No one knowingly marries someone with a narcissistic personality disorder. No one seeks out a self-centered, self-absorbed man who lacks any capability of empathy for anyone but himself.
But unfortunately, many women find themselves baited and trapped in this very situation.
How did I get myself into this?
How did things end up this way?
I think the only way to answer these questions and to heal, is to educate ourselves.
Wisdom will save you from evil people, from those whose words are twisted. These men turn from the right way to walk down dark paths. They take pleasure in doing wrong, and they enjoy the twisted ways of evil. Their actions are crooked, and their ways are wrong. – Proverbs 2:12-15 NLT
[socialrocket-tweet quote=”Wisdom has healing power. It will save you from evil people. See Proverbs 2:12-15!” tweet=”Wisdom has healing power. It will save you from evil people. See Proverbs 2:12-15!”]
In the last 4 years, I’ve read and studied a multitude of books on narcissists, male batterers and abusers and toxic hidden abuse. Even writing a university thesis on abuse education earlier this year.
Because of my knowledge, I prefer the term toxic people when speaking and teaching about a narcissist. I believe most toxic people have these traits but they may never be officially diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Keep in mind, also, I diagnose no one.
That is because most toxic people never see a therapist long enough to receive a diagnosis if they go at all. Or they run as soon as someone figures them out.
A common question.
Many divorced Christian women, feeling the psychological abuse during the marriage, want to know if they were married to a narcissist.
Surprisingly, male narcissists often stay married for longer periods of time than anyone would think. They get married, stay married, or remarry quickly. That is because they have to keep up the perfect image that they paint of themselves. Single life usually is not part of that picture.
(Red Flag #1 = He wants to get married soon after meeting.)
I believe narcissists have the same relationship patterns. I believe the pattern can be described in three phases.
Three phases of the relationship with a narcissist.
What most call the “love-bombing phase.“
In the beginning, the narcissist is extremely charming, very romantic and affectionate. He goes out of his way to make you feel special, putting you on a pedestal. Praising you and showering you with admiration every chance he gets. Multiple times a day. He uses phrases like, “You’re my soulmate” and “No one has ever made me feel this way.“
He will quickly throw out the words, “I love you” (as bait). If he’s not doing all of the talking, he lets you do most of the talking so he can listen. He is learning all about you, often mirroring – liking what you like, and never disagreeing with anything that you say. He’s seducing.
It often feels and sounds like a match made in heaven. “God has brought you together.” Like a fairy-tale romance come true. He’s perfect. You are so lucky to have found him. Almost too good to be true. (That’s because it is.)
He’ll cry about how all of his exes were mean and nasty to him. Never as kind, sweet, and loving as you. “They were controlling…” and he knows you’d never be like that. (He’s already preparing for the future with those lines. Red flag #2 = future abuse ahead.)
The narcissist tries to get a commitment, within a few weeks or months, whether it be a marriage, moving in together, sex and children, or a financial connection/dependence (a major purchase together like a car or a house). This is because he knows that he can’t keep up the fake facade forever. This is not his true self. This is only the image he portrays.
This phase usually starts as soon as that commitment is settled in writing. For most, on the wedding night. The euphoria that you were used to, suddenly changes. Were you screamed at on your wedding night? (Red Flag #3 = He blames drinking, stress, or anything else for his choice to abuse.)
That’s when the mask slips off and you start to see the true character behind that fake image. He puts himself first, most of the time. He has zero or fake empathy for anyone else in the family. He expects devoted admiration yet doesn’t give the same in return. He’ll accuse you of being selfish or having double standards… but that is what he does. He lies and covers his lies.
This is when you start to see the Jekyll and Hyde behaviors. Although he’s so good at switching back and forth, you start to feel very confused about who he really is. He has outbursts of rage when you’re needing anything from him (money, attention, love, care, concern). Followed by periods of apologies, empty promises, gifts, and temporary nice (Phase one) guy again. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells not to set him off so you lower your expectations to accommodate the relationship, considerably. You decide that it must be something you need to fix.
He’ll tell you, “I was just having a bad day. I love you, baby!” Most times following up with phrases that blame you… or his love for you as “passionate.” He didn’t mean it and can’t help it or you made him.
That’s the abuse cycle. You are now trapped and feeling alone and ashamed.
Because you know it will happen again when you need to discuss an issue with him… or a bill needs to be paid… or you are sick… or whatever sets him off. (When you’re not a blow-up doll.) He doesn’t just listen to you with empathy.
He can’t take your criticism or any sort of negative feedback.
There is no healthy, mutually respectful conversations with a narcissist. It’s just not possible.
It’s a roller coaster ride with twists and turns you know are coming, you just don’t know when. And you start to feel ill – even physically because there is a link between domestic violence and chronic health conditions (migraine headaches, autoimmune diseases, chronic pain, and more) only to get better after divorce.
And if you won’t provide everything that he wants (when he wants) he’ll find someone else who will.
[Also Read: Never Be a Back Burner Person Again]
This is the phase when you start to stand up for yourself. You start to say, I’m done on this roller coaster ride… and I want off. You assert your rights to have boundaries and refuse to be used.
