My partner exhibits narcissistic characteristics - how can I help him to see how damaging his behaviour is to our relationship?
I don't have anywhere else to go and don't have the strength or desire to leave him really. He recently asked me if I wanted to marry him (conceptually) and I said yes. He said he was flattered, but that was it. It was humiliating.
He is still married to his last wife, legally separated for 4 years, but neither of them want to get divorced. He won't talk about it - says it isn't about his marriage its about our relationship. Today I found out that she is coming to stay with us again (she lives abroad), but he didn't tell me this himself. When I challenged him and asked when his wife was coming he said 'why would you ask me that, have you been snooping around again'. I get angry and upset when things like this happen, but he won't move an inch. He blames me and this is destroying my self esteem. I don't want to live like this forever but I cannot leave.
Hello-It sounds like you are feeling stuck in a situation that doesn't make you feel good. Hopefully I can help a little. You say that your partner displays some narcissistic characteristics. If he does have some of those characteristics, he probably won't change a lot of those issues. I wish I could tell you a for sure way to help him see what he is doing to you, but only he can decide to work on the relationship and be open enough to see it. With that being said, there is some things you can do. Communication is the key for him to understand how his behavior affects you. How willing and safe do you feel sharing with him how some of these things make you feel? As far as the separation from his wife but not divorcing her at this point, how much does this bother you? I know you said you have no where else to go which I'm sure is a scary feeling, the most important thing for you is to be in a relationship where you are treated and feel respected. Do you feel that at some points in the relationship or do you feel the frustration most of the time?
Hi and thanks for your reply.
Hello and thanks for your reply. I do talk to him about how destructive some of the behaviours are,
but he doesn't really want to hear anything which is negative about himself. If the cause of my discontent is him he becomes defensive or closes down the conversation or even the relationship. He seems to have a very deeply held need to be right and without blame, and very rarely apologises but is quick to blame and criticise others. I don't think he can do much about this and it is a dynamic which is very upsetting and I don't handle it very well. I had depression when we met, and still do although it is a little better recently, and he is quite happy to talk about my issues, but not about his own or how he might be contributing to prolonging my depression. When there is something that I want to discuss with him I can sense that it will be a battle and what should be a 3 minute conversation in my view turns into a full blown argument with me being upset or angry.
I wanted to build a life together and feel depressed and angry that he won't move on from his wife by divorcing her. I don't think we can be in a trusting and secure relationship while he is still legally tied to another woman. It is a huge issue for me and I was clear with him before we got together that I was not going to start a relationship with someone who was married so I feel cheated. He says that he doesn't believe that him getting divorced will make any difference to how we are, but I do not share his view.
Yes, at times I do feel as if I am treated well and with respect. When things are good they are very good. It is very easy to make him happy - which I tell him is when I am not asking anything of him but just giving him what he wants. But that is not a good two way relationship.
I know that the best way to reach him is to be consistently nice, patient, giving and understanding and then to let him open up in his own time, however I believe that when he crosses a line I have to let him know and I am stuck to know how to do this without triggering a response which is a downward spiral which leads to me being hurt.
Some days I am 100% certain that I should leave him, but then I always decide to stay. He knows this and I think this has reduced his respect for me and also because I always apologise I think he doesn't take what I say seriously.
I did manage to get him to agree to see a relationship councillor with me once, but then he said I would not enjoy it and that it would all end up being about me and my depression anyway. I know that if he is pushed he will close down so I thought it best not to see anyone at that stage.
I could write a book on this!
In terms of not having anywhere else to go it really is scary. I stopped working two years ago because of stress and depression ( I had a big job ), and have totally lost my confidence. I have applied for many jobs but no success. With no source of income or job prospects I cannot just leave.
He says I don't need to work from a financial standpoint, but when he ends the relationship at a drop of the hat it is not a good place to be.
I wish he would divorce her, sell this house and then we can move on. He seems in no hurry to do any of this and just lives day to day. If I didn't mention these topics I am pretty sure he never would.
When will you be able to reply? Would you pass my question to another councillor if you cannot reply please? Thanks
Thank you for such a detailed response. You really put a lot of what you are going through which I appreciate and thank you for the trust in that. It sounds like such a hard and scary place to be for you right now. It sounds like he either has some narcissistic characteristics or just really low self esteem (which is also underneath narcissism). That low self esteem makes it where he struggles to hear any kind of criticism about himself (productive or not). It sounds like a lot of the time you are kind of walking on egg shells around him to make sure that things run smoothly. In a relationship things have to be give and take. It doesn't work well when it is not and can end up with a lot of resentment, anger, depression, anxiety, etc. You mentioned having struggles with depression but it sounds like this relationship also either keeps it going or adds to it. Sounds almost like you are suffocating in the relationship. Like your voice has no value or just isn't heard, which it deserves to be.
The mention of how you feel cheated that he has not officially left his marriage is important. Although he may not see it that way and may not even really have any attachment to his ex-wife, it is important that he is not hearing you out about how much that does bother you. Compromise is important in a relationship and he seems less willing to do any of that unless it is only for his gain. I can understand the fear of leaving especially without any financial backing for yourself. You are probably right that he does know that so that creates a power difference in the relationship which isn't healthy. What support do you have outside of the relationship as far as like emotional support? Have you ever went to counseling to have that added support and work through some of the frustrations/anxiety of the relationship so you could do some self care in this difficult time of not being able to leave at this moment?
With all you have written (both the words and the way it is written), it shows how strong you are. I know you feel stuck and in some ways you are, but I think there are some things that you can do to better the situation for yourself. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for!
Well I agree with your past therapist that relationship counseling would be helpful but like you said, it doesn't seem that he would be willing to do something like that. Regardless, individual counseling should be helpful in either how to move forward without him, how to prep for it emotionally or how to learn to live with him. Either way you think is best for you, individual counseling would help. You don't need him to do the work you need to. But if therapy isn't what you are up to right now, have you ever tried any support groups either in person or online? There are a lot of different support groups, especially online, that may help. Sometimes it helps to hear from other people going through similar situations or even just hearing different solutions. I'm glad you have some good girlfriends that you can use as support. Don't assume that they are tired of hearing the issues. They just may be tired of how he treats you! What about family? Do you have any family that is really supportive? Also there is self help books that may be beneficial. There are some that are on codependency that may be helpful. If you would like some recommendations on some books let me know!
You have nailed it on the head. It does come down to rebuilding your life again, which would be hard but also you have a lot of strengths to be able to do it, or staying and doing most of the work. When you are asking do they know what they do to people or do they care I am assuming you are talking about the narcissistic person (if you aren't let me know so I can give a better answer). With someone with narcissistic qualities, no they don't tend to care because their focus is exactly on what you have already said. They are concerned about themselves, power and control. Anything to lift them up. It absolutely can be a full time job fulfilling someone else's needs. It will drain a person to do that if you are not getting your needs met and fulfilled in return. You need some level of self care and it sounds like there isn't a lot of time for you to do that, at least currently. What is the most important thing is that you are safe and taken care of. When you can't do self care and are constantly giving to others and being drained by them, it will start to break you down and may show up as anxiety, depression, fatigue, physical symptoms, etc. Just off of what you have said you have a ton of insight. You know the situation well and understand a lot of what is going on. Trust your gut on the next step. I know either way it is scary, but I think you already know what is the best move for you. Trust yourself.
The question status says Closed but when I try to rate it says we have not finished. Can you let me know? thanks