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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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If you have been in a relationship with a narcissist you know that there is a difference between apologies and repentance because you’ve had one too many meaningless “I’m sorry” experiences. Maybe you’ve even had one million too many, who knows?

I have heard some people say that a true narcissist does not apologize because they don’t have the capacity to identify with the pain they have caused someone else. I don’t think this is entirely true. They may not be able to identify but they have mad apology skills if an apology is required for their purposes. The key to it all is one simple, small phrase.

I was wrong and I am sorry. Please forgive me.

They just can’t say that all in one fell swoop. They can say that they are sorry. They may be able to ask forgiveness but take responsibility for what they have done? No way.

At least I’ve never experienced it.

Repentance vs Apology

An apology is not repentance. An apology can mean any number of things from “I’m sorry I got caught” to “I’m saying this because I really want to go to sleep now”. The apology may be given with tears and drama or it may be tossed out in a dry, emotionless monotone – either way it is meaningless. While this sentiment is meaningless to the narcissist he expects it to be a Hallmark moment for you. He may even set the stage with a gift of your favorite flowers, jewelry, or tickets to an event you have been hoping to attend.

At the beginning of my marriage my ex cheated more than once. The guilt gifts got better and better. By the time we had been married ten years I hated getting gifts from him simply because it made me wonder what he had done this time. In one bout of counseling he wept as he told the counselor how I wouldn’t accept gifts from him and he felt rejected.

I never was sure which gift he was talking about.

Anyway, after a while those empty gestures don’t faze you in the least. You listen, roll your eyes and tell him to prove it because really, if someone is sorry…really sorry…you’d think that they would acknowledge your pain and maybe show signs of changing, wouldn’t you?

Repentance Looks Like This, People

Repentance shows in a person’s eyes, don’t you think?

Repentance happens when he makes the apology more about you than about him. There is that nasty “responsible” word again. He acknowledges your hurt, understands why it hurt even if he doesn’t agree, and accepts responsibility for it. He does not create an addendum that bounces the responsibility back on you.

I am sorry that I threw that object at your head. I know it must seem as if I don’t love you, but you really made me angry when you said that.

I am sorry what I said hurt your feelings but you took it the wrong way. You are oversensitive.

You get the idea.

Repentance, true repentance, is followed by a perceptible attempt to change without expecting anything in return.

I know that I have shredded your faith and trust in me and I don’t blame you. I am going to try to earn it back even if it takes years. I was wrong. I hope that someday you will be able to forgive me.

Those words are followed by consistent actions that indicate someone is moving in the right direction. They may stumble a little but they consistently move up. They show that they are ready to make real sacrifices to make amends even if they will never get anything out of it.

They acknowledge and accept that they deserve your wrath, disdain, or whatever. A person who is repentant speaks it and then shows it – not just for a week or a month but they create a new pattern over time.

Trust Is Precious

Trust is a precious and fragile thing. A person can usually get over a breach of trust once, maybe even twice, but when there is a long time pattern of narcissistic behavior trust is shattered and will take time to rebuild.

This is where a true narcissist will show himself. He can’t do it. He expects forgiveness and acceptance within a short period of time and is not content to let it grow gradually and naturally as he seeks to change his behavior. A narcissist will find a way to show people that he is making attempts to change but that you are “unfairly” resisting his attempts.

He won’t be obvious about it. He may ask your mother for her opinion on the expensive antique vase he plans to buy you to replace the one that shattered when he threw it at your head. He may invite the kids to something when he knows that they will be unable to attend, thereby making you the one responsible for their disappointment. One way or another he will find a way to make the people around you assure you that he is really trying.

And you are going to look like a horrible, bitter, unforgiving witch with a capital “B” if you continue to distrust him.

I have found that I can live with that.

I’m sorry...that I got caught. 

Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons: User: BurgTender

Manipulation R Us

What others who are not in close relationship with him, or who haven’t yet figured out that they are being played, don’t understand is that he is a master manipulator and he will seek to manipulate and control every aspect of your life that he can whether he is still married to you or divorced and living an entire continent away.

When it comes to his apology he most often uses peer pressure by creating sympathy in key people. Now he doesn’t have to do a thing – he can sit back and let the clueless pawn put pressure on you to do whatever it is that he wants you to.

I’ve have tried and tried but she still doesn’t trust me.

The pawn is having his or her emotions manipulated so subtly that they will never believe that they are under the influence of someone’s emotional control. The abuser masquerades as the victim, the wolf wears sheep’s clothing, and the narcissist is content because not only are you being pressured to do what he wants but the people pressuring you are feeding his ego and need for attention.


Forgiveness Is for You

Forgiveness is important. No matter what else happens you need to forgive, let it go, and move on for your own sake. Don’t forgive because it’s the right thing to do, your pastor told you to, or you feel manipulated to do so. Forgive because you don’t need that negative energy buzzing around your spiritual space.

Trust? That’s another thing. You aren’t obligated to trust anyone. Trust is earned, protected, and nurtured not required, demanded, or taken over by someone else. If you find yourself feeling sorry for the narcissist for being forced to live with the consequences of his actions then you are being manipulated in the most expert way.

