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'I was married for eight years. Then I found out my husband was a narcissist.'

I’d never heard of the word narcissism nor did I know what it meant.

What did I know?

I never married the man I dated for nearly six years. I just didn’t understand why. I do remember asking my husband what happened to that guy. He just laughed and said something about being in camouflage during the dating years.

Regardless, it became abundantly clear the person I married was two people.

And they were two wildly extreme personalities. The ever-charming, funny, successful man who everyone loved. The likeable, life of the party who seemed nearly perfect. And the Jekyll to that Hyde. A cold, ruthless, selfish individual who lacked empathy.

My husband was a contradiction.

Mamamia Confessions: The moment I knew my relationship was over. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

This only confused me further. How was it possible this steady eddy, seemingly positive, affable guy could be so excruciatingly mean? How could such a warm person have this degree of ice running through his veins?

To clarify these were not in moments of heated arguments. Everyone is capable of saying and doing unkind things. Relationships are complicated.

No, this was a different type of cruelty.

It was an emotional abandonment.

He did not have the capability of caring about or feeling my pain. Tears meant nothing to him. In fact, I could cry so hard my face would puff with welts. He was unfazed. Nothing moved him.

Within several years I began to identify a pattern.

The moments where the charming guy exited and the ruthless man emerged. It’s actually one of the reasons I stayed for as long as I did. It only happened about twice a year. Yet, it became increasingly obvious the Jekyll and Hyde scenarios revolved around my needs.

In general, I was more self-sufficient than the average wife. I had been raised by a strong and independent single mother who did it all and made it look easy. Because of this my husband and I definitely had what I would call a marriage of parallel play. We both came and went but our worlds didn’t necessarily collide like most relationships. I took care of the house, the kids, the bills, the business bills, and things like painting.


My husband’s main priority was to work.

We were self-employed and did work together but we came and went in different directions. I handled the office operations and he the sales.

What set things in motion were my times of need. My husband used to say, “I don’t ask you for anything — you shouldn’t ask me for anything.”

“I don’t ask you for anything — you shouldn’t ask me for anything.” Image: Getty

In fact, he wasn’t asking me to do things I was just doing them because that was the role model I had witnessed.

Whether it was picking up his dry cleaning or running to the bank with business deposits or to the post office or painting walls.

Therefore, when I had an appointment for oral surgery and needed to be picked up it was a problem.

A huge problem! No matter that I explained about this thing called anaesthesia and my inability to drive. This doctor would not do the procedure unless I had a ride home. Add in being new to the area and not having anyone else to ask and it seemed my husband was my only choice.

Only he didn’t care. Nor did he offer alternatives. A different day where his schedule might be lighter. A morning appointment where he would only be inconvenienced for a short time.

There would be no negotiation.

The common thread was anything that meant leaving his world for someone else’s and zero negotiation. There were never resolutions.

And these instances were always followed by the same three words, “I don’t care.” And he truly didn’t.

I’m not a victim. However, I now know I am an enabler. In large part what kept me tolerating this behaviour was being self-employed. I rationalised he was one person doing the job of many and in his words, ‘a busy man.’ Yet, this busy guy always had time for a game of golf or some other unexpected thing.


After eight years, I finally left.

I still had never heard the word narcissist but I knew I didn’t want to be with the guy I married. I wanted the guy I dated.

My husband agreed to go to counselling if I returned. We did and for six months we met with an excellent marriage counsellor who was a licensed clinical social worker. And for the next six years, I felt like I had my best friend back.

Until the pattern started all over again.

This time we went to a marriage counsellor who was a psychologist.

It is where I would first hear the word narcissist.

Mamamia's daily news podcast, The Quicky, discuss what narcissism is and whether or not Trump has it. Post continues below.

It’s become a trendy word these days but a true narcissist is someone who does not possess empathy. Empathy is a developmental stage we receive in childhood. It’s when we are taught to feel the pain of other people.

It is not simply being selfish, or self-centered, or ego-centric.

It is a personality disorder where this lack of empathy essentially creates just one world. The narcissist’s world. They possess a fragile ego, a sense of self-importance, a lack of emotional intimacy, and a desire to win. They are manipulative and controlling and lack the insight and ability to recognise their own illness.

It is what I have come to call the ‘invisible illness.’

Most who know them would never believe them to be anything but charming.

I certainly would never have believed it had I not been so close to it. And it is usually only those inside their homes who see both of the contrasting personalities of the narcissist. Or some who work very closely with them.

The majority of the world will never see both people.

Thus, making it an even more difficult situation to deal with.

Narcissists do not present as if there is anything wrong with them. There is no hint of this serious personality disorder.

I finally did leave for good.

I should have left the day I drove myself home from that doctor’s appointment. I was in my twenties and too young and foolish to grasp the extra hours I waited might not be sufficient.

And I had never heard the word narcissist.

The feature image used is a stock photo. 

This story originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission. For more from Colleen Sheehy Orme, you can find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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