stranger danger

Deciding to Get Unstuck in a Toxic Relationship with a Narcissist or other High-Conflict Type of Spouse

Some of our most popular blog articles focus on the sudden disappearance and frequent silent treatments that are commonplace in toxic relationships.

A hallmark of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD) is the push-pull dynamic that repeatedly occurs. Triggered by fears of engulfment, inferiority, rejection, and/or abandonment, these personality types are subject to predictable patterns of extreme behaviors when confronted by their fears, true or not. For example, if a person with NPD believes that you are somehow implying that he is not as handy as another person and can’t take care of fixing something, that may trigger him into narcissistic rage as a result of narcissistic injury. If your BPD spouse fears that you are about to abandon her, she may become very intense and full of rage, yelling at you for hours, only to become depressed afterward. Unable to control their anxiety and to punish you, he may leave for hours, days, weeks, without any warning, cutting off all communications until he’s ready (or not) to come home. If you don’t reach out, most often, his fear of abandonment gets triggered, and he comes around again (ohhh, that “hoover”). This is why these relationships are marred by long periods of push-pull or breakup/makeup cycles. Eventually, one of you will get sick of the toxic pattern and want out.

The silent treatments will eventually become longer and longer, which is why I describe these relationships as the loneliest types of relationships you’ll ever encounter. The intimacy will disappear, and like two ships passing in the night, the only thing that brings you together will be the constant fights typically revolving around what you’re not doing or how you’re not taking care of his ever-present needs. You will experience repeated bouts of cognitive dissonance where you’ll question your own sanity. Then, you’ll wonder if your friends are right: “If she’s that bad, why aren’t you leaving? The kids are resilient. They’ll be okay.” This is why some of my favorite quotes have to do with taking that first step to become “unstuck.”

“Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see farther.”
J.P. Morgan

In my domestic abuse support group (contact us to find out more about the group), I often talk about how toxic relationships commonly involve making up/breaking up or moving toward divorce/reconciliation. A good estimate based on our professional experience is that on average, a client will attempt reconciliation at least twice before finally deciding once-and-for-all that divorce is the only way out. There is no shame if you decide that the highly addictive trauma bonding that occurs in these relationships pulls you toward another reconciliation. Like J.P. Morgan said, just move, and once you act, keep going, and next time, you will get further. The more emotionally healthy you become, you will have no choice but to stop with the anxiety-ridden thoughts and litany of excuses for why you can’t leave. Leaving will become the only way out but making sure you plan it so that you don’t get charged with abandonment is a key component to litigation strategy when deciding to get “unstuck.” Once you can see yourself living a life apart from your abusive ex, you are moving closer to going further next time. It really does take one step in that direction (freedom).

There are so many reasons people stay in these toxic marriages, whether it be children, a physical or emotional disability, financial constraints and lack of employment, family, fear of potential abuse, or just poor self-image after years of constant degradation and devaluation from your sick spouse. However, at some point, if you’re reading this article, you’ve taken the first small step because you want to learn more and reach out to others that have gone through this or are going through this. You vow to move and to not sit still, maybe the physical act of leaving won’t happen immediately, but you have made the emotional decision to move and one day, the physical act of leaving will follow. You will no longer begin your story with the instances of relational abuse followed by, “But I can’t leave because…” and instead, you will find that the multitude of reasons you gave were just fear-based once you get to the other side and you can see farther.

I write these blogs as part of my own healing and as part of my goal to help others understand that there is so much more happiness on the other side of divorce after a pathologically toxic relationship. My own personal experience as well as my professional experience have taught me that the cyclical nature of these relationships is a hallmark of a toxic relationship.

Summary and Healing

When a narcissist has no viable intimate relationships in her horizon to fulfill her narcissistic supply tank, she may attempt to come back to you, and again, the honeymoon period is very short-lived. Know that the person you believe you fell in love with was more about you – what validation can you not give yourself? As soon as you stop looking for approval in your actions and you learn about the nature of toxic relationships, you will stop going back for more abuse. A healthy relationship takes time, and anyone who professes their love to you within days or weeks is most likely very emotionally damaged, but that person will never have the insight or honesty necessary to accept responsibility, and each relationship with another adult will end the same way for him/her. Becoming unstuck will be your ticket to emotional freedom and give you the ability to finally start healing from the aftermath of an abusive relationship, but you have to get out first.

Fairfax Family Law and Divorce Lawyer 

An attorney with experience in divorcing a narcissist can help you redirect the blame to the narcissist, and help you understand that although people can fall out of love, it doesn’t happen so abruptly and silently, as it does in a marriage to a narcissist.

If you’re looking for an experienced Virginia family and divorce law attorney, contact Keithley Law, PLLC today by calling (703) 454-5147 and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office. We have decades of legal experience in high-conflict divorces.

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