In most relationships, when one party wants to leave, there is discussion, a break-up. A narcissist can and likely will leave you at the very moment you stop making them feel important. No surprise when you know, but when you don't it is a huge and traumatic shock. Your partner leaves, usually without warning or explanation and chances are, if there is an explanation, your partner heaps the blame upon you. Often they will have another person waiting in the wings. And there you are left holding the bag, as it were, wondering what you’ve done wrong.
Sometimes, as it was with my ex and me, it can be a long and painful process with break-ups and reconciliations along the way. Sometimes he just wakes up one morning and leaves. However it happens, it will eventually happen. Narcissists cannot maintain relationships. It is part and parcel of the narcissistic process to break down relationships and to drift away or break away from them. This is called the discarding or abandonment phase.
It can be a terribly painful process that will leave you wondering how you can atone for your sins and bring him back so you can prove you did nothing wrong. If you have to maintain contact with your ex, you will likely see him with his new girlfriend, acting towards her like he did towards you in the beginning phase of your relationship together. But keep in mind that he has not changed overnight. She is no better at anything than you. She won’t be able to keep him happy. She will not be able to change him once his narcissism begins to break down their relationship either. His behavior has nothing to do with you. It has nothing to do with her. It is all him and his pathology.
My ex and I had been living together in our apartment for about eight months, after having moved across country for the fourth time in less than a year. I looked around our apartment. It was stacked ceiling-high in all four corners with boxes of his stuff that he had never unpacked. When he told me he wasn’t comfortable, I suggested that he try unpacking his boxes. I mean, how could he feel comfortable if he didn’t have his stuff unpacked? I certainly didn’t feel comfortable with his boxes all over the place. He said, no, that wouldn’t help. He had to move out. He explained that he needed his space. He didn’t want to break up, per se, but he just couldn’t live with me any more because...and he proceeded to list off reasons why I was unfit for cohabitation.
While your partner is busy blaming you for his having to leave, understand that it is not your fault. This is the way narcissists function in relationships. A narcissist always has to be in control, and moving from one relationship to the other is one way of maintaining control by getting out before he can be dumped by you, or some other such nonsense. For a narcissist to actually work through a problem in a relationship, he would have to admit that there was a problem and that he was part of that problem, and could therefore be part of the solution. A narcissist will not admit that. That would be giving up control.
He still wanted to be married. He just couldn’t live with me. He said this would make our relationship stronger. I believed him. Well, I didn’t believe him, but I was unhappy living with him. He had been more argumentative and increasingly secretive about what he did, which meant he never said anything to me that wasn’t criticism or idle chit-chat about the weather. So I told myself that we were doing the best thing for our relationship and that it would bring us closer.
We lived that way for a year and our relationship got considerably less difficult, but that was due to the fact that we weren’t together as much. We certainly weren’t making any progress toward working through our issues and he never stopped criticizing me and tearing apart our relationship. Looking back, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that he was cheating on me. Infidelity is common with narcissistic personalities. He still had keys to my apartment, but I didn’t have keys to his. He had no landline installed, so he had no answering machine. He lived on the other side of town, so we wouldn’t run into one another in the neighborhood.
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During the time we were living separately, we had broken up a few times. This had become a new tactic of his. When we would argue, he’d get to a point where he’d threaten to break-up. At that point, I would either backtrack or beg forgiveness so he wouldn’t break up with me. Sometimes, he’d break up with me regardless, accusing me of giving up on the relationship. These were generally overnight breakups, usually when I was at his place, and he’d send me out of his bed, back to my apartment, crying - often times on my bicycle in the middle of the night. Each time, he would call me the next morning and give me a second chance, allowing me to recant or apologize for the things I had said that made us break up. In his mind, it was never him that pushed us to break up. It was me, something I had said or done or expected that made us have to break up. And every time I would take the opportunity he gave me and we’d get back together.
We carried on like this for a year and he eventually moved back into my apartment after the lease for his was up.
