Imagine you’re a veteran CIA agent, part of the Russian counterintelligence unit. One day, you show up to your office and learn that your closest colleague - someone you’ve known for twenty years - has been apprehended after it was learned that he was a Russian mole. Your mind reels as you think of the incalculable damage that this person has done to America’s security over the years.
If you’ve determined that you are in a relationship with a high-conflict partner, this is an apt analogy for your situation. Things are not as you thought they were - you’ve figured that much out - but it’s actually far worse than just a relationship gone bad. This person has already done you far more harm than you likely realize right now, and it’s probably going to get a lot worse now that you’ve woken up (but, take heart: you will survive, and your life will be better down the road!)
If you’ve cast aside denial, learned a bit about narcissism and other causes of high-conflict personalities, and accepted that counseling isn’t going to help because your partner cannot change, you might, despite everything, still have reservations. You might still think you can work out a reasonable solution together.
After all, this is the person you love. Perhaps you’re married, and you take seriously your commitment to a shared life together, “for better or worse.” Perhaps your partner is the mother or father of your children. Maybe you’ve told yourself that this is what people mean when they say “marriage is hard.” You may remember “better times,” and long for their return. In my case, all of these were true!
Unfortunately, it’s time for a cruel, cold dose of reality.
If your partner is a narcissist, he is not capable of love as a healthy person understands it. If he is not capable of “real” love, then he is not capable of loving you, and in fact, has never loved you. The impression of love has been a mask that your partner has worn because having you believe that he loves you has served his purposes.
Disconcerting as it is, this realization can help you better deal with the idea that your relationship is unhealthy, and you would be happier in the long term if you were not in it. Since it was never true, reciprocal love, you would have nothing to mourn if your relationship ends.
Sure, you were in love. That part was authentic. But, unbeknownst to you, your partner’s expressions of love were a fiction. You were duped by a master manipulator (don’t feel too bad about that; she has honed this skill since her adolescence.) This realization helped me get past the misery of my marriage ending because I stopped viewing it as some kind of tragedy. Instead, my thought became, “Go figure… she really fooled me.” (Hopefully, this will help you, too.)
A Menu of Abuses
- Has probably cheated on you, possibly often
- May have been physically abusive to you and/or your children
- Has almost certainly been verbally abusive, maybe publicly, or to others behind your back (narcissists will recruit the world to be on their side in their campaign against you)
- May have stolen or hidden money and valuable items, changed the title to assets, or engaged in other forms of financial abuse
- Lies to you without a second thought
- Does not care at all about your feelings or interests (and never did)
- Only keeps you around because you give her something she wants
- Undermines your reputation in the community
- Belittles your successes and things that bring joy to you
- Isolates you from your friends and family
- Enjoys exerting power over you and filling your life with chaos and conflict
- Blames you for everything that is wrong in his life
- Makes you doubt yourself and feel like you’re the crazy one
Does this sound like someone worthy of your love? Are these behaviors consistent with your value system?
“If your partner has led you to believe that you can only prove your love by violating your values, then you are in an abusive relationship.”
- Kim Saeed
Brace yourself… it’s likely to get worse.
Since your partner doesn’t truly care about you, she will be capable of almost anything once you have outlived your usefulness. She’ll no longer be motivated to appear reasonable or keep up appearances. You might be shocked at what she’s capable of once the mask comes off.
This is why we urge you not to let your partner become aware that you are waking up to what’s going on - as soon as he senses the end game, it’s highly likely that he will become openly vicious, perhaps even violent. Do your best to “act normal” while you get your head straight!
We know someone whose ex-wife is a severe malignant narcissist. In their marriage’s death throes, she insisted that he retire from the military mere months before earning his full pension so he could be home to “work on the marriage.” He did so, forgoing tremendous future income. Simultaneously, she started an affair, and she discarded him a short time later.
The idea that your partner, the one you love above all others, is actually a cunning and dangerous enemy and is likely to soon become your worst nightmare is a tough one to wrap your head around.
You may be wondering, “does my partner do this on purpose?” or, “does he know he’s hurting me?” That’s one of the most common questions we hear and see posted on the internet. It’s a very understandable question!
To a healthy person, a narcissist’s behavior defies logic, and we seek an explanation. If my partner loves me and she is hurting me, she must not realize it! Even if she doesn’t really love me, no decent person would hurt me like this! Does she realize what she’s doing?
The short, practical answer is that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he’s doing. If he doesn’t, he’s broken beyond repair; if he does, he’s just evil. The behavior is what matters. This person is abusing you, and there is no excuse or explanation - ever - that makes that okay.
The long answer, by the way, is complicated and interesting, but beyond the scope of this article. If you're interested in learning more, here's a great explanation from Psychologist Elinor Greenberg.
“Just because your pain is understable doesn’t mean your behavior is acceptable.”
- Dr. Steve Maraboli
As you learn about personality disorders, you may read that they likely stem from a childhood trauma. You may feel sorry for your partner that this happened to him, as his tales of abuse draw out your empathy. You may feel compelled to help him. You may feel that, with your unwavering love, he can be “fixed.”
The narcissist cannot love and cannot change. Thus, she cannot avoid hurting you, and it’s not going to stop. Learn about the causes, but focus on the behaviors when deciding a course of action. You may not believe this right now, but you deserve better.
If you fail to understand quickly enough that your partner is actually a cold, cunning, and highly-trained enemy capable of almost anything, you run the risk of making costly errors that will be hard to recover from later - legally, financially, or in some other area. Underestimating what a high-conflict partner is capable of can have tragic consequences!