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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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So many people that I have met who are in a relationship with a narcissist believe that with just the right phrase, just the right gift, or just the right action the kind, gentle person that lives buried deep under the narcissist’s difficult exterior will suddenly emerge. I used to think that, too. Surely there was hurt, emotional scarring, and fear of rejection that kept him from being the man I knew he was deep inside. I was sure that someday I would lure that man out with my love and we would ride off into the sunset to the haunting strains of an appropriate musical playing softly.

Yeah – no. It totally didn’t happen. The sensitive, hurt human being that stirred my sympathies during counseling was nowhere to be found when the hour was over. I have come to realize that the deep angst he shared was as real as his promises. And by real I mean totally full of bull.

He used to tell me how criticized he was as a child, how he never felt good enough, and how he was controlled. I identified with a lot of that – surely we were kindred spirits?

Now he tells his new audience how controlling I was, how he was never good enough for me, and how much I criticized him. If it ever comes up I have pretty impressive truth to the contrary, but I am pretty sure they’d just prefer to believe I am vicious and crazy. Anyway, when I started being accused of the stuff he accused people from his past of I was shocked. It was a slap in the face, for sure.

It’s All about the Fruit

When I first moved to my house there were a lot of overgrown weeds, bushes, and trees on the property. The acreage hadn’t been touched in years, the house was falling apart, and there was every reason not to want it. I saw a couple of pear trees, several pecan trees, and a fig tree. I was certain this could become the base for my homesteading dreams.

When the inspector came he looked at the gorgeous, healthy fig and said, “Y’all are gonna wanna get rid of this ole junk tree, here. “

I was indignant, “It’s not a junk bush – just look at those leaves! It’s a healthy fig tree! I am not going to get rid of it!”

That first spring I waited for signs of figs but nothing happened. I excused the tree because it had been neglected. The second year there were no figs and I excused the tree because our property had flooded. After that I realized that while it had indeed looked like a fig tree it was in fact a junk tree and I was wrong. We chopped that thing down.

The narcissist can make you see whatever you want to see but eventually you are going to have to judge him by his fruit – his actions.

That Dog Won’t Hunt

Having spent most of my life in the South I have numerous idioms at my disposal. They are colorful and often right on target. One thing that you hear a lot is that dog won’t hunt. It means that something doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t fit, or it doesn’t ring true. There comes a time in your relationship with the narcissist and accept the truth. He’s totally not a fig tree and he’s not huntin’ either!

Words are great. My narcissist assured me that he was ready to give it his all for our family, fight for our relationship, and cherished me more than he could ever explain. He made promise after promise that he broke. When all was said and done that dog didn’t hunt. There were no actions to back up his empty words. When I pointed that out he began to tell people that nothing he did was ever good enough for me.

People who knew us very well didn’t buy it. They had seen the fruit in my life and they’d seen the fruit in his – or lack thereof. They’d seen my struggle to keep things going when he got sick. I was juggling homeschooling, parenting, livestock, getting enough work to have an actual income, and taking him to the hospital several times a week. I grew some amazing arm muscles pushing a wheelchair. I was 100% all in.

If It Looks Like a Duck…

I still made excuses. His anger and name calling was due to his medications. His increasingly violent outbursts were due to his frustration with his physical conditions and his medications. He couldn’t keep a job because people didn’t like him. Even the counselor made an excuse – he lied to me over everything because he didn’t want to disappoint me.

When I looked him in the eyes and asked if he was having a “thing” with a woman on his Facebook he looked me right in the eyes and said no. I knew right then that I could choose to trust him or I could choose reality. There would be no more excuses for his behavior. After all, he made no excuses for me or the kids.

When I accepted the reality that he was not going to change I was freed. I realized I didn’t have to give him the benefit of the doubt anymore. In fact, he has lied to me so much that I tend to assume a lie when he tells me something and if it really was the truth it’s a happy surprise.

What about You?

So, what about you?

Are you making excuses for his actions and holding on because you are sure that you are different, better, and more special than his previous girlfriends/wives?

How is that working for you?

