I used to think that, over the course of the last decade, my self-respect was stolen from me (a little piece at a time), through repeatedly losing “the big battles”, with my husband. I was convinced that my self-worth was destroyed in the unrelenting series of traumas, abandonment, and acts of gross neglect. I realize, now, that I didn’t lose myself in those “big battles” (although, that was a part of it). Mostly, it was in losing- or, not even bothering to fight- the small, daily battles.
It might be surprising to learn that, in truth, what is most dangerous about the narcissistic relationship, are the dozens of daily violations to your boundaries, your rights, your dignity, and your needs- that you allow to go uncontested. The fact of the matter is your power isn’t being stolen from you by force. Its being handed over, and often quite willingly, through small, daily acts of self-martyring, and/or self-neglect.
What do I mean by ‘self-martyring’ and ‘self-neglect’? I mean, those subtle, nearly undetectable ways that you (and I) inadvertently taught the narcissist that it was OK to trample all over you. All those seemingly meaningless acts, where you shoved your wants & needs aside, just so you didn’t have to deal with your partner’s tantrums. All those times you neglected your own basic right to love, respect, or kindness, in the desperate hope that your partner would “see” what a selfish ass he was being.
[Psssst! Don’t think I didn’t know about that. LOL. I’m not judging. I have been just as guilty of doing it.]
The small, daily battles are more important than you might think
A couple of weeks ago, my husband stopped by to pick up some things he needed. Once he had what he came for, he apologetically informed me that, even though he didn’t want to have to leave so soon, he needed to run an important errand. But, he promised he would return, in about two hours, to spend some “quality time” with me.
I assured him that he didn’t need to make such promises. He was free to take what he came for and be on his way. But, he insisted that he sincerely wanted to come back. Just to see me. He missed me, and genuinely wanted to have some time together.
After several minutes of further questioning, and making certain he understood that I needed him to show up – just this once- without any secret agendas, I decided to agree to the visit. Well, after one, last warning….
“You understand, if you DO show up, and it DOES turn out you have an ulterior motive, I’m going to ask you to leave,” I warned.
“I just want to spend time with you” he assured me. Emphatically. He, then, promised to return about two hours, and we ended the conversation.
Eight. Hours. Later.
After several phone calls, a lot of excuses, and an unfortunate instance where my husband asked if he could do a load of laundry while he was visiting… To which, I replied, that he could just stay home and do his laundry. I wouldn’t mind, at all, rescheduling our quality time.
“Really. Seriously?!” He asked me. He was quite taken aback.
I explained- slowly, and in small words, just so there could be NO miscommunication- that, yes, I was serious. I even went so far as reiterate that, I really needed him to NOT have any other motives, for coming over, other than to see me. I really needed to feel- this one time- that I mattered to him, even in times when he wanted nothing from me. So, if he wouldn’t mind allowing me this one tiny security…
“Ok. No problem. I understand,” he replied. (Really?!)
I should’ve known he would see my need as a challenge. I swear, you’d think I married a narcissist just yesterday!
When he finally arrived, a mere eight hours later than he had originally stated, I managed to greet him kindly. Immediately, he launched into a spiel. He’d been practicing it. I could tell.
“I’m really sorry but, could I take a quick shower? I rushed over as soon as I could, and I didn’t even stop to shower. And, I know what I said, and I just thought of this right now, so you don’t have to say yes… But, could I just do one load of laundry, while we’re hanging out? Since I didn’t get to shower, I have yet to put on a clean pair of underwear. I would just really appreciate something clean to wear, after I’m done showering.”
(Is your blood boiling yet? LOL)
A narcissist will never respect your rights, if you’re not prepared
to do battle daily, in fights disguised as the dumbest things.
At first, I didn’t answer the question. I was sure I’d misheard him. I just stood there, mouth agape. I was getting all sorts of hopped up on some pretty righteous anger. Still, drawing on all my anti-narc wisdom, I forced myself to get my emotions reasonably calm, before I spoke.
When I was ready, I told him that it just so happened, I had some clean clothes of his, in my drawer, from the last time I did laundry for him. He was welcome to use those.
