I believe my husband has narcissistic personality disorder, the covert/vulnerable type. His mother had borderline personality disorder (a cluster B mental disorder condition) and she was diagnosed in the last 10 years of her life. She showed no outward sign of love or affection to her children or her grandchildren and was a very cold, angry and difficult woman. It’s no surprise that my husband is the way he is, given that she was his main caregiver.
I was married to my husband for 20 years. There were a few red flags when I met him, but I was very naïve. I didn’t really realise how important these red flags were as I’d only had healthy relationships before that. I didn’t know a thing about personality disorders either; he was very high functioning and a high achiever, so it never crossed my mind that he could have a psychiatric problem.
He wasn’t good at intimacy, close contact or even holding my hand but in the early days I just thought he was very shy. His moods were a big issue and they would go in cycles, from ‘ok’ to ‘difficult’. He would give me the silent treatment and manipulate me in covert ways in order to get me to behave the way he wanted. I’m very much a people pleaser so I was easy prey. As the marriage went on this was the pattern. So slow and insidious was this manipulation that I was not fully aware of his tactics in the early days. However, it all felt dysfunctional and I knew the balance was off. There were times when he was nice to me too so I was confused and too embarrassed to share it with anyone, especially as I couldn’t even articulate how bad it was making me feel. I was in a ‘fog’ most of the time, waiting for his kinder moments.
We got married and on our honeymoon we had sex just twice. When we came home the sex completely stopped and I wasn’t allowed to question it – if I did, he would rage at me or give me the silent treatment again. I didn’t know what was going on. I thought to myself “Maybe he is gay and our marriage is a cover for that” but I kind of knew in my heart that he wasn’t gay. I now know that this was all about control, as well as a serious fear of intimacy and rejection.
The refusing to have sex went on for many, many years and then he had a one-night stand with somebody. I found out because she rang his phone which I had at the time; mine was broken. When I found out he denied it and got really angry at me for even making the suggestion. He went to an STI clinic to get tested and I followed him and confronted him when he came out. Then he admitted it, which I didn’t expect him to do. He got so angry, a lot of drama ensued with the end result being that I could never mention it again and was given days of the silent treatment. I ended up apologising to him for questioning it too much, which is madness now looking back at it! What was I thinking? How did he manage to twist it to make himself appear the victim in this sorry scenario?
My parents both became terminally ill and I said to him that I wanted to have children before my parents passed and that it was unfair to deny me children now, given their illnesses especially. I knew my Mum and Dad would love to see me with children before they died. Fortunately, he agreed. So we had sex on my fertile days… I had to pinpoint those days accurately and I did my research as I knew he might change his mind and I was desperate for kids. I got pregnant on those 2 occasions which I was thrilled about (and so was he!). The sex was functional but I got my babies out of it!
He really loved being a Dad. For all his issues, in the pre-school years he was very attentive. He loved the attention they gave him. He was happier and a bit nicer to me, although we still had no sex life. As the children reached junior school age he started to say that he was losing them because they were growing up – and that’s when it got worse. He was very controlling of me. I had to do everything in the house. It all had to be done his way, he would constantly give me the silent treatment to manipulate me into behaving a certain way. I did what he wanted me to do in order to keep the peace; not wanting my kids to be living in a war zone. You just do, don’t you? You’ll do anything for your kids.
When the kids were between ages of 7 and 9 they would say to me, “It’s not right the way that Daddy treats you”. I didn’t really understand because by then it was my ‘normal’. He was sometimes nice to me and he was highly intelligent so it didn’t really make any sense to me. I was on my own very much, as Mum and Dad had died by then. I knew it was dysfunctional but I thought “No marriage is perfect”. I loved him very much as well (crazy, I know!). It became more and more apparent and the kids started to say more. They were sometimes scared of him too – my son particularly.