After 30 years making excuses for everything from a lack of manners to violent behavior I stopped. I don’t have the time or the patience to make excuses or try to figure out which past hurt is causing current behavior.  I no longer give unending chances for the same thing. Screw up once and you’ll get forgiven – do it again and I am done.

I look at people’s fruit now. Was the difficult behavior unique to that person or is it a common thing? I am 54; I don’t have time to deal with other people’s rotten fruit.

Are you expecting a junk tree to start producing figs? If so you might want to rethink your expectations and dial them down to a more reasonable level. Maybe you aren’t overreacting after all.

Talk to others who have been there and get some perspective Join First Wives World and connect with others who get it. 


Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, User: Charlotte Sanderson

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  • Comment Link SV Tuesday, 09 May 2017 23:18 posted by SV

    I'm so glad I found this. It really helped. I've been feeling sad about my divorce but this article totally describes my ex. He would tell me he wanted me to be successful, go to school -but then never help. He wanted me to be successful as long as I did everything around the home. He too said he was criticized as a child and unloved. I waited and waited for almost 8 years for my ex to be the loving and kind person he was when we dated. I can't even count the number of times I thought -if I just tell him this or that -he will change. So many promises, so many I will do better. And the actions? None. Literally none. I've been feeling so foolish. Thank you this helps.

  • Comment Link Christine. Barton Saturday, 11 June 2016 09:44 posted by Christine. Barton

    I have just come away from a relationship that left me shattered confused and blaming myself for it failing . But thankfully I began to read up about personality disorders and quickly could relate to many of the problems I was experiencing reading this article . It gave me the strength to shut the door on this man and his problems ... I respect any one who can stay in this situation but for me it distroys you're whole being . No way will they change and the longer you stay the more confident they become in how they treat you. The lies and their selfish ways are so hurtful no one deserves to be treated this way .. I am alone but free to be who I am !!!

  • Comment Link KD Sunday, 17 January 2016 23:37 posted by KD

    Tash - so eloquently and truthfully written: I am 100% with you. There is no way to survive that life, and truly you will not fully understand and believe that until you have found the courage to escape the toxicity.
    I have left after far too long, 25 years together and unfortunately domestic violence was also a part of his behaviour. With support from domestic abuse support service I realised those nagging doubts were more than valid. I moved out of our home with our children, and have not spoken to him for the 3 years that have passed since that day.
    I thought that I would give him another chance if he showed he had changed: he has not. One day he would text he loves me and I am his world; the next day a message that I am absolving myself from all responsibility by labelling myself a victim (loves his big words!)
    I remember those awful arguments that would go on for hours and hours, head hurting trying to deal with the impenetrable logic. Horrible holidays, tantrums and sulks worse than a child, refusing to eat a meal that was already being cooked because he wanted to go to a restaurant all of a sudden...
    If you have doubts about the life you are living, do some research, don't keep it a secret, know that this is YOUR life and you do not have to be stuck in the trap you are in for ever.
    I have not one regret. Not even that I waited so long. I am not going to punish myself for what he did to me. I have let my children keep contact and they are now starting to see the truth for themselves, without me having to talk him down (that can be really hard, but you are a better person than him/her and you don't need to stoop to that level - also your kids HATEto hear anyone, especially their parent, talk down about one of their parents. Remember how defensive you feel if someone says something negative about a parent you love?)
    Be brave, kind and true to yourself. I hope you enjoy the next phase of your life as I have.

  • Comment Link alice Wednesday, 13 May 2015 14:40 posted by alice

    I also needed this. Its been a rollercoaster ride for 17 years. I lost my home and marriage of 18 years to him not to mention my credit the list dos on. I've been gone for 2 weeks this time. Of course i built his credit up for him hard to do when unemployment and temporary services is what you got to work with. But he got to buy a house. Of course i couldnt be on the deed i have bad credit. So he went out and got a dui thats my fault. His funds are low court today. I'm dumb enough to care. Everything i own is in that house. To go get it is to hard. I guess i will lose it all if i caint it least save myself.