I’d love to say that, at this point, my husband graciously accepted defeat- in his attempt to violate my CLEARLY COMMUNICATED needs. But, then, if that were the case… What would I have to write about? Right? Anyway….
I handed him the clean clothes, and he made a face at the underwear I’d given him. Apparently, they weren’t the “comfortable ones” and, so, he asked if it would be ok if he just threw in one, single pair of underwear, along with my load of clothes.
(Grrrrr. See the kind of stupid, seemingly meaningless, predicament narcissists love to put you in?)
Fine. No problem, I relented. I said he could throw them in. Just the ONE pair. So, my husband digs through his laundry basket (which he had conveniently brought in with him- obviously, just assuming I was going to give in to his will) for a few seconds, finds the proper, comfortable undergarment, and tosses it into the machine.
As I turned to go, and get some things to set up for our “quality time” together, his voice calls out from the kitchen (where the washer is): “What about the towels you use at my place? Is it ok to throw those in, too…for you?”
Damn it. I knew it! I gave an inch, and my sneaky, little, manipulative beloved was coming back for the mile already.
It was so tempting to just tell him to go ahead. Put the damn towels- and whatever else- in. I mean, why ruin a whole, potentially nice evening together over laundry… Right? WRONG!
WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!
That was the EXACT reaction he was counting on.
It was in that moment that a realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized, EXACTLY, how I’d been deceived, controlled, manipulated, and exploited, all these years…. How he did it… And why I fell for/allowed it. He used the fact that I was a reasonable, mature adult, against me.
[clickandtweet handle=”” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]”The narcissist’s most dangerous tactic is to wear you down- inch by inch- until, one day, you turn around and wonder how the hell you lost a mile.”[/clickandtweet]
It was in a million instances, just like this one, that I’d almost lost the war. I would get to this point in the conversation, and think, is one, stupid load of laundry really worth fighting a battle over? Do I really want to ruin a nice evening over a stupid towel? No, of course, not!
And, so, in that moment- right there- is where I would, inevitably, give in to whatever my husband wanted. It was in that very moment that I gave away a little piece of my self-respect. All in the name of “keeping the peace”.
Well, not on that night, baby. I was determined to stick to my guns. I’d already made one concession. No more, damn it!
“To be honest, AS PREVIOUSLY DISCUSSED IN DETAIL, I would rather give you the money to do your laundry elsewhere, if need be. I’m really not trying to be difficult but, I just really feel …..” I started to explain.
The entire sentence never made it out of my mouth, before my husband’s snarky, and exaggerated, sarcastic retort, sounded in my ears. “Riiiiight“.
Uhhh, excuse me? He was the one who had the audacity to stand right in front of me, and without the tiniest hint of shame, ask to do the one thing that I’d said ‘no’ to. The one thing I asked of him, in order to have my NEED for love satisfied. Are you kidding me?!!!!
“Well, if you’re going to be sarcastic, rude, and dismissive towards me- just because I’ve decided that you no longer get to blatantly disregard my feelings and needs- then, please leave” I stated firmly, and with all authority, and dignity, as I could muster. It was hard, considering this was all, seemingly, over one load of laundry.
I didn’t even wait for him to respond before turning my back to him, and walking away.
“Whatever. You’re throwing me out over laundry. I would NEVER do this to you.” He responds, in his infamous victim-voice.
“You’re right. You wouldn’t“, I shot back, my voice was calm, low, ice-cold, and completely emotionless. “But, that’s only because I would never, in a million years, feel the need to contrive my every thought, word, and deed, so that they communicated to you that you have no value to me, as a human being. I wouldn’t feel the need to constantly reinforce the fact that your needs, wants, and feelings, and even your well-being, are of no concern to me. And, most importantly, I wouldn’t hold you in such contempt to where, even ACCIDENTALLY meeting a need of yours, would make me feel like I somehow lost, or was somehow inferior.”
Take THAT…and what?!
My husband just stood there, holding his laundry, and looking at the ceiling; he was like a defiant child, being lectured by his mom. That’s one of his favorite tactics, used when he knows I’m right.
It’s meant to convey that he couldn’t care less about anything I have to say. That my hurt feelings, or whatever, are simply boring to him. Or, to show that he feels like he’s being punished.
