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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 there is one thing a narcissist knows how to do, and do well, is dosing out the silent treatment when the narcissistic extension has messed up.

Maybe you didn’t admire his new haircut, maybe you disagreed with his royal highness, or maybe you were at the end of your rope and pointed out that he was being a pain in the butt – whatever it was doesn’t really matter. The result was the silent treatment . . . louder than a jet taking off on your back porch, scarier than a menopausal woman without air conditioning, and more effective at getting him to do your bidding than rufie.

The Silent Treatment Is Effective

The silent treatment is most effective on empathetic, sensitive people who feel the undercurrents and read facial expressions, tones of voice, and body language. My ex had the ability to look at me with the utmost disgust and disdain and yet he did it in such a way that no one else was even aware of it. I would feel like Gollum – like I should scuttle off to a dark place and hide myself. I can’t tell you how many times that I said something in a group of people, got the look, and felt like I was the most awkward, stupid, glob of flesh on the planet.

It gets more effective over time as you learn exactly how uncomfortable it makes you feel. There comes a point where you will do anything, and I do mean anything to make sure that you aren’t subjected to the looks or that cool, intense, silence that withers your soul.

The Purpose Is to Control

A narcissist must control you at all costs. It may even look like you are the assertive one, you are the one in control, and you are the one causing the problems. It’s a fascinating thing to watch despite the evil. It’s like watching a puppet master put on a show and each person in the room is one of the puppets.

The silent treatment is emotional abuse, pure and simple.

It Puts the Narcissist in Control

Be honest, when you are the recipient of the silent treatment you grovel. You make his favorite meals, you put on extra mascara, and you wear your sexiest lingerie. You compliment him, you coddle him, and you do whatever you think will work to get him talking again – to get things back to normal.

So who’s in control?

It Is Punishment

It’s punishment, pure and simple. It sends a clear message that if you do that again he can, and will, make your life hell. It alludes to the possibility that next time things might be worse.

It Keeps You from Asserting Yourself

The silent treatment keeps you from realizing your own power, confronting him, and questioning his authority. If there were an argument you could possibly “win” it. In this case there is no winner or loser because there is no place for presenting grievances or opinions. In the southern United States, during the era of slavery, slaves were not allowed to learn to read or write. The ability to communicate would give them power. When one group, or a person, doesn’t allow another to communicate enslavement occurs, whether it’s physical or emotional.

It Dispenses with Responsibility

Silent treatment totally circumvents emotionally messy things like having to admit responsibility, the need to apologize, and any possibility of having to compromise. It puts the attention equally on both the narcissist and his extension, which, in this, case is you.

At some point you have groveled enough, or you blow up, or you react enough to fill up his crazy jar and he begins talking to you again like nothing ever happened. You feel like you’ve walked into the Twilight Zone, but I have news for you. You’ve been living there.

So How Do I Survive It?

Actually, once you know what is happening learning to successfully survive it is easy. Seeing it and understanding how it works is the toughest part. Naming it and turning the light of truth on it makes it whither and become impotent.

Next time you get the look, or the silence, and you can feel that cold, icy heaviness in your chest take a minute and remind yourself that it is a weapon that is being used against you. It is not real, it is a head game – psychological warfare, if you will. Simply refuse to respond.

It takes a while to learn to do well. The first time you’ll feel quite anxious and nervous but just remember that you are breaking an unhealthy habit. The next time it will be easier and after a few times it will begin to be fun as you make a game of it and make mental notes about all of the things he is trying to do to regain control.

It means you are finally winning.


Be warned, however. If you are still in relationship with your narcissist, and you want your relationship to continue, this method could result in him needing to find another victim. At some point you will be tossed aside because you are no longer supplying his need for emotions, drama, and despair. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – just something to prepare yourself for.

Do you need to talk about this with others who’ve dealt with the silent treatment and survived? Sign up with First Wives World today. You don’t have to be alone in this.

Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons, User: Helga Weber

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  • Comment Link Nancy Casolary Tuesday, 21 March 2017 21:27 posted by Nancy Casolary

    I have been getting the silent treatment after narcissist x just disappeared and will not respond. He was not there for me and I told him he enjoys my pain Have not heard anything. Pain is becoming unbearable as I try to go no contact. He love bombed me big time right before
    We had a relationship for 7 years. Please help me to know next step. Thank you

  • Comment Link philus Wednesday, 28 December 2016 18:49 posted by philus

    Just a note to say thanks for a great article..sadly had this for over 25 years and now at 50 + feel devastated. I have been bent out of shape from my former self. I am empathic to a high degree , always sort to please my parents seeking their approval and then my WIFES. Yeah, I am a guy on the receiving end of this crap. I have been close to killing myself numerous times over the last 5 years. I just wanted someone like the girls I dated at college, someone to love, hold, care for etc.. yes like in the heart warming movies. Instead I poured out my heart in '93 and told her my biggest weakness. We had been dating since '88 and I had no idea how twisted I had become already so just blurted it all out. Then it started in ernest, cutting my ideas to shreds, pushing my friends away... especialy those who were female.. even my own niece..... I will not swear or cuss here but I sure am inside. I still cant see how to get out... I have trouble working due to depression (last 2 years has got worse) ... the only upside is something I am keeping hidden from everyone I know.. I have a real friend who has never put me down and who has shown feelings for me , the like of which I have not seen in years... I WILL ESCAPE ..

  • Comment Link Sugar Thursday, 03 November 2016 02:19 posted by Sugar

    Always make sure you have a Job and can take care of yourself! If anything goes wrong, you have a way out. can't stress It enough.

  • Comment Link MaryBeth Wednesday, 05 October 2016 18:21 posted by MaryBeth

    My Husband gives me the silent treatment every time we have a disagreement. They are usually over really small stupid things. Example: I am currently getting the silent treatment because I was taking out Halloween dedication and I had lights in small containers. He asked where I got the containers and I said that I had asked him if I could use a few that he had bought last year. His answer a year ago was yes but he claims that he didn't remember giving me permission to use them. After he called me a liar I lost my temper in defending myself. I took the containers downstairs emptied them out put the containers in his hunting room only to see that the containers he had bought were still on the floor. So I must have bought my own containers last year. I don't remember what happened a year ago. Anyway I got in my car and drove to the store bought myself 3 containers and that was that. Bin getting the silent treatment ever since. We usually don't fight about much or often but when we have little upsets like this I get the silent treatment. he doesn't fit the Narcissistic personality so not sure why this is a repetitive behavior for him.

  • Comment Link Alan Saturday, 10 September 2016 22:41 posted by Alan

    I have been married to an NPD wife for 15 years and for 14 of those years everything that I did or said was wrong and met with the occasional silent treatment
    She was diagnosed as bipolar,borderline, and severely depressed... I always thought it was due to something lacking in me and I would try to "fix" the "problem"
    Then she began going out once in a while with her friends and then she fell in love.. The codependent will rationalize even the most disgusting behaviors of their spouse and of course I followed true to form. At this very moment I'm receiving the "treatment" and all I see is a "five year old child" in front of me... I have changed.. It has been a terrible trip, but as they say,I didn't cause it, I can't change it, and I can't fix it it
    I will love my three beautiful daughters and protect them from this evil person

  • Comment Link M Jones Monday, 05 September 2016 23:48 posted by M Jones

    I am engaged to a man who shuts down when he knows he is wrong. It is usually to avoid admitting it. The last time he did this, before he stopped all communication and ignored me, the last thing he said to me (through text of course) was "Ok, well I'm here, you can talk to me you know, I wish you would tell me what is going on with you... I do know this, I did nothing to make you act out like this... So get your head right, whatever you have to do... Love you.☺" He refused to respond, ignored me - didn't show up to pick me up at work that day, I walked home, he didn't speak to me at home that night, and all the while my attempts to get some kind of response from him were growing crazier each attempt. Whe he finally broke the silence it was to accuse me of something - totally unrelated - that I did not even do. And this went on until I apologized. And I apologized for threatning to leave, which he claims is more abusive than taking time to gather his thoughts - and of course that is all he was doing. I can't say he never admits when he's wrong - he does. He apologizes for various things as well but he DOES NOT admit to or apologize for hurt he causes me. EVER. He goes back and forth between the Saint and Victim. I'm just the over-emotional demanding, never satisfied crazy person. Always.

  • Comment Link Helena Monday, 15 August 2016 17:22 posted by Helena

    I was told i'm too emotional, delusional and mentally unstable. I was told I am a nobody and a loser.
    When I started to point out all the stuff he did he started the silent treatment for a few days, then came back after a while.
    The last time he asked me out for dinner and when I responded he blocked me and ghosted me. That was a new approach and totally got me. I don't know if anybody had this happen before. But after the weekend being a pain in the rear end and doubting myself I refuse to let him get me this way. So today I blocked him everywhere right back. Just in case he makes up his mind and unblocks me like he did the past few times. I don't want it anymore, I don't need it. Thanks for the article. the more I read about it, the more I understand in what kind of downwards spiral I put myself!

