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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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Christmas has just passed, and it’s the sixth one I have celebrated without my ex. In many ways, it is the same as it has always been. In fact, it was a shock to me when I realized that his departure from my life didn’t change things all that much. Apparently, I had been the one making things happen without really thinking about it. It’s funny how much clarity you gain in retrospect, isn’t it?

Christmas Meant Busyness

I used to be way more organized than I am now—maybe because I used to convince myself that everything had to be perfect. Or maybe it was because I was a younger, stay-at-home mom, more focused on running my home. Either way, my organizational skills were legendary. 

I tried to have my shopping done by the end of October so that I could concentrate on baking and decorating through November and December. Our finances were incredibly limited, so I made it stretch as far as possible. A lot of people don’t recognize just how stressful it can be to maintain a family on a very limited income. I planned outings and times where we could create memories for the kids. I bought presents, made holiday meals, hosted parties, and circled dates on the calendar for those Christmas specials that everyone watches. Since my ex was in retail, he wasn’t home much during the holidays because of the long hours. It wasn’t his fault that he wasn’t around then—it was a fact of life.

My holidays now are busy, too. But it’s a different kind of busy. We still do the majority of those things (although Christmas shopping is more likely to be last-minute). I generally have a lot of work in December, so I am typing away on my computer right up until Christmas Eve. This year I decorated the house a bit more—as opposed to just having the kids put up a tree—and I have to say it felt really good. I feel like I have turned a corner and am merging who I was with who I am.

I’m ready for that.

I Orchestrated It All

But it wasn’t just Christmas. Over the past five years, I rarely had a moment when I thought, oh wow—the ex used to handle this for me

By rarely, I mean never.

Some of it is that I got remarried pretty quickly, so the household repairs I had to do myself were limited. However, the ex didn’t do a lot of repairs, so I am not sure it made a big difference. At one point, I tried to list all the ways he'd contributed to our family, and all I could put down was his income. The combination of his income and my ability to stretch a dollar meant that I got to stay home with the kids and homeschool. Needless to say, I managed most things at home. I taught classes, chose the curriculum, handled discipline, and fixed boo-boos...not to mention kept up the house.

I did it all. When you add in all of the fixing I did to cover up his narcissistic blunders, it was an overwhelming amount of responsibility.

Adjusting Priorities

When he left, and I took over the job of providing, I did have to adjust priorities. I tried to continue homeschooling for two years, but my kids were starting to fall behind. I found a local charter school that I liked (a charter school is a juxtaposition of a private and a public school here in Texas). I didn’t want to do it, but enrolling them was the only option I had.

My house is no longer as clean as it used to be, and I am no longer as organized. Cleaning has taken quite a hit, actually. It’s what I do when I am not working, spending time with family, or taking a break—in other words, almost never. My priorities got reworked quite a bit following the divorce. God still comes first, but church attendance has dwindled. Family is next, and these days I include myself in "family" instead of adding myself as a separate category at the end of the list. Now, the end of the list includes career, then friends (unfortunately), cleaning, and church activities.

It’s very different from how it used to be, but it’s because I am working, not because the ex left a hole in our lives.

Are You Holding It Together?

Before my divorce, one of my fears was that there would be a huge hole in my life where he had been. Things wouldn’t get done; I wouldn’t be able to handle the household on my own; life would be unbearably hard. You know what I am talking about. I’m sure you’ve felt that way, too.

Well, truth be told, his leaving caused only a tiny ripple in our lives, as I realized I’d been doing it all anyway. If your ex provided more support at home, your experience might be very different from mine.

With my ex, I created the family I wanted, and he stood back and let me. Maybe I was too controlling in what I did, maybe he was too willing to be an outsider in our lives, or maybe it was a combination of the two. I do know that I begged him to be more involved. 

My current husband is more involved. He plans things like Six Flags outings and movies. He has the kids help him with chores. And they learn from him. My ex was a one-man show whether he was mowing the lawn or changing the oil. My current husband shows the kids how, and then lets them help or lets them do it. The result is that I feel more like he and I are a team, rather than I am a woman with a very tall extra child.

My fears were just that—fears. Staying together for the sake of the kids is never a good idea, either. Looking back, I can see that I stayed for the wrong reasons.

Are you afraid of leaving because you think you won’t be able to handle all of the responsibility? Maybe it’s time to ask yourself if you are actually the one holding it all together. You may be surprised to find that your life doesn’t change significantly once he’s gone. Well, other than the huge drop in stress.

If you’ve already been through a divorce, did you find this to be true or did your ex leave a huge hole when he left? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

You know, talking to others who have been in your shoes is empowering. Join First Wives World today and be part of a group who knows exactly what it feels like to be where you are. 

Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, User : Buffalo Outdoor Center

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  • Comment Link DH1968 Monday, 11 July 2016 20:11 posted by DH1968

    I have also found that life didn't change dramatically except that I am visibly less stressed and happier. Like you, I handled everything but the income , but since he was a salesman and business owner the ups and downs of that we're my responsibility also. He took the credit when things went well and often blamed me (and to think I believed him!) when things didn't. The stress of trying to make ends meet fell on my shoulders during the financial lows, which was often. According to him, I wasn't handling the money correctly or there certainly would have been enough! On my own for over 2 years now, my life is 1000 times easier. I'm on a tight budget but I know what I have coming in and going out every month and I can rely on myself to handle it. I love not spending my time and energy worrying about him, and I'm a much more relaxed and happy person. My grown children noticed the difference almost immediately after I left him. To anyone wondering whether they can do it, my response is "absolutely you can!" The strength you save in navigating the day-to-day emotional drain of living with a narcissist is more than enough to carry you through anything life may throw at you.

  • Comment Link Spin Saturday, 09 May 2015 13:12 posted by Spin

    I have just separated but for a long time I have realized that aside from the salary (although he spent more than he made anyways) all he did was mow the lawn. I could have replaced him with a goat, and as a bonus, the goat would be way better company!

  • Comment Link blindsided19 Monday, 04 May 2015 19:15 posted by blindsided19

    I made a similar comment to my female co-workers a few weeks ago. I never realized that I was the one that was holding everything together. I told them that the only thing that was really different since my STBX left was that I had to make sure that I talked to one of the neighbors about letting our dogs out if my son and I were going to be late. How sad is that? I do not miss him, and our lives are so much less stressful with him gone. No more walking on eggshells, no more "parenting" a full grown adult, no more helping him to be a better person and father, no more fixing his mistakes or making excuses for his behavior. Life is better.

  • Comment Link Sophie.girl Thursday, 23 April 2015 13:40 posted by Sophie.girl

    This mirrors my life exactly - even down to the comments about Christmas. He was slightly more than a paycheck - he had his moments but they were few and far between and most of the time my daughter and I were tip-toeing between wanting to placate him by sitting around at home and feeling guilty for going out and enjoying our common interests. When I realized that I WAS doing everything, that he had been absent for years, that our daughter was launched into adulthood- that was the moment I knew in my heart I was done.

    I will miss the paycheck and I worry about my ability to re-enter the work force and support myself at 54 but I won't miss being the "executive assistant" and sounding board - even now he still calls me to complain about his day - bet he doesn't do that with the GF. What I will miss, however is the life that could have, should have, would have been - but that is MY issue to to deal with going forward.

  • Comment Link PostIt Sunday, 01 March 2015 14:57 posted by PostIt

    This is my first time to this site--I'm reading article after article that I feel like I wrote myself! I am 53, and have been separated from my husband of 30 years for three months now. We have seven kids, and I was a stay-at-home homeschooling mom until a few months ago when I got a job and started planning my exodus. This site is so full of encouragement and information I'm thankful to have found it.

  • Comment Link butwhatififall Tuesday, 03 February 2015 14:59 posted by butwhatififall

    I totally recognise this! Pianomom your story simply mirrors mine too. I knew I did a lot but had no idea just how much until I threw him out!
    Christmas was lovely - nothing missing except the moods & him falling asleep and not wanting to join in with family get togethers.
    I was really worried about it but it was sweeter and more genuine than my last 5/6 Christmases!
    Financially I manage - everything else gets done by us 'three musketeers' as we call ourselves now! No one to let me down, stress me out & lie and cheat on me. This is why im so frustrated that I still have a 'hole' in my life that doesn't seem to be filling up anytime soon! Grrrr. So angry with myself! Hugs to you all xx

  • Comment Link Bumble Bee Thursday, 29 January 2015 22:03 posted by Bumble Bee

    When I first realized that I'd be getting divorced, a sweet divorced lady at the bank whom I barely knew said, "You'll be amazed at how much you were already doing all by yourself...except, now, it will be much easier without him around. You will be amazed."

    And she was so right!

  • Comment Link Momma B Monday, 12 January 2015 22:38 posted by Momma B

    I feel that most women take care of most things in life in every aspect. It's not being controlling, it's making sure life moves along and around every corner. My Ex of 26 years moved away 8 years before we divorced and he traveled quite a bit prior, but we did raise our children together when they were young. I paid the bills, did the laundry, cooked, cleaned, mowed, cleaned horse stalls, hired contractors, sports, homework, practices, when he moved out, I felt no less help, just a lot of stress gone with trying to make him not angry because he was always mad about something... and less laundry. I still feel sad over the loss of marriage, but not the loss of him and his lazy couch potato beer drinking life. I see myself now starting to relax and more independent, happier and I am getting more organized. Cleaning out closets, drawers, basement, etc. brings back good memories and bad....but I feel refreshed and lighter in my step. I do miss the money somewhat, but it's kind of funny that that too isn't needed as much and even on my small salary I am still able to save. So financially, he was weighing me down too. I like my clean smelling soaps, nice bed linens, cute sexy jeans, and it's what I deserve after all I've taken care of for all those years with NO HELP!!!

  • Comment Link FreeSpirit52 Wednesday, 07 January 2015 20:59 posted by FreeSpirit52

    Hi Marye and thank you for a wonderful piece of writing once again. I found similar after my divorce in that the only thing different was his salary. But due to his aggressive nature amongst everything else, I didn't feel lost that he wasn't there. In fact it was a great feeling to be able to breath and laugh without worrying what kind of mood he was in. I had to watch the finances and am very good a running a home and getting things fixed. When I look back I don't know how I managed to keep going, but I did for my Children. I hope that I have the chance like yourself to meet someone who will give and show me true love which, I never had in my 28 years of being with 'a being not of this planet'. Take care.