  • Comment Link Diane Thursday, 26 March 2015 12:28 posted by Diane

    This is a really good article. I was with my narc ex husband for nearly 30 years, I finally divorced him last year, but we are still trying to split assets. At every opportunity he throws a spanner in the works, I don't understand why, when he is with a new partner, you would think he would want the whole thing over with, I know I do.
    I can relate to the lying and telling you that they will do anything for their marriage, I've heard this for years.
    Like a mug I believed it too many times.
    I am happy with my new life, especially the calm that I have, but there are times when I actually miss him. I went to counselling which really helped, and it was explained to me that this is normal for having been with someone for more than half my life. Those feelings are quickly gone when I remember all the despicable things he did during our marriage.
    It is a very hard lesson to learn, that someone can think so little of you, when you give them so much. I actually saved my ex husbands life on 2 occasions and prevented him having his foot amputated, and all this counted for nothing. Its hard but its true with people like this.
    I am sad that my marriage ended, but it was a case of self preservation in the end.
    I wish everyone on this wonderful site a happy healthy and fulfilled life. x

  • Comment Link LDA Thursday, 19 March 2015 16:17 posted by LDA

    This article hit home to me. I was dating a narc for 2 years before I woke up to the fact that he was never going to change.
    Part of it was keeping my esteem low. Making me feel like I was ungrateful for the thugs he did for me.
    When I realized it was all about him and it always will be, I disappeared from his life. I stopped answering my phone, I stopped texting him back. 3 years later he STILL tries to contact me, wanting us to re-connect.
    3 months ago he left a note on my car windshield while I was at work. He wanted to apologize for how he had been and that he had been in denial about his drug problems. I texted him and told him that I was not interested in having him in my life anymore- he had me and he disrespected me every chance he got. He didn't miss me- he missed the money I spent on him.
    All this is because he thought he could do better than me. Must have realized that most women won't put up with his crap, and that's when he realized what he lost.
    I told him I have a man going on 3 years who treats me like a queen, and that if I get hassled any more I am going to get a restraining order.
    When you finally get the courage to kick the narc out of your life, don't engage. Don't reply to anything. The more you get used to denying them, the stronger you become.

  • Comment Link amberwilsonmd Tuesday, 03 February 2015 12:06 posted by amberwilsonmd

    So very true ! I was stuck with this urge to make him happy, without any regards for my own happiness. I was blind about my own pain. I would always make excuses for his wrongs n somehow come to this stupid and weird conclusion that everything was my fault ! Even for his mistakes I somehow would end up asking sorry !!

    The mess they create in our head is unbelievable. I totally understand the feeling when they somehow twist our mind and make us stay With them when we finally find the courage to stand up. Then the vicious cycle starts all over again.

    Thank you people. Finding the extra strength from everyone here. Have been separated from him since 3 months.

  • Comment Link smf74 Monday, 15 December 2014 17:21 posted by smf74

    This post, and Tash's comments here. WOW. I feel like I could have written this. I am so glad I found this. Living in this life with the narc is so crazy making, and it seriously is so comforting to know that it is not okay, that I couldn't have tried harder to make him better, meanwhile I had turned into some weird robot that I didn't even know anymore. Thanks ladies for your words and encouragement!!!

  • Comment Link At my wits end Friday, 14 November 2014 08:45 posted by At my wits end

    I really appreciate this article, you have no idea what a relief it is to me.

    I am engaged to one of these people and he sounds exactly the same as what you describe. He makes up things and spreads rumors behind my back whenever I don't "obey" his whims. People know he is "a little off" and tell me it's my fault for not dumping him. But every time he comes back begging me and in my pity I give in to him, even though I know he has no pity for me. I wish I had an 'affection switch' I could just turn off to stop caring about him or what happens to him.

    I live with other narcissists (my aunt and her son are both npds, and the son is schizophrenic; both get violent), so maybe I am just used to abusive words. I did grow up around it. It's the only reason I can think of that I haven't kicked him to the curb yet. Or maybe I'm just a pushover!

    Every time I get up the nerve to dump him, it's like he senses it and starts treating me decently and politely so that I forgive him! These people can really mess with your head...

  • Comment Link Free Chick! Friday, 07 November 2014 22:18 posted by Free Chick!


