Borderliners and sociopaths in marriage

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Life with borderline personality disorder is a life out of control. It is often referred as "walking on eggshells". Pulled  by warring emotions which they can't control as well as self-destructive impulses, tormented by fears of abandonment, those with BPD rarely know real satisfaction or inner peace. BPD sufferers’ emotions can drive them to acts of antisocial violence and destruction or to self-mutilation, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, compulsive gambling, or sexual compulsions.  Their violent mood swings, propensity for veering suddenly and inexplicably from adoration to hatred, and destructive impulsivity can make life with them unbearable. Just because BPD sufferers live in hell doesn't mean they should take you with them. Those who are determined to not be the patsy can put severe bounds on the relationship or escape.

Living with someone with sociopathy is not easy either. Sociopath can be charming and sympathetic, but...

One warning sign is being accused of constantly looking at other women, or (attention!) mother. Strong negative emotions, real hate toward your mother is pretty typical and can serve as diagnostic symptom. If you see intense anger that was explosive and uncontrollable, beware.  This pathological jealousy toward your mother as well as some other woman/man you have a contact with is reported as a typical feature noted by many observers.  Behavior that cuts right to our core damaging security and self-image and forcing you to chose your mother or her in the face of such outbursts and instability.

The same is true about the life with narcissist. It's actually even more of a trap, as in this case you definitely married the facade that hides a completely different personality. It's not necessary can be "bee queen" syndrome it can manifest in highlighted self-modesty, self-effacement, aloofness, and inaccessibility. Narcissistic persons are often unsociable and very protective of their privacy. Hyper reactivity to perceived humiliations and threats to self-esteem.  Some studies associate narcissism with the defensive form of self-esteem regulation. In other words, narcissistic individuals with an inflated self-view and high but unstable self-esteem tend to dominate and control situations and other people and react with anger and hostility toward perceived threats to their positive self-regard and self-esteem. They also tend to exhibit an unrealistic goal setting, leading to impaired judgment. The inability to engage in long-term commitments has primarily been associated with the lack of tolerance for the challenge to self-esteem and the intensity of affects involved in a deep long-term mutual relationship. Early enthusiasm typically followed by disappointment. This lack of commitment is actually a reliable indicator of narcissism. Lack of commitment also can be expressed as irresponsible behaviour such as infidelity. Narcissistic individuals are usually identified by their specific interpersonal pattern with a more or less overtly arrogant and haughty attitude, and entitled and controlling behavior. Hostility can range from subtle passive-aggressive behavior to sadistic or explosive behavior. Inability to commit to others is another typical trait. 

Some researchers distinguish between two major types:

  1. Arrogant, the overt grandiose type. They are characterized by overt and striking grandiosity: a sense of superiority and self-importance, a tendency to exaggerate talents or achievement, and a belief in being special and unique.  Some among them are high archivers whose qualities indeed are valuable, adaptable, and truly "exceed expectations". This type of  narcissistic persons is  superficial but also smooth and effective social adaptation, entitlement, and lack of empathy. They are prone to devaluation, contempt, and depreciation of others, is extremely envious and unable to receive help from others. Some has severe mood swings which makes them similar to BPD.  Usually, such people come across as dislikable and can evoke strong negative reactions in other people. In addition, envy of others or the belief that others envy them, and  cruel and exploitative attitudes and behavior toward other people or society are common character traits that impair such an individual capacity for interpersonal functioning and, especially, long-term commitments such as marriage. 
  2. Shy narcissists. Shyness has been defined as a fear of negative social evaluations, leading to discomfort that limits desire for social contact. Shy narcissists may actually represent a more severe narcissistic pathology compared to the overtly offensive and dislikable one. For this type of narcissists unrealistic self-evaluation and difficulties in adjusting to social life leave them dissatisfied outsiders. They have exaggerated sense of shame and overuse it in regulating self-esteem (Intense shame leads to problem in normal social functioning with dominating feelings of anger and a lowering of self-esteem). They hide their grandiose beliefs and aspirations, and appear modest and seemingly uninterested in social success. They might have intact or even high moral standards. They are often aware of their inability to empathize, and they can actually be helpful and are able to feel grateful and even feel concern for others. Their impaired capacity for deep relations can be either hidden or apparent, but their yearnings for social contact, acceptance, and recognition are suppressed. They also feel shame when their grandiose ambitions are revealed... The pain of shame and its resulting loss of self-esteem may give rise to unfocused anger and hostility. The aggression is initially directed toward the self. However, shame-based anger can easily be directed toward others as a retaliation, because shame typically involves the imagery of a real or imagined disapproving other. Unrecognized or unacknowledged shame is likely to result in rage that is directed inward or outward.

