I’ve recently reached a milestone in my journey distancing myself from a narcissistic personality. Like each journey, mine has some unique characteristics.
– I am a man. My wife is the narcissist. That is my own non-professional diagnosis, but I’ve been studying narcissism for about eight months now, and am confident in that statement. Having a wife who is a narcissist puts me in the minority. Apparently, being a man who will write about it online makes me even more of a minority!
– We have three children. Not that this is so terribly unique, but it is the central point of my decisions. Otherwise, I would have left after her affair and never given it a second thought.
– I am choosing to stay. Looking at how a divorce would work, the kids would spend half their time in each location. Not only is that a difficult life for a kid, but I do believe I can diffuse some of the anger/guilt that gets directed toward the children. I would not want to leave them completely with her – open to any amount of anger/guilt/manipulation. Therefore, mine is an emotional distance.
I have found a lot of advice online for leaving a narcissist and recovering, but not as much for staying. And the advice for staying with a narcissist includes things like catering to their every whim and building up their ego to stay protected. That is of no interest to me.
I have started down my own path, and am interested in sharing it as I progress. I am interested in any advice you have, as well! I’ve started with three giant steps I need in order to move forward.
Step 1 – Be Honest about the Relationship
This is not going to be a loving, giving relationship. Gone are the days of constantly giving out of love. In that mode, my return is blame, guilt, infidelity, and anger. Oh, and lots of confusion! I realize that my wife picked me because it helped to bolster her own image in some way, not because she ever wanted to share a life with me.
Moving forward, I realize that she views the relationship as part of her image, and simply wants the relationship to exist in a way that protects that image. For example, we are more successful than our friends if we have dinner at home during the week. Great – I agree. And I make sure I am a part of that and that I have the kids in the right place at the right time.
There are examples of me not conforming to her image, though. Our neighbors mulch in April, and we are apparently inferior to them because we do not. I mulch in June every year. I do it on time and do a decent job. But I do it in June so the mulch is at its best during the dry season.
How do I manage the April-June season of complaints about not having mulched yet? I am coming to grips with that. I know to first observe any comments, questions, or snide remarks without responding immediately. I simply try to figure out what part of her narcissistic image is being disrupted, and see if I can understand how that triggered her response. It is more of an ongoing experiment than a relationship. And since I know my motives for being here are the children, I am able to view it as an acceptable situation.
Step 2 – Learn the Image and Reactions
We’ve been married for well over 10 years, so I have fumbled my way through many of the landmines that come with a narcissist. I know not to mention my writing hobby because it will trigger all kinds of issues. That is not an acceptable hobby in her eyes.
But only recently have I come to put together a framework of what a narcissist values and how they respond. They value the image they are trying to protect, and they respond with various ways of trying to manipulate the outcome. Anger, lies, using other people, or whatever it takes – the goal is to protect the image, and they subconsciously use those emotions to manipulate everything back into alignment with the image.
You also need to throw in a healthy dose of randomness, because you cannot accurately predict responses. You can spot trends. I know if someone enters the house, trouble is ahead. Having an immaculate house is something that she sees as part of the image she has of herself. If the house is messy at all (there are 5 of us here, so there’s always some mess), what follows is either blame for me or the kids, new resolutions for how we live our life, or inquisitions as to why a person was ever in our house in the first place.
Step 3 – Set Your Own Goals and Methods for Achieving Them
This is a bit like advice for anyone. But it is different when done in the context of living with a narcissist. I eliminated the goal of having a wife who publicly supports me in my career and charitable endeavors. That cannot matter if I am with her. And with the other goals, how I work around her narcissism impacts how those goals can be achieved.
I can go through those specific goals later if you are interested. But for now, I’ll just give a couple examples of how I work to achieve them by either ignoring the narcissistic responses or working around them.
In some cases, like taking care of my own health, I now work toward my goals regardless of what she thinks. Every day she complains that my exercises are silly, I’m wasting my time and hers, etc. Note that she exercises every day as well, which doesn’t seem to be a contradiction to her. I ignore the comments, and am back into a healthy BMI and athletic percent body fat. I’m happy with this, and my confidence/results help me to ignore her reaction.
In other cases, like keeping a clean house, I already learned that cleaning can be a problem. I will insult her by doing her work. I will make her angry by doing a lot of housework one week when she is busy, and then going back to letting her do those parts as she becomes available. Instead, to achieve this, I work with the kids to make sure we clean our rooms, leave no clutter, etc. We do certain jobs that are clearly ours, making sure that the house can be easily cleaned any other time. I do more than my fair share, but stay away from jobs that seem to disrupt her stride.
That is the framework for how I am progressing from now on. I am only a couple months into the process, and still have frustrations when she gets angry for no reason. But I feel much better now that I have a clear path and have started to see some progress in the kids and myself, despite staying in the relationship.
I would be interested in any similar situations or advice, and look forward to providing more details and updates as I proceed.