  • Comment Link Oceanview Monday, 20 October 2014 22:25 posted by Oceanview

    Oh my gosh....what an amazing article!!! I have taken a few steps backwards briefly in recent days. Thinking oncr again that I didnt love him well, that my living him better would make him soft, kind, loving and cherish this family God blessed us with. Great reminder....and the fruit I long for....isnt going to happen, after 30 years of my faithfulness and excusing him.

  • Comment Link Tash Saturday, 18 October 2014 07:12 posted by Tash

    So compelling. Made me realize the many ways narcs get us to stay on, until THEY are done with us (or WE finally get it and leave).

    1) Yes, we make excuses when they act out. Some are very common, and do apply in limited situations, such as:

    - He is tired, sick or overworked.
    - We misunderstood each other other.
    - I must have pressed a hot button.
    - Well, he did apologize afterwards...
    - Sometimes, men need to vent their feelings b/c they "don't know how" (hence the outbursts or holes punched in walls, etc.)
    - He had a rough childhood.
    - Being a man takes a lot of responsibility/he's under lot of pressure.
    - We haven't had sex in a while, he's frustrated.
    - He doesn't know how to put into words that he's unhappy.
    - I have disappointed him, but he doesn't want to hurt me with the raw truth.
    - I ask too many questions of him, talk too much or am too emotional.
    - Maybe I AM PMS, and "overreacting".
    - We are from different cultures, regions, types of families, communities, backgrounds, etc.
    - We are different ages, see things differently, have different opinions, etc.
    - His or my family is more verbal/demonstrative, etc.
    - Maybe I am taking something more personally than I should.

    Now, every rare once in a while, a few of these MAY apply, but it is still NOT ok, and has to be remedied. A narc will repeat these behaviors causing you to question over and over and over.

    2) They will tell you how important it is for YOU to do the things you want to succeed, like go to school, have time off to recharge, get the resources to start a business, go get special health/wellness treatments, etc. THEN - they will suck up ALL the time, money and energy for THEIR OWN interests, careers, hobbies, families/friends, projects, business ideas, etc.

    3) They will rhapsodize about the future, so you believe them and move forward. After you buy the house, start the business, get the pets or have the children, they STOP thinking of it as something wonderful and suddenly avoid it like the plague, not wanting to help with the yard/housework, feeding/walking the pets, doing the grunt work like processing payments or filing taxes. And don't get me started on children - suddenly, they are interested in anything else, offering limited time and quickly getting annoyed/bored. They will then move on to OTHER "dreams", like a bigger home, a more flashy business or more kids, while you want to scream...

    4) As for their initial fantasies about their future lives, we buy into it. We want to support them (thinking this will be mutual) and they talk and plan, but don't take action. Or they take action and abandon. Or they take action, work on it, spend all sorts of time and money...and then start something else. They pull you in, and at first you are happy to "share in their interests and goals", but soon you see that they expect an endless amount of enthusiasm, and any criticism or lack of perceived support earns their wrath. As for YOUR interests, fantasies or pursuits? They won't bother much, except for token gestures.

    5) They are an illusion of the perfect partner, and the honeymoon phase is so intoxication and all-consuming, that it can take years (or even decades) to finally become objective enough and see the truth. That they are just little boys in grown bodies.

    - The physical/intimate passion? That was mostly the hot air of new love, and probably more your assumption and the work YOU put in.

    - The devotion, loyalty and eternal commitment? That was flowery talk, coupled with the cognitive dissonance of one who has no grasp on true human emotions - they liked the IDEA of it, so it felt more REAL to you. At some point, especially if you dare to stand up to them or reveal that the emperor has no clothes, they turn on you, devalue you and discard you like last month's trash.

    - The many sweet moments, nice cards, hugs, gifts, memories, etc. that cemented your belief that this person loved you become hollow - you start to see that they were often mechanically fulfilling duties, exasperated if they had to "sacrifice" even a moment of their time, and often criticized, abused and dismissed you, rendering all those lovely moments moot.

    - And you suddenly realize that they were master manipulators. "I don't care" where we go to eat, go on vacation, what couch we buy, etc. is a lie. They did care, they were using tactics to confuse us. Their stories changed, they sulked, yelled, glared, ignored and barked at us to get their way.

    - Finally, the hypocrisy - so often the rules did not and do not apply to them.

