November 04, 2014

Partners of Narcissists: You'll Never Regret Prioritizing Your Children

Pan Playing Flute by J. Jordaens

See that guy under the fig tree playing a flute? He can't grow up the way you think he will. In twenty years time, he'll be cheating on you with a goat. You'll wonder why you didn't notice his hooves. Maybe because you made him wear pants in the daylight? You're such a prude, he tells the goats.


Family stories make me feel better about my struggle to do the right thing. Partnering with a narcissist was hard. People don't understand what you've been through when they criticize you for staying, for having children, for being naive. Even your ex says how messed up you were because obviously, you stuck around. He says no one else in the whole galaxy woulda put up with you for so long. He says how well you were treated considering your deficiencies and ineptitude, your lack of gratitude. Always between a rock and a hard place, partners of narcissists make the best of limited choices, a perpetual tug-of-war between a narcissistic spouse and the children. What I have learned this past decade is that you will never regret prioritizing your children; which might include (depending on your physical safety) the decision to stay.


It's hard being married to a narcissist
It can be even harder admitting you were 

You'd gone about your life fairly normally, following rules, keeping commitments, expecting your marriage to work out in the end. No marriage was perfect, you told yourself. You can count at least three long-term marriages held together with scotch-tape and promises, becoming contented and loving in old age. Grateful they stayed together. Grateful families saw them through the tough times. Grateful they were spending holidays with their own grandchildren, not someone else's. You hang in there because this is what you've seen and that is what you believe your story will be, too.

When I started reading about narcissistic relationships, I wanted to believe everything an expert told me. I force-fit myself into pathological boxes. I defined myself as a complete mess since I felt like a complete mess. When you're reeling from infidelity and financial losses beyond recuperation, your sense of self will be blown to shit smithereens. If a psychologist says you fear abandonment, you'll believe it. If a book says you love too much, you'll believe it. You aren't sure who you are---or who you were because your ego has been shattered and your heart is on the ground. If an expert says codependency is why you married a puerile Pan, well----you have no filter of reason. An authority figure could say you were serial killer and you'd believe it. Okay maybe not but you'd fact-check the basement making sure you didn't do something you don't remember. 

Zelfportret als Faun by Johfra
It's been over a decade since being subjected to pop-psych explanations taking an additional chunk out of my self-esteem. Other partners of narcissists have written similar miserable narratives which means my experience is not unique. Partners of narcissists are perceived to be collusive and/or crazy. If we insist our partner is narcissistic because we're smart enough to read the DSM, people suggest we point our labeling fingers back at ourselves. They'd never be so naive as to marry a narcissist and godforbid they'd be arrogant enough to diagnose one! And then you see them in Costco being harangued by their spouse and you thank GOD you don't have to lie to yourself anymore.

The only thing casting me as a pathology suspect was my husband's behavior. People thought I was a goodly woman until my husband proved he was a badly man and then they looked at me skeptically. "Well," one guy said when he heard my husband was having an affair, "You seem like a nice lady but who knows what you're really like behind closed doors?"

I've come full circle back to myself which took much longer than expected, that's how traumatic sudden endings can be. At this point, I am able to see that my family-of-origin was a dress rehearsal for my marriage. As a child and adult, I soothed my family's feelings, off-set sadness and anxiety with light-heartedness, tried to make up for emotional deficits in fathers and husbands, worked doubly hard undoing the damage done. Those are character strengths, not deficits. Be cautious diagnosing yourself too soon in your recovery and don't pathologize behaviors that are cherished by healthy, loving people.