  • Comment Link spiarty Saturday, 02 July 2016 01:37 posted by spiarty

    Narc project. I was told I was passive aggressive... ha! The silent treatment is very passive aggressive. They disappear and will not call, yet blame me for everything I did to "make" them react in various ways. Study hard, pray hard, it's a satanic attack that is out to kill you. Learn, fight with spiritual weapons, and get strong in God, the only way to freedom. Love them too, but be careful.

  • Comment Link Kerry Tuesday, 05 April 2016 15:26 posted by Kerry

    I have been involved with a passive-aggressive man for 2 years now. Back and forth he has come into my life and left again - over no apparent reason. It seems that when he wants me and its convenient for him he is there. When we get really close and I start to want more out of him- he runs. He most recently sent me a Dear John text stating I need to find someone that will make me happy - and that he doesn't want to discuss it with me right now- so for the third time this man has walked out without explanation as to why. I love him and each time this rips at a piece of me and I feel so empty. I know I need to walk away but a part of me is so resistant. I figured out this pattern and started reading books on it and it all makes sense now. I am a heartbroken mess.

  • Comment Link Debra rinke Monday, 22 February 2016 22:38 posted by Debra rinke

    I feel lonely ignored. I want out of this misery

  • Comment Link Bob todd Friday, 25 December 2015 07:58 posted by Bob todd

    Nice article, but I will say that relationships shouldn't be about who's winning and who's losing. You are a team pulling in the same direction not two individuals who just happen to share a route.

  • Comment Link Kham rasheed Thursday, 17 December 2015 17:33 posted by Kham rasheed

    Your husband was meant for the hell fire, these people have zero conscience. Find the strength to move on , my wife has these same issues and the only thing we can do is pray for them and move on.

  • Comment Link Anna Thursday, 10 December 2015 23:54 posted by Anna

    father gave my mother, myself and my brother the silent treatment all through childhood. It would go on for anything up to 4 weeks sometimes.
    I was younger than my brother but the only one willing to stand up to him.
    At the age of 16 I told him he was being childish and pathetic and told my mother she shouldn’t be putting up with it. My mother and brother turned on me I guess as they were intimidated and afraid of him and I left home at 16. My brother left a few years later.
    My mother is still with him after 42 years marraige and with no children at home the silent treatment now goes on for months on end. I have an OK relationship with my father for my mothers sake but I will never forgive either of them for creating a dis functional family life. My mother was a victim of his emotional abuse but you can only be a victim for so long before you become a volunteer.
    I do not thank either of them for staying together for my sake and it has cost me a fortune in counselling to not blame myself or feel like I have to rescue my mother as I am a stronger individual (I recognise my fathers traits in myself but work hard to change them)

    For those of you staying with an emotional abuser for the sake of your children, DON’T! They won’t thank you for it. As a mother now myself, I owe it to my children to teach them firstly how to treat people and secondly how to allow yourself to be treated.

  • Comment Link Ody Tuesday, 03 November 2015 16:48 posted by Ody

    Hi my wife is a narcissistic. this article really sheds some light on it... Keep it simple... dont get effected emotionally by the silent treatment.

  • Comment Link Christianne Tuesday, 15 September 2015 13:17 posted by Christianne


    I am in the thick of silent treatment. My husband is bipolar with rapid cycling and recently he started abusing me physically.

    He blames everything, on me. He can't deal with my questions. A few weeks back I approached him about my resentment of his treatment of me. He told me he was not ready to discuss. Then his equally weird parents arrived for a visit and the physical abuse began, under his parents noses. And they claim they were unaware.

    Anyhow, when his dad left, he said he wanted a separation as he has lost all hope that I will be able to TRUST him. I told him I was not ready to discuss separation. That's when the full blast silent treatment began.

    I can not begin to describe the hell Living with his parents. And they blame me for everything as well.
    I am not ready to face a separation, I really need help in handling this.

    Unfortunately I still have a little love left for him.

  • Comment Link nat Tuesday, 23 June 2015 18:49 posted by nat

    Will a narcissist use his kids if I'm no longer doing what he is expecting?

