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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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Since my divorce in early 2010 I have worked hard to work through the emotions and scars that all divorce creates – no matter how friendly it was. I have spent time in pastoral counseling, professional counseling, and I have talked to people who knew us as a couple for various lengths of time. I have, just as you probably have done, spent too much time analyzing the memories in my head. Every once in a while I come to the conclusion that it wasn’t as bad as I think it was. Perhaps I am exaggerating the abuses (can I even call them abuses?) and the trauma I endured.

Am I a Rabble-Rouser?

Once in a while someone leaves a comment here or emails me to let me know that I am bitter and need to get past my past. I need to extend forgiveness. I need to stop stirring up women and encouraging them to “feel abused”.  It isn’t just one or two people, either. There is a small percentage so if you have emailed me or commented here please know that I am not getting you back. You’ve just given me stuff to think about which is always a good thing.

One of my counselors at the VA (Veteran’s Administration Hospital) told me a long time ago I had symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and I told him he was nuts. Family and friends have given their perceptions on what my relationship was like and they are usually as I remember it or worse. When a cashier at a store comes up to you and says, “I am so happy that you are out of that mess!” you have to wonder what other people saw that you didn’t.

I just did what needed to be done. It’s called being a responsible adult.

In the past month I have struggled with these kinds of questions. Am I just airing dirty laundry? Am I attacking the ex in a way that he can’t defend himself? Am I exaggerating? Believe me there has been prayer.

It’s more difficult to think clearly about it all because it seems that he is treating his fiancée so differently than he did us. Maybe it is still in that first stage or maybe I just brought out the worst in him. Time will tell.

You Can’t Fool Your Subconscious

The other day I had to go to the VA hospital for some blood work and a checkup. I had a complete thyroidectomy in 2009 about two months before the separation. It means daily medication and constant follow up. I was sitting in the lab waiting to have blood taken when a man walked in and sat down two chairs down. For some reason my brain decided it was my ex. There was some resemblance but they were not twins for sure. All of a sudden my heart was beating out of my chest, I started shaking, I was nauseated, and I got dizzy. It was everything I could do to keep myself from running out. The tech had a difficult time getting a vein and commented on my shaking. I told her I suddenly felt unwell.

When she was done I bolted out of there to the bathroom and threw up. My knees were like water and my heart was still thumping painfully around in my chest. By the time I got to the car where my husband was waiting my teeth were chattering and I was just shy of full meltdown. I took deep breaths. I reminded myself I was safe. I got myself under control. I posted to Facebook, “…And the PTSD is still with me…”

And then the rest of the afternoon I chided myself for my silly reaction. After all, it wasn’t that bad.

Was it?

Yes. Yes it was.

The Brain Knows

This afternoon I was reading an article about love and how the brain processes different aspects of relationship. I was especially interested in the idea that physical abuse and emotional neglect cause similar chemical responses in the brain. It can be said that emotional abuse and neglect are as damaging as physical abuse and neglect – maybe even more so since it is so invisible.

 I have a couple of friends that have auto-immune diseases that cause them horrible pain. It isn’t obvious that they have a medical problem but the invisible disability is just as debilitating as any obvious one.

Once we are out of an abusive situation our brains begin to protect us by soothing our fears. We can’t experience the actual pain after a while so we begin to think that we are over-reacting. It is especially easy for us to believe that because we lived with a person who accused us of over-reacting to and twisting everything that was said to us.

Of course it’s easy for us to doubt our own perceptions. Duh.

So, while we are beating ourselves up for being unfairly hard on the narcissist our subconscious minds are jumping up and down, waving emotional arms, and screaming to get our attention.

Forgiveness and Fast Forwarding

My first question was whether or not I had forgiven him. The answer is yes – and no. I have forgiven him in that I don’t want to “get back at him”. I could care less what he does or how he does it as long as it doesn’t affect the kids or me. I do wish that he would experience the consequences of his actions just once. I know it is childish but I’d like to watch Karma kick him in the backside with a vengeance while I was watching. That’s as honest as I can be.

I am not pining for him, longing for him, or thinking about him much at all. Yes, every week I sit down and write about the experience. Actually I recline because it’s usually late on a Saturday or Sunday night and my husband and I are catching up on the shows we have DVR’d. Anyway, I recline here and I look at the notes I have made during the week. Maybe I read an article, talked to a friend, or had to work through a memory that sparked a response. I make tons of notes.

