Why is it so hard to end a relationship or marriage with a narcissist? Many victims have experienced that it can be very challenging to end a relationship with a narcissist. You could be aware of that your relationship is abusive or unhealthy and still not seem to be able to leave. There are many reasons why this could be and in this article, I will discuss the most important reasons.
If you have experienced a relationship or marriage with a narcissist or still experience this, you will know how draining this experience is. Narcissistic abuse is a very personal and brutal form of emotional abuse. Narcissists are skilled manipulators and they will try to manipulate you into their control.
A narcissist can be very charming and loving at first but sadly this idealizing behaviour will (slowly) turn into devaluing behaviour. If you manage to leave, they seem to find ways to convince you to stay in a relationship with them. A narcissist could try to suck you back into the relationship after breaking up, which is called hoovering.
When dealing with a narcissist, you might feel like you can’t think straight because of their possible control and their influence on your mind. A narcissist creates a very toxic environment in which they can cause and/or emphasize a lot of negative thoughts and feelings. All the unhealthy dynamics will create an environment in which leaving can seem impossible.
It’s very personal
Leaving a narcissist thus isn’t easy. If you haven’t experienced narcissism and the unhealthy relationship dynamics it creates, it could be hard to fathom and understand why someone would stay in a relationship with a narcissist. There are many reasons, however, why it isn’t simple and these are mostly very personal reasons. It has to do with identity, belief systems, hopes, self-worth and so forth.
Know it’s possible and in the end, you are the one in control. In this article, I will go into reasons and hopefully provide some insights into why this can be such a challenge or seemingly impossible. In a way, because it’s such a personal internal process, dealing with yourself will naturally help you in dealing with the narcissist as well.
I hope this article can be helpful to you.
Reasons why it’s so hard to end a relationship/marriage with a narcissist
1. Hoping for the good times to come back
In my article explaining the narcissistic abuse cycle, I explain how the repetitive cycle of idealization, devaluation and discarding works. The first stage of idealization is a stage in which everything in the relationship will be great. A narcissist will learn a lot about you and your personality and use it in their advantage.
They will start by being the perfect partner by love-bombing you and showing a lot of (conditional) love, attention and interest in you. This can be very intense, overwhelming and great. You could feel a great amount of love and a connection with this person and the memory to these good times can make leaving very hard.
Sadly, the love of a narcissist is conditional love. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not love but the reasons narcissists love are very different than for a normal person. You might be interested in reading more about this in my article exploring love and narcissism.
A narcissist could thus try to (ab)use your hope for things to get better and the memory of the good times full of love. They might promise they will change, say things will return to ‘the way they were’, or occasionally reward you with loving behaviour. Sadly, hoping for real change will not result in any real change when dealing with a narcissist. It’s important to observe this person’s behaviour and actions instead of words/promises.
The hope for better times and possible addiction to a small amount of idealizing/loving behaviour can make it very difficult to make the final decision to leave.
2. Control, fear, dependency and isolation
A narcissist could try to isolate you and emphasize your negative thoughts about friends and family. By that, they could disconnect you from your support system. You might have or develop a fear of being alone. It means you become more dependent on the narcissist.
When you think about leaving the narcissist, you might feel like you have no one to go to for support. Mostly, the fear will exaggerate the feeling you’re alone. There could be some ‘friends’ that play out not to be your friends, but your real support will be there for you even if you have been unavailable lately.
A narcissist can create a lot of fear and anxiety in their partner’s life. It might feel like they are unpredictable and as if you’re always doing something wrong, which can result in the constant feeling of walking on eggshells. This is clearly a very unhealthy state to be in.
Narcissists thus try to create a sense of dependency or feeling you can’t do without them. If you want to read more about how a narcissist traps their victims into being isolated and dependent, you could read my article about the narcissist’s web of control.
All the above reasons can result in not making the decision to end the relationship or to postpone it infinitely.
3. Not accepting this person is a narcissist
Another reason someone might stay with a narcissist is not accepting that this person could be a narcissist. Giving up believing in good intentions might mean giving up a part of your identity of believing in the good in people. This can be an internal struggle.
You want to believe this person you love and had great times with can’t brutally manipulate you this way. Therefore you might (choose to) believe it’s unconscious or they do try very hard within to be a better person. It’s a form of denial of what’s actually happening. It will be hard to leave if a victim can’t accept this person is a narcissist and/or the thought this person can’t be changed.