"You act like you're my mother!"
 he whines

A certain amount of crazy is normal to every family I suspected then and even now, the line between acceptable or not depending on the people involved. What one family considers to be normal, another considers bizarre. When a narcissist marries a woman who's not, there's sure to be crazy. There's sure to be bizarre. When a narcissist marries a woman who's not, she'll prioritize the children, not him. When a narcissist marries a woman who's not, he'll accuse her of acting like his mother. Not because she is acting like his mother, but because he sees himself as Peter Pan. She worries the marriage won't survive the most recent crisis (infidelity) and makes an appointment with a marriage counselor. Peter complains he's married to his Mom and what does the therapist say? "Stop acting like his mother and read this book about adventurous sex with M&M's." 
Nymphs and Satyr by William Adolf Bouguereau

NOTE: I've never yet met a goodly woman who successfully competed with Tinkerbell so be kind to yourself. The problem is NOT you. The problem is Peter Pan and a sexist society valuing above all we declare to be holy and sacred about family: Peter's peter's happiness. 

Consider his insult to be a compliment. You Grew Up. You Took Responsibility. Your Priorities were in Order. You Were Willing to do the right thing and Displease Peter. And you knew and rightly so, that Chocolate Gods created M&Ms to melt in your mouth, not your...

About Right Action 

I never determined right action from a spread sheet, a pro-and-con list, a religious book; it was innate. Knowing the right thing to do made my children's lives easier and it was intuitive. That didn't mean doing the right thing made my life easier (!) but not having an egocentric focus drew and kept my children close. They trusted me to be there for them, to restore the peace, to listen. And to make donuts. Never underestimate the bonding power of donuts stacked two dozen-deep on a broom handle.


Making Light in Heavy Moments

We had decided as a family, to see a movie at our local theater. My children were about five and eight years old, as best I can remember. As the hour drew near, we reminded their Dad what time it was and asked him to stop what he was doing. We needed to leave or we'd be late. He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. He had changed his mind. "I'd rather sit and think," he said.

The look on my children's faces...well...it crushed my heart seeing their disappointment because they instinctively realized their father preferred studying scriptures to being with his family. I couldn't stand it. I hated that he would disappoint them that way. My first instinct was not to cajole him into going with us. If he didn't want to go, okay then. Don't go. I didn't have any desire to yell at him either, or threaten him. Why engage in an argument when the movie started in ten minutes? If he and I were bickering, our kids would miss the film they'd looked forward to all week and then they'd witness what was sure to be a terrifying example of my insanity. Summing up the situation quickly, I decided to ease the tension and my children's disappointment by saying something silly. "Hey kids," I said. "Dad wants to sit n' stink!"

Italian School_Pan with Pipes
Sit n' Stink! The kids held their tummies laughing, oblivious to their father's glare searing burn holes in my flesh. They skipped to the car like happy wabbits and a good time was had by all. Whether the stinker had a good time or not, we didn't ask. Do we remember the name of the film we watched that day? No. But "Sit n' Stink" has become a family mantra. It serves as a reminder to pull our heads out of our asses and carry both body parts into our lives. It reminds us that heaven is already at our feet if we'll stop looking for a private invitation. 

Partners of narcissists work doubly hard undoing damage done by a narcissistic spouse. We can take pride in our efforts to make our children's lives better---often at the expense of our own personal satisfaction. People stay in difficult marriages for good and sane reasons and sometimes it's the "right thing to do" even in a wrong situation. I do not regret staying in my marriage and trying to make things work for three decades. Our marriage ended but not without me giving it everything I could and then some. Today, my children tell me how much they appreciate my ability to make them feel loved and safe, allowing us to live as long as we could as an intact family. I am sure other partners-of-narcissists have done an even better job than myself and certainly under more brutal conditions than my marriage ever was. The narcissistic marriage is lonely for the most part, usually traumatic at the end. The majority of the time, it's simply hard work.  It's may be the hardest thing you'll ever do. Appreciate yourself for the incredibly difficult thing you did and might still be doing. Stop focusing on your mistakes and failures looming pathological in hindsight. Time and distance will create a more realistic perspective than judging yourself too soon in the aftermath of trauma and abuse. 

Pay attention to the brilliant things you were able to do, such as "making light in heavy moments." It doesn't matter how trivial the intervention, your children will know you care; that they are treasured. They will know their fun is equally important to the fun adults might prefer. They'll also learn that family is an action, not a possession. That love is an action, not a feeling.