I started to assert myself more as time went on. He was getting worse and it really became quite bad. I started to realise that it was completely wrong the way that I was living. I’d look at other couples and would sometime hear a wife say to a husband something that I knew I’d never get away with saying. Even if it was something very simple and normal, like the banter of a normal, healthy relationship. So I started to think “What is going on here?”
As I was starting to assert myself and the kids were growing up, it really shook him up. Things got even worse, the control got worse. It wasn’t that he didn’t let me out of the house, but if I did go out with friends he’d give me the silent treatment the next day; so it wasn’t worth the hassle of going out. It was easier to stay in and keep the peace. He liked me in the house and busy.
He’d never tell me how to dress. He never really needed to as I’m quite modest, so he didn’t feel he had to control me in that way. He controlled the way I ran the house though. I had to pander to him. He wasn’t interested in what was going on in my world or in my head, it was all about him and he was constantly negative. He’d come in and moan about work, if I ever said anything about my day, he’d always bring it back to himself. He was utterly self-absorbed and I was really unhappy as things were getting worse.
Life with him just escalated and at times he appeared tormented. His Mother had had a breakdown in her 50s and I thought that perhaps this was happening to him. On a rare sharing moment he told me that after work he’d drive to somewhere secluded to cry in the car before he came home. He even once said that his life would be easier if I died… he said it in such a matter-of-fact way too that I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or run! I wasn’t even aghast at that point, I was just all over the place trying to manage him and to protect the children from all his unravelling.
I decided to leave him finally after I realised that he had a serious and longstanding issue with porn addiction and that he had viewed it whilst sharing a family room with my two wonderful children. That was my epiphany and my motherly instinct to protect my children gave me the courage to stand up to him finally. I found an inner strength that I desperately needed. I also felt traumatised at this stage. I simply didn’t have the capacity to endure anymore pain from him. I wanted my life back and my children well away from this toxic environment. I didn’t want them to go on to have unhealthy relationships themselves or mental health issues.
I took all of his tech devices away which he’d kept hidden and I hid them away myself. I felt on a mission but was in absolute despair as well … I realised I was married to a bully. We had no intimacy of any kind. He wouldn’t even hold my hand or sit on the sofa with me, never would hug me unless he was drunk and then after all these years I realised he did have a sex drive after all but he’d kept it all for porn!
The last year before I left him was an extremely bad year, and the year before that had been bad one too, but not as bad as that final year. When I said the marriage was over he said he was going to kill himself. I was so strong though, I said “Don’t tell me, tell a doctor. I’ll take you down to the hospital”. We got in the car and I took him there. I never spoke a word or offered him any reassurance. I knew this was a tactic of his.
We saw a lovely young doctor who told him it was probably a panic attack but I knew my husband was trying to get me back to being my usual submissive self. Because he was in a mess he admitted to the doctor “I’m selfish and I’m a bully, there’s something wrong with me”. He’d forgotten that I was in the room listening as he was in a bit of a state! I couldn’t believe that he’d admitted it after all these years. We left with anxiety tablets. When we came home he thanked me in a very insincere way and asked if he could come back to our bedroom (he had been sleeping in the spare room). That further proved to me that he thought his suicide threat would scare me. He thought that I’d give in and I’d revert back to being a timid wife and carry on with this farce of a marriage. I said “No, you’ll stay in the spare room and you’re never coming back into our bed. It’s over”. I was really firm. He said “It’s like you’ve died”. I told him “No, I’m re-born!”. I’ve never looked back from that.
He started to unravel in the house. He stayed for another 3 months, the most awful 3 months. He was texting a woman right under my nose and the kids were aware of it all. He was really messed up. In fairness to him though he admitted to his children that he had psychiatric problems after he had a crazy night in the house. I know that was very, very hard for him to admit but I didn’t care about him, I just felt for my children.
I gave him an ultimatum after 3 months as he was making no headway with moving out and was acting strange. I told him that I was struggling in a big way. He was unstable and I was stable and that, if he had any decency, he would go and leave me to be with the children so we could get our heads sorted. He listened and move out a few weeks after.
