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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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There are numerous narcissistic traits that define the narcissist but one of the most frustrating is his need to win at everything.

While some people thrive on competition, the narcissist needs it for survival, as long as it is a competition in which he can win. His entire existence is based on a game of life and death where he must always be the best at whatever he does. This is so important that if he comes up against a situation where he may not be the best, he will either refuse to engage or he will lie to outrank the competition.

Can’t Compete? No Problem. Just Lie.

One afternoon, a few months before things blew up, my teenage son came to me with a question. “Was Dad an officer when he was in the Marine Corps?”

I looked up at him with a startled look on my face. “No, not at all. Why?”

My son looked at me quizzically, “Well, he told the doctor this afternoon that he had been an officer.”

When I questioned my husband, he was offended that I would even ask. “Of course I didn’t! He must have misunderstood!”

My guess is that during my son’s exam, the conversation turned to military service. I don't know it for sure, of course, but I bet that the doctor mentioned that he had been an officer. My ex, narcissist that he is, would not have been able to handle being less.

This is normal behavior. It might not be normal for other people, but it becomes normal for you. You get used to hearing exaggerations and outright lies when you are out with friends;  you learn to look away when he gets going on one of his memories that never  happened, because that way other people don’t see you roll your eyes. Your children live in a gray area of fact and fiction, never really knowing which is which, until at some point they just don’t believe anything anyone says.

Keeping Up with the Jones’s and the Smith’s and the…

That competitive spirit that you admired when you were dating and he was playing sports? Yeah, that wasn’t a game to him. In the game of life there are winners and failures, and he is determined not to be the latter.

I found that when I began blogging he began blogging, too. No matter what I was good at, he seemed to need to be better than me, even if it was an area he was even remotely interested in. Sadly, he was never interested in being better than me at cleaning the house!

I love horses, as anyone who knows me can tell you. Shortly after we moved to this house I bought a four year old mare that had been mistreated. She had serious trust issues, but she was very sweet spirited. My son and I worked with her day after day, slowly re-acquainting her with the saddle, the bridle, and finally weight on her back. It took a year.

I am very gentle in the way I ride. I prefer to teach my horses to be sensitive to knee pressure and weight shift, rather than kicks in the flanks. I was having a little trouble with the mare one afternoon as my ex watched me. “I will do it,” he finally said.

“Are you sure?” I knew he didn’t have a lot of experience with horses, although you’d think that he was an expert.

He got on her back and encouraged her to move. When she wouldn’t, he kicked her with his heels.

She went straight up in the air and came down channeling the meanest rodeo bronco you’ve ever seen. He slid off of her back and landed flat onto his own with a grunt. It didn’t sound good. The horse continued to move across the yard like she was hinged in the middle.

My son ran to calm the horse and I probably should have gone to see if the ex was OK but I couldn’t move because I was laughing so hard. He limped past me and said with a snarl, “I got off on purpose.”

Do not engage with your narcissistic ex

Just Don’t Go There

You might as well understand that this particular narcissistic trait is deeply rooted and you can’t win. God knows, I have tried.

I am a perfectionist and I like to do things well. I might not be the best at everything but I will be the best that I can be at everything, you know? It got on my nerves that no matter what was going on in my life, he bested it.

  • If I got sick, he got sicker
  • If I learned a new skill, he learned it, too
  • If he couldn’t be better at it or lie about it, he disdained it

As an approval addict, it was the worst thing that he could have done to tear me down. I wanted so much to hear that I had done something well, that I was pretty, desirable, that I was talented, and that I was special in some way. A narcissist can’t give affirmation because they (maybe unconsciously) feel that affirming someone makes them less important in some way.

You probably already know this, but you have to learn to believe in yourself, to affirm yourself, and to be confident in your own self-worth. I think that maybe those of us who are addicted to affirmation gravitate toward narcissists because they seem so confident.

It’s important that you don’t compete – unless, like me, you eventually get so sick of it that you take great pleasure in taking on more and more hobbies so that he has to work harder and harder to keep up. It’s sadly comical, because he is really intensely serious about it and for once you are playing the game.

Of course, once you do that your marriage is doomed. He will be forced to find someone that doesn’t know his background so that he can recreate his life and be top dog again, letting his new victim know about how horrible you are and what he has had to put up with.

Just learn to laugh and move on.

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7 comments

  • Comment Link Judeblooming Wednesday, 02 August 2017 12:40 posted by Judeblooming

    I've been married to a narcissist for over twenty years...hard to believe I still have the ability to even type this. Harder yet to believe, is that I'm still with him.....and I have no intention of divorcing or leaving him. Sad but true....