These petty, immature tricks would, usually, send me over the edge. How blatantly disrespectful, and dismissive can one man be, after all? This time, though, I was having none of it. His tactics were not going to work. This time, I stood my ground. I didn’t budge. Not one fucking inch.
“Thanks for the lovely evening. I feel so cherished and valued.” I couldn’t help it. The sarcasm just jumped right out of my mouth.
He shuffled out the door, and to his car, where he set his basket down, in the backseat, and arranged himself in the front. He didn’t start the engine. He just sat in his car…waiting. I knew what he was doing, of course. It was just another tactic.
He assumed that, if he just waited a few minutes, I would come out to the car. He would grumble some weak, insincere apology, which I would reluctantly accept. Only because, I had enough sense to know, that was the best I was going to get.
Of course, I’d then ask him to stay… wanting, naturally, to feel that things had been smoothed over, after having fought. And, THAT’S when he would, strike. He would explain how unfortunately, as much as he wanted to, he wouldn’t be able to stay, to alleviate my distress. He had to get back home… to do his laundry.
I’d be cornered… expected to offer up my washer, in order to ensure that I received the reassurance I instinctively craved from him. The comfort I rightly deserved. He’d win, in the end.
I could almost FEEL his smugness, radiating from the car. It was NOT going to happen, I assured myself. NOT THIS TIME.
I waited and watched, as he sat in the driveway, for almost ten whole minutes. Then, my phone rang. It was him surprise, surprise. He said he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what I wanted from him. He was all “tortured soul”.
(Seriously? I don’t think a single person could accuse me of being vague, cryptic, or ambiguous in my communication of what, exactly, I’d wanted from him that night).
“In short,” I told him, “you forced me to choose between a rock, and a hard place. The pot, or the frying pan. Neglect, or abandonment.”
He acknowledged that his actions were, at best, careless and insensitive. And, then, after a long pause, my husband said he was sorry, for making me feel as though he didn’t value me. I responded in kind.
I told him he was forgiven and that, truthfully, I didn’t really even need him to apologize. I wasn’t after his submission. I only wanted to feel secure that my husband had my best interests at heart. I wanted his loving concern, and his understanding. Nothing more.
He seemed pretty confused by my motives. A weak, “Huh“, was all I got in response.
Now, you’d think that I would’ve been ecstatic by his admission and apology. You might even think that I’d won this little battle. But, no. There’s more…
You see, oddly enough, right about the time in which the conversation took on a decidedly positive, productive tone, I noticed my husband’s car headlights slowly receding down the drive. The sound of an accelerating engine, as he drove away.
Strange, I thought. After sitting in the driveway, for maybe 15 minutes by that point (maybe more), why would he drive away right then? Right when a positive resolution was inevitable?
Then, it hit me. He’d done this many times before. It was an “oldie but a goody”.
The apology meant nothing. It was simply part of a ruse. By driving away, the moment he knew a resolution was inevitable, he was ensuring that that sense of true resolution, he knew I would then be craving, would be withheld.
In his own, petty way, he could still feel like he “won”. He had left, and the evening ended, without him having to meet a single need. Sneaky, sneaky.
Luckily, I knew what he was up to. I can honestly say, I had NO desire to be close to him that night. Whatsoever. At one point, I even pointedly asked him why he had left, right when he knew things were ok. His response? “Are you asking me to come back?”
In my head, I thought, ‘What for? So you can try to corner me again? No thanks!’
So, I simply replied with, ” I appreciate that you’re offering to do that for me, just to make sure I feel like you met my needs. It’s not necessary, though, you’ve already accomplished that.”
Then, before he could negate what I’d said, or try to somehow illustrate that he, in fact, had NOT met my needs (which was the whole point not meeting my needs), I told him I really had to go, and that I’d call him the next day. And, then, I quickly hung up.
(That’s 1 for The Narcissist’s Wife; and, a big, fat goose egg for the Narcissist. Game over.)
And, so, this story ends on a positive note. Incidentally, over the course of the following week, or so, his behavior towards me was, decidedly, more respectful. Who knew such a thing was possible, huh?
It just goes to show you…
There’s hope yet,
~The Narcissist’s Wife