Funny how this incident predicted our future twenty years later, isn't it? We are still a family, even without him, which is why I can say to other partners of narcissists: You Will Never Regret Prioritizing Your Children. You will regret prioritizing Peter.

Hugs,
CZ




22 comments:

  1. CZ, This spoke to me on a lot of levels and I really appreciate you writing it.

    I often struggle with making the correct choices for my children, considering they have two N-grandmothers and parents who are working on some fleas. It often feels overwhelming (especially of late). I appreciate the hope you've given me that things may just turn out OK.

    I appreciate your point that not everyone's road is as cut and dry as "NC" or not. That people, when dealing with Ns, must choice what's best for them in the situation. While you are involved in the N- relationship, there may be no "good" decision, but hopefully, you come out better on the other side.

    Thanks again for getting me thinking....:)

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    1. I'm so glad you posted, Jessie. You're a deep-thinker, trying to make things work for everyone's best welfare---not just yourself. You aren't reactive either, which is beneficial to everyone, especially your kids. And you seek information, NOT justification to do things that don't fit with your values and beliefs. If we want to hate someone, there's plenty of social validation for that.

      I know it's hard to listen to someone who has decided to stay. They talk about the problems in their lives, over and over. The subject changes, the situations change, but the main issue remains the same: someone refuses to take responsibility for their impact on other people and is likely narcissistic. People freak out and shout "Run!" giving no thought or concern to what happens afterward. Are they truly better off if they were not prepared to leave?

      Because I've done so much of my recovery online, I've heard about everything, been accused of everything in the DSM. My mental health was never a concern until reading about narcissistic relationships. I think an automatic "you're codependent, you're borderline, you're a narcissist, too" does a real disservice to people who have been "groomed" by the narcissistic relationship, to blame themselves. Yes, we need help with coping skills and conflict management but so does everyone on the planet.

      I hope you and other people are comforted by my post because what you are doing is "the road less traveled" and I see and know from personal experience, how hard that can be. Since my daughter and I (she's 40 years old) have a lot of time to talk with one another now, she has given me a new way to think about our family. I mean, the status quo is to REGRET marrying the narcissist and kick yourself in the arse everyday for being so stupid and messed up, right? To say you made the right decision in staying...well, that's almost heresy in the self-help community!

      I wish I had known about narcissistic disorders before my divorce but I have used this knowledge to work with my nephew (who I "took in" when he was five) and family members. Narcissism is one of my family's biggest foes, ha, and I think that we're fairly typical overall.

      I wasn't sure how this post would be received by readers...I appreciate your willingness to listen and comment. Thank you.

      Hugs,
      CZ

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  2. This was the perfect post for me today - thanks so much! Sometimes I denigrate myself for staying so long with a passive-aggressive after surviving Nparents. Aack. Hopefully, the rest of my life can be Nfree and P/Afree!!

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    1. Hello Pearl!

      I suppose we can all look back on our lives and question our decision to stay. Like yourself, I've done my share of self-criticism, mired in the troughs of regret. Now that I'm in a healthier place and my finances are settled and we've created a safe home to relax in, I can be more objective about my life. Sure, there were times when I considered leaving but at no point would leaving have been better for my kids and that is the truth, the whole of it.

      We are so focused on our individual happiness that it's wildly unpopular to even suggest "sacrificing" ourselves for someone else and I've read lots of articles about martyrdom and so-called Savior Complexes which is not at all what I'm talking about. I have never, NOT EVEN ONCE, held my children accountable for staying. I have never told them that I gave up my potential happiness "for them." THAT is the thinking of the narcissist who is always the victim of everyone else's happiness. So I hope no one interprets my comment as evidence of martyrdom.

      My ex was extremely passive-aggressive and I did not understand the contempt behind his mini-cruelties. So it's not as if I saw him as a prince or a knight in shining armor. I also recognized my own passive-aggression as an attempt to balance the scales of injustice. However, there's a pathological distinction between "garlic in mashed potatoes" and "having an affair."

