They say that if time is flying by, you’re married to the right person. And if time drags like a life sentence, you’re wed to the wrong person.
Today is our Fifth Wedding Anniversary…and I just can’t believe it! As the last five years raced by, I found myself wondering, “What makes our marriage work so well?” Because when Michael and I married, neither of us knew about narcissism. Neither of us knew there were narcissists in our families. Neither of us knew we’d experienced narcissistic abuse.
Statistically, children of narcissistic parents usually go on to marry narcissists. Why not!?! It feels “normal.” But after extricating themselves from one, two or more relationships or marriages to narcissists, they’re often very nervous of daring to date and marry again.
Somehow, Michael and I beat those odds. To be honest, it was more luck than foresight. But from the vantage point of five wonderful years, here’s ten reasons to marry a fellow survivor and a few ideas to help you find and keep a nice, normal romance with a nice, normal, non-narcissistic person!
Wed A Fellow Survivor: 10 Reasons
After five years, I’ve concluded that the key to a happy marriage after narcissistic abuse is to marry a fellow survivor. And here’s why:
- They “git” what you’ve been through.
- They have empathy with what you’ve suffered because they’ve been there too.
- They have patience while you sort through everything.
- They’ll stay up ’til 5 a.m. while you sob in their lap.
- They can attest that “it’s not you.”
- They can affirm that “you’re not the crazy one.”
- They can validate that it was abuse.
- They’ll get angry on your behalf over what’s been done to you.
- They’ll let you know when the narcissistic brainwashing is controlling you again.
- They can teach you what normal looks like.
And here’s the beautiful thing: it works both ways. You can do all-of-the-above as they heal and recover too.
Wed A Wised-Up Survivor
Now all that is fine and good, but it’ll only work if the survivor you wed is wised-up. They must recognize the abuse in their past for what it was: abuse. It’s not gonna work so well if they accept the abuse as “normal.”
Before Michael and I met, he shared that he was the son of a (long recovered) alcoholic. As a quintessential codependent who usually fell for alcoholics, I was pleased that this time I’d fallen for the son-of an alcoholic…and not another alcoholic. It was definitely a step in the right direction.
To some extent, we were both somewhat “wised up.” He knew about alcoholism and recognized that, even after the alcoholic liquid was no longer being imbibed, the “dry drunk” dynamic was still in play. And I knew that codependence, OCD and perfectionism romped in my family.
But we didn’t know about narcissism.
Wed Someone Determined to Break the Abuse Cycle
Despite our naiveté about narcissism proper, we were both bound-and-determined to break the cycle of abuse. We were determined to think, act and speak differently than the dynamics modeled in our families. We went into our marriage with kid gloves, never wanting to hurt each other nor anyone else. As I once flippantly told a friend, “Michael’s secret for being a good husband is to think what his father would do and then do the exact opposite.” Snarky, but true.
As Michael and I met online, we had the opportunity to “vet” each other thoroughly via telephone before meeting in person. We asked each other all the pertinent questions one should ask a prospective spouse. I was struck by how short and to-the-point Michael’s answers were. Coming from a cult-like background with lots of brainwashing, I knew that many words belied untruths. The truth doesn’t take many words. I could tell he was honest.
One of the most important questions I asked Michael was what kind of temper he had. “Oh, I stay pretty calm,” he said. And I believed him. Because he felt so, so different from the bombastic, beat-the-table and raise-your-voice-to-prove-your-point family I was accustomed to. At that moment, I knew that I would be marrying “outside of the fold,” to someone who did not belong to the cult-like environment of narcissism. Like The Big Bang Theory, I felt like Catholic Bernadette marrying Jewish Howard. Only I was narcissism-brainwashed Lenora marrying non-narcissistic Michael. What I didn’t reckon on was the intense pain and false guilt akin to Cult Withdrawal that nearly overwhelmed me when I abandoned narcissism to become “unequally yoked” to a non-narcissist.
Wed Someone You Don’t Have “That” Across-The-Room Chemistry With
I know, I know! That sounds really weird. But how many times has that heart-stopping, eye-grabbing, I-can’t-breath-chemistry with that guy/gal across the room landed you in a heap o’ trouble. Drop me and one alcoholic in a room full of people and we’ll find each other every time. It’s simple chemistry.
