My story began with a marriage that lasted almost 14 years, which also produced two wonderful children who are now teenagers. I was not one of those folks who was completely in love, totally bowled over, etc., but I was resigned to the fact that most marriages are “good enough.” I didn’t keep looking for the man I thought would be my true partner in life — I thought that although we all usually have good feelings about our spouse, most everyone has troubles and things to work on and our marriage would be no different.
I quickly learned that life went smoothly when I did what was expected of me, didn’t rock the boat, and dutifully reported everything in my day. When I “supported” my husband by agreeing with him and attempting to anticipate his every need or wish, he was happy, and life seemed okay.
When we had kids, I kept them occupied and clean, and encouraged them to spend time with their dad (which they didn’t like, and he didn’t push- heaven forbid anyone should see that his kids didn’t like him.) Things changed even more over time — my feelings were never validated or even acknowledged; he used gaslighting like it was going out of style; projection was a favorite pastime, and he was master of passive-aggressiveness.
We did what he wanted, when he wanted, and the kids and I got out of the way the rest of the time. He was charming in public, a great con man, and a big drinker.
No one knew what life was like at home.
I’m not sure what exactly sent me over the edge and helped me leave this relationship for a better life for myself and my kids…I remember feeling exceptionally frustrated at some point, confused and foggy, my physical health slowly heading downhill with stomach problems, insomnia, anxiety attacks, weight loss, depression. I remember asking myself how I had arrived here, in a life I had never imagined for myself, and why I was not happy.
I remember asking my husband why we were together when we were so different — an understatement, I know, but that’s where I was at the time.
That was the beginning of the end. He panicked at the implication that I might leave, began monitoring my email and phone, going with me to everything or coming home during the day at odd hours to “check” on me.
He tried to enlist the help of my parents, my friends, his family in convincing me to see the light. He tried religion, guilt, fear, blame, isolation, and shame to keep me from leaving. He accused me of having an affair, of not giving him a chance, of making him scared and feeling unsafe.
Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and broke free. I found a place to live nearby and insisted he could have the kids, but only every other weekend. I filed for divorce. The years since then have been made of bittersweet healing. I have spent as much time as possible trying to build the life I always wanted, with many moments of joy that I cherish- have to cherish- as we journey through the next few years.
In true narcissistic fashion, my ex has spent inordinate amounts of time continuing to try to manipulate me directly or through the kids or courts. The kids started out scared, but they denied any troubles except to say that they didn’t want to see their dad any more than they were. Slowly, they have become more aware of and angry at how they are being treated, and new sets of problems arise from this.
For the most part right now, things are good. I’m with a man who is truly my soulmate and life partner, I have a great new job, a new house in a new town. I go to yoga and other activities I love, and I’m learning to meditate. I got some great counseling for a couple of years, and still go when I feel the need.
The kids are doing well in their new school, they have good friends and enriching activities. We travel together, something I’ve always wanted to do with my own family. We do a lot of talking and laughing together, too- so necessary. =)
Even though things are relatively good, we have our share of rough times. When we’re really struggling, I have a hard time not wishing the next few years go by quickly so I don’t ever have to deal with my kids’ dad ever again.
Then I give myself a reality check: 1) I want to enjoy the next few years, not wish them away, and 2) I’ll always have to deal with my kids’ dad. Forever.
Sometimes I think it’s my punishment for being so dense as to not have seen him for who he is, way back when. But I know I’m not to blame. It’s something I needed to learn.
Now we’re in court because my ex wants me held in contempt for not bringing the kids to his house a few times this summer and fall. I contend that the kids are getting older and want more say in their lives, and that the real problem is their relationship with their father.
He refuses to take responsibility for this. Blaming me is so much easier, and people tend to believe him. I brought the kids to counseling, then was told by the court I couldn’t do that anymore because I hadn’t consulted with the father. I’m at the end of my rope trying to teach the kids to be respectfully assertive, and to go to their dad’s even if they don’t want to, when all they do is talk back to their dad, getting bolder every time.
When they’re really feeling obstinate, they lock themselves in their rooms or run to a friend’s house when it’s time to go to their dad’s. They’re getting to the point where I can’t physically put them in the car, and I can’t pretend like nothing’s wrong. But my words only go so far, and they sound more and more hollow every time.
How do we, as the stable, sane parents, protect our children from their narcissistic parent? How do we justify sending them to a home where they (and we) know they will be treated in an emotionally abusive way, every time?? The courts don’t help. And we can’t say anything about the other parent that will be even remotely construed as “bashing” or we are seen as bitter, hysterical exes who just want to keep the children from the other parent!
It’s an infuriating paradox. What I want most is to move far away from this man, and for my kids to have the power (legally) to say when, or if, they will visit their dad. I know this isn’t possible, but I don’t want to see him around town. Now I don’t talk with him in person or on the phone, if I can help it — email only.
So how do we “move on” when we know that our time under the power of this awful person still stretches out ahead of us, sometimes seemingly indefinitely?? How do we take back ourselves and help our children NOW?
I read many of the stories and posts of people on your blog, and I am most amazed at those who remain calm and strong in the face of the narcissist in their lives. I’m not there. Don’t know if I ever will be, or want to be.
As you can see, I struggle most with the concept of forgiveness. I must have a streak of vengeance in me- I rejoice internally every time he does something “wrong,” as if it justifies or validates me. I know this doesn’t help the kids, but I also want them to always be able to see abusive behavior and not tolerate it.
Anyway, that’s my story. Thanks so much for “listening,” and for all that you do with your blog. =)
Peace to you!