Divorcing a Narcissist: Making the Initial Decision to Leave

Divorcing a Narcissist: Making the Initial Decision to Leave

The following blog post conjures up some of the lyrics to the Clash song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go”:  Should I stay or should I go now?  Should I stay or should I go now?  If I go there will be trouble.  And if I stay it will be double….

Should I stay or should I go?  That seems to be a question that I am asked fairly often.  Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question for anyone other than myself.  You will leave when you can’t take another second of the life you are living.  I don’t have a crystal ball (I wish that I did!) and I don’t know what your individual divorce will entail.  In all honestly, if you are really married to a Narcissistic or Sociopath, you need to brace yourself for a hurricane.  You need to temporarily board the windows to your heart and you need to have an emergency plan in place.  The storm of divorcing a Narcissist is classified as a level 5 hurricane.

I’ve heard from many older women who all wish they could change one thing about their past: they wish they would have left sooner.  I struggled for quite a while with the decision to stay or go.  I verbally told family members that I planned to stay and to “pretend” for the sake of my daughters.  As time went on, I knew in my heart that I couldn’t pretend.  I didn’t want my daughters to think that my marriage was normal by any means- zero affection, silence, alcoholism and verbal abuse.  I cringed when I imagine him talking to my teenage daughters the way he spoke to me, “Are you really going to eat all of that fettuccine?  Do you know how much fat is in that?”

I wanted to leave at several points in our marriage but my daughters were so little.  One day, towards the very end of our marriage, I sat down and journaled pages and pages of my thoughts which were divided into four categories.  I dug those pages out tonight (circa 2008) and will share them with you:

1. What attracted me to X?

  • Stability: job, financial, family life
  • Fun: going on trips and living a carefree life
  • Thoughtfulness: cards, poems, driving 450 miles to see me on weekends, flowers, dates.
  • Being a gentleman: opening doors, etc.
  • Physical: constant hugs and affection

2. The beginning signs that I should have paid attention to:

  • Buying the cars: Nissan, Jeep, Subaru, Tundra, ZX2
  • Borrowing money to “float” things.
  • Living in the future: I can buy it now because I will earn more on my next paycheck.
  • Elite attitude: better than everyone around him, smarter, more money, etc.
  • Lying on multiple occasions –from little white lies to huge lies and false stories about his childhood.
  • Putting me down in subtle ways: lack of college degree, bi-polar mother, and upbringing.
  • The way he treated our employees and people in general.

3. Why stay?

  • Stability for the girls- not wanting them to trek back and forth between homes.
  • Financial stability -one home versus two.
  • The stigma of divorced families (for the girls).

4. Why leave?

  • Because my daughters deserve a better life.
  • Because I deserve to be happy.
  • Because I deserve to be loved.
  • The lies.  I don’t think he can decipher the truth from lies anymore.
  • The deception and the falsified stories relating to the past.
  • Because money isn’t important to me.  It’s important to him.  This life (cars, house, clothing) is what he wants but it isn’t what I value.
  • Because I want to be in a relationship with someone who values the same things that I value: people, relationships, feelings, love, appreciation and excitement for life.
  • The love that I once had is gone.  He is not who I thought he was- I don’t know who he is.
  • Saying that you love someone and showing someone that you love them are two separate things.  I don’t want to hear the words- I want to feel the feeling in my heart.
  • Zero physical intimacy- no hugs, no touch, nothing.
  • Complete loss of respect due to his conning people and showing zero compassion or empathy.
  • Triathlons and selfishness revolving around training.
  • Drinking- I promised myself a long time ago that I would never be with an alcoholic.
  • His priorities are out of whack- he could not even answer the therapist when questioned about his priorities.
  • Years of empty promises and zero change.
  • I am so miserable that I don’t even know who I am anymore.  I feel pathetic.  I feel horrible that I brought my babies into this situation when I can look back and clearly see the warning signs.
  • His family: the thing that once attracted me to him is the most unattractive thing in the world to me.  His family is so ill and screwed up yet they cover their dysfunction with denial and a fake public image.
  • My daughters: I do not want them to feel like I feel in this moment- unworthy of love, unheard and judged.
  • I want my daughters to have: compassion for people, gratitude for everything in life and a mother and father who love each other.  I want them to have fun without the constant negativity and harsh words from their father.  I want my daughter to feel like she is being heard.  I hate seeing the frustration in her face when he ignores her or talks over her.
  • I am so tired of the public image of the happy, kind father and then the reality of who we live with when the door shuts or the camera lens closes.
  • I deserve someone who makes our family the number one priority.  I want a partner who values me and my opinions.  I am tired of being with someone so cold and selfish who doesn’t take anyone else into consideration.


