After being married to a narcissistic wife for over 10 years and quarantined at home with her for the last several weeks, 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 wanted to go to the doctor but his symptoms didn’t constitute an office visit. Instead via Telehealth, 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. He decided to speak to his therapist.
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. Ben decided to change his work schedule at home around so he was was working while she was sleeping. This gave him a break from badgering.
- Take 2 weeks off. Ideally, Ben wanted to go on a vacation without his wife but the stay-at-home order prevented him from leaving. Furthermore, he was fearful of suggesting the idea to her because of the backlash. Instead, Ben used his aging parents, whom his wife didn’t like, as an excuse to get away for an extended weekend. By breaking down the 2 weeks into several extended weekends, 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 now with everyone at home including the kids, Ben was off and running with no stopping till bedtime, thanks to his wife. Keeping work in mind, Ben began to take longer breaks during the day and do most of his work after the kids went to bed. He even 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 a week on phone calls 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, especially now. Without it, the stress builds up into huge piles that are difficult to remove.