I brought him along to my girly nights to make life easier. Said no to nights out because it would make him happy (and therefore, me not unhappy) and of course, it would show him I loved him. So you kind of feel like the situation you end up in isn’t even their fault. You loved them, and you made these sacrifices. You just didn’t know the extent of the sacrifices to come or how much it would take from you.
A narcissist always has a plan, that involves carefully manipulating you
Half the time, you think you’re the mad one, you must be seeing things wrong, making things up in your head. He was frightening yesterday wasn’t he? But then today here he is with a bunch of flowers and a butter wouldn’t melt smile on his face. He definitely said I couldn’t do that thing, but now he’s saying that he did say it was alright and that I decided not to do it. It all happened so slowly, that I didn’t even realize it was happening. And the thing they have down to a T is gaslighting you so that you end up questioning your whole perspective and reality. You aren’t even sure whether there is anything to be confused about in the first place.
Plus in public, wow they are like a whole different person
Actually the person you got in the early stages. Everyone thinks they are so nice and sweet. Maybe they really are? Maybe it’s me that had it all wrong? But this is just another way of exercising their manipulation skills. To convince everyone else they are top class, whilst knowing full well they are showing you anything but. They love this admiration and drink it up, and then when they feel they can do no wrong, they start criticizing you in front of people. Little comments. Ones that don’t feel harmful or malicious to anyone else, but it’s another way they continue to knock down your confidence by belittling you.
A narcissist always has a plan, and it means everything is your fault
Arguments happen. But every one of them seems to be your fault. I was feisty in my 20s. Always keen to fight my corner. Ah, to be young again and so full of that vigour! I would of course apologize when I had done wrong, mind. I held no pride for such situations – if I was in the wrong, I’d apologize and I’d mean it. But a narcissist cannot admit fault. Ever. No wrong doing is ever down to them or their actions. It becomes a very one sided argument. Because basically its you either admit fault in every situation, or you face a long standing silent treatment until you get there.
When your partner doesn’t speak to you for days (once, a whole fortnight) until you make an apology – for something you still know deep down, wasn’t your fault – you begin to get a little fatigued by it all
I apologised quicker and quicker to keep the peace. And in the end, I didn’t even argue at all. What was the point? The end result was always expected as the same. I apologize, matter cleared up. But it really does wear you down. Constantly apologizing means in the end, you really do feel like you’re a mess of mistakes and how the hell does this guy even put up with it? He’s surely a saint?. I know, it’s super fucked up. But it’s also about wearing you down, getting you to give up your boundaries. Because if you do, they can keep pushing to knock down more of them.
A narcissist always has a plan, and it involves being in full control
Along with the restrictions on what I did and who I did it with, after a year or so together, he began making comments about what I wore (amongst many other things). I didn’t wear anything provocative – it was 2008 and I shopped at New Look, so a strappy top was as provocative as it got – but apparently his friends were staring at my chest, and that was my fault. I’ve never been that into fashion, it’s always been more of a throw things on and hope it works. But I started wearing different clothes. Baggier, covering clothing was my go to. Things that didn’t trigger an argument.
And I remember really panicking about what dress to pick on my wedding day
There were all these styles I loved, but I was so anxious about what his face would be like when he saw me walking down that aisle. That’s what was going through my mind when I picked out a wedding dress. What he would think. But not in the typical I’m sure way of “he’s going to love this”, it was a hope, that he wouldn’t absolutely hate it. It wasn’t a happy occasion finding a wedding dress, I was pretty anxious about the whole ordeal.
So I did the fitting all on my own because it didn’t feel like my family should be there. I have a strongly opinionated Mum and sisters and I love them for it. But I knew they’d give me their honest thoughts on the dress I chose and I knew I couldn’t tell them why I wasn’t going for something less covering and more flattering. Part of you deep down is fighting for your self-identity whilst you’re changing yourself to keep them happy. Part of me knew I shouldn’t be anxious about a dress, and the other part just wanted to keep the peace.
A narcissist always has a plan, and that is to start a smear campaign all about you
I actually think he hated me in the end. Because the way he spoke to me really changed over time. Suddenly I was being called a “c***”. That was pretty upsetting. I remember saying, “I can’t believe you’ve just spoken to your wife like that.” But he did. He’d use passive aggressive comments to undermine me all the time. Say cruel things. Constantly criticize. Swear, curse and punch walls near my head. Make comments in front of people, “Isn’t Amy silly, isn’t she so clumsy, stupid” etc, etc. Become so full of rage that you really do think you’re the awful person he says you are.
This became such a big part of the final years of our relationship
He’d always had bouts of anger, and physical outbursts that left me really intimidated and worried at times they would lead to more. And the comments, the way he spoke had been there on an off. But in the last few years, the conversation was pretty toxic. That’s when it really hit me that this wasn’t love. You start becoming aware that it isn’t a fairy-tale at all.
But I don’t think narcissists are capable of true love in any way or form if I’m honest. Everything they do is self-serving and they don’t care who they steam roller over to get the praise, admiration, or control they need to make them feel good about themselves. You are just a pawn in their little game, except that game isn’t fun for you at all.
Married to a narcissist
And all of this happened over time. It’s not like the first six months this all came up. Everything happened over the course of a decade. It’s actually crazy to write this of course, and not think to myself, why did I put up with this?. But it’s partly because you just didn’t know it was happening. Sure, you’re aware of these elements, the bits I’ve written about. Yet each comes up over a period of time. It’s like one hurdle, and then a month later another. And then the things build up and they get more and more frequent.
It feels almost painful to admit all of this and I hate revisiting this portion of my life. But emotional abuse is traumatizing, it really does leave lasting effects that are hard to overcome, and more people need to be aware of what it is and what it does to you. I was young enough to hope that it was love. I was strong, confident, self-assured, spunky, driven, intelligent, feisty and passionate. If you ask anyone who knows me, I wasn’t the person you’d think would end up in a toxic relationship and staying for a decade. But that’s why I’m writing about my experience. Because emotional abuse is so hard to determine when you’re experiencing it.
It leaves you questioning everything
Severely impacts your mental health. Strips you of your confidence. Leaves you worn out and exhausted from all the effort of trying to please someone who can never actually be pleased. It’s isolating and so hard to talk about, even after you’ve gotten away from it. We tell ourselves that love is all that matters, but honestly, it really isn’t. Sometimes love can be toxic, frightening, maddening and abusive. Sometimes love alone, isn’t enough. And what we think is love, isn’t actually love at all. And sometimes the healthiest thing you can do for yourself, is walk away from a person.