Does the real deal even exist?

It was 25 degrees outside and dark.  I heard my husband try the front door and remembered that I had locked it.  We recently moved out into the woods and I just feel safer with it locked when I’m home alone.  I was wiping my hands to go help when I heard him get his keys out and come in and then give his cheerful greeting.  He wasn’t upset!

See, even though I have been happily married to this exquisite man for over a decade, I still can’t help but marvel at the contrast to my first marriage.  

In a similar situation but in the summertime, my ex had come home to find the front screen door locked. I had done this in order to prevent my escape artist toddler from slipping out while I wasn’t looking.  Again. When I heard the angry banging I immediately jumped out of bed and hurried down but before I could even make it to the front door to let him in he had ripped the door off and broken the lock. He was outraged that I would do such a thing to him and proceeded to yell at me for locking him out.

Back then I thought that was normal.  I figured it was my fault. I was forgetful of what I did, or too slow to get there on time…either way, the blame was justly put on me.  Pulling the door off its hinges was normal. Right?

A fish doesn’t know a fish is in water.  I had been with this guy since I was 19 and knew nothing different.  I thought we had a typical marriage. Sure, it seemed like some other couples had a lot less tension or more affection and kindness – but I suspected that they were most likely faking it, and basically I felt like what we had was at least honest (brutally so) and real.  That made it good right? The truth is I had no idea what marriage really was.  What I had wasn’t real or honest at all. But it was brutal.

Now – a few decades later – I can honestly tell you that marriage is AWESOME.

Truly.  

An INCREDIBLE blessing.

I have been with my current gem of a man for 13 years and it has consistently been GOOD – pretty much the whole time.  Not perfect, but truly good.

With my first husband, we had 2 good weeks during our 6 year marriage.  2 weeks during which I felt loved and safe. I remember because it was so unusual and amazing.  Then I did something to piss him off again, so it ended, and that was that. Later I started to think that with that kind of a track record, there might be some issues I hadn’t yet really explored.  D’ya think?

But back to the real deal:  genuine marriage is a beautiful partnership. 

We are equals.  We both make decisions, we both have opinions and feelings to which we are both entitled.  We listen to and care about each others’ days, problems, wants. We respect each other as equally intelligent adults and treat each other that way.  We so appreciate our similarities but also value and respect our differences. We deeply love and delight in each other – there is no belittling, berating, insulting, disrespecting, screaming…instead there is patience, thoughtful conversation, and yes at times we fight but we fight fair and take our time outs to calm down so we avoid saying anything too harsh.  And never – not once – has my husband made me feel like I need to change, like I am less than, or wrong. He loves me just the way I am. It was – and sometimes still is – incredible to me!

I had dreamt in my naive little girlhood that marriage might be like this, but my first one caused all of those dreams to vanish in the brutal awakening and then bitter disillusionment of my reality.  And that is why I am sharing this with you.  

Maybe like me you have reached a point where you no longer believe that marriage is good. You may be totally burnt out by your difficult relationship, on the verge of giving up on this charade called marriage.

I remember talking to one of my best friends over the phone years ago. Cynical at best, I asked her what was even the point of marriage? Most married people were miserable, weren’t they? I felt it was just safer to stay single after all the trauma my first relationship had put me through. 

Yet she and her husband actually had one of the few relationships I thought was worth having, and when she assured me it was possible to wake up next to your best friend everyday and entreated me not to give up on the whole concept, I knew she spoke from experience.  And she was right.

Recently my husband asked me why I was writing about my past when we have such an awesome present.  Why didn’t I write about all the good we have now?

The reason is that I want to encourage anyone who is trying to survive their own present day version of my past.  Someone out there tonight is looking up at the sky, with tears streaking down their cheeks, begging for the madness to stop. Confusion and fear reign in their home and they won’t leave. They are empty, exhausted, trying so hard to understand what is wrong with them, why it won’t work, why they always seem to blow it and the conflict returns to the relationship. 

They believe their partner when he or she blames them.

I did too.  If he said I was twisted and irresponsible, it must be true.

I believed him over myself.

That was my first mistake.

And I should stop and say right here that this isn’t meant for someone who is with a decent person and just going through some difficult patches.  This won’t make much sense to them.  