      I'm so glad to hear from you and also wish you a N-free and P/A-free life!

      Hugs,
      CZ

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  3. Hi CZ,
    I was already laughing when I read the first paragraph because I didn't even notice that he had hooves for feet until you mentioned it! Isn't that the truth?

    This post as with your others is inspiring and there is a convalescent quality to your writing that I have been reading some of your old posts (my anxiety is increasing with the nearing holiday FOO visit).

    I found the notion of 'choice' to be timely and reflective of what I see and hear when it comes to marriages with a male narcissist vs a female narcissist. I hear the word 'choice' used so much - if she stays, it is a choice, suicide is a choice, etc. I'm not saying that this is false, only incomplete. Choice has a connotation of being as simple as going to a store and choosing the grey sweater vs the blue one. I am sure ACoNs who have taken the red pill have had a long road, even after understanding the complexities of narcissism, it took me a while.

    Learning about narcissism has opened my eyes so much, to reflect on how I and society contribute to the 'scolding' of a woman's decision. When recently a friend of mine told me of a friend who found out her husband had been cheating and that she was in therapy, my friend stated that she would never stay. I didn't know this friend and I asked 'does she have children?' and to which the answer was 'Yes, she has three.'

    What is striking is that I sometimes hear an extreme glorification (I'm guilty of this as well) of the enabling father with a female narcissist as this was my situation growing up. If the EF leaves: kudos, he's protecting the family. If he stays, kudos, he's protecting the family! He's so loyal. Over-glorification as well as scolding are both incomplete versions.

    This is incredibly beautiful "Today, my children tell me how much they appreciate my ability to make them feel loved and safe, allowing us to live as long as we could as an intact family."

    Hugs, TR

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    1. Oh, I wanted to add, that is so incredibly inspiring for me to be more self-compassionate and bring some humor along the way. :)

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    2. "Learning about narcissism has opened my eyes so much, to reflect on how I and society contribute to the 'scolding' of a woman's decision. When recently a friend of mine told me of a friend who found out her husband had been cheating and that she was in therapy, my friend stated that she would never stay. I didn't know this friend and I asked 'does she have children?' and to which the answer was 'Yes, she has three.' "

      Beautifully put, TR! The "scolding" of a woman's decision!! What you've described is the "rock and a hard place"---she is scolded if she leaves (she's SELFISH) and scolded if she stays (she's MASOCHISTIC). Everyone has an opinion on a woman's life and far too often, it's reproachful.

      I think the idea behind "choice" was to empower women by allowing her to make decisions for herself. Women have been "infantilized" to some degree, needing men to think for, care for and help her see the light. ha! Allowing her to make her own decision was a restoration of her locus of control. What is lost in conversations about empowerment and choice, is the effect of oppression and coercion. If the choice is between starving on food stamps or being beaten once in a while, what quality of choice does she really have?

      I almost have an aversion to the word "choice" at this point because it's too simplistic, ignoring the intricate dynamics of women's lives. Unfortunately, the concept of choice shifts responsibility for abuse onto her shoulders because hey, she "chooses" to stay. Saying she can "choose to leave" is adolescent thinking. It is NOT the thinking of a mature adult who recognizes the complexity of each person's situation---especially women with children.

      We may have started out talking about "choice" with good intentions but we isolate victims even more when we believe her situation is her choice (ala Dr. Phil). Maybe "her choice" alleviates us from our responsibility as a society? If her husband beats the living shit out of her everyday, well...it's her choice, hey. None of Our Business. People need to think more deeply about the limitations women face. "It's her choice" can be an excuse for people to do nothing...

      I'm so pleased my story is inspiring you to be more self-compassionate TR, and yes, humorous! We are making headway on entrenched ideas about women and men and families and what constitutes a healthy society. What Love actually means. We aren't gonna solve this problem in our lifetimes I don't suppose, so we might as well appreciate what we are able to do!