I thought him going would help a lot but, as mad as it sounds, I was still madly in love with him and I was trauma-bonded to him (which I didn’t know anything about at the time). Trauma bonding is like an addiction that is a result of abusive relationships and intermittent re-enforcement. It’s seriously hard to recover from. I hated him so much but I loved him and ached for him. I was beside myself but I had to keep it all internally because of the children. I saw him in a car park once and I threw my arms round him! It was the hardest time of my life.
One day, I’d just had a really, really bad day and I said to the children “Mum’s heading to rock bottom”. They were incredible and lay on the bed hugging me all evening. That night I decided to get some help. I went to see my doctor in the morning and I got some antidepressants and I also found a private therapist because I didn’t want to wait, I just wanted to get well. The pain was just too much. I chose a therapist who specialised in personality disorders and porn addiction because I knew he would understand the mind-set of my husband.
The therapist was fantastic. He helped me with my trauma and explained about trauma-bonding. This helped me realise that everything I was experiencing was normal. He gave me techniques to manage my grief and it was so good to share the madness that was my marriage.
The therapist suggested that I go to a domestic abuse support group. I hadn’t recognise that it was domestic abuse because my husband didn’t hit me. I wasn’t getting beaten up and also because my husband was a professional man. I understand now that domestic abuse goes across all social classes. In fact, my son said to me “Promise me he’s never hit you Mummy”, he’d assumed that because of the way he was treating me that he would have also been hitting me. At the time I still wasn’t clear how awful he’d been to me as I was still in this trauma-bond. I’d still remember the nice times. I’m still not over him yet, but it’s a lot better than it was.
I contacted TDAS and about 6 weeks later I got a call to say that there was space on the True Colours course. I remember when I went on that first day I was saying to myself “I don’t think this will do me any good”. But I wanted so much to get well, to be free of the pain and to move on. I thought “I’ll do anything it takes to get free. My kids need me to be well” and this drove me forwards. It was great on that first day. I felt as such peace as everyone was in the same boat. We had quite different stories and different ages. Sandra and Sharan (TDAS staff) are just delightful, very warm and gentle people; which is exactly what you need. It was so different to my therapy, as you’re meeting people who you can share things with, other women. Even though we were all very different we were similar in having experienced the same patterns of behaviour and the abuse cycles. I started to recognise the cycle that my husband had. It was like a woman menstrual cycle in its regularity!
I didn’t know about boundaries. I was so naïve. I’d lived in a bubble for 20 years where I had to behave myself all the time. I came out of the marriage like a young girl again who doesn’t know if she’s coming or going. The TDAS course was a real eye-opener and a good education. I did 6 weeks, I had to miss one week because of work but I didn’t want to miss it because everything I learned was really crucial to my wellbeing. All the things I was taught I listened intently to. Moving forward I’ve got to have a healthy relationship because I could find myself back in that vulnerable state again where somebody would take advantage of me. I know that I am easily manipulated, which I hate admitting. I’ll probably never meet another partner, as everyone has got a red flag! I met people through the course which was nice, on the last day of the course we all hugged and we created a WhatsApp group for keeping in touch; that was really good.
I learned about all the different types of abuse, including emotional and financial abuse. I understood more about manipulation and what constitutes a healthy or an unhealthy relationship.
I also did the TDAS Back to Me course which was a final part of the programme. That’s when I started to realise that I had control of my life now and I could move on. I started to feel positive and began making plans to socialise more and meet new friends. It covered a lot of things about self-love. I realised that I’d never understood the concept of self-love until then. I’d had to do everything for him and everything his way, so this was all new for me. I’m working on my self-love now. I’m currently reading a book that’s helping me to see that I am loved and that I do love myself; it’s so important. I did learn so much on the course.