There are also gender differences in narcissism. Men manifest a greater sense of uniqueness, more interpersonal exploitativeness, entitlement and lack of empathy, while women show more intense reaction to slights from others. Specific narcissistic patterns in women include excessive demandss, overcontrol, self-absorption, grandiose fantasies, possessiveness, and lack of empathy. Pathological narcissism is identified by degree of severity, dominance of aggression versus shame, and by the extent to which its manifestations are overt or covert. Pathological narcissism encompasses different levels of functioning or degrees of severity. They can range from extraordinarily high levels of functioning combined with exceptional capabilities,  to malignant forms of narcissism and antisocial or psychopathic behavior often found in criminals

People belonging to the first type impress others as being 'personalities'; they are especially suited to act as a support for others, to take on the role of leaders and to give a fresh stimulus to cultural development or to damage the established state of affairs a self-confident, arrogant, vigorous, and impressive individual, an athletic type—hard and sharp with masculine features. These individuals are haughty, cold, reserved, or aggressive with disguised sadistic traits in relation to others. They resent subordination and readily achieve leading positions. When hurt, they react with cold reserve, deep depression, or intense aggression. Their narcissism is expressed in an exaggerated display of self-confidence, dignity, and superiority. They are often considered highly desirable as sexual partners because of their masculine traits, despite the fact that they usually show contempt for the female sex. Sexuality serves less as a vehicle of love than as one of aggression and conquest.

This grandiosity (an unrealistic sense of superiority) causes the narcissistic person to view others with disdain or as different or inferior. It also refers to a sense of uniqueness, the belief that few others have much in common with oneself and that one can only be understood by a few or very special people. Additional attitudes and behaviors that serve to support and enhance the inflated self-esteem include admiring attention seeking, boastful and pretentious attitudes, and unrestrained self-centered  behavior.

Among people belonging to the second type a very interesting case is a narcissistic scientist (or programmer), a person with a superior often workaholic attitude and who, although fully able to understand others intellectually, still is completely indifferent to them. However, their achievements become overshadowed by their preoccupation with acclaim, an attitude of "all or nothing", or dreams of glory, of attaining a position of extraordinary power or worldwide recognition. These people are dependent upon the evidence of their success, and they can become hypersensitive to the lack of such evidence.  Narcissism has usually been discussed in the context of unrealistic ideas of success and the difficulties of tolerating lack of success.

In both cases the focus is on personal achievements, personal grandiosity, and fulfilling personal ambitions which puts family aside and result in neglect of magical partner and children.  Such marriages are often characterized by dependency, revenge, rage, unfaithfulness, and lack of consideration for the other spouse.  NPD and BPD spouses share   mood swings, as well as a sense of inappropriateness, depersonalization, anger, feelings of emptiness and boredom, and a sense of injustice (NPD) and alienation (BPD).  Some female NPD patients can function on an overt borderline level. Good qualities in other people evoke a sense of humiliation and inferiority, and feelings of envy are warded off by devaluing or avoiding such people or by trying to destroy whatever good comes from them in order to protect self-esteem and maintain superiority.

