Narcissists are partially defined by their lack of intimacy with others. This is most clearly seen in a marital relationship. In a dating relationship however, narcissists appear to be very intimate, almost too much so, which is why a person easily and quickly moves from dating to marriage. Trying to separate or divorce a narcissist brings about a chaotic sequence of events.
- Once the knot has been tied, the intimacy quickly evaporates leaving the spouse continually wanting. This is the beginning of a vicious cycle. The spouse becomes almost addicted to the excessive passion the narcissist exhibited during dating. They mistakenly believe that this will last for the rest of their marriage.
- When confronted, the narcissist informs the spouse that it is their fault that the intimacy is lacking. If only they looked better, cooked more pleasing foods, said nicer things, acted more appropriate, understood them all the time, and were more sexual than the affection would return. So the spouse tries to do all of these things, only to discover they have still fallen short and even more has been added to the list.
- Eventually the spouse grows weary and begins to pull away from the narcissist. They become distant, cold, withdrawn, and indifferent to the excessive demands. Subsequently they stop feeding the narcissist their daily diet of attention, affection, admiration, and appreciation. This is precisely what wakes up the narcissist to trouble brewing in a marriage.
- At the root of narcissism is a deep insecurity and often an intense fear of abandonment and rejection. “How could anyone toss aside such a fine specimen of humanity,” the narcissist thinks. Still unsure, they seek out attention from other sources to verify their superior opinion of self. Once affirmed, they begin the attack on their spouse.
- Verbal berating, name calling, threats of divorce, gaslighting, guilt-tripping, and bullying are common first line attacks. This tactic almost always works in the beginning as the spouse dejectedly returns back to the narcissist to try the relationships again. But as the cycle repeats, each time the spouse loses more and more ability to subject themselves to a subordinate position. Eventually they have had enough and pull back for good.
- Narcissists tend to be very aware when their source of feeding is drying up. While they lack sensitivity with others, they are hyper-sensitive with themselves. Fearing the rejection even more intensely, the narcissist goes into overdrive. This is when the spouse realizes the game has changed and it has become even more extreme.
- First, the narcissist will try to isolate the spouse from friends and family. It becomes a game to “get to” a person first to tell their side of the story (which is never accurate) and paint the spouse as the bad guy. The narcissist happily takes on a victim role in order to garner even more sympathy and attention. The spouse quickly discovers they have very few supportive friends and family and might even begin to question their perspective.
- This is exactly what the narcissist wants because the next step is to create an environment of confusion. This is gaslighting on a much larger scale where the narcissist paints such a picture as to make everyone think the spouse is the crazy person, not them. The spouse often feels as though they are in a fog, unable to see even a few feet ahead much less the bigger picture. The narcissist will claim they never did this or never would say that about virtually anything to reinforce the concept that the spouse is losing it.
- Knowing the spouse is vulnerable, the narcissist passionately reaches out to the spouse saying and doing all of the things that worked when they were dating. They say, “I can’t live without you,” “You are the most important thing in my life,” or “Life is not worth living without you being there.” They begin to sound like a mushy Hallmark card complete with elaborate gifts to reinforce their undying commitment. If a spouse returns during this phase, they unknowingly have given up every remaining ounce of self-respect. A narcissist knows this and as soon as they return, the abuse returns even worse than before.
- If the spouse refuses to believe the latest transformation, the narcissist will abandon the niceties and begin the vengeful treatment. Literally, “all hell breaks loose” as the spouse is confronted with one drama after another. Usually the hottest fire is not the worst problem. Many narcissists will create a mini fire as a distraction from the real issue. This behavior only reinforces the spouse’s decision.
- The “I love you and can’t live with you,” statements are followed almost immediately with “You are the worse person to ever live.” This roller coaster ride of emotions is meant to hurt the spouse for hurting the narcissist. They want the spouse to feel their pain more intensely then they feel it and are rarely satisfied until the spouse breaks down.
- This final pattern can last well after the separation, into the divorce and even spill over into new relationships. If the spouse enters a relationship with another person before the narcissist finds someone, then the entire cycle begins all over again. However the narcissist tends to be slightly tamer when they find another person first.
So is it ever over? There will be significant periods of time when it is and then it will start up again over something minor. Eventually the periods of time grow further and further apart. For such a quick decision to marry, the separation/divorce process is far longer, much more grueling, and becomes a complete nightmare.