It helped me so much to journal those thoughts and feelings.  It helped me to grab a lasso and pull in every thought that I was having.  I needed to see the reality of my situation in black and white.  I struggled to come up with generic reasons or staying.  I didn’t have an ounce of writer’s block when it came to the reasons that I should leave.  If you are struggling with the decision of “should I stay or should I go” then I encourage you to grab a piece of paper and start writing your own list.  Only you know the answers.

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14 Responses

  1. OHmygod, this made me cry. I can’t believe how much is similar: “What attracted me to x?”; “What I should have paid attention to”….

    Yes. Yes and yes: the divorce I went through was at least a level 5 hurricane. It tore the town apart, not “just” our family.

    Wow. Your words are keepers.

  2. I have just discovered your blog and so many features of it are familiar to me….I too married a narcissist but didn’t recognise it at the time.
    I too when at the end of my tether wrote out the should I go or stay list and still have it. My former nightmare was quoted in my divorce petition as telling me that if I wanted a nasty divorce he’d give it to me. He did and it was probably the only words of truth he ever told me in our 21 years together.
    My children and I have been to hell and back but have survived his hatred and venom. Our youngest child survived 5 years living with him and his new wife after a court believed his lies and insinuations. She is home now and we are dealing with the fall out of his abuse of her presumably to teach me a lesson.
    Our family is fractured and the healing will take many years.
    Ultimately it was his own Narcissist actions that exposed him for the man he really is.

  3. Love the analogy to a level 5 hurricane. I’m in the eye of the storm right now. For me, there was the straw that broke the camel’s back. As awful as that thing was, it was what made me leave after years of unhappiness. And his family stood behind him, I might add. It is a constant battle because other people see the kind, perfect husband and judge me for leaving him and continuing to fight for support and custody. I’ve learned not to trust anyone outside of my closest inner circle of friends and family. The stories are too sensational to be believed by those who don’t understand.

  4. The hurricane analogy is great. There have been days when I felt like I was in a cat 5 hurricane followed by an F5 tornado!

    I spent alot of time with a pen and a yellow legal pad writing the pros and cons of staying vs. leaving. Like you and many others, I think that I wanted to stay for the sake of the kids – until I realized leaving was going to be much better for them.

    I decided after I left that I would not trash talk him at all to the kids. But after years of keeping everything to myself, I opened up to my circle of friends and told them just about everything. Some of them were shocked. It made me feel better to finally let everyone know what I was dealing with. He had been such a “sweet” guy in public for so long it made me sick.

    I left about a year and a half ago, and the divorce and custody are still ongoing. It’s crazy what these guys think they deserve.

    I really enjoy your blog. Keep writing so that all women can learn from you and others that post here!

  5. The lack of physical affection, intimacy was so bad for me. The things you wrote – silence, alcholism, verbal abuse, no affection — that is identical to my marriage. Did you ex still want to have sex, just no affection? (If you dont mind me asking). I think it is impossible for them to be vulnerable, and therefore they refuse to show affection because that is a form of vulnerability

  6. They certainly do sound like they came from the same mold– even my sister is divorced from a narcissist. She tells me what to expect when things happen because she’s already lived through most of her “storm.”

    Ditto with my ex and his phony family! Gosh, how pompous they act and I always felt they were harshly judging me (in their passive aggressive way behind my back, of course!). Funny thing though: I didn’t choose to leave– my ex did. Still had a s**t-storm blow through. Our court case has two files now and the first one is about 2 inches thick. All BS that HE had to waste time, money and energy for his drama king ways. Now I have to keep fighting him with parenting of our children. I will no longer sit around with tight lips about how he mentally abuses them.

  7. When I decided it was time to go, I confided first in my parents. They helped me meet with a lawyer to find out my rights. They also paid for me to start counseling. It took a few months to see things clearly and to become emotionally prepared.