    You should review your relationship with the narc with these concepts in your mind. Sure, there may be nice memories and shared happiness, but to be sure, most of it was obscured by the flip side. And while you reminisce, pay attention to how often everything turned sour: smiling photos after tears, yelling in the car before or after parties, grueling holidays and vacations, lots of angry make up sex presented as passion, insecurity on your part due to their subtle and overt observations, so many ignored phone calls, texts and emails. Arguments turned all around until you felt dizzy. Information you knew for certain being questioned. Your expertise and opinions disparaged. Their bombastic reactions to begin caught in a lie, or when feeling threatened or criticized (hypocrisy again!)

    All in all, it doesn't hurt to write up an overview and insert all the more prominent interactions, as well as the persistent issues.

    Whatever good there was, you hoped for or came out of it, remember one thing:

    People who love you want to improve themselves FOR you, they don't simply point fingers at you endlessly.

    I'm guessing that most of us on FWW DID try to improve ourselves, work on the situations, took on a lot of blame, etc.

    THEY would possibly apologize in a tiny way, but never had the intention of changing one single thing about them. And that inflexibility makes a meaningful, long-lasting and mutually satisfying relationship IMPOSSIBLE.

    So you go, girl, you work on yourself, heal, forgive, improve, let go and move on.

    Wish him well, but stop feeling responsible for him. We are all damaged, and unless we are disabled or severely incapacitated, we have to take control of our lives and take responsibility for our actions.

    Since he will not (and maybe cannot, but I don't buy that) he will only get worse. Whatever relationships he moves into will start out just as spectacularly and implode/explode just as spectacularly down the line.

    The other woman is to be pitied. No matter what, she is stepping into a trap.

    The other woman will have a few additional excuses at her disposal, which will probably prolong the pain for them, including YOU (you will be the queen bitch they will both blame), your kids (who will be a burden, take up their time, cost them money, etc. and will be a bone of contention, as he does not respect other people's opinions, not even experts, when it comes to HIS children), and she will pity the poor "lonely guy" who is being shaken down by greedy you. The poor guy has been through the wringer, so his outbursts will be tolerated even more.

    You can't - and shouldn't - warn her. Just know, that no matter how shiny the Facebook posts, behind closed doors the manic crazymaking is weaving it's spell over her, slowly but surely.

    She is going to be blamed, mistreated, taken for granted, insulted, dismissed, disregarded, criticized and ignored as she rides the jarring, often shocking roller coaster that is a relationship with a narc. Except she will hide it longer, as she will feel REALLY stupid for not believing you and for taking on so much with so little payoff. He will dump so much on her, expecting her to be mommy, lover, nursemaid, therapist, nanny, housekeeper, cook and superfan, that she will soon lose herself and her own identity and life, friends, family, interests, career aspirations, etc. She may fall apart physically, mentally and/or emotionally, but he will, like he always does, brush himself off and start again.

    If they DON'T separate, then she is probably a doormat, dead inside and desperate with no clue how to become free.

    YOU ARE FREE now, and forevermore.

    Look at your overview when you begin to falter and want him back. Look at your overview when you feel jealous of him and/or his new life or wife. Look at your overview to remind yourself that life without him is FAR better than life with him.

    Seriously, imagine if you had not broken up, where would you be and where would you end up? It is not a pretty picture.

    Instead, you can now clean up the mess, rally and transform your life into whatever you need, want and desire, without the constant tug of war, the negotiation, the endless fighting and the rampant horror that you are somehow being treated like a mere child.

    You are a grown, if imperfect, woman. And you deserve better.

  • Comment Link faeb129 Wednesday, 15 October 2014 16:15 posted by faeb129

    Thank you for amazing article. ..I really needed answer to? why does this person after 2 years of no contact with a no contact order think that as soon as I answer a text concerning legal matter, he continues as if nothing has happened and it perfectly ok ???? And better yet how to tell him , no, this is not ok

  • Comment Link Leah Tuesday, 14 October 2014 13:03 posted by Leah

    Fantastic article.....married to a psycho narcissist for 12 years and just recently left him, so thankful to finally realize his fruit was NEVER coming!!! Now I have the unease of divorcing him and dealing with custody and visitation of our daughter.......yuck.