“Never again.” That’s what you said when you left your last narcissist.
After swearing you’d never fall in love with another narcissist, you’ve fallen head-over-heels in love with one… again. The pattern has repeated itself. Your new guy isn’t different. Not really. He’s just another charming, charismatic, abusive, control-freak narcissist.
Many psychologists say that codependents like us can walk into a room and instantly have amazing chemistry with the most wounded, most screwed up, most abusive guy in the room. No one seems to know why or how it happens. But it does! You know it does. You’ve experienced it and so have I.
That’s why “love at first sight” scares me sh*tless. For those of us who’ve been abused, “love at first sight” isn’t sexy, it’s scary.
But why? Because it feels like home.
“When he cried on my shoulder the night we met, it felt like home,” she said. And that should’ve been her first clue to run like Hell. Because his victim-playing felt “normal.” His dysfunctional narcissism and her dysfunctional co-dependence made for a marriage made in, well… somewhere.
One hundred percent of my friends who have married narcissists realize in hindsight that one or both of their parents were narcissists. They were basically set-up to repeat the pattern. To go for the neediest, abusive guy in the room and fall head over heels for him because it felt normal. It felt like home.
And being raised in a narcissistic home gives you a very high pain threshold. You learn how to swallow insults, smile and let the pain roll off like water off a duck’s back. You’re scarcely even aware that you’ve been insulted, disrespected, wounded.
After years and years of this, you don’t even know what is or is not acceptable treatment. Was it a loving tease or cruelty couched in humor? Was it really constructive criticism or cult-like mind control? Was it really concern for our safety or gaslighting to hold us hostage? We just don’t know. We’ve never known. Narcissistic abuse is our “normal.”
Once you get free of a narcissist, you never go back. Never! At least, not knowingly. But many of my friends have been in romantic relationships with multiple narcissists. Most have divorced at least one narcissistic husband, if not two or three.
They despair of ever having another romantic relationship. Lifelong solitude is less scary than repeating the cycle. And yet, the desire for love and romance burns strong.
So what to do? Is it possible to find, fall in love and marry a non-narcissist when all you’ve ever known are narcissists? Here’s how not to marry a narcissist.
1. Beware of Chemistry.
If you have spine-tingling, knee-weakening chemistry with a guy, run like hell. I’m serious. For those of us who’ve been wounded by narcissists and know exactly how to handle them, the pull of abusive men is strong. Irresistible. It’s crazy, but it’s true.
For me, there’s nothing quite as attractive as a middle-aged alcoholic. So if you’re looking for true, non-abusive, long-lasting love, ignore that damn chemistry. Instead, find someone who feels “different.”
2. Go for the Guy Who Feels “Different.”
Having just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary, I often wonder why and how our marriage has worked so well. When we said our “I do’s,” I knew nothing about narcissism. By any yardstick, I was a sitting duck to marry a narcissist.
But I did know one thing: My husband, Michael, felt different than my family of origin. Way different.
He was calm. They were like cats on a hot tin roof.
He was peaceful. They were angry.
He was non-judgmental. They were oh so judgmental.
He was easy-going. They had their fingers in all aspects of my life.
He was kind. They were always accusing, lecturing, controlling.
He felt different. I liked it.
3. Find Someone Who Goes Against the Grain.
The “differentness” that made me fall for Michael also gave me a colossal guilt complex. I knew this guy marched to the beat of his own drum. He wasn’t going to meekly “fall in line” with my oppressive, cult-like family. He wasn’t going to knuckle under to the family patriarch. He wasn’t going to change.
We married very quickly, despite my family’s hesitant approval and eloquent misgivings. And like the chronic co-dependent I am, I spent the next year telling my family what a wonderful husband Michael was. How kind he was to me. Trying to convince them I’d made the right decision (without their help!) and retroactively trying win their blessing.
4. Be With Someone Who Doesn’t Criticize You.
I said that Michael was kind to me. Frankly, it freaked me out! He didn’t mess with me. He didn’t screw with me. He didn’t indulge in constructive criticism “for my good.” He didn’t have an opinion on my hair, makeup, clothes. Didn’t give a sh*t about my piercings. Didn’t care where I went and demand that I “check in” constantly by calling or texting. Nothing.
And it freaked me out until I realized that narcissists screw with other people. They call it “love.” It’s not. It’s abuse. Michael never screwed with me. He left me the hell alone. This was a different, confusing kind of hands-off love. I liked it.
5. Find Solace in Another Victim.
Perhaps the biggest reason our married-in-haste marriage has worked out so well is that we both came from abusive homes. Now, in many cases, that would be the recipe for a disastrous marriage. If the parties haven’t faced up to the abuse they suffered and worked through the pain and anger, yeah, it’s not gonna go so well. If the parties haven’t decided to never perpetuate the abuse… yikes!
But on the other hand, if the parties are a little bit savvy, there’s no reason two abuse survivors can’t get along like a house fire. I mean, it makes sense! They’ll understand each other’s abuse-caused idiosyncrasies, sensitivities, and defenses. Best of all, they’ll have empathy for each other’s suffering and recovery process.
That’s what makes our marriage work so well. We can put ourselves in each other’s emotional shoes. With a little application of memory and imagination, we have empathy for each other. When one is weak and grieving, the other is strong and compassionate. When I get “stuck” and plateaued in recovery, Michael gives excellent advice. He supports me in therapy. I introduce him to new concepts I’ve learned.
Of course, we have to keep a close eye on ourselves. Years before we met, we both resolved to never say or do the abusive things that were said and done to us. We guard each other’s hearts against pain. Yeah, maybe we’re a little co-dependent.
Most importantly, we hold on to each other no matter what. We hold on through my husband’s health problems. We hold on through my emotional pain. We hold on as friends come and go. Even when we get frustrated by a (rare) failure in communication, we hold on to each other, hug it out and work through it together.
Just because you’ve had one, two, three or more disastrous relationships with narcissists, true love is still out there. You may be wounded. They may be wounded. But you’ll be strong together.
The most important thing about understanding how not to marry a narcissist is realizing that true love is out there, just waiting. Waiting for you to find it. I should know. I was there.
This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: How NOT To Marry A Narcissistic Asshole.