After all, I am a writer and that’s what writers do. We don’t write to get revenge. Well, that’s not totally true, either. I like nothing more than to fictionally torture someone who has hurt me in real life in one of my novellas. I digress.

Talking about your feelings is part of the healing process. Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons- User: Dani_vr

Healing Is a Process

Each of us has things that we must work through in order to move on. For most women this means communicating. There is something about how we are wired that compels us to discuss an issue until it no longer bothers us. It can take days, weeks, or months. In fact, if it is very deep sometimes it comes off in layers and it can take years.

It does not mean that you are dwelling. It means that you are healing.

Remember labor? If you tensed up when you felt a contraction coming on it was so much worse and lasted so much longer. In fact, tensing up and trying to suppress it does what?

It makes the process less effective and longer in duration.

In order for healing to occur you must let it happen. You must own your feelings, recognize and name abuse, and work it out your own way whether that is through a journal, a sketchpad, a computer keyboard, or a long chat with friends.

Abuse Is Experiential

It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Your experience was your experience and no one can judge or evaluate it in the same way that you can. Abuse takes many forms and some of those forms can be pretty inconspicuous. Just because someone else didn’t see it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t abuse. Think about this definition from Wikipedia:

Abuse is the improper usage or treatment of an entity, often to unfairly or improperly gain benefit.

Each person experiences life in a different way. A very confident, extrovert will not be phased by someone publicly teasing them while a self-conscious introvert may be scarred by it. It is an important aspect of love that one spouse understands and is sensitive to the weaknesses in the other, protecting them not exploiting the intimate knowledge that they have in their keeping.

In a narcissistic relationship that doesn’t happen. Since the narcissist uses people for his own purposes and benefits the relationship is an abusive one from the beginning even when things still seem wonderful.

You aren’t alone, you know. Others have endured similar things and come through battle-weary but victorious. You will too. Are you ready to share your experiences and learn for the experiences of others? Join First Wives World today to be part of this vibrant community.

Lead Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons- User: Thomas Leuthard. 

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  • Comment Link hogfan Tuesday, 02 September 2014 22:31 posted by hogfan

    I recently left my husband of two years. I had been single for 20 years and this guy seemed like the man I'd prayed for so many years. The courtship was great. He was attentive and spoiled me like I've never been spoiled before in my life. However, as soon as the wedding and honeymoon were over and he moved into my house, things began to change. He became very territorial. It reminded me of a dog marking his territory. If someone absent mindedly parked in "his" spot in the driveway, he called from the car to have their car moved. (I have 3 grown children who live in the same townand visit fairly often) As time went on things continued to get worse. I could not give him enough attention or praise. If he did one little thing to help around the house he wanted praise and for me to tell e everyone what a great husband he was and that he was so good to me. It didn't matter that I worked all day and did all the things at home too. I'm a fairly patient person (I am a special education teacher) and have no problem praising people when they do well, but praising a grown man for unloading the dishwasher and telling him he is a "good boy" is a little childish. The big wake up for me came when he started accusing me of undermining his 17 year old daughter (because she threw a fit and interrupted his football show) when I started giving his grandkids a bath before she wanted to do it. He screamed at me and told me I was not doing what he said. He stuck his chest out and started pushing me around the room. I pushed him back and told him to stop! He threatened to leave and I told him not to bother that I'd leave. I finished giving the kids a bath and began packing a backpack. He wanted to know what I was doing and I told him I was leaving. He grabbed my arm (creating bruises) and drug me to the bed and laid on top of me (he's over 300lbs) . I told him I couldn't breathe and to get off. He said he would only get off if I promised not to leave. I promised and he got off. He then told me he was sorry and didn't want me to leave. He was good at apologizing,but always had an excuse. This time it was his daughter's fit that upset him. I didn't sleep much, if any, that night and planned on leaving while he was gone the next day, but he wouldn't leave the house for any reason. (I think he knew I might leave) Anyway I had never been afraid of anyone like that, especially a spouse. (My first husband was verbally abusive but I was never afraid of him) I told him I was going to counselling and that he. Would go to if he wanted. I went by myself a couple of times then he decided he would go. He went by himself once before we went together. After his first trip he announced that the counselor was "biased" because he didn't agree with him on anything. However he continued to go a few more times and th u bags got better for a month or so. Fast forward to May. I became so tired of never measuring up to his expectations, never giving him enough attention or praising him enough. Every time he touched me I felt energy flow from my body! I know that sounds crazy but that's how it felt! I had no desire for him (which really made him mad) I blamed it on my hysterectomy. I continued to take care of his needs, but I didn't want him to touch me. While visiting my sister for the weekend he text me non-stop sending me scriptures of how a wife was supposed to treat her husband and how I was blatantly sinning by not being a good wife. I couldn't take it any more. My family was fed up with him and the way he treated me so when I broke down and told them what was going on they agreed to move me out. ( My health was also suffering diarrhea off and on for no reason and blood pressure at 210/105 on medication. After moving out I was so relieved! I started sleeping all night for the first time in months and my blood pressure returned to 110/70. Sometimes I feel like I'm the crazy narcissistic one and feel very guilty for breaking the marriage vows, but I can look myself in the mirror and know that I did the right thing. I wouldn't want one of my children to live like I was living, so I shouldn't either