We tried to return to life “as normal,” so we took a vacation together. To call our time on that vacation anything even close to relaxing or fun would be crazy. During the two weeks we were away, we did nothing but fight. He often left me in a heap, crying in our motel room, while he went out and experienced the local attractions. Once, he even left me standing outside a movie theater, two tickets in hand, as he rode away on the tandem bicycle he harangued me into thinking would be a good idea to rent. He came back and allowed me to apologize, but not before he left me standing there for 20 minutes, without any money, without my phone, and no way to get back to the room, for which he wouldn’t let me carry the key anyway.
A week or so after we had come home, we were arguing about something - who even remembers what, since we argued about almost everything - and, as had become his custom during our arguments, he threatened to leave me. This time I called his bluff. I agreed that it would be a good idea to break up. He became enraged. He stomped around the apartment, taking pictures of us off the walls, telling me, “You won’t need THIS anymore.” If I hadn’t actually been there to see his rage, and if I hadn’t been frightened that he’d decide to rip something off me and proclaim that I didn’t need it anymore, I would have laughed.
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He lived there with me for more than a month until he could find a new apartment. I couldn’t leave the apartment without breaking the lease and triggering huge financial consequences. During that time, he didn’t speak one word to me. He took his phone calls outside of the apartment. He tried to leave before I woke up and came home after he thought I was asleep. He walked out of the room if I walked into it. It was torture since, at his insistence, we lived in an alcove studio. He did everything he could to completely ignore me. In the beginning, I tried to talk to him. I tried to explain that this was the best thing, that, if he could look at it objectively, he’d recognize how unhappy he was because we wanted exactly the opposite things out of life. Eventually, I stopped even trying to communicate. Looking back, I feel lucky that he ignored me and didn’t try to destroy me in a fit of narcissistic revenge.
Once he moved out, we didn’t speak for close to three months. Then, one day, he called me. We had decided to file our own divorce papers, but he had been listening to the radio and had heard a report that many people who live in our state and who file their own paperwork, miss something and don’t actually dissolve their marriages, encountering all sorts of problems down the line from tax issues to possible nullification of future marriages. He brought up a the name of local person who’d file the papers and suggested we contact her. He flew off the handle when I agreed that it was a good idea to use her. He hung up on me after accusing me of abandoning our relationship and him.
There was no way I could win. It seemed like he only wanted the opposite of what I wanted. If I wanted to be together, he wanted out. If I wanted out, he couldn’t live without me. When I stood fast and wouldn’t take him back, he pulled out the big guns and cried, telling me how I had ruined his life. One the day we actually met with the woman who was going to file our divorce papers, he started crying in her office. And, after we were done, I sat with him for close to four hours on the stoop of a old victorian house across the street from this woman’s office while he cried some more. Part of me didn’t want to leave him like that because I was honestly afraid that he would commit suicide. I had never seen him so distraught. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen him express such emotion about anything or even feel sadness. The only emotions I had seen from him were rage and arousal.
What I learned that day was that he was already living with someone else. He took a phone call during the time we were sitting together on the stoop. When he answered the phone, his voice was completely normal and his demeanor calm, practically happy, not like the person who’d seconds earlier been crying hysterically. When he hung up, he went back to crying as if he’d never stopped. He had just shut it off and turned it back on, like he had some sort of a switch. It was scary to see.
What I realized then about myself then was even more frightening to me. I was still under his spell. I was sitting there with him trying to comfort him. I still wanted to make him happy. I was still trying to convince him of my worth as a human being. Even after all the abuse I had taken from him. After he had me push away almost all of my friends, question my sanity, push me out, leave me helpless, leave me hopeless, I still wanted to make him feel better. He was still trying to manipulate me.
I had to get away from him and quickly. Taking my cue from the movies, I looked at my watch and told him I had to be somewhere. He looked at me, eyes puffy and red. He smiled and said something to the effect of how happy we had been. I couldn’t even tell you what I said to him because I had shut my mind down. All I could think about was getting away from him. It was my primal instinct to run from a predator, to save myself.
And that is what I did. If you’re in this phase of your relationship with a narcissistic partner, use the distance to your advantage. Recognize it for what it actually is, which is your abuser leaving you. Let him go.
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