    This time was critical for me, giving me the resolve I needed when it mattered most, and the strength to survive after I had left. The resolve is what I want to share now, though. The apologizing and promising and absolute sincerity to try to get me to stay after I told him I was leaving was constant and intense. For me, when he wanted to be nice and loving, he was so good at it that it can actually make you forget what you’ve been through. At one point my resolve weakened and I questioned myself, and in a phone call to my therapist, she gave me some great advice. I told her I was now at the point of maybe wanting to give it one more chance, but was struggling with not letting down the people who have bent over backwards to help me get to this place. She told me to hold the past and the patterns of the relationship, including all the broken promises that match his current promises in one hand, and then the reaching out, love and support of others in the other hand. Ok, but wait, there isn’t a third hand for all his promises and apologies now. No, there isn’t – not in this situation and not at this critical time (I was signing the rental lease that day and moving out in 2 days, after spending 2 months looking – getting this house was another huge source of support).

    My advice if you’re trying to decide: find your circle of trusted support, get legal advice and emotional support, read up on divorce in general – including common mistakes – as well as about characteristics of high conflict personalities and how to work with them. Prepare yourself completely as best as you can, don’t let the bomb drop on a heated, unprepared moment that leaves you and your children vulnerable.

  8. I would be curious about this with others as well. For me, yes, and ANY affection would always lead to that – it was all or nothing, him satisfied or mad. There was also internet porn, demeaning statements about my abilities, a need to perform if I wanted to stay on good terms, etc. He loved the multiple wives idea to make sure all his needs were met, and had serious discussions with me about taking a girlfriend on the side for sex. For years I bought into it and tried to make him happy (I drew the line on cheating, although did seriously consider it if it meant he would leave me out of it altogether and just focus on the “happy family” bit). In the last couple years,though, I came to initially enjoy the silence because that is when he’d also leave me completely alone intimately. Even the demeaning statements were friendly “jokes” when he was talking to me (although the silence brought on another level of demeaning and degradation). And of course, in his mind, I was always the one causing all the intimacy problems. Towards the end, it felt like rape in which I needed to get “out of my body” to get through it. I didn’t explore this part of my marriage until I got settled in my separation, and it was a sick and twisted experience to sort it all out.

    Sorry if that’s TMI, but thinking of the women this blog post is directed to, I feel compelled to share. I don’t know what narc normal is in regards to intimacy… are our stories similar?

  9. I think that there are slight variations to everyone’s story when it comes to intimacy. I still don’t know whether or not mine was cheating on me (I really don’t care) but I’m sure he probably was. He wanted nothing to do with me for the last two years of our marriage (by daughter was two years old when I left)– nothing at all. During one of his verbal assaults when I wouldn’t take him back, he told me that he hadn’t been attracted to me since I had children. Because I lost the last 10 lbs (from pregnancy) due to the “Divorce Diet/Stress”, he wanted to get back together in July of 2009!

  10. Yes and no. He didn’t even try for the last two years and slept on the couch every night. Prior to that, he did try but there was ZERO affection.

  11. Oh man, that’s the same thing that I had to deal with – I couldn’t get a hug after a long day unless I was prepared to ‘put out’ later on. Or a hug that immediately led to being felt up. It was terrible. He never ever ever ever ever held my hand when we were out places, it was weird. I’d even ask like, hey, maybe we can hold hands while we walk from the car to the store? If he did, he squirmed away before we got to the door.
    He also had a LOT of discussions with me, trying to convince me we should get a girl to have a threeway with. He was convinced I was a lesbian.

    When I said I wanted a divorce he started seeing a counselor, and one day he came home and told me that his counselor is pretty sure that I have intimacy issues because i was abused as a child…WHAT?! I was NEVER abused, ever! He said, my therapist said you’d probably say that. I’m wondering if he ever even SAW a therapist!

    It wasn’t until I started being intimate with a new boyfriend (my now husband) that I realized, I was NEVER the one with intimacy issues. I was able to be present and happy and part of an intimate relationship just like a normal person…it was never me who was the problem!
    I completely agree with your description of it feeling like rape towards the end (for years), absolutely! And I always found it weird that he didn’t seem to care, just as long as he got what he wanted out of it.

  12. Interesting comment about you having been abused as a child. He told me the same thing about his first ex-wife in regards to their intimacy issues – which he thought all pointed to her abuse as a child, which she wouldn’t admit to. He felt very bad for her, and I bought into it. Yuk.

    He could’ve seen a therapist, and she could’ve told him this based on his one-sided story. One therapist we saw, together, got sucked into his world. When I shared that I didn’t like the constant put-downs towards my family, she said that he was clearly looking out for my best interest, and I was refusing to listen. She knew nothing about my family or the reality of the situation, yet she confidently made that judgement call anyway. For the record, my family is very supportive and my parents have been my rock! Not all therapists know what they’re doing…