  • Comment Link Chipper13 Sunday, 24 August 2014 18:56 posted by Chipper13

    I found your article by searching "was I really the narcissist in the relationship". I often look back at my marriage and think I somehow caused the abuse. In the beginning of our 24 year marriage, I too thought I was "special". I often wonder if I thought it because I truly believed it or I thought it because he rubbed off on me. His image, and therefore the cars we drove and where we lived, were driven (no pun intended) by him. But I loved driving nice cars we couldn't afford. I know it's not about the cars, but I loved the lifestyle too. Now, 6 years from separation, I wonder if I could have been the precipice to his changeover to complete NPD.
    Then I read your paragraph about the feelings you faced in the doctor's office. You hit the nail on the head. As much as I can go days and weeks not caring that he even existed, I am completely traumatized when I see him when I drop my daughter off. You're right, the body doesn't lie.
    I'm sure narcissism to some point, has to rub off on the abused. My ex was very cunning and manipulative. Monetarily successful and very concerned with his outside image. But when we were home, his abuse was subtle and underhanded.
    Thank you for the beautiful understanding of living with abuse.
    Now if I can only move on and accept that my new boyfriend isn't always lying to me when he says he misses me and loves me...

  • Comment Link Victoria90 Saturday, 08 March 2014 13:55 posted by Victoria90

    Thank you so much for writing this because there are days when I feel like I am not remembering the past correctly. I forget what it felt like to be married for 26 years to a ghost. A man who provided financially but was absent in all other respects. A man who deluded himself and his friends into thinking he was a great family man, but never participated in his children's lives. A man to which having a family looked good on paper, but the reality was too much for him. A man who would be with us, yet a million miles away in a place I could never reach.

    I forget the loneliness and wonder if I could have done more to develop our relationship. I wonder if there is something I could have done to replace the drinking, women and golf. I wonder why he was never amazed by our wonderful children or appreciate their love for him. I wonder if he ever thought about what I needed from our marriage and not just what he wanted.

    I know that I tried my best in this relationship and that no matter what it wouldn't have worked. I know that he is like a bucket with a hole in the bottom. No matter how much love and attention that was poured in, it could never be filled. I know that I have to move forward and stop wondering what about this particular woman made him finally walk away. I know I need to stop being concerned about whether he is happy or if he thinks about us. I have to stop reading "hidden messages" into his phone calls because I know that they are really just to alleviate his guilt. I have to realize that what she is experiencing right now was the "him" I loved. She hasn't begun to realize that behind the charm and looks there is a hollow shell, devoid of substance. I have to see that someday she will be here writing the same message, yet with the added guilt of breaking up a family to satisfy her own needs.

    Everyone going through this please know that for the most part it does get better. The roller coaster turns into the wild mouse. And the wild mouse eventually just becomes the whip. I'm just ready to get on the carousel with nice and easy peaks and valleys. So thanks for writing this and thanks for giving me a place to share my feelings. My friends and family have been terrific about letting me express myself, but I am starting to feel like they are growing weary of the subject. That is why being able to write helps me sort things out in my head. Take care everyone.

  • Comment Link nmfnurse Friday, 31 January 2014 22:20 posted by nmfnurse

    I could never have put my thoughts down in the manner you have. Thank you as I and others have lived just this type of life with a man who knew every twist and turn to be without the responsibility of making a relationship. I relive many of the memories and often wonder if i have twisted them.I hope someday I will find someone who I do not need to be wary of. I am still shell shocked but working on it. Thank you again!

