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The following is an answer to a question I was asked by a woman  a number of years back now who said that she had been married to a narcissistic man for over twenty-five years. She was the breadwinner for the two of them--their children were grown. She'd had a heart attack several years earlier, and she was finding it tough to deal with all that she faced.  She was questioning why she couldn't bring herself to leave her narcissitic husband--and talked about how she felt so guilty because he had no family or friemds. This is essentially what I wrote back to her based upon the little informatrion she'd provided me. You may find this helpful if you also are plagued by feelings of guilt.

I suspect in part that you can not bring yourself to leave your husband because you are a kind woman with a caring heart. But I also can't help but wonder if you didn't have a heart attract at what I suspect was a rather young age because of all the stress that you have been living under. Do you ever wonder this yourself?

Some women stay in such relationships until they develop extreme enough medical problems that they die--while their controlling and abusive partners live on. After all, their husbands have orchestrated their lives to essentially be the way they want them. They typically do so at least in part through their controlling and abusive ways.

Why are you the sole bread winner? Has your husband refused to work all these years because the work he can attain is something which he perceives as being beneath him? Of course, I also wouldn't be surprised if you told me that he could never handle being around all the people that he'd consider fools and so beneath him. Then again, perhapss he kept getting fired from jobs because he didn't interact well with authority figures?

Your husband is a grown man and not a small child who is dependent on others for survival. Indeed, he is ultimately responsible for himself. Furthermore, I suspect that if you left him, he would find some way to survive.

You said you are desperate--and I think I can understand why you might be. I would take your heart attack as a warning sign that there are some things significantly wrong with the way you are living your life--for your own well-being, that is. And frankly, I think your own well-being is paramount. If you die because of health issues essentially created by the stress of living in such a toxic relationship and environment, you won't be there to protect your husband anyway. Have you considered this?

So, while you may want to be his savior, remind yourself that you can not be. Indeed, he must save himself. That said, though, you must save yourself from this unhealthy way of life.

You have likely spent half your life now trying to please a man who can't be pleased, haven't you? Tell me, don't you believe that you deserve some peace and happiness? If not, I believe it is time you did!

I bet that living by yourself, you could manage on less than it takes to support the two of you. Then, you could find youself experiencing less financial stress, too. Would you agree with this?

You may need to remind yourself in the days ahead that sometimes when you take the right actions for yourself, it actually creates a shift that causes the other person to take some right actions for himself as well. For example, perhaps if your husband finds himself alone, he will realize he has to get a job even if he'd prefer not to work. He might learn he has to control his temper so that he doesn't annoy everyone around him so that he can find and sustain friendships. He may in other ways step up to the plate and take more responsiibility for his own life--including his emotional one. But even if he does not, this is not your problem. What he ultimately does is outside your control. You can only control yourself--or make conscious choices with regard to your own behavior.

Sure, you are married right now and hence, you may feel a sense of responsibility because this man is your husband and the father of your grown sons whom you obviously love. But has it ever crossed your mind that he is essentially not adhering to his end of the agreement that the two of you made when you married? I don't know what your religious beliefs are, but I don't think we're expected to always turn the other check when people are consistently behaving badly. That hurts you as well as the abusive person--in this case, your husband.

If you are inclined to forgive him because you believe he knows not what he does, that might be true with someone who is brain damaged or suffers from dementia. But I suspect your husband knows exactly what he is doing. He is into having power and control over you. He is into manipulating you so that he gets what he wants from you without having to give anything back.

And of course, all you want is a loving relationship. But you're not going to get it from him, I suspect. So, I think it's time for you to have a loving relationship with yourself, at least. This might include stepping forth and creating a new life for yourself as a single person. (You may want to talk to an attorney first and find out if you're going to have to pay your husband some form of support since he doesn't work. I can't discuss all the financial ramifications, but you want to be aware of them preferably before you leave.)

Then again, you may decide that you are the type of person who stays with a husband no matter how dismally he treats you--even though you do not have a partnership, or he essentially does nothing to help build up either you or your relationship. In that case, when you are feeling desperate, you must remind yourself that this is the choice you have made and the statement you want your life to make.Then, to help you survive emotionally, pretend that you are in a protective bubble so that when your husband says unkind things, they roll off you versus piercing your heart in the way they likely do now.

I am not going to fault you for making this choice for religious or other reasons, certainly. But it must be a choice. You should not stay out of guilt--that your partner has likely helped to create and sustain. Therefore, I am going to ask you to consider this question: if you weren't plagued by guilt--if that could somehow be erased--what would you elect to do then?

This is what you should elect to do now.