  • Comment Link Debbie Thursday, 14 May 2015 18:02 posted by Debbie

    I am living with a 61 yr old male narcissist. I met him on senior match 1 1/2 yrs ago. Things were fine for about 10 months. Then, after he and I moved into an apartment together, he withdrew and became critical and demeaning. I am 63, hold a doctorate degree in mental health counseling and a masters degree in nursing. He is a retired postal worker. I work as an RN every day and he sits in the apt watching TV pertaining to such topics as aliens, reality shows, and other fictional type shows. He's angry that I took the RN job last November as I have less time to spend with him. We are in the apt lease until the end of August 2015. He is giving me the silent treatment and this emotional abuse takes a lot of my energy after working all day to ignore. I wish to learn how others might cope with this situation. I have learned that I made a mistake letting this man into my life. Also, he's been married and divorced three times. I was married for 33 yrs and divorced for 6 yrs when I met him. I would appreciate any of your thoughts.

  • Comment Link Jessica Monday, 09 February 2015 01:33 posted by Jessica

    How do u get even with this behavior? Can u hurt them? The way they hurt you. By jumping ahead a stage and ignoring them when they decide their silent treatment towards u is over? I'm tired of the roller coaster but have baby with one. Need to put the power back in my hands for me and baby

  • Comment Link Rebecca Sunday, 24 August 2014 19:54 posted by Rebecca

    How do I turn this around

  • Comment Link Invicta Friday, 18 July 2014 15:26 posted by Invicta

    My husband tried this garbage. He used to turn out all the house lights when he knew I was still doing laundry at night in the cellar. Lock the garage door when he knew I'd have loads of groceries. Not talk. Respond with: Nothing is wrong.
    They do the silent treatment thing because A. the biggest "punishment" they can imagine for you is to take themselves away and B. they think it will bring you around to do whatever they want. 1st they manipulate, then manipulate harder, then make veiled threats, and finally punish. Likewise if you respond positively to a manipulation, you may get a 'reward'... a gift? dinner out? or simply spending more time with you.
    Once you SEE it for what it is, you find it. . . pathetic. Once you SEE it, you just don't respond. You have to be prepared for the 'punishment' stage--but who cares at that point? You are already being abused and hurt. Don't cave. Stand tall and have confidence in YOUR perceptions rather than accepting his. (Takes practice. Took me therapy. Still taking therapy to 'believe' it...)

  • Comment Link Lou Lou Friday, 11 July 2014 06:35 posted by Lou Lou

    Ack! You cannot train your narcissist to treat you respectfully - you are a narcissistic extension of themself, not a seperate person to be treated decently.

    Silent treatment from a narcissist means they've figured out you enjoy their attention and they want to punish/hurt you by depriving you. You're supposed to carry on and beg to talk about it or book counselling or get upset - it proves they hurt you, and it proves (to them) that they are better than you because you're an emotional weakling.

    But if you don't respond the way they expect, then you're not accepting your punishment, and they will move on to different behaviours to get at you.

    The best you can do is learn to love the peacefulness that comes with being given the cold-shoulder. You can't train them to love you the way you want or regard you as an individual or equal in the relationship. Just keep a weather eye for if they get annoyed at your lack of response.

  • Comment Link Anonymous Thursday, 10 July 2014 02:06 posted by Anonymous

    My mom was the narc, my fiancé's ex is a Narc who projects. Interesting post... Not sure how you manage to coordinate shared parenting if everyone is engaged in "no contact". I guess that is why divorce attorneys make a great living...

  • Comment Link notawife Wednesday, 09 July 2014 23:07 posted by notawife

    OMG!! This WAS life with my ex. Unfortunately, I knew none of this until after I had decided to leave the marriage. Knowing would not have made a difference, but it was nice to find out that everything wasn't my fault after all . Phew...

  • Comment Link SharP Wednesday, 09 July 2014 15:49 posted by SharP

    My exNarc was the master of the three week silent treatment. In order to avoid dating a Narc in the future, this was number one on my list. If I ever get the silent treatment from a guy again, he is history. I don't do it to others either. It is just NOT normal. The silent treatment also was connected to NO SEX. I like sex. We use to joke that I was the man and he was the woman. For a long time I thought his silent treatment was connected to my PMS/cycle. It may have been. The only time I was brave enough to call him out on his "stuff" was when I lacked sex and had PMS. Major crazy cycles... I can live without it.