For years, I’ve known she wanted out of her terrible marriage.
She never should have married him. I don’t think she ever loved him. Not really. But he wanted her very badly. He pursued her hard. After a series of less-than-stellar relationships, it made her feel happy to be wanted so much. And he checked all the boxes on her “must have” list. So she accepted his proposal and they got married.
Even before the wedding, she saw red flags, but she didn’t want to back out. She kept making excuses for him. She was a strong woman, so she thought she could control the situation.
But as soon as they got married, she found out that he had been putting on an act about what he was. The red flags she had occasionally seen turned out to be routine behavior. Verbal abuse was constant. Belittling was an everyday thing. She soon realized she had married a malignant narcissist. She didn’t know anything about narcissism until then, but as she started reading about it — at my urging — she recognized her husband in every possible way.
She finally admitted something to me tonight. The only reason she hasn’t left him so far is that she fears he wouldn’t let her out alive.
She puts on a good act in public. Nobody who’s around them at social events would think there’s anything wrong. But people who spend time around them in private — and there aren’t many of them — soon realize that something is badly wrong with him. People close to her have tactfully asked how long she’s going to put up with the way he treats her.
He has a vile temper, but most people never see it. When it comes out, though, it’s a scary thing. The stories she’s told me over the years — combined with the bits I’ve seen — have led me to fear for her safety, because I know what narcissists are capable of.
She wants to leave him. She has the financial ability to make it on her own, but she’s afraid for her safety. She’s afraid he could turn violent if she started leaving. She’s afraid he might find her and hurt her even if she secretly got out. So she stays, trapped in a miserable life with a man who scares her.
She’s not stupid. She’s not weak. She’s not timid. She’s very smart and resourceful and clever. But the constant fear and abuse from a narcissist have her so beaten down that she just hardens her shell and fakes her way through another week, another month, another year.
When I was a child, I didn’t understand why my mother left us, but I understand now.
My father was never going to let her go — and Mother was too weak to fight him. He had beaten her down. He had destroyed her mental health. He had pushed her to violence, resulting in a six-week stay in a mental hospital. He had destroyed her self-esteem.
When I was about 10 years old, we had a family vacation to Maine planned, but my mother announced at the last second that she wasn’t going. My father took my sisters and me and we spend the next 10 days or so driving to Maine and doing sightseeing along the way. Much of the trip was enjoyable, but there were bits and pieces of his abuse of us which still stick out.
We finally returned home — to Anniston, Ala. — late at night, only to find Mother’s car gone from our house. When we got inside, most of our furniture was gone, too. The living room, den and their bedroom were completely bare. The only remaining rooms of furniture were my bedroom and the one which my sisters shared.
I don’t remember whether there was a note from her or not. I don’t remember how he figured out where she was. I just know she was gone. Although they would briefly reunite a few more times over the next few years, this was really the beginning of the complete end for them.
I didn’t understand anything about what my mother had done at the time. My father told us she was just selfish and didn’t care about us. That’s not what she said, but it was still very confusing.
I finally came to understand why she left, of course, but it’s taken years for me to put all the pieces together. I understand now that she tried several times to leave — and take all three children with her — when we were younger. My father tracked her down and forced her back each time.
When she finally left while we were in Maine, she was doing the only thing she could do to save her own life — and to make the lives of her children more stable as well.
She told me years later that she knew things would continue to get worse between them if she had stayed. She said she believes it would have eventually come to violence. She would have killed him or he would have killed her. She thought that leaving as she did was the best thing she could do for everyone.
Now that I finally understand what my father was — and what my mother had put up with — I know she was right. Although it would have hurt me at the time, I wish she had been able to take us with her. Even though I wouldn’t have understood then, it would have saved a tremendous amount of abuse that we suffered in the years to come.
Frequently, a broken home is better than the abuse that takes place in a family which remains under one roof.
It’s easy for me to say that my friend should leave her husband immediately. I honestly think she should, because I see the abuse destroying her. She’s not the person she was not that long ago. The abuse is doing serious damage to her.
But I know she’s scared to do something which could spark his narcissistic rage. As much as I might want to say she should just walk out, she has to be ready — and only she can know when that is.
The more people I talk with, the more I realize that there are a lot of folks living with partners who they fear could snap and hurt them. And as much as I want all of those people to find the peace and safety they need, I have no idea how to help them all.
I wish I could help my friend. Although she’s mostly numb by now, she’s still hurting underneath. I hope she will find her opportunity — just as my mother did when we drove off to Maine — to finally escape her abusive monster for good.