When someone is living with the consequences of their actions and you want to help them out of it because you feel bad, guilty, or responsible then you are being manipulated.

When someone is living with the consequences of their actions and you want to help them out of it because you are proud of them, surprised and happy about how much they have changed, and truly think you can trust them again you are being generous.

The first will always, always, always blow up in your face eventually. The second will be life changing for everyone involved. True wisdom is figuring out the difference.

We are deceived when we don’t have the information we need to make wise decisions. You aren’t alone. Become a part of  First Wives World today to learn as well as share your story. Help others move into a place of healing.

Lead Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons: User: Mario Mancuso


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  • Comment Link MaryRuth Saturday, 17 June 2017 19:50 posted by MaryRuth

    Great article. My comment is for "mlacy". I had one just like that. I got away & it's one of the best moves I've ever made. N's don't change. Especially when, it becomes ingrained. It's even in the "good book". They've sinned so long, that their consciences become seared, as with a hot iron. They're given over to a reprobate mind, which is the most horrible way, for a person's soul, to leave this earth. You can't save them. Get away, so you can begin to heal from the narcissistic abuse. It's a tough road, at first, but it's the kindest thing you can do for yourself. Best wishes & God bless you.

  • Comment Link LeeLou Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:57 posted by LeeLou

    This article sums up my 20 year relationship with a covert narcissist better than any article I have ever read. He finally left 2 months ago (I had suggested we part not long before, he begged to keep together, then left me!) - when I started to really see his (continually escalating) behaviour for what it was and stopped being so easy to manipulate. This made me "unloving" and the issue was my being "unforgiving" rather than his behaviours - and, worst of all, his pitiful "apologies" which were really all about how it was actually all my fault. What you said about gifts was also very striking for me. For years, whenever he got me anything, it never felt like a gift - it always felt like there was an agenda for himself behind them. I have never felt like this with gifts from anyone else. Of course, this made me further ungrateful and unloving. And, yes, he had his flying monkeys too - not a lot as he had no real friends (he has suddenly acquired a whole set with his new girlfriend but if they look at him they will see he brings virtually none himself - a few subordinates at work, only) but his mother was his main one. It is so useful to have this all validated. I know that the issue isn't my being unforgiving or refusing to trust a man who has spent 20 years lying, deceiving and manipulating. It is very helpful to have this clarified, however, as we are just in the process of separating and dividing assets/child support. What he promised initially - and I based my actions with my lawyer on, have (surprise!) I have just discovered, he will not honour. He earns a very large income (which has just fed his narcissism like wild fire in recent years), I have a reasonable job so can suppport myself (not in the same standard but that is ok for me, I am just glad to be free) but what we had agreed on was modest and only so that my daughters could continue the things that are important to them. He has now changed his mind about this. The day before my solicitor received the letter last week (he is overseas introducing his "new" girlfriend to his parents) he suddenly paid for my car registration. My only reaction was "why, what is in it for him?" - obviously, trying to ameliorate the fact that he is now wanting to give me an enormous amount less than he previously repeatedly and emphatically promised (that and I'm sure he'll make sure mumsy knew how he is "taking care of me financially - I just paid her car registration". Knowledge is power! I just have to keep remembering it! Thank you for this wonderful article.

  • Comment Link Matty Bellomy Sunday, 08 May 2016 23:32 posted by Matty Bellomy

    My God....22 years of hell with a NPD spoiled brat husband more childish and less trustworthy than his children!! The Lord so graciously removed him from us and we NEVER had to deal with him again. He was eaten up with demons!!! Now I want to remarry and it is hard to trust God for a good man.

  • Comment Link mlacy Thursday, 06 August 2015 04:18 posted by mlacy

    This is such a timely article for me. I am not married and have never been married, but have been involved with what I believe to be a narcissist for almost 10 years. I was in the process of feeling bad and scared about a recent decision I've made to part ways with him and came across this article. The part about tricking others into thinking that he's going above and beyond and that you're not allowing him to earn your trust back definitely rings true for my situation. He would tell me to only speak positively about him when I would hang out with my friends or if he did anything nice for me he would ask me if I told any of my friends. He would also say that he thought our relationship would be better if we moved away from everybody. After already having a hunch that things weren't right and researching narcissism I've finally (hopefully) been able to let "us" go. I say hopefully because I've made attempts before that were unsuccessful. Wish me luck!

  • Comment Link dont worry Saturday, 25 October 2014 22:13 posted by dont worry

    The truth is all ur husbands suffer from ADHD which is ais a pretty serious chemical imbalance of the brain. N u can't possibly tell that he's suffering from anything. He's crazy, emotional, sensitive and can't focus nor get u out of his head in denial

  • Comment Link Ana stadia Saturday, 14 June 2014 17:02 posted by Ana stadia

    I find this very useful as I am in the no contact phase. My husband is trying his best to worm his way back into my life. All drama. He is a fake person.