But before you can blink, he’ll begin the character assassination (and army building) in order to devalue you because he now sees you as a threat to his perfect image. He must convince people that you’re to blame for the tearing apart of the family because of your abuse (that standing up for your rights as a human being or getting angry for his serial cheating – is all abuse in his eyes).
He will triangulate people he knows might support you. This is done with lies about you, what you have said, or done to anyone who will listen – even your own family and your church. He projects his own actions (lying, cheating, abuse) on to you as a way to protect himself. It’s all part of his game. (There is a playbook out there somewhere. 😉 )
He leaves to go be with one of his back burner lady “friends” (he was telling you they are “just friends” while he is taking them on dates and sneaking around, hiding information – gaslighting you). It’s how he retaliates and tries to control you to “come to your senses” or until you take him back (or fight this other woman for him).
These ladies are just being used by him and/or are his next victims. He doesn’t care who he hurts in this game. Feel sorry for her (or them) going through the same cycle you did. If it wasn’t that one, it would’ve been another. Narcissists cheat on the most beautiful women in the world, so it’s nothing personal.
A high percentage of narcissists are serial adulterers. (Another Red Flag.) I believe the rare ones who are not out committing adultery, are just busy hiding other issues (including porn addiction). They’re all manipulative, pathological liars.
Another red flag is that at some point, he’ll come back seeking to either get back together or to try to add you as one of his back burners. They like to keep exes in back pockets, for supply. That’s because he’s never content and he always needs admiration.
To answer your question.
Were you married to a narcissist?
We may never really know. We can only discuss what we’ve experienced, compare notes and share our wisdom as we learn. Keeping our eyes and ears aware of the evil in this world, so we don’t make the same mistakes. All while thanking God for His rescue and further protection.
On a positive note, all of the healthy men (with boundaries) that I’ve spoken with are very understanding that we women would be cautious in the beginning stages of any relationship. That’s because most knew a narcissistic woman once too… so they know.
[You may also enjoy: How Loving a Narcissist Hurts You]
Feel free to share your story and join me in the comments. (Read name not required.)
May God bless your healing journey,
Oh, yes, my exact experience except for one thing. So often authors describe narcissists as yelling lots. Mine never did. He prided himself in being calm. Looking back, he was disturbingly calm. When he should have been showing emotions (at the death of family members and the near death of our newborn son) he would be stoic…like a rock. No emotion. As a matter of fact the only times I remember him being emotional were when he would be crying crocodile tears and “repenting” of another affair. He also worked up quite a few tears when he left me and went through the motions of telling everyone how abusive I was and how I ruined the marriage and pushed him away. This was after I began putting my foot down and not tolerating him anymore. He was prone to anger and even violence, but he took it out on inanimate objects. His rage toward me showed only in his eyes. I knew to keep quiet and keep my distance when he gave me a specific look.
Jen Grice says
Oh, yes. I’ve heard that. He can be calm and collected when he needs to be. Very controlled even during rage. He doesn’t want to “look” like an abuser. Lundy Bancroft talks a lot about his research on that in his book (Why Does He Do That?).
Thank you for sharing your strength and your story, Steph.
Every word of that NLT verse resonated with me. Sadly, what drew me to my husband was–what I thought at the time–a mutual love for God and His Word. Our romance was a whirlwind. (Father God, give our daughters wisdom!) And, he knows the Bible inside and out, but no one else ever seems to interpret it perfectly but he himself. He twists God’s words and uses them against me. When I finally drew the line in the sand after 22 years of marriage by requiring marriage counseling, he began the character assassination. His attacks changed from “I’m not the problem, you are” to “You are the foolish woman tearing your house down with your own hands.” Friends, please hear this: it should not be difficult for one Christian to persuade another Christian to follow Christ! Godly men do love their wives and would do anything to save their families, so if you can’t even drag your “Christian” husband to get help, please get yourself the help you need! Thankfully, my church is incredibly supportive. (Please ask God for guidance if yours is not. I am sure the ladies here can recommend good help.) And my pastor used that very word, wisdom, to help me when I was seeking God’s will about divorce. Wisdom and true love line up together. Jesus is “gentle and humble in heart”–never abusive.
Jen Grice says
Great advice Leslie. Thank you for sharing.
I agree you shouldn’t have to drag your “Christian” husband to get help. I encourage ladies in that situation to get herself into counseling and learn healthy boundaries.
Praying for our daughters!!
I have always thought of godly men like you describe your husband, Leslie. Men who know the Bible inside and out and regularly attend church, or pray with the kids daily like my husband. Now I’m learning to see what a good man is and not just one who is viewed as “godly” because he jumps through the proper Christian hoops in the proper way. Give Her Wings had a post earlier this month and I got this quote from it (I didn’t write the name of the author when I copied the quote).
“God is consistent; a strong foundation that never moves; a source of comfort that does not come and go. All good men who reflect Him will demonstrate these qualities.” – ?
This is the truth! And has become my new marker in defining a good man. I throw “godly” out the window. Godliness (by our definitions) can be faked. Goodness can not.