The Challenge of Getting Along for Narcissists

The marriage presents great challenges for the narcissistic individual as it usually requires a capacity to understand and attend to more or less explicit rules for and patterns of interpersonal interactions. Interactions with in-laws and friends tend to amplify interpersonal conflicts for narcissistic people. Power, competition, sub-group belongingness, informal hierarchies of status and popularity, gossip, and so on, can trigger unmanageable rage and/or insecurity. It is not uncommon that these interpersonal conditions create such problems for the narcissistic person, that he/she refuse to follow rules, resorts to rage outbursts, ignores or deliberately oversteps boundaries, make effort to dominate and take control, or to form master-slave relationships. 

In their attempts to reinforce the self-esteem narcissistic individuals tend to choose relationships and social context that support and enhance their selves, They also intentionally manipulate the interpersonal or social situation in the direction of self-promotion or enhancement of self-esteem. Soliciting admiration and constraining or manipulating others' views to obtain a desired self-image are examples of such strategies. In other words, people with high narcissism are strongly motivated to make positive self-distortions and exaggerate self-attributions in relationships with others. This is very difficult to achieve in marriage as the spouse eventually gets pretty realistic picture of the individual.

As a reaction to being exposed to their "naked" personality and vulnerabilities narcissistic individuals use various strategies to protect the self-image at the expense of others. They tend to devalue, derogate, or blame others, and they respond to any threatening self-image feedback with anger and hostility. They often use  biased interpretations of feedback, selective attention, and selective or distorted recall of past events. Interpersonally exploitative behavior, lack of empathy, and envy are shared feature with all other types of sociopathic behaviour

Narcissists will isolate themselves, leave their families, ignore others, do anything to preserve their self-worth. They would rather die than face humiliation, embarrassment, or injury to the sense of self.

The narcissistic "mating dance"

The narcissistic person who is "in love" in reality is temporary erotically attached to someone who has qualities that he or she wishes to have  (beauty, fame, success, wealth, brilliance, power). In their partners they value  not their personality but those "rare" things such as fame, physical beauty, wealth, high social position, and power.  In a way they are always interested in marrying up.

But while the initial passion is very intense and include idealization of the partner and the stream of gifts and compliments, their  feelings are not sustainable and passion of the object soon disappeared and are quickly, sometimes instantly replaced with  devaluation  (for example, after having an intercourse with the desired female). 

In other word with each partner narcissists perform the same "mating dance" that include idealization (putting the person on the "pedestal", excessive flattering, compliments and gifts) intense courtship, then devaluation and abandonment. Is is important to understand that love relationships initially the narcissist idealizes the love object. This is the position No.1 in the narcissist dance. That due to more close relations the idealized image gradually disappear (as "familiarity  breeds contempt") and idealization is replaced with the devaluation. this is position No.2. The next position, position No. 3 is final and is  abandonment.

Any narcissist consider the love of other person as an "entitlement" they automatically deserve for their brilliant personality,  not something that he need to "work to deserve" and efforts to preserve. He/she always behaves like their personality is a special valuable gift of the other people.  This exaggerated sense of self-worth lead them to behaving in such a was as if  the world "owes them" all the goodies they wish (which is another definition of entitlement). Narcissists are often compulsive perfectionists,  requiring from dating partners and spouses the same. In a way they are intoxicated by their own power/qualities (often fake) and are unable to use the healthy aspects of high self-image because they lack the capacity for empathy and introspection. They strive relentlessly to prove their specialness.

When somebody criticized them they typically respond with narcissistic rage or withdrawal ( isolating themselves iether physically or emotionally).  Reaction is especially intense if clique touches the areas in which narcissist has so called latent injury ("raw spots").  Some researchers think that the most common latent injury among narcissists the fear of abandonment, as their family history often includes the situation when their mother after having the second child transferred all her attention to this younger baby dethroning the older child to make way for a new sibling.