Clearly, it’s not a bad thing to give someone a chance but there needs to be a boundary into how long you will accept the situation if you see no change in behaviour. There is no justification for the manipulative and brutal behaviour of a narcissist. You are not responsible for the behaviour of others.
In a way, you don’t even have to accept if a person is a narcissist or not. I think it’s important to focus on the manipulative or abusive behaviour this person is showing. There is no use or relevance in knowing if this person is actually a narcissist or not as you’re dealing with the behaviour of this person. You only need to decide what you want if this person doesn’t change behaviour.
If there is no sincere apology, self-reflection or honest communication with this person, you can’t even start a process of change. If so, it will never become a healthy relationship.
4. Trying to heal the narcissist
A narcissist (ab)uses a lot of your human characteristics and this can create unhealthy dynamics within a relationship or marriage. Especially the toxic relationship between empaths and narcissists has a lot of unhealthy dynamics.
One of those dynamics is that an empath might think they can transform the narcissist with love and the relationship grows into both persons only trying to fulfil the needs of the narcissist. It could be that the empath wants to heal or fix the narcissist and the narcissist keeps pretending that he or she wants to change.
This dynamics fulfils the empath’s need or desire of wanting to help. It can be very hard to believe and accept someone can’t be helped or doesn’t want to be helped.
It’s a beautiful thing a person wants to help others. When dealing with a narcissist, however, it will sadly be quite destructive and unhealthy. Feeling a responsibility or need to help your partner might result in staying in an abusive relationship.
5. Shame and seeking the problem within yourself
It often happens that victims blame themselves for the problems in a relationship. A narcissist is an expert in verbal and emotional abuse and they use many techniques such as projecting thoughts and feelings back to you. They can accuse you of jealousy, being crazy, desperate, seeking problems and so forth. They will never take any responsibility, which will only leave others to be blamed.
A narcissist has a created identity that is very certain and confident with an unhealthy belief in its own superiority and truth. This creates an unfair advantage when their truth conflicts with the truth of a victim who obviously doesn’t have this same amount of certainty but has self-doubts and a critical inner voice.
Shame can be the result of having an inner voice that isn’t very kind to yourself. A narcissist can really emphasize your negative thoughts and your inner voice could become judgmental towards yourself.
Realize this person is manipulating you and this is not your fault. It’s okay that it’s hard and you might not have the strength yet to leave. You do have control to work towards leaving and become stronger. It can be useful to question your inner voice and observe the tone you use towards yourself. You can read more about this in my article about self-worth and narcissism.
6. Being gaslighted
You might have trouble with thinking straight and you could feel confused a lot. Some narcissists use the brutal manipulation method called gaslighting. This form of manipulation is used in order to try to slowly disconnect you from yourself.
It’s one of the finest forms of manipulation of some narcissists. It’s ongoing manipulation and brainwashing to cause a victim to have ever-increasing self-doubts to make them eventually lose their sense of perception and identity.
More simply put: they try to make you crazy and make you doubt your feelings, memory and truth. A narcissist will do anything to achieve this such as lying with certainty, denying, demanding proof, use tricks, tell half-truths and so forth.
Gaslighting can thus have many negative effects that mostly disconnect you from yourself. You can read more about gaslighting, its signs and how to deal with it in my in-depth article about gaslighting.
Clearly, when being gaslighted, a victim can’t ‘simply’ make the huge decision to leave the narcissist.
7. Cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is important to understand when trying to leave a narcissist. It’s a feeling of discomfort resulting from having beliefs or values that don’t match your behaviour. In general, your mind will try to remove this discomfort by changing beliefs or actions. Narcissists use this wish of the victim to remove this discomfort.
This is how it can play out: A narcissist’s behaviour doesn’t match with your belief about them. You love this person and you wouldn’t expect or suspect this person is devaluing and manipulating you. The conflicting thought is how this person that loves you can act in such a destructive way. If this person is in fact brutally manipulating you, it would require you to change your belief of this person being a good person.
If your mind doesn’t allow this change in your belief, your mind will work hard to change your perception of their actions. These defence mechanisms could be, for example, denying this person is abusing, rationalizing their behaviour away, and justifying staying with them for now.
