A long but valuable story
After 10 years of struggling with my plummeting self esteem an self respect, my (now) ex-husband Michael finally gave me the clue I needed to define what was wrong with me, and it turned out no to be me at all!
An argument had ensued because he wanted me to help him work on building our new house. Although I agreed to do so, I told him it would have to be later in the day when I had completed my household chores, which included the laundry for him and our three children.
He hounded me for a few minutes before saying, "Everything I do is more important than anything you ever do, and you are no help to me, anyway!"
For a second I couldn't believe what I had just heard. Usually he had much shrewder ways of getting me to do what he wanted, like the heavy sigh followed by, "Fine, I'll just do it myself."
To be clear about this, I have to say that I am no shrinking violet. For years I collected, split, and stacked all of our firewood, did all the yard work at our house and his mother's, did all the driving for the kids and his mother (Gertrude), and all of the cooking and cleaning at home.
He always had more important things to do, all of which kept him from home. In other words, I was not just sitting home eating bon-bons and watching TV.
This moment was a revelation to me. I went to my therapist the following week and related this story. I asked if this was an indication that Michael was a narcissist.
I had learned the term from my mother who, after 3 failed marriages, had begun to explore the term and its meaning in her life.
My therapist said that it was a pretty solid indicator of his pathology, especially when viewed through the lens of his other behaviors over time. My next question was, "How can I live with this man and still have a happy life for myself and my kids?"
The best advice she gave me was that I should do what I needed to make myself and my kids happy. After all, what was he going to do, divorce me?
I took that advice and, for about a year it worked. When he would arrive home with a bee in his bonnet about whatever I hadn't done correctly that day, or come home so obviously stressed that the rest of us would normally be quiet and walking on eggshells, I would simply greet him with a smile and a hug and go on with whatever I had been doing. I would ask about his day, pour him a drink if he wanted one, and leave him to his own devices.
I stopped making the kids wait for me while I attended to his needs. I stopped defending myself. I stopped arranging the life of the household around him.
I learned to say no.
The most accurate word I can find to describe his initial reaction is 'perplexed'. Perhaps this is why I got away with it for so long.
I went back to school, saved my own money for tuition and books (he would never allow us to have a joint bank account), kept seeing my therapist, and both our lives improved.
Because I was more relaxed, I could talk to him more easily and be more affectionate. Our sex life improved and our kids were visibly happier.
At that time, he was traveling for work quite a bit and was home 3 weeks, then gone 3 weeks.
Upon one of his returns, he took me outside to say that he wasn't happy. When I asked him why and pointed out that we had been happier in the last year than ever, he said that he 'just didn't feel close to me anymore'.
I remarked that we talked more frequently, shared hugs and sex more often, and fought a lot less.
He said he couldn't put his finger on it, but that he just didn't feel happy and was thinking about moving out.
I told him that I would not prefer that action, but that he should do what he felt was right for him.
I also told him what I had learned in the course of that year, that we are each responsible for our own happiness insofar as there is only so much another person can do to facilitate it, but that I would gladly listen and help him identify the root of his discontent.
He magnanimously offered to continue working on our relationship even if he moved out, but I said I wouldn't.
At first I tried little things to make him feel better. Extra attention, extra affection, special meals, saying yes to last minute errands despite their inconvenience to me and the kids.
By the time another year had passed, I had fallen back into the same patterns with Michael that I had been in before his egregious remark about the relative importance of our efforts.
Throughout this time, his mother (a martyr narcissist) supported his reality over mine and the kids and her own, making me the only person living in my own reality.
I'm sure I don't have to describe the feeling of madness and despair that swallows a person who is isolated, not only from friends and family, but also from one's own rational perception of the world, one's life, and the events that occur in it.
But if the reader is uninitiated to life with a narcissist and is searching this site for examples of his/her own experience, then please take note, because this is one of the biggest red flags.
If the only way to appease the person in your life is to deny what you know to be true or accept what you know to be untrue, then you are dealing with a narcissist.
I have been divorced for two years, having been unable to sacrifice my self or my children to this degree.
He lives with his mother now (the infamous new house has never been finished) and so has a constant supply, but I am not completely free.
My children are coming to the age at which they can be a supply source for both Michael and Gertrude, and I find myself shielding them more and more often when I'm able.
I thank God that my kids can and do come to me to talk about their lives, and that they have a healthy household in which to spend half of their time. I am watching them closely for signs of emotional damage.
I am unsure, though, now that they are beginning to recognize that something isn't right, how to answer their questions about their father and grandmother and their awkward behavior.
I would love any comments on my story, am happy to answer any questions for those of you still trapped, and appreciate any advice on how to help my kids navigate their father's world unscathed.