We are midway through 2015 and apparently my year of self-care is going to involve regrouping/recovering from a divorce. Last month my husband of 28 years decided that he would rather pursue a life as a bar fly singing karaoke several nights a week and serial dating. While I didn’t really have a problem with the karaoke, I did…and do… have a problem with the other women and the need to explore what life would be like if one were 20-something again!
In an effort to move on with my life, I must start by standing in my truth and the truth of my marriage. And that truth is that I have been married to a narcissist (the shy/covert/vulnerable narcissist….not the classic narcissist…or sociopath). Or maybe the more compassionate way to say it is that I have been married to a man who suffers from narcissism. But, I am not sure if compassion and empathy is the way to go. It seems that my efforts to show understanding, compassion and empathy spilled over to co-dependency and a commitment to hide this character trait from the rest of the world…myself…and especially my boys.
My life with R hasn’t been all bad. There were many, many good times. This is especially true early on when we were young, in-love and broke. As college roommates, he taught me the rules of football and I set next to him each time the Browns lost–again! I remember the day that the team lost the AFC Championship to the Denver Broncos in the last few moments now known as The Drive! What a game! R laid on our bed for an hour, or more, staring at the ceiling muttering I can’t believe they lost!
We were married while R was still in school. We were excited and afraid, but we were in love; What I’ve since realized is that: we were both in love with the same person. I adored R. When it was just the two of us, it was easy to feed his ego. I truly was happy that he loved to cook and had dinner ready when I got home. I showered him with praise and adoration. He was my hero when he went on our class field trips to the ice rink in order to rescue kindergartners who had crashed and burned. I loved how he would have Grease cued in the VCR and ice cream waiting whenever I had cramps. Back then, singing R’s greatness was easy. I just didn’t know what it was a requirement.
There were some early signs. Episodes that I surmised were just R quirks…like when he would insist that I stay up until the wee hours playing cards until he won. The best 2 out of 3 quickly became 4 out of 7, and so on. Because I had to work the next day, there were many times that he went to bed, and woke up, mad that he had lost. At the time, I thought it was cute. There were other times when R took advantage of an opportunity to publicly humiliate me because I had fallen short in some way…or due to his need to please others. Confused by those times, because he never would say exactly what it was I had done wrong, I learned to suck it up! It went right along with an earlier lesson that big girls don’t cry! I told myself that he was just in a bad mood…and…my childhood training to not think of yourself more highly than you ought (Romans 12:3) worked to his advantage. The last clue–the one that should have sent me running–is that R has been unwilling/incapable of apologizing for any mistakes or hurtful behavior. Such times are always re-framed to where I am overreacting or misinterpreting the said event. On the rare occasions when it seemed that he saw my point of view, the focus became about him and my energy was shifted to mending his fractured ego–assuring him that he was a good guy and that I know he didn’t mean to do x,y,z!
Our relationship went undeniably awry shortly after our second kid was born. I was working full time and very busy with the tasks that come with having a 2.5 year old and a 6 month old –picking up from daycare, snack time, diaper changes, reading and play. It was nothing personal. I simply couldn’t give R all the praise, adoration and attention he desperately needed. And unfortunately he wasn’t able to see that I was doing my best just to keep my head above water. Just like he, I was new to parenthood. Because of the narcissism, it didn’t occur to him that the more he helped me to get the kids to bed, the more attention I could give him. R interpreted this as not loving/appreciating him. I now know that feelings worthlessness and inferiority make up the secret self-image of the narcissist. But, that can’t be acknowledged…so the resentment set in and simmered.
By this time, R’s verbal jabs and what seemed like passive-aggressive behavior had taken their toll. I set a boundary and demanded that R stopped speaking to me in such ways, acting as if he was superior than I, and like I didn’t have a brain in my head. I started calling him on some of his behavior…like his being hurt and pissed off because I didn’t appreciate the flowers he brought home to me–after I explained that I was highly allergic and that pollen triggered my asthma. I don’t remember this, but he says he finally got the message after I put a dozen roses down the garbage disposal and put the stems in a vase. It sounds like something I would do! I don’t deny that I was tired of pretending and excusing R’s need for accolades for buying me flowers and making me tea when what I really needed/wanted was for him to, first of all, notice that one of the kids needed a diaper change, and second, to do so without being asked…and to realize that I had asthma.
The more boundaries I set and the less praise I offered, the more disconnected R and I became…