      You're one of the people who are making healthy changes in our world, even on those days when it feels as if you/we don't matter. Getting to know you and other cyberfriends has restored my hope in a better world, a fairer and wiser world than the world we were born into.

      Hugs,
      CZ

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    3. Hi CZ,
      ""It's her choice" can be an excuse for people to do nothing...""-CZ I think, unfortunately the true meaning "Allowing her to make her own decision was a restoration of her locus of control."-CZ has not been represented well in some avenues of self-help too. Which is why I appreciate cyberfriends and the blogs as well, expanding on and challenging ideas. xxTR

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  4. Hi guys, CZ you had me at "sit and stink." I love the way you leaven the hell you went through with humor, in hindsight as well as at the moment. Your ex turned out to be a giant stinker. These narcissists truly don't give a damn about their kids, that's the one constant, male or female. I'm glad your children appreciate you for keeping a stable home for them despite incredible challenges. I just hope that now, when ex comes around trying to play the good guy, no one gets fooled. Not your daughter (I know she won't be again), and not your son. Because a true narcissist never ever changes.

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    1. Well, you gotta meet kids "where they're at" and they aren't ready for a long explanation and I didn't have the words to deliver one anyway. That we can "intuit" a good-enough answer in only a few seconds, is amazing to me in hindsight. It's not as if we weigh the pros-and-cons, consider the outcomes, measure our options, think about what's best for the kids, worry about a spouse's reaction...all those things are being considered without even realizing it when out of your mouth comes "sit n' stink". I am fascinated at the way people make "right decisions" on the spur of the moment, without thinking. Responding to something that's hard to define: "conscience." I think "conscience" has far more to do with our decisions (especially moral decisions) than we realize!

      Having empathy and conscience creates strong and loving relationships and I don't fully understand this yet but it's reflective of the way I raised our children and dealt with other people. You don't turn conscience on and off like a light switch. But what is it? And how does conscience come into play when making a snap judgment like "sit n' stink"? I've spent so much time picking apart my foibles, wounds and warts that it's time to examine the healthy things that were automatic to my personality. The last three posts or so, are part of that examination. Our core strengths define us as distinct from the narcissistic pathology.

      The innate sense of "the right thing to do" in a complicated situation is taken for granted and overlooked in our search for dysfunctional reasons as to "why" we partnered with a narcissist. Every pathological narcissist that I have known (and read about) has used spread sheets and pro-con lists and complicated strategies to figure out "the right thing to do" because they did not have a strong conscience. The difference between narcissists and "nons", is that a non-narcissistic person will have an eye focused on others and not JUST what serves the self best. Mothers like myself don't even consider how our decision will affect us as an individual. We are compelled by a drive to protect and care for children. Isn't that the basic adult mandate? To care for children? And it also provides a way for us to mature beyond the constrictions of ego, I think.

      About my ex: he makes a sincere effort to stay in contact with his adult children and they've been a great comfort to him now that he's older. He has provided financial assistance for my daughter because she's unable to work (MS).

      My children reflect their mothering and that means they have compassion for him despite the horrible things he's done to his family. Although our daughter used "no contact" to protect herself for awhile, she sees him about once a year and they email. It has been very important for both of them to define their boundaries with him. One of those boundaries is refusing to "validate" his shit. What he did was wrong and there is no justification for treating his family (including our extended family) like a garbage dump. They are kinder to him than he deserves and yea, that's my big fat opinion. ha!

      Love ya,
      CZ

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    2. I really like that you're reflecting on the automatic healthy behaviors you did. Because they are who you truly are. There's no justification for him, in any universe. He owes it to your daughter to provide financial assistance. It's his moral and ethical duty, and the least he can do. My fat little opinion agrees with your big fat one. which is almost always right….

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  5. Dear CZ: I haven't read this whole wonderful post because it's late and I am fagged out. BUT! Your first paragraph had me belly laughing! I also thought of this:

    "If you see the mark of Socrates on his forehead, look for the hoof on the ground." or something like that.....something I concocted for a novel.....LOL!