  • Comment Link gemmied Tuesday, 27 May 2014 23:57 posted by gemmied

    my ex would refuse to apologise at all, near the end of our relationship. At the beginning he would make very emotional, almost desperate apologies, which I don't think he meant. He was just afraid I would leave. At the end, he saw it as submitting to me.
    He would also get angry that I didn't trust him, but that's because he was such a liar. Deep down I knew that none of our issues were my fault. he could not work through anything. He was so threatened by everything. everytime i thought we were making progress, it was all just a smoke-screen. He couldn't keep up being an actual person. And then I would get depressed, and he would be in control again and I was to blame for everything. what a nightmare!

  • Comment Link peace99 Sunday, 09 February 2014 20:35 posted by peace99

    My soon to be ex had an odd way of apologizing that really wasn't an apology at all. He would say "I'm sorry IF I hurt you, that was not my intent." This after I made it clear that he had hurt me. It was a watered down apology from someone who was unable or unwilling to take any responsibility for his actions.

  • Comment Link Maripaz Lara Tuesday, 04 February 2014 04:58 posted by Maripaz Lara

    Very much well written Marye. I had to save some of your quotes and points. You made such smart approach. I do believe in everything you said. I also think that sometimes it's just way too soon for a narcissist to apologize unless he is old, unattractive, about to meet the person below and just have no source of supply. That is I think that maybe just maybe it can be at least 2% sincere. But, with them having no conscience and they consider themselves as normal even if experts claim it's a form of a mental disease which I think is a devious one. Only time will tell.. But, great post!!!

  • Comment Link Marye Friday, 03 January 2014 15:17 posted by Marye

    Thank you for all of your comments - I appreciate them more than you know. It isn't always easy (umm ...never easy) to share things that you have only just begun to voice. For many women these things are so subtle that we spend years trying to determine if we are over-reacting or our experience is valid. We have people - friends, relatives, church family- that tell us we are deceived or crazy without truly understanding what we are/were dealing with. Because of that I believe it is important to speak out so someone else can gain the confidence to break the cycle of crazy. By the way, it isn't just women. I know a couple of men who read these articles and identify, too. It's no easier for them. Anyway, thanks so much for your stories and encouragement.

  • Comment Link kimmie63 Wednesday, 01 January 2014 02:42 posted by kimmie63

    I have never heard anyone articulate what living with a narcissist is like better than you Marye. I truly believed that I was an unforgiving person because I could not continue to forgive him after the 491st time. I lost everything in my divorce except my children but came out with my sanity and peace, for which there is no price. And my ex has moved on to his next victim so he is FINALLY leaving me alone! Yay!

  • Comment Link Kimmie Wednesday, 01 January 2014 00:21 posted by Kimmie

    I have never heard anyone articulate what living with a narcissist is like better than you Marye. I truly believed that I was an unforgiving person because I could not continue to forgive him after the 491st time. I lost everything in my divorce except my children but came out with my sanity and peace, for which there is no price. And my ex has moved on to his next victim so he is FINALLY leaving me alone! Yay!

  • Comment Link DMD Monday, 30 December 2013 18:07 posted by DMD

    Not only is the description of a narcissist, but a sociopath. You never recognize one until they have hurt and/or abused you. I recently read a book about sociopaths that said 1 in 25 people is a sociopath. That's scary, but I believe it. For whatever reason, I have been a magnet for them, but I have learned not to give my trust away.

  • Comment Link rebelmama27 Sunday, 29 December 2013 21:35 posted by rebelmama27

    These articles have been SO freeing for me!! Not in the sense that I no longer deal with these issues daily. I'm divorced a year after marriage for 19, but I now realize that our issues were not "all me" as he told me all that time. I wasn't allowed to have friends or seek counseling for myself. People have asked me why I didn't just do it anyway, but they don't understand. When you figuratively kick a dog and tell it to stay on the porch, you don't have to kick it anymore and it will stay on the porch. I was in that place mentally before I even realized it! To this day he says he did absolutely nothing wrong in our marriage. There are others out there who have been through this and are in this that I can lean on for support.

  • Comment Link Blue Tuesday, 24 December 2013 07:34 posted by Blue

    It has been 4 years since I left my ex for the second time. The first was after 24 years. Now my 32 year old daughter moved in with me (with boyfriend) and doesn't understand my anxiety when she visits him. She says I need to see a therapist. I told her I had been there and she could leave. I am just sick with this. I hate him so much. But everyone says I need to move on. I can't and feel numb all the time now.

  • Comment Link Nat1 Monday, 23 December 2013 20:40 posted by Nat1

    Two weeks before he left, 3 weeks before I inew about OW, he blamed me for uaving trust issues and couldn't understand why after all these years I didn't trust him. It was my fault you see. I caused the problems in our marriage. I cries then and told him it was hard for me because he'd hurt me. He cried too. I accepted responsibility, I acknowledged it would be hard for him to be in a marriage with someone who didn't trust him. He'd been cheating for 7 mnths by that stage (at least) and she was already pregnant! That's the only thing he never apologised for. I do wonder though if that was only something special he did for me?

  • Comment Link Minerva Monday, 23 December 2013 19:05 posted by Minerva

    Thank you!