There’s something wrong in your relationship, and it’s become enough of a problem that you can’t ignore it any longer. You’ve decided to try to figure out what the issue is. That’s a good first step, but now you’ve got some work to do.
First and foremost, if you are in physical danger, close your laptop and get yourself someplace safe. Your town may have a domestic violence center, or you can go to the police or a friend’s or relative’s home while you start to figure things out.
With that out of the way, even if you’re physically safe, you may be a wreck emotionally. You might feel empty, sad, confused. You may be questioning or doubting yourself. You may be wondering what happened to your once-wonderful romance.
Everyone’s situation is different, and just because you’re unhappy in your relationship does not necessarily mean that your partner has a personality disorder of the kind we focus on here at Been There, Got Out.
For people in relationships with high-conflict partners, it can be very difficult to understand what’s really going on for several reasons:
- Despite the prevalence of “Cluster B” personality disorders, like narcissism (NPD) and borderline (BPD) personality disorders, the general public remains surprisingly unaware of these subjects.
- High-conflict people often isolate their partners from trusted support networks, so you may not be honestly discussing your relationship issues with people who could help you.
- High-conflict people tend to target people who are strongly empathetic. Empathetic people are sometimes overly tolerant of inappropriate or abusive behavior. You may have convinced yourself that “this is what people mean when they say ‘marriage is hard.’” You may feel that “everyone needs to make sacrifices.”
So, what can you do to begin to understand what’s going on in your specific personal situation?
A great (and quick!) first step would be to take our quiz right here on our website. Each question in the quiz relates to a common behavior of high-conflict people in their relationships, and if this applies to you, the quiz is likely to make your jaw drop.
If you have close friends or family members you can talk to, it’s time to do that. Make sure you can absolutely trust whoever you confide in. You definitely do not want anything getting back to your partner, for a lot of reasons. Keep your concerns to yourself while you begin to sort them out.
Another great idea is to see a therapist, but make sure whoever you choose is familiar with these types of personality disorders. It’s shocking how many in the mental health community remain ignorant of these issues. A therapist who doesn’t know about NPD/BPD is going to be of little help!
One excellent resource for finding a good therapist is your town’s domestic violence center, even if physical violence does not apply in your situation. The therapists at most domestic violence centers are well-trained in psychological and emotional abuse as well.
Assuming your partner’s behavior is consistent with a high-conflict personality disorder, educating yourself is crucial. There’s a ton of good information online, beyond what we’re building here at BTGO. A few places to start:
- Create an account on Quora.com and follow the topics “Narcissism” and “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”
- Check out this overview of the ten recognized personality disorders on Psychology Today. We are primarily focused on the disorders under “Cluster B,” the most common of which are NPD and BPD.
- Many high-conflict relationships begin as described in this article, which may resonate with you.
- A common myth is that high-conflict people are usually male. If you’re a man in a high-conflict relationship, this site is especially helpful.
- Need some inspiration? Here is a series of great quotes from Huffington Post. The page also has links to other helpful articles.
- Another good overview article specifically focused on narcissism.
- From GoodTherapy.org, here’s a deeper look at the common patterns of a relationship with a narcissist.
There are a lot of books on this subject, some good, some not so good. We have four favorites that we highly recommend. This is our “Mount Rushmore!”
- Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone With Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, by Bill Eddy. Strong focus on legal topics; not as much on how to heal emotionally.
- Will I Ever Be Free of You? How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family, by Karyl McBride. Karyl McBride is a licensed marital and family therapist with decades of experience, and an expert on narcissism. She gets into the head of the narcissist and explains why someone behaves so irrationally during and after the divorce process.
- Psychopath Free: Recovering from Emotionally Abusive Relationships with Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other Toxic People, by Jackson MacKenzie. A practical guide to understanding and healing from a relationship with a high-conflict person.
- Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse, by Shannon Thomas. Also a practical guide to healing from abuse.
If it isn’t obvious by now, this is pretty serious stuff. Some common behaviors of high-conflict people include:
- Deception and lies
- Explosive anger, possibly including violence
- “Gaslighting” (painting a false picture of events, thus making you doubt your own reality)
Of course, every personal situation is different, and this list of behaviors is very far from complete! It’s intended only to drive home the point that these situations can be extreme.
Victims of the kind of abuse perpetrated by high-conflict people can even suffer from Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD.) This is similar to the familiar PTSD, but, rather than coming from a single traumatic event, it is caused by prolonged exposure to abuse.
Learning that you’re in a relationship with a high-conflict partner can be devastating. If this is you, our hearts go out to you. You’re likely to have a tough time ahead of you. But – and you’re going to have to trust us on this one – it can get better, no matter how bleak it seems now. We know many stories of people who got out of high-conflict relationships and are now happier than ever, including both of us!