But that damn chemistry lets us down. It’s a trap! It’s not a trustworthy dynamic upon which to build a healthy relationship. Oh, I’m not saying that we should marry without romance, sexual attraction and a type of chemistry. I’m just saying that we survivors often mistake the I-know-how-to-handle-your-personality-disorder-and-I’m-going-to-rescue-you feeling for romantic chemistry when we meet yet another narcissist or alcoholic.
While I don’t have that heart-stopping chemistry with Michael that I would have with an alcoholic, I have something better. A different kind of chemistry: a deep, profound peace. That’s it! Peace. The first time I clapped eyes on him he brought peace to my soul. We were engaged the next day and said our “I Do’s” thirteen days later.
The peace he brings me utterly cured my insomnia. How many times have I fallen asleep, drooling, on his chest? He just lets me sleep…and mops up later.
Wed Someone Determined to Protect You From Your Former Abusers
This point cannot be stressed enough. This is fundamental to a happy marriage. Both you and your spouse must be 100% determined to protect each other from the persons in your pasts who hurt and control you.
Sometimes this means protecting your spouse from their abusive family members. As I like to say, “You may think you can treat Michael like that, but you CANNOT treat MY HUSBAND like that.” I’m grateful for learning that lesson at my parents’ knees. They always had each other’s backs. If I disrespected my mother, Dad was quick to say, “You may think you can treat your mother like that, but you cannot treat my wife like that.” And vice versa. WOW! What a powerful lesson!
Sometimes this means going No Contact to protect yourself from your own family members…so your spouse doesn’t have to deal with your grief and anger. When I look down at our rush mail order wedding rings inscribed with the Hebrew verse, “אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי” (tr. “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”-Song of Solomon 6:3) I’m reminded that there’s one and only one person in this world I vowed to “love, honor and cherish”: my husband.
For decades, I watched my scapegoated mother pussyfoot around trying to please her controlling mother and her husband simultaneously. Impossible! Granny was never pleased while Mother was often upset, pulled between mama’s demands and husband’s wishes. Naturally, this caused unhappiness for everyone. How much better and happier our family would’ve been if Mother’d had the lady balls to make a clean break and go No Contact. And what a powerful example for me!
Go No Contact with your abusers if you want to have a happy, peaceful marriage. Remember: You are called to leave-and-cleave to your spouse alone. You said those vows to your spouse alone. You only owe allegiance to them.
Wed a Nice, Normal Person
“I think,” said I looking Michael straight in the eye, “that you’re full of shit.” Then I waited. Waited for the explosion that never came. Because he’s normal. I’d never have dared say that to a narcissist!
More than anything else, try to find a normal person. Just an ordinary kind of guy or gal. Someone who’s been told they’re “too nice.” A gentle person. A calm person. A kind person. A balanced person. A person with a sense of proportion. A person with a good sense of humor who can laugh at you and themselves equally, without getting their stinger bent out of joint. A person with quiet strength.
A person who can be wrong…and still be okay. A person who can acknowledge and take pride in the ways you’re better than them…and not resent you. A person who doesn’t criticize you. A person who doesn’t try to change you. A person who pays you compliments. A person who doesn’t demand to know where you are and what you’re doing at every moment of every day. A person who doesn’t accuse you of anything, including infidelity. A person who isn’t bossy and demanding. A person who gives you carte blanche on hairstyle, clothes, etc. A person who winks at your OCD and is blind to your scars. A person who is firm in their beliefs, without cramming them down anyone else’s throat, including your throat. A person who doesn’t control the money with an iron fist and encourages you to treat yourself. A person who hugs and kisses you frequently and freely.
A person who can be told “you’re full of shit” and respond with a chuckle and a twinkle…but still stick to their beliefs without being dogmatic. A person who tells you they love you so frequently that when you ask, “How are you?” they absent-mindedly respond, “I love you too.” (True story!)
That’s the kind of spouse you can be happy with for five, twenty-five or fifty years while the weeks, months and years fly by much too swiftly!