What you need to know:
- Having invested a great emotional expenditure in the relationship, you may be slow at calling it quits.
- Even where your narcissistic partner wants to change, you must not endure the same abuse over and over.
- When you examine your relationship and decide that leaving is the best option, be courageous enough to end the relationship without remorse or second thoughts.
- Do not make empty threats. If you say you’re leaving, leave.
He was the perfect gentleman when you started dating. But as your relationship progressed, he became toxic and overwhelmingly self-centered. He made you feel dominated, manipulated, unwanted, and unappreciated. Your daily interaction, relations, and intimacy revolved turned into praise concerts exalting how great he is. Now, months or years down the line, your relationship has become abusive. But you find it hard to leave because you love him or because there are factors such as children and finances that have you tethered to him. And so you console yourself that he will get better. Or that you are not the only one in such a bad and abusive relationship.
The bitter truth is that it will not get better. You are also not the only one stuck in a narcissistic relationship. This is because a relationship with a narcissist is one of the easiest to get into and the hardest to get out of. Why is this?
The relationship with a narcissist
According to Dr. Chris Hart, a psychologist and the author of Single & Searching, when looking to date, you will most likely confuse a narcissist for a good catch. This is because narcissists are very enlivening to be around. “They seem extremely attractive when you first meet them: they are seductive, extremely charming, exciting, and romantically spontaneous,” he says. This changes the moment you get into the relationship and the scale in your interactions and intimacies tilts in his favour. “Once in a relationship, narcissists tend to dominate their partners. They will be unavailable and unfaithful,” he says. Because a narcissist is very conscious of his image, he can tell when you are contemplating dumping him way before you make your move. They don’t take break-ups or attempts to break up lying down. “While in an ordinary relationship you’d get upset in a breakup, adjust and move on, narcissists don’t get over it. They go on blaming their partners, seeking revenge, and even trying to harm them,” says Dr. Hart. In some cases, their narcissistic tendencies will not be outright abuse. It may be a concoction of charm and bad treatment. For example, after agreeing to start a relationship, a few months down the line when they feel comfortable that you can’t leave, your narcissistic partner may intermix their charm and romance with varying doses of coldness, emotional abuse, criticism, and demands.
To leave or to stay
Having invested a great emotional expenditure in the relationship, you may be slow at calling it quits. In fact, says Craig Malkin the author of Rethinking Narcissism, you may think that your partner can change and become the charming, romantic, and exciting person you fell in love with at the onset of your relationship. This is usually delusional thinking. “Honestly ask yourself: Are you staying because he’s doing his best to change, or because you feel it’s hard to end the relationship since he has the power and you don’t?” says Craig. He cautions that even where your narcissistic partner wants to change, you must not endure the same abuse over and over.
When you examine your relationship and decide that leaving is the best option, be courageous enough to end the relationship without remorse or second thoughts. Do not make empty threats. If you say you’re leaving, leave. “Since a narcissist has no empathy, you must leave them cold turkey and endure the pain of your broken relationship!” says Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist and author of The Empath’s Survival Guide. In most cases, the aftermath of your breakup will be characterised by unwanted contacts and manipulations from your immediate ex-partner as he attempts to win you back. “They will try to contact you not because they really want you, but because you’ve cut off their narcissistic supply and they want it back! Block their numbers or even negotiators. Have their email messages go directly to your junk folder,” says Stephanie Sarkis, the author of Making the Grade with ADD.
Dr. Hart observes that in the event of a divorce, a narcissist will usually prefer to drag the case for ages while publicly portraying you as the defective partner. To avoid this drama, if you are married to a narcissist and opt to go for a divorce, you should start by consulting a professional counselor or psychologist who fully understands narcissism. “Have this counselor working with your legal team in order for everyone involved in your divorce proceedings to understand what you are dealing with,” he says. This will also help you to prepare psychologically for any potential public shaming by your partner.
According to Darlene Lancer, a family and marriage therapist who is the author of Dealing with a Narcissist, the aftermath of leaving this type of relationship may be bitter and hurtful. “A narcissist will not give up after you have broken up with him and refused all attempts to make up. They will usually continue their attempts to exert power over you in a bid to feed and compensate their hidden insecurities,” she says. These attempts will almost always include gossiping and slandering. “They will show up on your social media, try to make you jealous with photos of them having fun with someone else, talk to your friends and relatives, text or call you, promise to reform, express guilt and love, ask for help, or ‘accidentally’ appear in your neighborhood, workplace or social hangouts,” she says.
Avoid the cycle
It is easy to fall for another narcissist once you have dated one. This is because by the time your relationship ended, you were left with gaping wants for love, appreciation, genuine intimacy, and support, all of which are supplied in plenty by narcissists during dating. Always bear in mind that these are the key tools another narcissist may employ to lay you down. “Change your expectations and recognise what your needs are and how they can be met respectfully. Learn not to tolerate hurtful behavior especially when you start dating again,” says Deborah Ward, the author of Overcoming Low Self-Esteem with Mindfulness. In addition, take very good care of yourself by focusing on your health, lifestyle, and happiness. If you feel weighed down, consult a professional counselor who can help you walk through the tough post-breakup or post-divorce period. Before you start another relationship, it is important that you establish a lifestyle that will be independent of your future relationships. According to Lancer, this includes forming friendships, getting hobbies and interests, joining social clubs such as book clubs and hiking clubs, and building your career.