He’s not abusive, he’s just not supportive.

Most of us have an idea of what we want from a romantic partner – or at least an idea of what we don’t want. Sure, there are some that dream of the perfect prince charming, but most want someone who will love us (even when we’re being a bit of a prat), encourage us to be our best selves, and work in partnership to make a wonderful life together.

How much trouble is my relationship in?

We’re often told that people today thing about separation and divorce too quickly. That in the ‘old days’ couples just had to make it work. Relationships are not easy, and they are never plain sailing. They do take work. But if there comes a time when you find you rarely smile and that the bad times out way the good, then there is a problem.

Yes, perhaps through counselling and open communication you both might be able to develop a great bond again. But sometimes that isn’t an option. Yet, the relationship isn’t that bad. No, it’s not great, but he’s not abusive, he doesn’t hit you and he doesn’t call you names. It’s just that you don’t feel valued, respected or appreciated. You believe he loves you, you love him, but surely there’s more to a relationship than what you’ve got?

Photo: John Hain

Does any of this sound like your partner?

  1. They believe they are incredibly important. They always seem to have ideas of how people could do things better, but never actually make anything happen.
  2. Obsessed with fantasies of power, beauty, ideals, or success.
  3. They believe they can only be understood by ‘special’ people or those in power/high status. This could be a selective group they’ve joined, joining a particular committee or being focused on the coach and manager of a team.
  4. A constant need to praise and approval. This often doesn’t appear needy and may be simple things like “if your cup of tea ok, do you like my shoes”, things that on face value seem to be valuing your opinion.
  5. Exhibiting behavior of manipulating and exploiting others. This could be ‘harmless’ trolling online, bullying people into doing something for ‘their own good’, or out and out swindling little old ladies out of their savings.
  6. Feeling jealous of others and believing that others are jealous of them.
  7. Showing arrogance.

This is a list of common traits that lead to a diagnosis of Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) from the book “Dealing with a Narcissist” by Fiona Welsh. One of the biggest things that this book talks about is how a narcissistic can’t help themselves – but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it! Someone with NPD has a lack of empathy for others, and while they can be exceptionally charming, and not realise that they are doing anything wrong or hurtful, they can’t easily change.

So, two things that you need to be very clear on:

  1. This is NOT your fault.
  2. They can’t help it.

Can our relationship be saved?

While we should never say never – if you are in a relationship with a narcissist it’s not looking good. However, there are many types of narcissist, and the future of your relationship will depend on whether they are able to get help.

It takes time to really understand what is going on in your relationship when you’re with a narcissist. It’s not just that they are occasionally selfish or can be a bit of an arse at times. There is a pattern of undermining you.

Do you find they will say something just as you’re about to walk out the door that undermines your confidence or reinforces their control? This might be “oh, you should wear your black shoes with that outfit”, or “here, let me fix your necklace so it sits better”. In normal relationships this is considered something loving. But in a relationship with a narcist you will find that this happens every time you have an important function, when you’re already running late, or perfectly timed to leave you flustered. Rarely will this make you feel loved.

Or do you put your needs on hold for theirs? This could be them demanding that they go to the bathroom first (for whatever perfectly legitimate reason) when you’re about to step into the shower. It could be you having to stop making dinner in order to help them do something that absolutely not wait – even if you have hungry kids. With a narcissist the need will always seem reasonable, and you will always be the asshole for being upset with their reasonable request.

Let it be repeated:

It is not you.

It is them.

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