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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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Did you wake up one morning and wonder, what the hell happened?  If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, then you know what it’s like to see your relationship, your sanity, and your self-esteem washed down the drain.  Where once you had a partner you thought was your soulmate, now you’re living with someone who no longer trusts you and whom you no longer trust.  This person criticizes practically everything you do, yet flies into a rage if he even thinks you’re criticizing him.  He has become secretive.  He won’t answer your questions.  He responds to your ten voicemails with one three-word text message.  You think he may be cheating on you. 

You try to change your behavior.  You go out of your way to not step on the toes of your suddenly super-sensitive partner.  It is all to no avail.  The more you try, the angrier he becomes. He starts exhibiting all sorts of strange behaviors.  He puts more restrictions on you.  He starts criticizing you more.  Perhaps, he withdraws completely and stops communicating altogether. You have now entered the second phase of your relationship with your narcissistic partner.  This is the time when the narcissist starts to erode the foundation of your relationship - the devaluation, or demolition, phase.

Devaluation is a miserable time.  You watch your partner destroy your relationship and blame it on you.  You find yourself questioning your own behavior, searching and scrutinizing everything to figure out what you have done to have made him so unhappy with you.  But there is nothing you are doing or have done.  It is part of the narcissist’s process to pull away.  He is unable to form healthy loving relationships due to his lack of self-love. Many narcissists crave the ego boost that comes along with the idealization phase of a new relationship and will seek that out, maintaining the current relationship just in case the new one doesn’t work out.

The Beginning of the End

During the brief stint that was our courtship, my ex and I were living either in the room I rented in the attic of a friend’s house, or in his studio apartment.  My two cats weren’t thrilled about it, plus I was losing socks, misplacing valuable work documents, and racking up thousands of dollars in parking tickets, so we decided that once we were a married couple, we’d find ourselves an apartment.  Our engagement was a mere thirteen days, and he insisted that married couples are more likely to be rented to as they are generally considered more reliable.  We had decided that we’d get a two-bedroom.  We both worked part time at home, so we needed that extra space for our home office.  You can imagine how surprised I was when I discovered that he had arranged for us to see a series of studio apartments.  When I asked him why he hadn’t arranged for us to see any two bedrooms, as we had agreed, h e accused me of not trusting his judgment and wondered why I felt I needed so much space, what was it that I was intending to do in “all those other rooms.”  We didn’t need anything bigger than a studio.  In his mind, the less space we had, the more romantic our life would be.  Why did I need to get away from him anyway? 

That should have been my first clue that things were heading down a dark and stormy path, but I stuck beside him because this was an anomaly, a teensy pothole in an otherwise smooth and idyllic journey.

You Cannot Change Him or Yourself Enough to Make Him Happy

He has begun to criticize your looks, your personality, and other things which once may have never been at issue. Your bubbly personality, he may now find it annoying and silly.  Where he used to say you were voluptuous, he now describes you as fat.  He now finds your friends superficial and pretentious, when once he loved to hang out with them.  He doesn’t want you to see them either.  He will make wild accusations against your fidelity.  His jealousy, which may once have been cute, now rages out of control like a wildfire.  You try to change to keep him happy.  You begin to pull away from your friends.  You go on a diet and start to exercise.   Mostly, though, you wonder what happened to this wonderful person with whom you fell head over heels in love, and what you need to do to get things back the way they used to be.

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It may happen slowly, over a protracted period of time, little things piling up until you notice.  Or, as in my case, it may happen almost overnight.  But it is not you, and whether you are going through it right now, or have already been through it, it is crucial to recognize that it is not your fault.  It is his narcissistic personality that drives him to destroy.

My ex demanded one day that I stop shaving my legs and armpits.  I fully respect a woman’s decision to not conform to a particular “beauty” standard.  I, personally, have not worn any makeup in more than a decade, but this particular convention was one that I didn’t at all feel comfortable giving up.  My comfort with how I look to myself didn’t matter to him.  Didn’t I care that he would find me more attractive if I stopped shaving?  Or maybe I didn’t want to stop shaving because I was afraid other men wouldn’t find me attractive.  Who was I trying to attract, anyway?  My feelings about what I wanted to see when I looked in the mirror weren’t important to him.  If I loved him and cared about the relationship, I would do what he asked of me.  I should be happy just knowing that it makes him happy.

And so, I did it.  I stopped shaving.  Anything to stop the criticism and make him happy again.  I started wearing pants to work, instead of skirts which I found to be more comfortable and more professional looking.  I started wearing sweaters over any blouses that had short sleeves.  I was really unhappy with how I felt about the way my body looked, but it stopped him from criticizing me about this particular thing.  

