It is hard to remember a time when the marriage was tranquil. Rather, each year brings more drama, intensity, frustration, distance, and hostility. Efforts to improve the situation are temporary and shallow at best. There is something else happening other than poor communication skills. It might just be that one spouse has a personality disorder.
There are several types of personality disorders (PD): paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, anti-social, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive. Each has their own flare of ego-centered behavior, inflexibility, distortion, and impulse control In multiple environments beginning in adolescence. Even though the PD existed during dating, it did not become apparent till married.
- Feel Crazy. The spouse feels like they are losing their mind. Often they can’t make sense or effectively communicate what is happening in the marriage. The PD has convinced the spouse that they are the problem with a laundry list of faults, failures, and fears. The spouse develops anxiety, appears distressed, is discouraged and even depressed.
- Jekyll, Mr. Hyde. There is the version of self that the PD has with friends and another one at home. While the disorder is pervasive (in every environment), it usually takes on a distinctive flare for different people. If the PD wants to impress someone, they are amazingly “on”. But once they become comfortable, the mask is removed and they are contrary.
- Walk on Eggshells. The spouse feels like they are walking on eggshells around the PD trying to avoid potential hot buttons. As a result the spouse becomes good at reading the PD to see what kind of night it is going to be. After a while, the spouse begins to enjoy when the PD is not at home because the atmosphere is lighter and less stressful.
- Resistant to Change. PDs will talk about change but what they really mean is that the spouse needs to change to accommodate them. However, the PD doesn’t want the spouse to get psychologically healthy, that might cause them to leave. Rather, the PD tries to mold the spouse into a more subordinate and subservient position so they have more influence to control.
- Couple’s Therapy Not Working. Traditional couple’s therapy or seminars have little lasting effect on the PD. Most PDs are very good at veering the attention towards their wants and desires while persecuting their spouse. Individual therapy for both which addresses the personality issues and incorporates new boundaries can be quite effective when both parties want to preserve the marriage.
- For the spouse, there is a continual feeling that they are being lied to by the PD. While it may not be very evident, there is a pattern of futile exaggerations, avoidance of sensitive subjects, and omission of key information. Interestingly, the PD often projects these behaviors onto the spouse in an effort to divert the negative attention away from them.
- Manipulative Behavior. The truth is constantly twisted by the PD’s distortion of reality. In order to get some compliance out of a spouse, the PD often resorts to some type of abusive and manipulative behavior. Typical ones include verbal assaults, isolating from friends and family, gaslighting, intimidation, sexual coercion, dichotomous thinking, and withholding of money.
- Refuses to Accept Responsibility. If spoken at all, the words, “I’m sorry,” are usually followed by a qualifier like “but you…” There is no real acceptance of responsibility or accountability. It is always the spouse’s fault at some level. Even when a third party points out an issue, that person becomes the latest target for the PD.
- Chaotic Environment. The amount of stress generated in the home is completely unnecessary. Yet, the PD seems to thrive in such environments. When there is little chaos, they tend to create something out of nothing just to complain about it. There is no lasting satisfaction. Temporary peace is achieved only when the PD gets their way.
- It’s all about them. It is about how they feel, what they think, and why they do what they do. The only time the conversation turns towards the spouse is to accuse or cast blame. Their emotions, thoughts, actions and perceptions are always right. This results in a superior attitude which makes true intimacy impossible.
This is not a marriage, it is an inequitable partnership. The PD may say they want a healthy marriage but their actions frequently create an unsafe environment for the spouse to be transparent. This can be resolved in a more balanced manner but it requires significant effort and commitment from both.
Christine Hammond lives in Orlando and is the award-winning author of The Exhausted Woman’s Handbook available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iBooks.
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In my most recent intimate relationship, Dan exhibited all but one of these behaviors. The only one I can’t say applied was “Couple’s Therapy Not Working“. This is because when we went to a counselor about our problems, she saw right into and through his abuse and almost immediately (within a few sessions) targeted that as the problem. When she began questioning his behavior and the apparent anger that was behind it, he bristled, accused her of being unfair and wanted to make up his own scenarios instead of discussing real behaviors he had just a week prior exhibited towards me. And, he immediately wanted out of the relationship because he knew at that point that the abuse would no longer be tolerated. I wouldn’t go so far as to say abusive type people cannot change but I would say that in most cases, they won’t. They’ll bolt first.
Dan was a daily source of thinly veiled insults poorly disguised as “jokes“, criticism, put-downs, and name-calling. No matter the situation or what he did or said — I was always (according to him) the one at fault. If the words “I’m sorry” were ever uttered by Dan, they were immediately followed by “you” as in “I’m sorry YOU got upset by that“. That was the only form of apology I ever received from Dan for anything. But this is NOT an apology nor is this in any way taking any responsibility for hurting another person.
Any talk of making changes in the relationship were always centered around me changing something. Because he would outright tell me that I was the problem, not him. No mincing words, that was his opinion: he didn’t need to change, only I did.
He was truly Jekyll and Hyde. In private, he was as abusive as one could get without using physical violence and I knew he was trying to hurt me. He had to be. In public, in our neighborhood, in front of his friends, he was Mr. Nice Guy. He’d do anything for someone else or give them anything or help in any way he could. But for me? Nothing but constant derision and criticism, which he at times had trouble hiding in public and he would humiliate me in front of others with unseemly outbursts and insults.
Gaslighting and emotional manipulation was a given with Dan. He’d start an argument just to start one – usually based on his own stated false premise. During the last 2 years of Hell with him, it was made very clear to me that Dan didn’t give one whit what he did or said to me or how much it hurt. His main objective seemed to be to hurt me. He had become one of the truly nastiest people I’ve ever known.
Dan was always right. To him, the problem was always me. When he talked about his ex-wife, the problem was always her. And I met her. She is the sweetest woman. I had trouble believing his stories about her. Blaming and accusing me for everything became Dan’s mantra. He was always right – the problem was always me – and he would simply not accept any other conclusion.
Dan thrived on chaos. He’d have an outburst at me at the dinner table when we were alone, or at a party with friends – totally unexpected – for reasons I still can’t explain. He humiliated me publicly countless times — but then stated that once we separated and ended our relationship – he was concerned that I would humiliate him or “cause a scene” in front of people – even though I had never done that to him. He had done it to me though. Quite a lot. He was projecting his fear that his own abusive and unpredictable behavior would be publicly seen onto me. To Dan (and to most narcissists), other people are trashcans they deposit all of their own personality problems into. That way, they can blame someone else.
Years out, I have to say that Dan is a quite disturbed man who hides it well in public, but who is truly a monster in private. I am relieved that the pain and stress he caused me is no longer a part of my life. It’s sad to think that he’ll go on to hurt others like he did me because that’s who he is. But it’s not my problem anymore. Hopefully anyone involving themselves intimately with this little monster will recognize early on the warning signs and walk away and tell him that he needs to get help.