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My Narcissistic Ex-Husband

Reflections on loving and living with a Narcissist.  Let our experts guide you toward the healing power of moving on and allowing yourself some time in the spotlight.  Get advice on healing from his behavior and finding yourself again.

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Flowers, poetry, moonlight serenade outside the bedroom window.  Ah, new love.  It’s fun.  It’s exhilarating.  Your heart pounds every time the phone rings.  Your partner does everything within his power to get you to notice him and you reciprocate, engaging in a courtship dance like two exotic birds.  You make your friends nauseous.  We’ve all been there.  Then things sort of slow down and you may wonder where the romance has gone.  But, things are still good.  You fall into a routine.  You fit your lives together.  You are happy.  You and your partner grow together and grow closer to one another and you carry on together in your shared life, continuing to grow, your love getting stronger.  It’s love.  It’s life.  Happily ever after, ‘til death do you part.

If your partner is a narcissist, you certainly know the first phase well.  You remember it at times when your partner is berating you, and you wonder how you ended up this way, and what happened to that loving guy.  Something happened and the happily ever after went awry.  At some point, the criticizing began.  The jealous accusations started.  Suddenly, you could do no right.  You watched your partner rend your love asunder and you didn’t know why.

This is the first of the three phases of your relationship with a narcissist, known as idealization.  Idealization, devaluation, and discarding - the construction, the demolition, and the abandonment.  

The Build-Up

My first “date” with my narcissistic ex was like something I’d never experienced before.  It was an absolutely gorgeous spring day and he had just had his motorcycle shipped to New York from its home in storage in California.  It also happened to be a day when the NYC taxi drivers had gone on strike so the otherwise dangerous streets of Manhattan were ours almost completely.  It was a dream.  We went places I’d been a million times, but going there with him, having him hold the door open for me, hanging on my every word, climbing on the back of his bike, wrapping my arms around his waist while the breeze wafted the scent of his cologne back into my helmet -- it was pretty fantastic.  I didn’t go home that night and, if my memory serves me, from that day, we were pretty much inseparable.  

I thought he was perfect.  I had never met anyone who cared about my needs the way he did.  We went out to dinner one night, and there was only one set of chopsticks on the table.  Don’t you know, he fed me sushi, smiling that it was more romantic than asking the waitress to bring another set.

My friends thought he was amazing.  If I got up to step out to the ladies room, he spent the whole time talking about how fantastic he thought I was, asking questions about what kind of things I like, and how I felt about surprises.  He was everything I wanted and needed.  He was completely devoted to me and making me happy.  I could do no wrong.  He thought all my friends were great.  He never wanted to be without me.  And that is why, less than six months later, we were engaged and, a mere thirteen days after we picked out the engagement ring, we were married.

While no one is entirely certain why or how a person develops narcissistic personality disorder, it is thought that people who suffer with it have a deep lack of self-esteem.  Children of parents who are overly permissive, unreliable, or absent may develop narcissistic traits in order to compensate for the lack of structure in their environment.  They develop a sense of entitlement, a need for power, and are extremely charming and manipulative.

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The narcissist engages in this idealization or “pedestal” phase, not because he thinks you’re so fabulous, but in order to bring attention and adoration to himself.  He draws you in and manipulates you into loving him.  He tries his hardest to be the best partner he can so you will fall for him head over heels.  It may seem like he’s loving you, but he is actually shining the light upon himself.  In public, the narcissist will seem like the most devoted of partners.  Your friends will be envious of how attentive he is to you.  That is all part of the manipulation.   He is drawing you in.  He likes the reaction he gets from you when he does something nice.  It is not about making you feel good.  It is about him getting praise, having his ego stroked.  Being successful is important tod the narcissist and relationships are no different.  He will do what he has to in order to get you hooked.

Cut and Run - Don’t Make Excuses

If you think he’s the greatest thing ever, if you are blissfully happy in your relationship, you will be more likely to make excuses for him when his behavior takes a turn for the worst.  And his behavior will turn and you will make excuses for him.  This is where the foundation laid during the idealization phase comes into play.  You may be living together.  If you’re at all like I was, your whirlwind romance quickly escalated into marriage and things became more complicated than a normal break-up.  Still, you want to feel that excitement again.  You haven’t done anything wrong and you want him to know that.  You want to have your old partner back.  But that partner was never really there to begin with.  It was all smoke and mirrors.  Don’t excuse his bad behavior.  No matter how well you were treated in the past by your partner, he is no longer treating you nicely.   It may have happened quickly or you may have realized one day that the honeymoon was over.

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A narcissist won’t change just because you want him to.  He is probably not even aware that he is the one who has changed.  He thinks it’s you.  His issues go way back, long before you came into the picture.  Narcissists lack empathy, so your tears and your pleading and your factually-based arguments don’t mean anything to him.  If you find yourself in a relationship with a narcissist, or someone who acts like one, it is important to cut your losses and run far away while the relationship is new.  It will be difficult.  Your partner will fight you tooth and nail because his hold on you is important to his ego.  Nevertheless, you must take steps not to lose your own self-esteem and preserve your sanity before the devaluation and discarding phases.

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  • Comment Link Over it. Tuesday, 07 April 2015 18:21 posted by Over it.