  • Comment Link notawife Friday, 02 January 2015 02:02 posted by notawife

    My life is so much better. Don't even get me started...:)

  • Comment Link happyafterdivorce Thursday, 01 January 2015 17:44 posted by happyafterdivorce

    You descriped my situation to a T. I was so worried when we first split up. As I kept asking myself how I would manage with a 4 and 7 year old. As my Ex told me constantly that I could not do anything for myself and I would be nothing without him. Fast forward, Kids are now 15 and 12 and we did not notice much difference when we got out (other than money). I had always done most of the work around the house inside and out, looked after the kids, worked a full time job etc. He just went on his own to play hockey, ball, curling, hang with his friends. He really never bother with the kids or I. I wish the bitterness would leave me. I just look at his life with no responsiblities and it makes me jealous. Which I know is silly but he is now married again and only takes the kids a few hours at a time 5-6 times a year. They often refuse to go with him as he is not a kind person...Knowing all this on a logical level still does not lessen the hurt. I have just finished 8 years on my own - Why have I not moved on?

  • Comment Link Vicky Wednesday, 31 December 2014 17:26 posted by Vicky

    Wow, this is exactly my situation, I always wondered what narcissistic meant and it's totally my X!! He moved on with someone immediately after we split a year ago which I took hard but apart from that life without him is less stressful and easier without him. I can't believe he won't make the same mistakes again with her, I hope so, as I tried for 16 yrs to make it work and wld be annoyed if things worked out well for him now!!

  • Comment Link PianoMom Wednesday, 31 December 2014 11:53 posted by PianoMom

    Yep, my situation exactly. Sometimes I wonder why I get so sad at times....I didn't really lose anything worth keeping. If anything, I've gained peace of mind and lost the drama of someone who was never happy...blamed his unhappiness his job, the people he worked with, etc. etc. Drinking, spending, overeating, overexercising, obsessive, paranoid, etc. etc. On top of that, uninvolved and lazy about anything but what concerned himself. I fixed things, handled finances, mowed the lawn, did the laundry, got our health insurance, homeschooled, took kids to activities, etc. The only thing he got involved with was the cooking because it concerned him and his diet. The kids are hardly affected at all, at least when it comes to our home life. They think it's a drag to have to adjust their schedules for "parenting time" with him, because it's so unnatural for them to be with him, one on one. He never bothered to spend time with them or get to know them when he lived here. I'm grateful for the peace and freedom from a burdensome, self-absorbed human being.

  • Comment Link fiddlelady Wednesday, 31 December 2014 09:20 posted by fiddlelady

    This article is misleading. "Some of it is that I got married pretty quickly." Some of it? Having a partner to share responsibilities, burdens, expenses, even to provide a listening ear to all life's small issues is a huge help. Many of us, even when we no longer miss our ex, get very weary of having to take care of everything. It's great that the author no longer has to do this but it feels disingenuous to tell those of us who do, that this can just as easily be managed by one as it was by two.

  • Comment Link Ridingfree63 Wednesday, 31 December 2014 03:08 posted by Ridingfree63

    I did it all, so with him leaving I now have to mow the lawn, take the trash out and keep up the pool in summer- no biggie- the biggest hit is financial, I was a stay at home mom with a part time business - this is what scares me the most.

  • Comment Link guardianangel Wednesday, 31 December 2014 02:42 posted by guardianangel

    How true! I was so busy walking on eggshells and trying to please my never-satisfied narc ex that I didn't realize how much he really wasn't present toward the last few years. He was there physically but there was a black cloud around him that we tip-toed around. I mentioned to my kids (21,19, and 17) that I never expected to be a single Mother and they said that they felt like they were raised by a single mother for years before he left. Our lives are calmer and less stressful now.

  • Comment Link Freedom4me Wednesday, 31 December 2014 00:07 posted by Freedom4me

    This is a mirror of what our life was. He was the financial support, I did everything else. That is the change I see. My financial situation is definitely different. I am accustomed to living on a 'shoestring'. My wardrobe consists of hand me downs and resale items. That was our life, he recieved a new car every 3 years from work, I am still driving my 98 pickup. The stress level is non existent. My physical ailments left my body a few short months after he left. Thanking God for what we have and the peace in our home is amazing!

  • Comment Link Free Chick! Tuesday, 30 December 2014 23:27 posted by Free Chick!

    I have been noticing this same thing!

    I miss finances, someone to call when something is broken, and not much else. I did it all except that also.

    My kids and I just had Christmas without all his drama, garbage, and fits...and the was wonderful.

    We didn't miss any fun, any laughter, or the card games we play with friends...he just wasn't here to make it miserable...a very valuable lesson indeed. We even went bowling and had a normal competition instead of his intense need to win...and his malice when I won....without half trying...I LIKE him being gone....hope his OW enjoyed his scowling all day....