  • Comment Link Brenda Walker Wednesday, 29 January 2014 16:57 posted by Brenda Walker

    I have been divorced for many years and it wasn't until about 2 years ago that someone mentioned to me that my former husband was a narcissist. I had blamed myself for our divorce because I could not be the wife he wanted. We were married 19 years and had 3 children. My middle child has recognized his deceitful personality better than me. I guess the fact he quickly moved on and married made me think it was me. He even told me this. I appreciate reading the articles and the comments.

  • Comment Link belindakmn Wednesday, 29 January 2014 01:51 posted by belindakmn

    The issue of people saying you are bitter might be those who have little or no idea what it is like to deal with a narcissist. They are ALL about using you up, and then discarding you as though you mean nothing. It seems to be their reason for living...
    You have to work through your experience to heal. Denial will not help you through this process, and anyone who doesn't get it, doesn't get it. There is no shared blame in abuse. It is perpetrated by one person onto others. Nothing you did caused the abuse, and staying in the relationship does not make you the guilty party.
    Our attitudes should change in society and we need to stop blaming the victim, both for being abused, and for talking about the abuse and our feelings in a candid manner.

  • Comment Link PascalWinked Tuesday, 21 January 2014 06:00 posted by PascalWinked

    I neglected to clarify in my recent posting that it is my second husband who is kind, warm, loving, etc. It was unclear in my first post. I have healed a great deal in this marriage. Narcissists never change, have no empathy, and are like sociopaths. Life is always "about them," and they seem to have no ability for compassion or true love. If you are dating an extremely charming man---beware!!! Take your time and see how he treats other people and be very careful!!!!! Look for these behaviors in other family members, too....

  • Comment Link PascalWinked Tuesday, 21 January 2014 00:45 posted by PascalWinked

    My first husband was a narcissist and Bipolar I. I put up with emotional abuse and neglect for 8 years, even though I knew 2 days after we were married that I made a HUGE mistake!! I also have been diagnosed with PTSD, and it didn't help to live with him for 8 years! It was SO liberating to leave him after getting the strength thru great therapy and support of my friends, who saw it all thru all the years, but were cautious to say much of anything. And, I do understand that. My husband now is loving, kind, generous, warm, and we are so grateful we found each other. We've been together 15 years. It's been work, of course, but we really value and honor each other. It really helps that we both love God, too!!

  • Comment Link kayhlly7 Sunday, 19 January 2014 17:02 posted by kayhlly7

    A wave of sadness welled up inside of me as I read your story I shudder at the thought of going through yet another divorce. So much love given but never enough. Be ever encouraged my sister and look inside to the awesome brilliance in you and take a deep breath and inhale excellence. Exhale fully and know what you have been through already shows great strength. Meditate and slow every thing down and listen to your own voice protect your self in all things survive! live!.

  • Comment Link Marye Tuesday, 14 January 2014 23:40 posted by Marye

    Thank you - all of you. Your words both kind and encouraging. :)

  • Comment Link Michelle Tuesday, 14 January 2014 14:14 posted by Michelle

    I think that what will stay with me for a very long time, likely to wreak havoc on any future relationships I have or attempt to have, is trusting that I am safe, protected, and respected. My stbx never failed to throw back at me, usually with an audience, something I'd told him that I felt stupid about, or something that was an important event or marker in my life that I didn't want the world to know.

    I am an open book; unfortunately I opened myself up to him regularly for the first 18 years, and the last 2 I've started to shut down and check out emotionally. Or maybe that's the anti-depressants. In any event, he never ceased to amaze me at how he could laugh at my expense, put me down, or just generally make me feel stupid, because of some things I'd share with him...even an accidental scrape on my vehicle because I wasn't paying attention turned into my apparent inability to drive ever...even though I've been doing it successfully for 25 years. Hmmmm, interesting.

    Now that I'm separating, I still catch myself every day feeling bad for him, feeling sorry for him (after all, this leaving is my choice, he didn't want a break up, did he?), and generally feeling like it's still my responsibility to take care of him, make him feel secure, and be the glue still that holds our family together. My kids are sailing through the separation easily, why am I still owning everything, taking the blame, the responsibility for the end?