I wrote an in-depth article about cognitive dissonance and how truth can become blurry when dealing with a narcissist. If you possibly recognize this I recommend reading this because it’s important to understand how your mind could fool yourself when trying to reduce the cognitive dissonance.
8. Self-doubts en self-worth
An important issue when trying to leave a narcissist is your mind and what kind of thoughts you’re having. A narcissist can have quite an influence on your self-worth and create a lot of self-doubts within their victims. Self-worth has a large influence on your energy, your thoughts, feelings and emotions.
Sadly, narcissists push your energy and self-worth in the wrong direction. They do this by all forms of manipulation, such as gaslighting, silent treatment, blaming, mirroring and so forth. A victim can thus suffer from a lack of self-worth because of the ongoing emotional abuse and this can make it hard to make strong decisions such as leaving the narcissist.
You can find some tips on how to work on your self-worth in my article about self-worth and narcissism.
9. Trauma bond
There could be a trauma bond between the victim and the abuser. If the victim is under threat and perceives as if their survival is dependent on their abuser it can result in a trauma bond. The victim could feel as if it’s impossible to escape from the situation.
It can result in a certain loyalty towards the narcissist, in which the victim could even try to protect them towards others. The kindness or idealization that is shown between the devaluing behaviour can ease the pain caused by this devaluing behaviour. The victim can become dependent on the temporarily comfort given and even be grateful for it (Stockholm Syndrome).
There could thus be a form of addiction or trauma bond making it very hard to leave.
10. You have children with the narcissist
A reason to stay with the narcissist could be the fact you have children with them. A victim could decide or think it’s better for the children to stay. Clearly, this is complicated and the situation someone is in can differ a lot. There might be worries about the future such as having enough money or finding work after leaving.
This situation triggers many thoughts, questions and beliefs. What is best for your children and how do you take your responsibility for them? Do you protect your children by staying or by leaving and how do you protect your own energy? Will I manage to take care of my children?
Thinking staying might be best in order to protect your children can thus be a reason why ending the relationship or marriage with the relationship is very hard.
11. Needing something from the narcissist
There might be a form of attachment to the narcissist because you still need or want something from them. This could be an explanation or an apology or anything. Sadly, you will get nothing.
A few examples of needing something for the narcissist:
– You want a form of closure.
– You want an explanation, answers or the truth about what happened.
– You want an honest ending conversation.
– You want them to accept a form of blame or responsibility.
– You want a peaceful ending.
All these examples result in not being able to give yourself closure. There is an attachment to the narcissist and you are dependent on them to give you something. It’s very cruel but not getting what you hope for is a reality when you want something from a narcissist. If a victim has trouble accepting this it will be difficult to emotionally detach from the narcissist.
Despite all these reasons that can make it hard to leave, you could have had the courage to get out of an abusive relationship. You got yourself on the path of recovering and healing but then the narcissist could try to suck you back into the relationship.
This hoovering is an attempt to pull you back into the abusive cycle. A narcissist doesn’t consider their victim as someone that can decide a relationship is over. They could discard you, use the time for other victims and then attempt to continue your ended relationship. They will try to break your no contact and make you re-engage with them.
It’s essential to keep the door closed. You can read more about this in my article about hoovering and how to deal with a hoovering narcissist.
You are enough
Know it’s okay that leaving a narcissist is hard. It requires you to emotionally detach from the narcissist. It can take quite some attempts to finally leave them. There is no need to blame yourself for it. You’re already dealing with a lot of manipulative and devaluing behaviour, which is why it’s even more necessary to try to be more kind to yourself.
Even when you understand narcissism the decision to leave might be simple theoretically, but it’s still not easy. It requires action and it takes a lot of courage and strength.
Learn about narcissism and about yourself in order to recognize and understand what’s going on. There is a lot of hopefully helpful information on this website.
Realize you are enough. You don’t need the narcissist. You do need your own kindness, attention and love. It’s about trying to shift the attention from the narcissist to yourself again. It would be great if you try to work towards harmony and peace within yourself, one small step at a time.
I wish you strength and more kindness in the future.
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You might be interested in these articles as well:
– What to expect when you break up with a narcissist?
– Shifting attention to yourself again using conscious breathing (mindfulness).
– Exploring mindfulness and narcissistic abuse: can mindfulness be helpful when dealing with narcissists?
– Everything to know about the grey rock method when going no contact isn’t an option (right away).