Because of the inability to feel or show dependency, the narcissist unwittingly projects this weakness onto others: "It is you who is the needy one!" In other words narcissists confuse healthy dependency the marital life requires with the parasitic bonds, when the other person serving as "mirroring" object for projection of their own hidden fears and weaknesses (which can be viewed as a special type of gaslighting).  Narcissists typically exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and shame in their marital partners and cannot allow themselves the kind of dependency an intimate partner yearns for, because it makes them feel too vulnerable. Instead they often demonstrate open neglect, they behave as if the other partner does not exists, or display harsh, punitive personality at home. They are often supercritical of the other spouse. 

For example if a husband tells his narcissistic wife that he found another woman at a party very attractive and her demeanor quite charming, she can storms out of the room, refusing to speak to or have sex with him for some period. Even dancing with attractive female (or man) can provoke the bout of rage. Narcissist husbands often expect their wife to tolerate their desire for other women and infidelity, but would immediately ask for divorce if the wife reciprocate.  Those maladaptive behavior severely interfere with the narcissist's capacity to maintain an intimate love bond.

When faces with marital difficulties or conflicts they always feel as though they are the victims. They can be sadistic and cruel, but also can be loving and kind. This behavior might create  "Stockholm syndrome" in the other spouse, a "traumatic bonding" between a sadistic partner and a paralyzed victim is a familiar theme.  Their sense of entitlement is so excessive that it overrides any capacity for self-reflection. They may easily lie, steal (even without any necessity), cajole, break promises, abuse the partner financially, get caught, even confess their crimes with no guilt, remorse, or concern. Their sense entitlement is so extreme that narcissists delude themselves into thinking they can get away with their extreme behavior and show no guilt or remorse for their actions.

Summarizing we can see  three areas in which narcissistic character traits interfere with the marriage stability:

Conflicts in marriage with a narcissist demonstrate themselves in a variety of symptoms. Among them: 

Resistance to treatment

People with narcissistic personalities have been considered especially resistant to treatment. So marital counselors are of limited help here. They will be presented with "favorable mask". The specific nature of pathological narcissism with grandiosity and sensitivity to threats to self-esteem makes self-assessment and  diagnostic evaluations with direct inquiries in structured interviews less reliable as narcissists make more or less conscious efforts to present themselves in an optimal and favorable way in the service of self-esteem regulation.   We need to differentiate healthy self-esteem from pathological unrealistic self-inflation(vanity), a substitute for an undermined self-esteem.

Vanity can be amazingly destructive in marriage (Tears and Healing  - The Journey to the Light After an Abusive Relationship  

Is your partner a narcissist? You may not know how to tell, but even worse, you may be thinking that you are the crazy one. Narcissists work hard to distort our reality to make their reality look safer.

So what is a narcissist? Someone who preens in front of the mirror all day in admiration? NOT! Ask yourself this: is your partner intensely angered by anything that seems to suggest that he or she might have a flaw? Narcissists will do anything, including brutalizing their own family, to maintain their own feeling that others see them as without any flaws. And, narcissists have extreme and illogical sensitivities, sometimes connecting the most minute observations with their intense fears of being seen as flawed. Narcissists will strain every muscle to meet their own "flawless" image, and demean or destroy anyone or anything who casts any doubt on this image. If you see this dynamic in your partner, family member, coworker, or friend, you are very probably dealing with a narcissist.

Overcome the Love Locking You In

Many of us ended up in unhealthy relationships because, in the beginning, our partners held up a false front. Many of us felt or thought that we had met our soul mate; found the perfect partner; met that one special person in the universe. It's no surprise that we can fall in love with someone like this!

Later, usually after we've made a binding commitment like marriage, or sometimes after the relationship changes due to children being born, a job change, or other major life changes, our partner shows a completely different side. The person who was once perfect now can become angry, demeaning, demanding, and harshly critical. When alcohol or drugs are involved, the substance abuse usually takes a big step up, too. I talk about this dynamic in my book on disordered behavior, Meaning from Madness. From someone we have deep feelings for, these actions are brutal. Yet we may still have strong feelings of love pulling us to that person. Talk about being torn!

At some point, many of us realize this situation needs to change, but feelings are not chosen. How can you overcome the love that pulls you to someone who is abusing you?