While talking to a friend about my soon to be ex husband and the divorce, she said that he sounded like a narcissist. I had heard the word before, but never knew the definition. So I went home and started looking up everything I could on narcissist men. I was blown away! It was like they were talking about my husband! It almost gave me some joy to finally have him “figured out”. I can’t tell you how many times I was the one feeling like I was going crazy. Could someone literally change like that over night after getting married? It was like night and day. Sadly we were together and married for 17 years. I caught him talking to ex girlfriends, but they were “just friends”. So I was the crazy one for not trusting him. There is something to that saying, “trust your gut”. I did and mine wasn’t wrong. I’m going through a rough time trying to cope with being alone and the divorce, I know I have to face my feeling’s in order to heal. I want to be healthy about my healing. I do expect him to come back at some point and I have to be strong. But knowing how narcissists work, helps me to be strong. You would think that you could get over someone faster if they were a narcissist during your whole marriage, but I can’t seem to. I know this will take time, but it will be worth it in the end.
Jen Grice says
Samantha, I can relate. I knew about the affairs before and while they were happening, but I was told I was crazy or controlling to think he would ever lie to me. I was supposed to just trust when he was lying the whole time. So many stories just like ours.
Glad you’re working on your healing. Glad to have you along on this journey.
Shari L. says
I just found your blog today. I married my current husband 3 months after meeting him. I knew as soon as we married that I had made a mistake. It’s been 4 years now. I left him in Nov 2017 after hearing what a narcissist is and realizing that I finally had a “name” for what was wrong with him. I started meeting with a Christian counselor last week. Im 51…feel like a failure. But I’m looking forward to healing and moving forward. I’m going to be reading up on your blog tonight! Thank you!
Jen Grice says
Hi Shari, I hope you found some more hopeful and encouraging articles here, especially the one about divorce not making you a failure. We may feel that way, I know. But would we call another woman a failure? Probably not. So we need to include ourselves in that.
Glad to have you along on this journey to healing after divorce. 🙂
Jen, great post! Deciding to no longer take the abuse from toxic people is a major step towards finding peace! You are already in one of my Pinterest Group Boards and would love for you to guest post on my blog to help my viewers. Narcissism is one of the top topics my viewers are interested in. I’ll send you an email with the details.
Jen Grice says
So true. And I’ve found that peace. I pray many others (men and women) do as well. Thank you!
Thank you for sharing your video. I too, was swept off my feet after just 6 months of dating to marry a man who shared all the qualities you described in the video. After 25 years of constant cheating and then accusing me of not trusting him, I finally had enough and divorced him. It was an extremely hard decision because he was the pastor of our church and well known in the community. I was embarrassed of the situation and hated that we would be letting so many people down that had thought we had a wonderful marriage. Our divorce has been final 6 months and I am still getting the blame for our Adult children knowing about the affair. He is still in a relationship with this woman, but it is still somehow my fault that our lives have been turned upside down. He still asks for me to forgive him and take him back while seeing this other woman. Which tells me , he hasn\’t changed. I am leaning on the Lord each day and He always seems to give me the peace I need that I made the right decision.
Jen Grice says
Shelly, I can totally relate. He may never stop blaming you. In his mind, he may always see himself as a victim and everyone else as the blame, even while he’s the adulterer. I know men who blame still 20 years after the fact because they just can’t be adult enough to take responsibility. We just get to the point that we don’t care. The people who care about and love us (really love not fake, pretend love) do see the truth and know who is to blame. And most importantly, God sees the truth. These guys think they’ll be able to con God when they get to judgment day. Ha! God knows!
I was married 27 years to the man you describe except mine would rage. His voice would ‘drop’. He would be menacing and then ignore me for days. I knew I had made him angry and being ignored was awful. He also left when I started to really stand up to him. What has made things so hard is that my adult children blame me for him leaving and won’t have anything to do with me. They have shouted and screamed at me and I am facing a 3rd Christmas without them. I am heartbroken and struggling to heal. The injustice hits me hard. I was punished in our marriage and I’m punished in our divorce. It’s very hard for me to remain hopeful of a happy life at all.
Jen Grice says
They call that “stonewalling” meaning he refused to discuss the issues until you we’re “over it.” All a manipulative game! Narcissists are really good at games. I’m glad you’re along on this journey to healing. I’m sorry you’re struggling. Would love to see you in my next session of the Stronger Woman After Divorce Group Coaching Program (jengrice.com/stronger).
Bianca B. says
Thank you for this. Reading this it sounds like my life for the last 10 years. Phase one moved very fast and resulted in me leaving my family and life in australia to move to the us for him… 7 years of narcissistic marriage later, he wants out, then wants back in… But I said enough was enough. Now I am stuck. With him not allowing me to return back to my home with my son, having to rebuild my life with the possibility of having to do it alone with no family or support around me. I would not wish this on anyone, but I know my worth now and it is not to be treated with disrespect.
If only I had realised the red flags when I saw them, and looking back, they were there I just chose to ignore them in the hope that I was wrong.