    I'm watching this happen all over again with my ex's new fiance- it is like watching a serial killer set up for his next victim. He is moving her to a town of 200 people - whom he is related to 3/4ths so that he will have eyes everywhere, he is moving her into the house we had, he is taking the same job he had when we were together- even though he is welder and makes $$$ he is going to be a bag boy at the supermarket like he was when were together. It is 100% WEIRD, it's like he is taking her back to the spot he ruined his first marriage so that he can do it all over again in a place he feels powerful and safe. WEIRD, WEIRD,WEIRD! I don't know- not my problem, she is 21 with a 2 yr old, and uneducated to boot. She is his perfect profile for conquest. He actually admitted to me that he chose younger people as romantic interests and friends so that he could "mold them to his will." Yeah...I am coming to the end of my PTSD with him, I lived through it, and this new girl, she is sweet and I feel bad for her, she has all of the signs that she needs to know- he is not right in the head, he abused his first wife and deserted his child, he went to prison for robbing a store...what else do you need to know, to make an educated choice on the matter? IF you can't figure it out from that you are kind of stupid and asking for the worst case scenario.

  • Comment Link Rebecca Castongia Wednesday, 25 March 2015 17:28 posted by Rebecca Castongia

    I am going through a horrible divorce from one and I hurt so DEEPLY everyday! I WASTED 16 years trying to make him happy! I am so LOST AND HURT! He only waited 2 weeks before he had another woman in his bed!

  • Comment Link Jack Friday, 03 October 2014 20:01 posted by Jack

    This is amazing. As I was reading through this article it dawned on me....what if both of these people are narcissist? In fact more times than naught that's exactly what you see. Both people are narcissistic and both of them think the other is a narcissist.

  • Comment Link Ex wife of Narc Tuesday, 01 October 2013 16:49 posted by Ex wife of Narc

    Ughhh my ex after 14 years went back to his highschool girlfriend who is totally feeding his narc supply saying she loves him just the way he is etc. OMG I want to puke. The good news is it keeps him off my back because without her he would still be harassing me. He was abusive and I'm sure he will start the same patterns over although I agree with above now he seems
    Like a saint. My daughter has told me already that he finds her very irritating. So I guess it's just a matter of time.

  • Comment Link twelvetoes Tuesday, 16 July 2013 19:59 posted by twelvetoes

    @crazytrain - This is an important question. I have also referred it to our in-house specialist, because these are feelings/issues we all deal with at one point or another when we move on.

    First I want to tell you that I know what you're going through. It sucks and I am sorry you're dealing with it. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. It may be a difficult journey, but you will get there. Reaching out for support is a great start, so you've taken a first step. (Insert applause here) :)

    One important thing for you to remember is that your ex is not a saint, no matter how nicely he may be treating this new person in his life at the moment. He has not changed. For him to have changed, he would have had to accept responsibility for his actions, in which case he'd be making amends to you. I am guessing he hasn't done that. Narcissists don't accept responsibility for their actions. They blame everyone else.

    He is still the same old person he was when he was treating you badly, he just happens to be behaving right now. Even the meanest old dog can sit nicely for a treat. The fact that he treated you poorly and continues to treat you and the children poorly is what is relevant.

    I know it is difficult to do, but do not focus on how he is treating this new girl. She is not your issue. Your issue is yourself and your kids and moving on with your life. Now is the time when you need to shift your focus towards your own futures.

    His behavior is not and never has been your fault. His issues existed before you got there and, unless he decides to seek counseling of his own volition because he wants to change his way, they will continue long after you've moved on. And, since he hasn't taken responsibility for his actions, there is little chance that he thinks he's done anything wrong, so he's not changing any time soon. There is nothing anyone else can do to change him. He's just repeating the cycle and, likely, this new girl is in for the same ride you just got off.

    And there absolutely is no excuse for abuse, as they say, so even if he was unhappy with your behavior in the marriage, that doesn't give him license to treat you badly. No one has the right to abuse, no matter what. Remember that.

    Please, do not accept guilt for his actions. Let the past be the past. If you change one thing about yourself as a result of having been married to him, let it be learning how to recognize the signs of narcissistic behavior and developing the strength to resist it so you do not find yourself with a partner like him again. You can do this.

    Weave yourself a good support network. There are divorce support groups in every community, even for children of divorce. Search the web. Ask a friend whose been through it. Ask your doctor. It's out there. Reach out to family and friends who will lift you when you're sinking or are feeling knocked down. Surround yourself with love and strength.

    Talk to a lawyer about what rights you have as far as custody goes. Sitting around worrying what might happen if he should decide to sue for custody isn't going to help, should he actually decide to do it. You know him. Try to be as prepared as you can to deal with his shenanigans, so you're not caught off guard when they happen. If you can't talk to him, screen your calls, listen to his messages, and call him back when you've decided how you're going to respond and feel strong enough to hold your ground.

    Decide where you want to be going forward and make plans to get there. Now is your chance to fashion a life for yourself and your children that cannot be destroyed by his ego. You can do this!

    There are, though, two things you cannot do: change the past and change him. Everything else is possible.

  • Comment Link crazytrain Tuesday, 16 July 2013 10:14 posted by crazytrain

    Sounds like my ex. I have been up all night because I have been caring for our 4 kids while he woos his hew girlfriend. We divorced six months ago and he has already convinced her to marry him.
    It makes me sick that he seems to have turned into a saint overnight. Just worried he will want custody od my kids after all the sacrifices I have made for them. Now he is trying to act like father of the year after he walked out on all of us.
    Question that burns in my head... Is it really my fault? He treated me horribly but always blamed me. Has he changed or is this girl his new victim?
    People say I was too nice for him. And my kids say new girl is nice too.
    But even then, he was already cursing her out in front of my kids at the waterpark. But she just laughed it off.