    Yes, those damn hooves! LOL!

    I was somewhere today on a blog....reading about passive/aggressive behavior. Boy! do I have some experience about that disorder. In BOTH marriages...but the first one was much worse, and the aggression turned to violence every chance he could take. AND...the contempt that he threw at me because "I stayed." Yes, I did...because we get stupid in first marriages. Especially if we are very young at the beginning and are raised by Narcissists: we can't expect better for ourselves and we are told so...by the parents and the partners.

    Well, dear heart, I will come back here this week because it is a JOY to read you, and you are so much better than any therapy session....a whole year of therapy sessions!

    One thing: our core strengths are revealed, but slowly...and then??? We rip apart the abuse and all the stinky veils that keep us from full personhood. But we have to go through SHIT before we can claim ourselves. But we are SO MUCH better...so much more healthy than what was on the other side of the bed. I still remember you saying you woke up one morning, looked at him and he looked like Hitler. ROTF!!!

    That is a good starting point.....Who wants to be married to Hitler!

    Love, Jane



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    1. Hi Jane! I just got back from a week at my parent's home (my father had shoulder surgery and is doing very well, even at 88!) I was happy to see your comment this morning.

      "I was somewhere today on a blog....reading about passive/aggressive behavior. Boy! do I have some experience about that disorder. In BOTH marriages...but the first one was much worse, and the aggression turned to violence every chance he could take." ~LadyNyo

      Passive-aggression is such an interesting topic and not very well understood by most people. I'm no expert by any measure. I have identified the ways my powerlessness led to passive-aggressive behaviors that weren't abusive by any stretch of the imagination but restored some justice and self-respect in an unfair situation. Maybe we learn this in the narcissistic family when our feelings are subordinated and even silenced? We don't learn how to assert ourselves as children and fear (sometimes irrationally so) contradicting S/He Who Has the Power. Well, you can't live with that kind of invalidation for long if you have a shred of integrity---so you do something that defies their authority and makes you feel a little better about your silencing/powerlessness. That's how i'd describe my passive-aggressive behaviors with an overbearing spouse whose sense of entitlement is legendary.

      But there's pathological passive-aggression as I mentioned in a prior comment which describes the "covert narcissist" who won't come right out and say s/he hates yer guts. That would be too honest and it would open them to criticism by other people. Instead, they sneakily twist your mind like a wet dishrag and get you to betray yourself. I think of pathological passive-aggression as a mindgame, gleefully watching their victim betray her own values, her own children, her own self. That sort of thing. It has a sadistic edge to it but is not fully psychopathic since the behavior is not done for the mere joy of hurting someone. With narcissists, pathological passive-aggression is REVENGE for having been criticized or diminished (in their minds) by someone.

      Just a few thoughts about passive-aggression which should be a topic of its own, I think. The term is thrown around lightly ad I'm one of the worst for using psych terms in a "generalized" way. The way the average person understands and defines those terms.

      I remember the post about HItler and your reaction...not sure where that story might be but if I find it, I'll re-post it just for you.

      Love
      CZ

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  6. Hi everybody.

    The simple decision is that hard and that difficult.
    I reaaly don't knwo what to do.
    I try to live for my children, but when I choose for them my husband acts like I am there.

    How can I survive onle with my kids. I don't know if being alone will be harder than my actual life

    A big hug.

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    1. Ending a marriage is hard, yes. If we are unable to provide for our children, then we need to learn the skills required for financial independence. Taking steps to improve ourselves is integral to our success as single parents. It may take a few years but the goal is getting yourself in a place where you can live on your own, with your kids and you aren't reliant on his support. That means financial AND emotional support. It may seem frightening at first but most people say afterwards that they are not as lonely as they thought they'd be. Just having a 'safe' place where you aren't being criticized, insulted, undermined and disrespected is so wonderful that you can't believe you didn't leave sooner.