While you can't turn those feelings off like a switch, you can learn to understand where those feelings come from, and how our minds create them, and then set the stage for new feelings to develop - hopefully toward someone who's better for us. At first this issue was a chapter in my book, Tears and Healing, but it was so important it eventually became its own short book, In Love and Loving It - Or Not! The really sad part is that our minds create these feelings so that we'll be motivated to engage in a relationship that meets our emotional needs, yet those same feelings can end up locking us in, pulling back again into a broken relationship that just can't fill those needs! Its like a trap, one that we need new understanding to get out of.

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Old News ;-)

[May 25, 2016] Oscar Wilde on Love

[May 24, 2016] Surviving a Marriage to a Narcissist and Sociopath

Nov 13, 2014 | Psychology Today

"The relationship was intense from the beginning and just as possessive."

This guest blog is by Jen Fisher, the lead volunteer with WAVE: Women Against the Violence Epidemic. It was originally published on the WAVE, Women Against the Violence Epidemic Facebook page (link is external). Ironically, Jen once worked for an organization having to do with personality disorders, yet had no idea her husband had one of them. Jen says, "It's crazy that I worked in behavioral health and didn't see what was going on in my own home. Go figure. I guess I'm the Queen of Denial). I have found that this kind of denial is common.

My story isn't one where I was thrown into walls, had broken bones, teeth shattered, or clothing torn off of me in fits of rage.

My abuse was sinister. Like a cancer that only rears its ugly head when you're at Stage 4. It gutted me emotionally and financially. My ex-husband is a narcissist and a sociopath, a wolf in sheep's clothing if you will.

I thought I was the cool kid because my boyfriend was older; had a job; a cellphone (BIG in the late 1980s); and a car. I thought it was sweet when he would pick me up at school every day and wait by my locker. But looking back, he was just checking up on me.

I should have known better when, just a few days after meeting him and we attended a family gathering, he became so anxious that he took muscle relaxers and passed out for three hours in front of everyone. I should have known better when he prevented me from wearing my super-trendy purple suede boots because I looked "like a common whore."

I should have known better when he forbade me from going to concerts with my friends; when he called me fat (sometimes he used the word "thick" to describe not just my body but my brain... even though I was the top student in my major in college) on a regular basis (I was at the time between a size 2 and 4!.

I should have known better when he told me in front of his friends during discussions about basically any topic, that I didn't know what I was talking about. When I took headshots to model just for fun, he tried to throw me out of his car because he had dated a model and he hated being second fiddle to her career.

In college I developed anorexia.

When I was talking on a regular basis to one of his close friends about planning a surprise 25th birthday for him and he found out, he became intensely jealous and started screaming at me. When I told him why I was talking to this friend, he continued screaming at me because he didn't want a party.

There was always some sort of criticism about my large, extended, yet very close-knit family. It made him uncomfortable. Eventually either we both didn't go to events, or I went alone and made excuses for him. As he isolated me, I began losing touch with my family; which was and always will be the center of my world.

Jobs for him lasted no more than two years, because he knew more than his bosses. All. the. time. He walked off private construction jobs because he never got along with his clients. He got a new car every year and racked up his credit, and mine.

Three years following our wedding, he became addicted to prescription drugs. It was so bad I found him unresponsive on the floor of our apartment several times; to the point where he went to the ER on many occasions. During this time, he stole close to $30K I had saved for a house.

He convinced my mother to give him her paychecks that she made as a nursery school teacher because "we weren't making ends meet" (I was making about $100K at the time and he was working as well!). He jumped all over to pharmacies and paid cash for his drugs so they couldn't be tracked.

When he was high he coerced me into having sex with him....even though because he was so high he couldn't perform. I felt dirty and disgusting. I hated him, but I never let myself feel it for too long. I was too afraid of him. And he never remembered the next day. My anorexia returned. At the time, I didn't know your own husband could actually rape you. But mine did.

At this point, I left him. I locked up his medications and placed him on a strict budget. But I went back when he entered rehab. I was brought up in a family where we don't get divorced; we work it out.