    I struggle with asking for help now, or with being 'vulnerable' to someone, because wasn't I supposed to be able to ask my 'partner in life' for help? Shouldn't I have felt safe being vulnerable with him? Counselling has been ongoing for the past 5 years while I tried to figure out what was wrong with me that my stbx couldn't be happy, couldn't see the positives, couldn't understand how he was so hurtful to me and to the kids unfortunately. Obvioulsy there's going to be much more counselling to follow for years no doubt, especially as I learn that I am worthy, that I can and should ask for help, and that I can be open and vulnerable with my friends, my family, and a future partner who isn't a narcissist.

    Marye, I hope you keep writing as you have been, because it's helped me feel normal. It's taken my 'abuse' out of the shadow in my mind and made me realize that yes, he was abusing me, but I can heal and I will be a healthy person again. I thought I was broken, I thought I had suffered irreparable damage, but no, I know I can get work through everything he imposed in my brain and I will be happier, healthier, and freer than I could ever imagine spending one more minute in his presence. The air smells sweeter, I laugh a little more, and my smiles are genuine again. I love me, and it's starting to show again. Thank you for your writing, and for making those of us who 'get it' know that we're entitled to our feelings, our realities. Don't let others tell you that you just need to get over anything, let go and move through it all to get to the other side, absolutely! But just dismiss it and run the risk of falling into a similar relationship in the future, whether it be romantically or at work? No way...I'm done with narcissists, and I will have no qualms with calling them out when I see that awful behaviour again.

  • Comment Link Marye Tuesday, 14 January 2014 14:07 posted by Marye

    Laura - I feel for you but congrats for being brave and pushing through!

    Hope- thanks for commenting. Surround yourself with people who encourage you - it's important!

  • Comment Link Sonho Tuesday, 14 January 2014 12:51 posted by Sonho

    Thanks for this. Much of it resonated with me; esp. the bit about accusations of twisting and over-reacting. He is still trying to do it but now I know his game. It is laughable and continually demonstrates just how much of a manipulative liar he is.

    I am only 8 months into the journey. Forgiveness is not an option. Acceptance is. I am not there yet but will be soon. When I think of what he did I still get that punch in the gut feeling. But, it only happens weekly now instead of daily or hourly. So, I am on the road.

  • Comment Link Joe Tuesday, 14 January 2014 06:57 posted by Joe

    I am in therapy after a relationship/broken engagement with my former fiancé. Although your readership is geared primarily for female readers, your thoughts fit just as easily for a female with NPD/BPD. I have read volumes of material over the past 8 months as I have moved from understanding the affliction intellectually, to really knowing in the pit of my stomach that our "relationship" was doomed from the beginning. Your series is as exhaustive as any I have discovered while putting the pieces of the puzzle together and moving forward. Thank you!!!!

  • Comment Link Debbie F. Tuesday, 14 January 2014 04:56 posted by Debbie F.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. They have helped me to realize that I am married to a narcissist and it's so reassuring to know that I'm not crazy!! Please don't be discouraged or question yourself when others judge your motives for sharing your story...there will always be people quick to judge and find fault...that's their problem, not yours. There is nothing wrong with sharing your story to help others in the same situation, in fact it's very courageous and kind...thank you!!

  • Comment Link Hope Monday, 13 January 2014 20:00 posted by Hope

    Thanks for helping me feel that I'm not alone, mine suffers from alcoholism but I can see myself having the same challenges that you face once I move on into a new relationship. Please continue to share your experiences.

  • Comment Link Laura Hurt Monday, 13 January 2014 17:24 posted by Laura Hurt

    My ex is autistic, and I have the same problem you have. I've been over him for as long as I've been divorced and yet in a way I don't know if I will ever really be over him. Until the day I moved out I sort of hoped he would reconsider but after the first day without him I knew no matter what I would never take him back.
    His autism was a forbidden subject. And because of his autism I had to respect that his friends (who were partially mutual friends) did not know and that he most certainly did not want ME to tell them. I not only lost my husband that day but all the people that were my friends too. There was no way I could talk with them without telling them about his autism.
    He has got a girlfriend since 4 years and he makes a mess of it. The oldest of our kids, also autistic, still lives at home and he lets his girlfriend come in between.. each time I hear that he makes a mess I am secretly and evilly happy. Evilly, because he didn't choose his autism and he can't help how he feels and acts. Where do -I- go with my anger?

    I'm happily remarried but still have to deal with him because of the kids. That made it hard all these years to move on. Even though it's been 9 years since the divorce, I still have problems in the normal relationship I am having now, used as I was after almost 19 years of having to take the blame for everything that went wrong...