Couple fighting

10 Things to Expect When You Breakup or Separate from a Toxic Partner

“An abuser can seem emotionally needy. You can get caught in a trap of catering to him, trying to fill a bottomless pit. But he’s not so much needy as entitled, so no matter how much you give him, it will never be enough. He will just keep coming up with more demands because he believes his needs are your responsibility until you feel drained down to nothing.”
Lundy Bancroft, “Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

Toxic partners come in many different shades. Not all are narcissists or those that suffer from other personality disorders. Many are just immature, aloof, self-centered, or otherwise, angry people that may suffer from some traits of a personality disorder, but not to the extent that they would be diagnosed as having a personality disorder. The toxic people that this blog covers are those with such high-conflict personalities that their toxic behaviors cause relational harm to others.

Most people who come to our firm are those looking for attorneys with litigation experience dealing with high-conflict personalities. Many of our clients are involved in custody disputes or other divorce litigation with someone high in narcissistic traits that manifest as more than just ego-centric behaviors or conceited behaviors. Narcissism or Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a mental health condition that is very hard (or virtually impossible) to successfully treat because at the core of their condition, they truly believe that others are to blame, and their problems throughout life are the result of other people’s [mal]treatment of them.

Most often, our clients come in after taking years of emotional (sometimes physical too), financial, and mental abuse from a partner suffering from this dangerous pathology. By the time our client comes in the door, she/he is just a shell of the former self, beaten into submission, and utterly confused by the fact that the person they trusted most is the person most capable of causing so much harm to them and their children.

This blog covers 10 Things to Expect When You Breakup or Separate from a Toxic or High Conflict Partner

  1. You learn that the person you married isn’t as self-confident as he portrayed. That seemingly overly confident man is an immature toddler now seeking the attention of others to compensate for the lack of attention he received from his caregivers
  2. The praise you gave him was never going to be enough because she is unable to internally validate her self-worth and seeks that self-worth from others. She will constantly look for praise and admiration from many others because she can’t validate her self-worth from within, and your adulations will never be enough. Her constant search for “narcissistic supply” (adulation, praise, affirmation) will keep her constantly seeking more, and more, and more. She will go through a dizzying cycle of partners, constantly sucking their energy in the form of attention and proof that she is worthy. She may come back to you for narcissistic supply, so you have to understand that if you keep giving it, she will keep sucking it up and require more attention.
  3. You may discover his hidden cache of women or other sources of narcissistic supply. Unable to fill their empty void, they are notorious for infidelity and unfaithfulness. You may find that he was addicted to seeking sexual gratification through social media, dating sites, and with prostitutes. Narcissists are notorious for leaving a trail of broken souls behind.
  4. To quell their lack of internal identity and to maintain their façade of normalcy, she may do whatever it takes to hold on to this marriage. So much of her identity was built around trying to appear normal and good to others. She puts her children in many classes, joins the PTA, arranges for play dates, all while she was abusing them and you. She will try her best to maintain that image and hold on to the illusion, which leads to the next thing you may experience.
  5. He may cycle through promises of change, and if his Mr. Nice Guy act doesn’t work, he will then switch to Mr. Victim or Mr. Self-Assurance. He will fear the sudden loss of emotional supply you previously gave him, and his desperation will go into overdrive. When he can no longer use his identity as a father, husband, or provider, it will send him into a panicked ego state where he faces the reality of losing his identity and narcissistic supply, as his identity is dependent on others and seeing himself and his self-worth through their eyes.
  6. If Mr. Nice Guy doesn’t work and the promises of change no longer work, and you are done hoping for change or marital counseling, he will switch his MO to incorporate different tactics. He may tell you that you will never find someone so perfect as he, so willing to put up with YOUR moods and YOUR instability (don’t believe him). He does this to maintain a sense of power to reclaim the power you previously gave him. He may turn extremely angry, threatening you to take away custody, to take away your financial support, to turn your friends and family against you. Again, think of that toddler – unable to get his needs met.
  7. If shaming you doesn’t work, he’ll then go back to begging you for attention, to meet, to reconcile. Remember, this isn’t about his love for you or your children. This is about his ego state and trying to hold on to that identity. He’ll try different methods to establish contact, and when the methods don’t work, he may threaten suicide or self-harm.
  8. He may send you old texts to remind you of how loving your relationship was and to stoke that nostalgia to guilt you into talking to him. Be strong. The change will not last.
  9. If she is the one discarding you, she may just likely be gone. Poof. No closure, and she doesn’t care about finishing the divorce process, or she will do whatever it takes to prove to others that you’re the crazy one, so if it means spending money to prove this, she will do what it takes. She also may spend as much as possible to prove to others just how much she truly loves her kids – again, this is all just to feed her ego and façade of normalcy she constructed.
  10. You will be confused and heartbroken once you realize that the person you married was so different from what he appeared to be. When we encourage our clients to seek counseling, it is because even the strongest people are left broken and need help to move on and to heal.

Summary and Healing/Tips for Recovery

Just because we’ve had horrible relationship experiences and have suffered great relational harm with people with personality disorders, focus on your own healing. If you have been through the trauma of marrying a toxic person and being in long-term relationships with them, stay strong and do not fall for their tactics outlined above. If you were the one discarded, consider yourself lucky. If you are contemplating reconciling with one of these types, then seek therapy to understand that no one can make you stay in an abusive relationship – you are the one choosing to stay. Keep looking at the Lundy Bancroft quote until you realize that you are shortening your own lifespan to fill his void and lack of identity. I write these blogs 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 you can rebuild, reclaim your energy, and become stronger in the process.

Fairfax Family Law and Divorce Lawyer: An attorney with family law experience can help you understand protective orders and the legal implications of a protective order.

If you’re looking for an experienced Virginia family and divorce law attorney, contact Keithley Law, PLLC today by calling (703) 865-7710 and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office. We have decades of legal experience in high-conflict divorces.

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