      Has your husband gone to therapy? Has he sought religious counseling? Is he doing ANYTHING at all to improve his relationship with you? If a partner is willing to try, that's different than a partner who refuses to get help OR listen to his/her family's complaints and concerns.

      I wish the best for you, anonymous...and hope you're able to find ways to protect yourself and improve your life so you aren't stuck in an unhappy relationship!

      Hugs,
      CZ

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  7. I don't understand, CZ. I love your writing and I'm so interested in your decision. Everything I've read is about protecting your children (my son he has never met, from him in future if he ever tries to be his father). Can I ask how you protect your children by staying with a person who doesn't love them and only sees them as objects? As he sees every person in his life?

    I'm really grateful to read your perspective as why a person who knows their husband is a narc might stay. But I'd like to know how it benefited your children. And.. What kind of effect did his absenteeism (in the narc way) have on their partner choices as adults?

    Thank you. Namaste 🙏

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    1. Sorry about being so late with my response, kg. The holidays are still upon me and I promise to address your most excellent question in a few days. Hope you don't give up on me!

      Hugs,
      CZ

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    2. Hi kg,

      I'm considering writing a separate post for my blog, addressing more fully your questions.

      Neither of my children is married (son=40; daughter=43). She has MS so that has interfered with partnerships she may have had and my son is a true geek computer programmer so that has interfered with his love life. ha! It's actually hard to say whether or not our family dynamics prevented them from marrying. Neither of them is interested in the nuclear family as modeled by more conservative values. This could be the result of their life experiences, having move many times and even living overseas. They didn't have a traditional life growing up.

      However, the main question you might be asking is whether or not they are loving, lovable, capable of intimacy, desirous of a longterm relationship with someone, or if they fear and distrust the whole notion of "love". I don't believe either of them were "impaired" by the narcissistic dynamics in our family but you see, that's because my ex was not a "malignant narcissist". It's very important to estimate where someone falls on the N-continuum because the harm caused to a family is directly relational to the pathology.

      I'm also working on my thoughts/understanding about narcissist's ability to love. I don't think it's accurate to say Ns can't love. It depends on how we define love, doesn't it? And it depends on the degree of pathology. But your question about narcissists and the capacity to love has me intrigued and I'll be musing about this question for a stand-alone post soon!

      As far as my children benefiting from staying, that has a great deal to do with my religion and my inability to provide for them financially. My continual forgiveness and understanding set an example of kindness that both of my children live by (and appreciate) today. What changed their dysfunctional behavior was learning about narcissism so they could understand who was the center of his own problems (their Dad). They were not to blame, nor could they "fix" his misery.

      Once people are married, it's very hard to end the relationship. It has taken years to break through layers of beliefs I didn't even know where there. Not everyone has the same beliefs and they may find it easier to end the marriage than myself. While in the marriage however, I always put my children's welfare above the immediate complaints of my spouse. I could write more about that too---this post was a quick response to support all those partners-of-narcissists who are being criticized for staying.

      Hugs,
      CZ

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  8. Thank you for this. . I really needed it.

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    1. You are so welcome! Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Hugs,
      CZ

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  9. Man, I just read this for the first time, CZ. Made me cry. It's almost as if someone gave me a hug, for real. Did what you did, exactly what you did with a different cast of characters and a few different outcomes, but I stayed, and I tried and the kids and I made the best of it. That "lookin' for forgiveness" for staying kind of melted away after reading this. At least for now.

    How many times have I thanked you in the past? Not enough. I thank you again. And again. And again.

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    1. Well, Iscrivenforalivin, your writing has lifted my spirits many times so we are tit for tat on that score. ;-P

      After you posted your lovely comment, I re-read the entire essay again and must say, quite frankly, that I felt oodles and tons better afterwards. Do we write for our future self but don't know it?

      Maybe I should go back and read some of my 2008 posts? Seems it takes more than one article to fix whatever was broken inside when someone we loved didn't love us back; and couldn't love our children the way we'd hoped and they deserved.

      Thank you for reading and talking with me, for being a friend.

      Hugs,
      CZ

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