But it didn’t end there.  After about two months, he asked me to stop wearing deodorant, showering daily, and using scented soaps, claiming that I was masking my natural scent and I was no longer as attractive to him.  I refused outright and he retaliated.  He refused to shower after his workout and would come straight home, sweaty and grimy, and initiate sex.  When I said I wasn’t interested in engaging, he would pick fights with me.  These arguments would last for hours and usually ended with me breaking down and doing it, or him storming out of our studio apartment and not returning for hours and hours, ignoring all my attempts to contact him.  This was one of the inventive ways he sought to get back at me, all the while insisting that his actions were justified by my actions

It’s Not You - I Cannot Stress That Enough

All the while that my ex was devaluing our relationship, whittling away at my self-esteem and my sanity, I wondered what it was that I had done wrong.  I walked on eggshells, monitoring everything I said to him or in his presence.  I tried to reason with him.  I knew I wasn’t crazy and I tried to convince him.  All he saw was me putting up resistance and he fought back.  It wasn’t until after we had broken up, with the benefit of hindsight, a strong support network, and the wish to never be involved with someone like him again, that I became truly confident in the fact that not only was the demise of our relationship not my fault, that it had been doomed from the beginning.

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  • Comment Link EGC Tuesday, 13 September 2016 15:15 posted by EGC

    This is so my life... everything is my fault and he never sees his wrong.. if other people did wrong (especially his so called friends, It was due because of something I did... he tells people I am on meds and its the meds that I am crazy. (first of all he doesnt know what meds I am taking when you ask him and its my thryroid and birth control I am on..) It hurts so much when you cant even express your feelings in any way cause he will bring up a fight that happened 15 years ago.. I have to take care of me now and feel alive and happy again..

  • Comment Link Zahra Monday, 25 July 2016 23:38 posted by Zahra

    Thank you so much...especially for that last header "It's Not Your Fault." Four simple words--so profound and comforting.

  • Comment Link Pauline Friday, 12 June 2015 19:28 posted by Pauline

    A few years into our relationship, my ex began to rip on just about everything about my looks. He zeroed in on my many imperfections and was actually cruel in criticising them. It's like he got a perverse little thrill from doing it. I never criticized him like that. I realize that he was trying to destroy my self confidence. It didn't work. I'm not that worried about my looks or what men think about how I look. Plus, I get plenty of positive attention from men, so I figured the problem was more his.

    I thougt he was a good looking man and used to tell him so. But.....the more he criticised my looks, the more I lost my attraction for him. One day, he was just ripping on me so much that I decided right there, and I told him too, that I would never have sex with him again. And I didn't. And that became a problem until the relationship ended. He wanted sex, but I just couldn't because I was just so disgusted with him.

    But that's what narcissists are like. I should have left him a few years earlier after the first or second time he said anything mean to me.

  • Comment Link suresh Saturday, 21 June 2014 14:48 posted by suresh

    I am an narcissistic husband whom always find fault on my wife and her family. Now we are separated. Please advise how do i solve my problem.

  • Comment Link twelvetoes Tuesday, 23 July 2013 17:34 posted by twelvetoes

    @listeninghard - That's a good question. I am not a professional, so I cannot give you an answer about how the professionals diagnose narcissism. Neither of my exes were officially diagnosed, but they definitely fit the bill.

    I can say that, based on what I have read during my research for writing these posts, like other mental illnesses, there are criteria having to do with behavior, relationships to other people, past experiences. And, as with any other mental illness, a diagnosis can be very subjective on the part of the doctor doing the diagnosing.

    As for the second part of your question, a narcissist doesn't use the same measures that "regular" people use when making judgments about the acceptability of their behavior. They lack empathy and their behavior comes from a place of self-protection. They don't see themselves as hurting you, and if they can see it that way, they see you as deserving it. They don't see their behavior as unacceptable. They see your behavior as unacceptable. You cannot judge them with the same lens. Their thinking is distorted.

    And whether someone's behavior is a diagnosed case of narcissism or not, if it is abusive, like a narcissist's behavior, it should be responded to as such. Does it really matter why this person is being abusive? Does anyone really deserve it? Is there any justification for it?

    I say there isn't.

  • Comment Link ListeningHard Monday, 22 July 2013 18:15 posted by ListeningHard

    Yes, sadly I know this too. But I wonder is this narcissism? How does one really say, yes, thats what this is-- and how do the "professionals" define it? And finally, what I really want to now is: in all candor, what the narcissist is really thinking? How can this crazy and unkind behavior really seem okay??