Let me share an example of what I am talking about from my own life--making a conscious choice to pursue something that is difficult because this is who you are or want to be as a person versus merely doing it our of guilt.

I have a very elderly mother who suffers from dementia. She lives in a fabulous continuing care facility in New Hampshire where the staff are wonderful and very kind. She and my father retired there almost twenty years ago now---after always living in New Jersey. So, while she once lived in an apartment there, she is now in their memory unit.

I moved to a small town in New Hampshire so I could be near my mother after my father died--as well as afford to write full-time and not have to work for someone else. And, in fact, my father died five weeks after I returned from living and working with the military and their families in Italy for five years. But now, I often struggle with my current lifestyle--particularly after having lived an hour from Venice and, before that, in the cities of Dallas, Texas and Portland, Oregon. There are days I want to move elsewhere.

At such times, I have to remind myself (or sometimes good friends do this for me because I'm feeling particualrly down) that I chose to do this in order to be with my mother during the end of her life. Certainly, she did not ask me to do this. Yes, I'd chosen to do so--just as I'd chosen other goals earlier in my life to pursue that were often very challeging and created doubts about what I had done!

I am not doing what I am doing from a position of guilt, in other words. Instead, I am doing it because of both love and gratitude. See, I am grateful because this woman and her late husband rescued me from being a ward of the state of New Jersey just weeks short of my sixth birthday. They saw to it that I had opportunities that I likely wouldn't have had if I'd grown up in a foster home--even the very nice one I'd been in since my birth. (By the way, I am also grateful I had a terrific foster family, and that they treated me as well as they did their own three daughters.)

So again, if you were not plagued by guilt, what choice would you make then?

Please, make this choice. And of course, I wish you the best no matter whether you decide to leave or stay.


Diane England

The following is something I wrote in response to a woman who reported that she felt she was going crazy as she proceeded through the divorce process with a narcissitic husband.

Firist off, I sincerely hope that you have an attorney who understands the ways of the abusive narcissist. Assuming that you do (or, you may need to spend some time educating the attorney about what you are facing), try to structure things so that he or she, rather than you, is the one who deals with your husband.

Indeed, you probably should try and have as little contact as possible with your husband because he is likely going to try and manipulate you so that his best interests are served--not yours or those of your children. See, you have proven that you are the enemy and deserving of annihilation! As a result, he will have no qualms about being as nasty and hurtful as he wants to be. To his way of thimking, you asked for it.

If your husband fears that he is going to lose assets in the divorce that he probably sees as his, not yours, he'll likely give you grief about hiring an attorney to begin with. He will probably tell you that you're just helping pay the attorney's kids' private school tuition while your own kids are left to suffer. But trust me, if he has assets that need protecting, he won't hesitate to spend money on a great divorce attorney. Remember, he knows it takes money to make money--or to keep it from going to his former wife. In other words, he'd likely prefer to make his attorney richer than see you get a dime.

That all said, you need to take steps to protect yourself. So, for example, let voice mail pick up his calls so that he can't talk to you and manipulate you. If arrangements must be made with regard to the children, for example, could someone else call on your behalf and make them? If not, it might be worth having a paralegal from the attorney's office do this. At least, this person's hours gets billed at a lesser rate than those of the attorney.

You must try and maintain control of yourself and your emotions. This is not the time to be a pushover. This is not the time to feel guilty about demanding what is legally yours as part of the divorce settlement. Your future--and that of your children--is at stake here. As one of my friends told me, "If you get more in the settlement than you later feel you deserve, you can always give it back."

I am glad that both she and an executive director of an agency that helped abused women--someone I knew through my positions on several boards in the Dallas area--both gave me this type of advice. As a result, I did not fall for my husband's attempted manipulations--like telling me we could work things out ourselves and save all those attorney fees. In fact, today I can sit and write books and have my websites for women like you and others because of the divorce settlement I got. I don't know if my ex is pleased about this, but I see it as the good that has come out of a rather destructive and painful marriage.

But let's get back to you. You must keep reminding yourself that you essentially have just this one chance to get what you and your children deserve. Therefore, don't let your husband wear you down. Avoid contact since he is obviously good at pushing your buttons and driving you crazy. And please, try to see a therapist and perhaps participate in a support group throughout this time--if you have such resources available where you live. You need a support team!

Again, your narcissitic husband probably wants to get the best of you--and to punish you for being disloyal, too. Don't expect it to be easy now--and perhaps, not even for years to come if you have young children. But again, if you have an attorney who has been involved in cases with abusive narcissistic men, he or she can probably offer more guidance than I can. Also, I don't want to be accused of practicing law without a license, certainly.

The best to you and your family--now and in the future.


Diane England