    My husband and I experienced a LOT of problems during our earlier years of marriage...we both had problems with substance abuse when we married which also caused financial problems. We were nearly homeless at the start---staying with friends, and sleeping where we could. I was very dependent on him...for protection on the streets, and for companionship---this lifestyle allowed him to easily 'isolate' me, right from the start. By the time we got help for our substance abuse, we had a very close bond. Closer, probably, than most couples ever get, even after decades together.

    My children from a previous marriage did not "take to him" like I did---smart kids that they are! Adults now, they wisely have nothing to do with him. The rest of my family despised him, wrongly blaming him for my substance abuse---and they had a hard time warming
    up to him, even after we got clean. They were right. They saw what I could not. They told me they thought he was 'controlling'...what an understatement that was! They noticed his narcissistic traits long before I did....

    My eyes have recently been opened to all that he says and does to me...to what he truly is. He is dying,now, from COPD and Leukemia. But sick as he is, he still manages to shame, blame and belittle me every chance he gets. I can't bring myself to leave him at this point...he has no family or friends, and his income (without mine thrown in) is very low. If I left him, he'd go to a crummy VA nursing home for Vietnam Veterans. Not to mention how hard it would be for us to split things up--our truck, the dog
    furnishings, etc..... We're in our 60's. Trust me when I saw I will not, can not, leave him.

    But sick as he is, his temper is quick--and violent. He never really hurts me, but he has shoved and slapped me our whole time together, and he continues to have that temper. Mostly threats and intimidation these days, (since he is so sick) but, believe me threats and intimidation are almost as bad as punches. He still screams at me as loud and often as he ever did...

    I recently became aware that he's a narcissist and all that has meant over the years. I have gone from being a confident, loving woman of 40 filled with creative ideas and a zest for life, people and new experiences...to the 65-yr. old woman I find myself to be now--filled with low self-esteem, emotionally crippled, and almost unable to even eat. But I've begun a journey now...a journey back to myself. I've learned the importance of forgiving myself (and him) and I'm working everyday on becoming aware of what's happening around me, and changing the 'routine' behaviors his actions have caused inside me, to my emotions.

    It's VERY difficult NOT to engage in arguing with him, but it's important to stay neutral and not fall into my old patterns. But since I have made the decision to stick it out till his diseases kill him, which will be in the next year or so. I'm doing good....but there are days when I'm not being vigilant and I get involved in one of his awful argument marathons. When this happens, I generally feel awful inside....and more determined than ever to heal myself.

    Learning to cope with a narcissistic husband is NOT easy! And if you can, I suggest leaving him and getting far, far away from him. But whether you stay or leave, be aware that it will be a long, hard journey back from all the damage he's caused you. But it's a worthwhile effort. I'm feeling a little better now...more like my old self. I'd forgotten who I really am---and now that I remember me, I like me!

    Best wishes to all who suffer silently, and to all who are struggling to get back to themselves. God bless us all.

  • Comment Link narcVic Sunday, 11 October 2015 14:35 posted by narcVic

    Wow I deal with this competitive bull daily, and it can be the MOST simple of things. Mine never complements me. Only when he wants something, like sex. So glad I know that he is sick in the head and I learned not to engage a while ago.

    You just can't win against the cancer that grows inside their minds.
    I am trying to find a strategic way out because you have to play chess with them or they'll be Hell bent on ruining your life.

  • Comment Link CarrieBell Sunday, 17 August 2014 15:11 posted by CarrieBell

    My NXH would out do me in everyway including but not limited to picking and rearranging furniture, arts and crafts, sewing costumes, technology and basic every day skill with people. He would then have the nerve to tell me that the problem with me is that I didn't have a hobby like him. When I finally found something to call my own (I'm a Beatles fan) and he couldn't/didn't want to compete he would ruthlessly make fun of it obsessively. Jerk!

  • Comment Link amy buckner Sunday, 20 July 2014 02:25 posted by amy buckner

    Mine is becoming downright creepy. Like I married the "single white female" character. Even worse is his 11 yr old daughter does the same thing to my daughter. He has "morphed" into a person who took all of my hobbies, made them his own, advises ME on how to enjoy them, though now I can't stand doing what I used to as he obsesses so much, I no longer enjoy them.

  • Comment Link marye audet Tuesday, 01 October 2013 19:49 posted by marye audet

    Amazing how so many stories are just alike, isn't it?

  • Comment Link kxstowe Thursday, 26 September 2013 01:33 posted by kxstowe

    When an art quilt of mine sold for a substantial amount of $$$, my narc said "give me some fabric and I'll show you how to make a quilt". I was flabbergasted. I asked, do you really intend to make something that I will put my name on? Reply, "of course!"

  • Comment Link btmom Wednesday, 25 September 2013 03:04 posted by btmom

    Great Article!

    Articulating these actions via your column here will help free a lot of people from emotional battery....simply because identifying disease is the first step in getting healing.

    Thanks.