After being married to a narcissistic wife for over 10 years, Ben had enough. His whole body started to reject his spouse’s self-centeredness by plaguing him with intense pain and repeated anxiety attacks that he could no longer ignore. He went to doctor after doctor for a quick fix, but after dozens of tests and hundreds of dollars in medical bills, his doctor concluded that the pain and anxiety were psychosomatic.
This, of course, infuriated him even more. He spent years learning how to effectively cater to his narcissistic wife so the anger rants could be minimized. He worked-out, ate right, tried to get adequate sleep, and maintained a simple job that reduced his overall stress. Still, his back was in constant pain and his anxiety attacks worsened, especially at home. Finally, he reluctantly decided to go to counseling.
Ben was suffering from a type of post-traumatic stress due to repeated abuse that he received from dealing with his narcissistic spouse. In order to cope, Ben had stopped consciously listening to what his wife said; however his subconscious continued to absorb the verbal and mental assaults. She would say to him, “You are so stupid, I can’t believe I married such as dummy,” “I’m only letting you go out for a few hours without me because you can’t be trusted,” and “You aren’t remembering that right, I have the perfect memory.”
Once he started to realize what she was actually saying about him, his anxiety and now anger intensified. The solution to his stress was to relax. Here is what he learned.
- Take a chapter out of work. Most full-time jobs have built-in benefits of at least 2 weeks per year of vacation, days off for national holidays, and PTO (paid time off) to be utilized as needed. The intensity of being married to a narcissist is similar to a having another full-time job as the narcissist tends to dump on their spouse anything they don’t want to handle. Frequently, the spouse neglects themselves for the sake of the narcissist by justifying that the reduced anger is worth the extra effort. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work this way as most spouses only wind up exhausted in the end.
- Take 2 weeks off. The idea of going on a vacation without his wife was so foreign to Ben at first. He was even fearful of suggesting the idea to her because of the backlash. But by breaking down the 2 weeks into several extended weekends and using his work travel as an excuse, Ben was able to get a much-needed break from his narcissistic spouse. This time away was essential for Ben to remember his own wants, desires, dreams, and perception. Narcissists have a way of convincing their spouses that their perception of reality is the only way to think, but it is often a distorted perception that needs correction, not conformity.
- Take a daily break. Even full-time jobs recommend several breaks during the day to rejuvenate, eat, and use the restroom, knowing that this actually increases productivity. But once Ben arrived at home, he was off and running with no stopping till bedtime, thanks to his wife. Keeping work in mind, Ben began to add just a few 15-minute breaks into his nighttime routine. He found several safe places in his house to “hide” (as his narcissistic wife would say) that gave him a chance to catch his breath and think about what he was doing. One of the typical abuse tactics of narcissism is to generate confusion so that the only voice others hear is the narcissist. This break technique was extremely beneficial for Ben.
- Take-out friends. The last part of Ben’s transformation was to spend a couple of nights out a month with friends. He began to see that even at work, there are built-in days off during the week to rest. Since relaxing at home was difficult, he found solace in spending time with a few buddies who understood his predicament. This support was the final piece in restoring his physical and mental health.
Relaxation can take on many forms but when living with a narcissist, it is an essential element to survival. Without it, the stress builds up into huge piles that are difficult to remove.