Everyone has a different story and can be abused in different ways. I had thought that everyone’s stories would be more similar, for example, some abusers are loving even though my husband wasn’t. I’d thought that all abusive men would be equally cold. Everyone’s story is unique. Something might lead to you questioning if you are being abused, for example if your story is not the same as the ones shown in dramas on TV or in documentaries. However, there are some behaviours that are more obvious and others that are covert. My husband was covert in his control. Many people would never have believed it of him, as he’s an intelligent man. I was always confused. He would say things such as “Think what I just said and what I didn’t say” and then he’d twist the meaning of things. I’d end up apologising for something that he’d done! He’d use mind games to massively confuse me. If I could count the times he gave me the silent treatment over the marriage I wouldn’t be surprised if it covered several months! My memory is not what it was, he took so much out of me. I was a really happy soul before I met him. I had the most wonderful childhood with the most amazing parents, it couldn’t have been a better childhood. Then I met him and he took away all that goodness; it’s like he sapped my soul with all the mind games and abuse.
I’d have loved if I’d have read somewhere about the signs of covert abuse, then I would probably have looked at my situation and recognised it, but because he never hit me I never considered that it was abuse. I just knew it was dysfunctional but couldn’t work out what it was.
High-functioning, professional men, there are lots of bad ones! It’s not just people from deprived backgrounds. He’s a dangerous man. He would have been the death of me, I know he would and I don’t say that lightly.
He never had my back, never cared if I was out late or if I was on a long journey. I could never be unwell, he’d never let me be unwell. If I wasn’t feeling great I’d never say anything because he’d just make an unkind remark. His actions never matched his words. Compared to my parent’s loving marriage mine was the opposite. He’d talk about me externally or brag about me, but would never say anything positive to me face to face and he would knock my confidence constantly by rubbishing or not acknowledging any achievements of mine.
TDAS was amazing for me, it really was. I felt better for it, I felt I’d moved on. I started a new chapter. I see healing as different chapters; there was the devastation of leaving him, the awakening to the understanding that I’d been abused for all those years, then I became depressed. Next was the trauma-bonding chapter (which was hellish), then there was the “Why?” chapter – “Why did this happen to me?” I wanted to understand, so I researched and read masses of information.
I tried dating which was a nightmare because I needed to heal myself first. I needed to learn about boundaries. I was still very fragile and still easily manipulated. I know I need to work on myself first before I consider dating again. I don’t want to find myself in the same situation.
I was a bit fascinated by the psychology of the personality disorder. Why my husband was the way he was. I still go to my therapist for support in getting through the divorce; it’s a way of looking after myself. He’s helping me to assert myself more and working on setting boundaries. I’ve said to the children that if they want to speak to a therapist they just have to let me know, so far they haven’t wanted to.
My husband is very needy for attention. He make the kids feel bad if they don’t go and see him when he wants them to. He uses guilt-trips. My daughter doesn’t let him do this anymore and tells him to stop it. He does still try to manipulate them but now they’re old enough to deal with him, although I talk to them about healthy boundaries. They have their own phones so I don’t have to speak to him. I find it triggers me if I have to talk to him, so I keep away from him. No contact is how I will heal quicker.
I’ve never badmouthed their Dad to them and I’ll never do it; it would only make the kids feel worse and their happiness is my priority. If I’m honest, I have been really tempted at times but thankfully I’ve managed. They’ll know that I am the stable one and that I provide a safe home for them.
I encourage them to see him. It’s worked quite well so far, he is a good father. Of course, you can argue that a good father wouldn’t treat the mother so badly!
I feel like I’m coming out of the worst of it all now. The kids are doing well, so I think I’m doing alright. They’re both doing fine at school. He took 20 years of my life, but I’m grateful for where I am now. I’ve got 2 healthy kids and I have the rest of my life without him. I’ve got so many plans and I’m working on myself. I’m building the new version of me. I’m showing my kids that I came out of that. That their Mum’s a strong woman. I want my son to find himself a strong woman and I want my daughter to be a strong woman herself!