After he "recovered," we bought a house with his mother's help. She actually sold her own home and moved in with us. BAD IDEA. She was just as much of a Jonestown victim as I was; possibly even more so.

When HE decided he wanted to have children, I was moving up the corporate ladder at a very large NYC hospital, and was on the Executive Board of a local networking group. He threatened to leave me -- he said he was just "spinning his wheels" -- if I didn't get In-Vitro (I'd been told I would need IVF to get pregnant at all). He micromanaged the process: HOURS on the phone with my doctor, yelling at the staff, calling at all hours of the day and night to ask questions. As I was informed, I wasn't asking the "right ones."

When I did get pregnant, he began controlling me more and more. He called several times a day. When I went to my work functions at night, he called to check up on me. After my daughter was born he told me I was changing diapers wrong; I wasn't bonding properly with her; she was eating too much or not enough. I couldn't go out with her because she would get too cold. I became severely depressed.

When my daughter was six months old, I got a part time job in the same hospital system; in the field I had trained in, 15 minutes from home. I stepped down from my Board appointments and stopped going to my networking meetings. I stopped seeing my friends and colleagues. He was slowly isolating me from them, too.

About a year and a half into the best job I'd ever had, he began telling me that our daughter needed me at home all the time. For six months straight, on an almost daily basis, he proceeded to convince me I was a bad parent for working 20 hours a week, in a field I loved, just minutes from home. After much struggling, I caved and left. It took my boss six weeks before he finally gave up on trying to get me to stay.

He now had me under his total control; because now I had no avenue of independence.

We got a dog. For FOUR DAYS. Then presumably because I was spending more time with the dog than him, he threatened for me to "get rid of the dog" or HE would, within 24 hours. My dog, who my daughter and I loved, went to a friend of my mother in law. That was the first moment that I truly allowed myself to hate him. I began to realize I couldn't take it anymore.

Secretly I developed a plan to leave him. I started volunteering at my old hospital and at a local children's museum. My old boss started developing a job for me. I decided that when my daughter was in kindergarten (within two years) I would find an apartment, go back to my old hospital as a paid employee, and leave him. I kept it hidden, and never told him that I was even doing the volunteer work. I knew he would attempt to derail the process and I was just so tired of it all.

During this time, he started a "side business" with his mother, where he was contracted to perform construction projects for his employer. I thought it was really conflict of interest and that he could lose his job, but on several occasions he swore to me that his boss knew everything. After a couple of years, because his mother was "a pain in the ass," he put my name on the business. He asked ME now, to sign and endorse documents and checks. I even went to the tax offices and paid what I thought were proper taxes. None of it, I found out, was legal.

How did I find out? We were both arrested. He is still in prison. I have come out and am on probation. I owe thousands of dollars in back taxes, plus restitution which I can barely pay back. I have a Master's degree, yet I have a felony on my record and may never again have a car or home in my name. My career was part of my identity and it is now gone. My daughter has a "father" who is in prison and a mother with PTSD and depression. She has been in therapy since she was four. Her innocence was ripped away because I couldn't see the light of day.

This was several years back, and I am still fighting. I will scream about what happened to me from the rooftops if I have to, so I can save just one person from enduring the cancer that I lived with for over twenty years. From the time I was a teenager he tore away, slowly, at my ego and self-worth until I clung to him like a sinking lifeboat. I sank with that ship and am still struggling at times to come up for air. Sometimes I feel like I'm choking to death. Sometimes my rage takes over and I start cutting and scratching at my own skin because I am so frustrated.

If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. And as much as I kick myself every day about not getting out sooner, I realize that everyone has their moment. Everything happens for a reason. And maybe this happened to me so I can help others in bad places get the hell out.

Jen says, "I am a 'nice Jewish girl'.' I was brought up financially comfortable, educated, with strong family ties and consistency throughout my life. I never, EVER thought I would have had legal or financial issues. I still can't believe it, but I'm determined to get the best revenge--by having a great life and making something positive out of what happened."

