couples

'It wasn't until lockdown that I discovered my partner is a toxic narcissist.'

As told to Shona Hendley.

Isolation has been eye-opening for me in many ways. Although nothing has been quite so illuminating as what I have discovered about my relationship with my partner, *Mark.

Or, should I say, what I have learnt about him.

Before COVID-19, we had been together for about two years. While on occasion he could be what you might call overconfident or self-admiring, at the time it seemed charming, even a bit of a turn on. It was never really an issue between us.

Earlier this year we made the decision to move in together and soon found a property we both liked. We moved in, in early March, about two weeks before the full force of the COVID-19 lockdown was initiated and when I was sent home from working at my office to begin working remotely.

A few days later Mark joined me, turning what had been our kitchen table into a shared office desk.

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While it began well and we had fun being together all day, every day, in a matter of weeks, the shine well and truly rubbed off.

Well, to be honest, it was worse than that. After a few weeks I realised that the man I loved was not at all who I thought. In his place was a total narcissist.

Mark started to show his true colours gradually. He’d say off the cuff, snide comments to me like: “Oh, you’re dressing up for work today I see,” if I was wearing activewear or casual clothes.

Then he started to get harsher with his comments, and didn’t even bother framing them as a joke anymore.

“You’d look much better if you put on some makeup. What happens if one of my colleagues sees you in my Zoom meeting?” He asked me once, as if my real appearance would terrify his co-workers.

When I told him that his comments upset me, he just laughed and told me to “lighten up” and that “I was overreacting.” I was simply dismissed.

Each week we were in isolation, the worse it got. He always wanted me to focus on his problems, his needs, his desires, his feelings.

There was one occasion when I was in an important Zoom meeting for work. I had gone into the bedroom, shut the door and told Mark that I would be about 30 minutes, that it was an important discussion I needed to focus on.

About five minutes into the meeting, he walked into the bedroom and started waving his arms around behind my laptop screen to get my attention, then angrily pointed at the computer, indicating for me to get off. I thought something must have happened, so I apologised to my colleagues and ended the call as quickly as I could.

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Once I had left the meeting he told me that h received an email from his manager that asked him to do a task (a minor task) that was outside of his normal role and how this made him feel like a nobody.

“Doesn’t he know how integral I am to this company?” He said to me, then promptly got on his phone to do the task anyway, waving his hand at me to go away.

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I couldn’t believe it. I’d ended an important work call for nothing and then been shooed away as if I were at his complete disposal.

After this, I decided to talk to Mark again about how his comments and behaviours were making me feel.

By the end of about two sentences I began crying because I had been bottling it up for so long, but instead of offering me any empathy he just said to me calmly: “I am sorry that you feel this way, but it has nothing to do with me,” and then picked up his phone and started scrolling through Instagram, completely ignoring me.

A few hours later I ended up apologising to Mark.

This cycle repeated itself several times throughout our time in isolation, and each time it became more overwhelming. Thinking about it consumed me almost constantly.

I felt like an outsider; that I wasn’t appreciated or supported but somehow, I also ended up feeling the need to apologise, to say sorry for feeling this way.

It wasn’t until Mother’s Day, when I went home to see my family for lunch, that I finally realised what was actually happening. Being alone and out of the house, away from Mark and with my support network for the first time in weeks, I was able to share with them what had happened and how it made me feel.

Saying it out loud, watching their reactions to the events and how Mark treated me made me realise that I didn’t need to apologise – that it should have been him.

It made me understand that who I was dating wasn’t the charming, kind man I thought, but instead a narcissist. And until I was isolated with him, I hadn’t truly known him.

With this awareness, the toxic cycle was broken. I didn’t return back to the apartment we shared, I stayed with my sister for the next few weeks while I considered what to do. But really, I knew deep down what that was and ultimately, we broke up.

Mark naturally insisted I would never find anyone like him, and you know what? I truly hope I don’t.

Shona Hendley, Mother of cats, goats and humans is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education. She is an animal lover and advocate, with a morbid fascination for true crime and horror movies. You can follow her on Instagram.

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