This is for the people who are in a relationship with someone who suffers from narcissistic personality disorder.  That is what I was dealing with yet didn’t know the first thing about it. 

And in this case, I can assure you, that knowledge is power and it is VITAL for your survival and emotional and psychological well being.

NPD is a very misunderstood mental condition.  Nowadays, people throw the word “narcissist” around so often you would think that every other person you meet qualifies.  I beg to differ. I have met hundreds of people over the course of my life, yet nothing had prepared me for my ex husband.

True NPD is insidious, silent, and devastating.  It took me 3 years of sessions with an excellent therapist to rebuild myself.  And even when I met my current husband, I had to ask him for more time (6 weeks to be exact, another story) before I felt I could involve my heart again.  I was still traumatized.

So please don’t call someone a narcissist if they simply have a hard time apologizing, or they always insist on watching their shows on TV.  They may be insensitive and immature – but that doesn’t make them a narcissist. 

A narcissist can’t breathe unless they are standing on someone else’s head, even if it means keeping them underwater.  They are so insecure that they have to constantly be OVER you. Your success or happiness threatens their own. In a sick paradox, your confusion, sorrow, and hurt help them to feel better about themselves – even if they CAUSED it. There is no guilt or empathy.  Keeping you off balance so that they can look good is the name of the game. Control, manipulation, charm, charisma, threats, sex, money, lies…whatever needs to be used in the name of boosting their unquenchable lack of self-esteem is fair game to them.  

I spent years trying to figure out what the heck the issue was.  I was a reasonably intelligent woman, desirous of doing the right thing, devoted to God and my family, and yet I could not for the life of me get this man to simply be happy and love me.  But the rules kept changing and my every effort only led me deeper into a state of confusion and despair. It was so in over my head. How can you win a battle when you don’t even know what you are fighting?  

Education and knowledge is the first step.

Can narcissists change and heal?  I am not an expert. Yet I have to believe that everyone who is willing and gets the help they need can in fact change.  And over the years, since our separation and divorce, I have seen some growth in my ex husband. Not enough to make him safe in my book, and we keep our distance for sure.  But ultimately I believe he has a good soul, he is just trapped by this mental condition – this twisted way of seeing himself. Either all good or all bad. Perfect and omnipotent, or a hopeless case.  Oddly there is very little space in between these two for a narcissist. And it spills over into all of their relationships.

But back to the thing that gives me hope:  healthy relationships DO exist!

Marriage itself should not be lived as a punishment, or a life-sentence of suffering, or a cross you need to bear.  It should be the greatest source of joy in your life!

Marriage can and should be GOOD.  Not a source of stress, confusion and fear.

Marriage is the one relationship that you can count on more than any others, the partner who has your back no matter what.  Like when you do a trust fall – it’s so scary but you know that your partner will do everything in their power to catch you. It’s the same with marriage.  Your partner is the one who will hold your hair back when you are throwing up, help you do the dishes, bring you flowers, tell you how amazing you are, make time for you, listen to you vent, hold you when you cry and most importantly let you foster multiple dogs at once if that is your passion.  They are the first person you want to share happy news with, and also the first one you want to call when you are breaking. The first person you kiss good morning and the last one you kiss goodnight.  

Now they won’t fill you – that is not their job.  But they will love you and enrich your world as you do theirs.  They will bring all of their life forces and put them on the table to join them with yours – holding nothing back: let’s make something amazing together.

That is true marriage.  

A night and day difference to what I first experienced as “marriage”.  I know now it wasn’t actually marriage. It wasn’t. It was a sham. There was nothing real there.  It was manipulation, control and deceit. But from that first union came my two most precious boys – so even if I had a magic wand, I would never go back and alter that. It also helped to open my eyes, grow me up and made me take ownership of myself in a way I had avoided until then.  

I heard someone say that the thing that causes us the greatest harm in life is actually our greatest teacher.  So I learned from what I thought at one point would destroy me. 

And you will too. Let it leave you with more wisdom than scars.

May you experience the real deal in your lifetime – it can be such a beautiful blessing!  But even if you don’t, may you more importantly experience FREEDOM from the false charade of a relationship that leaves you empty and confused, rather than fulfilled and confident.  Don’t SETTLE anymore!

Be blessed in your relationships!

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