From Randi Kreger: Obviously I am extremely glad WAVE published something about living with a narcissist. But it points out to me that different organizations are casting this as a woman's issue or a man's issue. Segregating these stories by gender is making us lose track that whether we are talking about men or women, the problem isn't abusive MEN or WOMEN, but personality disorders.

In other words, I see "men's organizations" publish horrible stories about women with BPD/NPD (discussing this as an issue for unwitting men), and now an organization for woman talking about NPD as a problem of male abuse for unwitting women. Abuse is abuse is abuse. This isn't a man's or women's issue: it's an issue for everyone.

Copyright © 2015, Randi Kreger. This post (or any part of it) may not be reproduced without prior written permission.

Randi Kreger is the owner of and the Welcome to Oz online family community. You can find her books "The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder," "The Stop Walking on Eggshells Workbook," "Stop Walking on Eggshells," and "Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist," at her store at

[May 01, 2016] Failed Attempts at Marriage Counseling with a Sociopath by Quinn Pierce

"...I understood by then why my ex-husband encouraged counseling for the rest of the family all those years, but never for himself. In his mind, if I was in counseling, it was because I was unstable, or at least he could present it to other people that way. He also enjoyed the role of caregiver, as long as it meant keeping me unhealthy and needing him. ..."
January 31, 2014| | 23 Comments

by Quinn Pierce

I sat in the small, tastefully furnished room and listened to the tick…tick…tick of the clock. I had long since stopped listening to the conversation going on around me.

This was not the way it was supposed to be. I stepped into the psychologist's office less than a half hour earlier full of optimism and hope. Unfortunately, I was, once again, realizing how naive I had been.

An Insincere Effort

For nearly a year, I had been begging and pleading with my (then) husband to come to marriage counseling. Our relationship was deteriorating a a rate that was destined for destruction. He always supported me and the children going to counseling, so I was amazed when he adamantly refused to go either alone or with me.

I had reached a point where I had given up on ever going to marriage counseling. I could see my marriage spiraling out of control. Maybe, my husband sensed the shift in my attitude and that is why he surprised me by agreeing to go to counseling.

It was not what I had expected.

The Chameleon

From the minute we walked into the therapist's office, I hardly recognized the man I had been married to for over ten years. Before we arrived, he seemed nervous, solemn, and wavering between annoyed and contrite. But the man who strode in front of me reaching his hand out to the psychologist and greeting him with a confident smile, was far from nervous; I would even say he was arrogant.

I can look back, as I often do, and pick up on the subtle cues I missed at the time- those cues that explained my ex-husband's behavior. For example, as we were walking into the office, I pointed to the name on the door and my ex-husband made a comment that showed me he thought our therapist was going to be a woman. I asked him if it mattered, and he reassured me that it didn't matter to him either way.

Setting the Stage

I believe that it truly didn't matter who our counselor was, but he needed to know what side of his personality to reveal, so the more information he had ahead of time, the better. Of course, he would do his most important last-minute evaluation of the therapist upon meeting him. The face-to-face is what he would use to put the finishing touches on his persona of the day.

This particular persona was complimentary and flirtatious, only it wasn't directed towards me, but rather, the male marriage counselor who greeted us. Sometimes, I honestly couldn't tell which was the act: flirting with women, or flirting with men. Either way, it didn't register with me on an emotional level. I wasn't jealous or threatened by his flirting and compliments to others, I knew they were as meaningless as those he gave me.

Playing the Role

Today's act was one of his most effective. Within minutes, the counselor assessed our relationship and decided I was the difficult spouse and my husband was the misunderstood victim. When the counselor asked me why I would be concerned about my husband's anger, I tried to explain that he had rage filled outbursts that were unpredictable and scary. The counselor turned toward my husband, tilted his head, and asked with a hint of sarcasm, "You wouldn't hurt your wife would you?" To which my husband answered, "Of course not!" As if it were the most absurd question he had ever heard. The counselor turned back to me with a condescending smile and said, "See?"

