Q: What happens when you ask a narcissist to take responsibility for his actions and remove himself from the situation in which he is causing pain?
A: Absolutely nothing.
I mean, I don’t know why I expected anything different. A few weeks ago, as I had feared, my husband’s narcissistic behavior ramped up again and just as I had warned him, I asked him to move out for a while to give us all a chance to heal while he got help.
He decided not to. He said he prayed and God told him not to leave.
A few days after this, his brother had a heart attack and almost died. So that conversation had to get shelved for a few weeks while he took care of his brother, mother and sister. I went back into a holding pattern until the crisis passed.
But eventually I brought the conversation up again and pointed out that it wasn’t okay, when your entire family is saying, “You are hurting us,” to assume you have the sole authority to make the decision as to whether you stay or go.
He said, “But the Lord said…”
This is, I believe, what is referred to as taking the Lord’s name in vain. Not the blurting out of the word “God” when you are surprised about something, but taking the Lord’s name and applying it to what you want to do. It’s like me sending one of the kids to the store with my credit card to buy some milk and they return with a TV because they wanted that more. That would be them taking my name (and my credit) in vain.
This just seemed to puzzle him. After all, he’s not the one with the problem – it’s me and all my over-the-top feelings, which I have somehow convinced the kids to echo. So of course it was important for him, the sane one, to hear from the Lord about it and make the decision.
And that was the end of that discussion. My closest friends started talking in terms of locksmiths and restraining orders. I wasn’t ready to go there.
Because for a while now I have had this plan to keep my head down and keep going until the kids are old enough to be on their own. I thought I could just set some boundaries and coexist.
Anyone who has actually lived with a narcissist is probably shaking their head with a wry smile at this point. Well okay, so I have to learn things the hard way.
My counselor told me a while ago that I had to start telling the truth, to his face, because if I didn’t, my body would break down. She said we can do all kinds of denial with our minds and emotions, but our bodies remember.
Sure enough, about a week ago, my body remembered. My digestive system completely shut down. In its place was a rock. This wasn’t just an “I’m too upset to eat right now.” In fact, I didn’t actually FEEL all that upset at the time. This was, “Nope, food is not going to go through your system, so don’t even try.” After two days, during which time all I managed to get down was coconut water and broth, I realized that I had to ask for help.
I went to church that Sunday, and the Lord spoke to me through song after song during worship, followed by a sermon that, had the pastor known what I was going through, could not have applied better.
At any rate, if I wasn’t convinced before, by the end of that sermon I knew that I needed to ask for help. The visual picture the pastor painted of “someone holding 15 grocery bags and trying to open a door with their foot while saying, ‘I got this'” was the last straw.
I walked up to one of the prayer partners and blurted out, “I asked my husband to leave for a while and he said no, and now I can’t eat.” The woman prayed a beautiful prayer, and then looked me in the eyes and asked, “Do you want the pastor and elders involved?” I nodded yes and she said, “Wait here” and walked over to where the pastor was standing worshiping, grabbed him by the arm and brought him back to me. He told me he was going to send me to a hotel for a couple of days to give me a chance to get some peace and be able to eat again.
After further discussion with the couple who are my small group leaders, who already knew a little of what was going on, they came to the consensus that it shouldn’t be me that went away but him. Otherwise I had to leave the kids alone with him. Not to mention that he would then be able to point to me as the one who left, and the one with the problem.
It just remained to inform my husband of this. My small group leaders invited him over to their house to meet with them and me, and explained the situation to him, saying that the pastor had offered to pay for the hotel for two days.
He said “No, thank you.”
They pointed out that his wife could not eat. He said he felt really bad about that, because that must be terrible. But he had prayed, after all, and the Lord had told him not to.
They didn’t let up. They pointed out it was just for two days, until I could eat again.
He said that since the Lord had spoken to him, he would be sinning if he took them up on their offer.
They reminded him that the pastor had said this was what needed to happen, and that they, his small group leaders, also thought so. He said he would have to pray about it to know if it was actually the Lord’s will.
After an hour and a half of this, I stood up and said I was done listening to this. He had shown his hand, and he obviously didn’t care about me as much as he cared about keeping up the appearance of marriage.
He said he couldn’t leave because that was the first step to divorce. I replied that since he would not cooperate even a little with what I needed, he was actually pushing me into a corner where the only way to take care of myself and my kids was divorce. I told him that was not what I wanted, and that was not why I wanted a separation for a time. My idea all along had been that if we could get some time apart, he could focus on dealing with his issues and the kids and I could heal from our anxiety.
And at that point I realized that that was never going to work. He had made his attitude toward the issue loud and clear.
As I turned to leave the room, he blurted out, “Okay, I’ll go to the hotel for two days.”
I mean… how do you respond to that? I pointed out that he had been forced into that unwillingly, but that he would be taking credit for it later. I almost said never mind, but then it occurred to me that it might be good for him to be alone with his thoughts for two days. And I did want to see if 48 hours of peace would help my body relax. So I agreed.
As it turned out, he didn’t leave until 6 pm of the first day he was supposed to be gone, so I really only got one day of peace, but even that day was amazing. I sat in my living room early in the morning drinking coffee and realized how content I felt at that moment. The dark cloud that constantly resides over our household was gone, and although I knew it would be back, I was able to be thankful for the respite.
It’s four days later now, and he has been home for three. The Thanksgiving holiday put a crimp in any follow-up meetings, but we will have one this week with the pastor. Our small group leaders bowed out of the matter after that first meeting, realizing that this was way beyond their ability to handle.
Eventually, I may have to call that locksmith and get that restraining order, but I hope not.
It’s been awkward. I’m avoiding talking to him about anything but the essentials. I’ve stopped making him coffee in the morning. I don’t share my thoughts or feelings with him.
And yet this morning, back at church again one week later, I had such peace. I think this is partly due to the fact that his secret is out. My oh-so-very-covert narcissist husband revealed himself to our small group leaders and didn’t even realize how bad it made him look.
Today I realized that I no longer have to let him ruin my day. I can choose joy, choose to focus on the Lord, choose to enjoy all the good things He has blessed me with. My husband is almost becoming irrelevant. If you step back and take the long view, this situation is less foreboding. It’s a “light and momentary trouble” when you compare it to eternity.
After 27 years of him controlling, belittling and sabotaging me, it seems unreal that I can feel this way. It’s like the peace almost snuck up on me. The situation is still bad, and I still have to go through the meetings and steps it will take to solve it, but the peace the Lord is giving me really does surpass understanding.
What I am seeing most clearly in the midst of my crisis is the Body of Christ in action – elders walking alongside, pastors not afraid to speak the truth, friends who step in to listen, console and distract. My kids are being amazing – this is hard on them because as long as they don’t speak up, they can coast along. They know that when they admit the truth to his face, he will make them pay, but they are at least willing to speak to the pastors and elders.
And by the way, I can eat again. Not a lot, but enough to look like a meal, so I’ll take it.