Then, as if the matter were completely resolved and I was not sitting across from an aggressive man who had smashed objects, punched holes in walls, abused our animals, thrown things at me, and destroyed many areas of our home in violent rages, he turned back to address both of us and asked, "So, what else?"

Disappointment Sets In

I'm not sure how much time went by as my brain tried to grasp everything that just happened. It was as if the room was spinning in slow motion. I could hear my husband's laughter, that forced, insincere laugh he used so often on those he wanted as allies, but didn't really like.

This isn't fair! I thought to myself, I was the one who wanted to go to marriage counseling. I wanted to be able to talk about what was happening in our home and explain how hurtful the abuse had been and how serious it was. I needed help explaining everything; I needed help understanding everything; I needed…help.

I knew immediately that I was not going to get help here. I had been dismissed, and at the moment, I was being mocked. I wanted to cry, but even more, I wanted to leave. I sat nearly silently for the next half hour. I was too numb to be surprised when my husband eagerly made an appointment for the following week. I returned for one more appointment, just to verify that my initial experience was not a freak occurrence and everything would be back to normal. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

I'm not sure which was more pleasing to my husband at the time, not having to go to marriage counseling, or me being the one to end the sessions.

His Last Ditch Effort

The next time we would go to marriage counseling, it would be his last ditch effort to avoid divorce proceedings. However, by that time, our marriage had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer hold the facade or act in an amicable way around me. The second marriage counselor was very insightful, objective, and knowledgeable. To my husband's dismay, she was not easily swayed by his practiced charm.

Within a month, he was unable to tolerate criticism of any form and stormed out of the sessions on a regular basis. By the third month, the counselor did not mince words when she advised me to get away from him as quickly as possible. I took her advice, and that of my own counselor, and never looked back.

The False Caregiver

I understood by then why my ex-husband encouraged counseling for the rest of the family all those years, but never for himself. In his mind, if I was in counseling, it was because I was unstable, or at least he could present it to other people that way. He also enjoyed the role of caregiver, as long as it meant keeping me unhealthy and needing him.

In regards to our children, I would later learn that he intended to blame all future problems on my unhealthy influence and claim he was the only stable family member who was left to take care of the rest of us. My ex-husband believed that going to counseling was a sign of a weak and unhealthy individual. He would soon learn that just the opposite was true.

Everyone Else Is Crazy

Ironically, the stronger I became, the less my husband supported my continued therapy sessions. He tried his best to discredit my counselor; he even showed up at a few of my sessions so he could voice his opinion. When nothing went his way, he started calling my family members and telling them my counselor was putting ideas in my head and giving me all sorts of medications that were making me act crazy.

In the end, none of his tactics worked. Staying true to form, he eventually switched camps when he realized he could gain something by going to counseling. Of course, his health and his family were not the gain he was looking for. He thought it would make him appear more sympathetic to the courts if he was seeking counseling because he was so distraught about losing his family, etc.

Always Looking For an Angle

I guarantee that it still doesn't matter who my ex-husband's counselor is, as long as it is someone who believes him to be sincere, endearing, sympathetic and, of course, the victim. I wonder how many mental health professionals he has gone through in search of one he can manipulate. Even then, loyalty is not one of his strong suits.

In fact, the one consistent characteristic of his personality is his ability to carelessly discard anyone who is no longer useful to him in any way. I learned the hard way that this includes friends, family, wives, and even his own children.

True Healing

Fortunately, my children and I knew the benefits of counseling long before the negative experiences I had with my ex-husband's participation. Since my divorce, we have continued to work hard to grow and heal, while my ex-husband continues to search for others he can manipulate.

As disastrous as they were, I don't regret my attempts to repair my relationship in marriage counseling. I entered the sessions with an honest effort and genuine concern. During most sessions, my ex-husband claimed in an accusing way that I had changed into someone he didn't recognize. Even if it was meant as an insult, it's probably the only real compliment he ever gave me.

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