When I found out that he was leading multiple lives, I immediately broke up with him. He was enraged by my doing so, and tried to use the fact that we lived together as a means to continue to control me and the relationship. I couldn’t easily afford to stay in the apartment on my own and he liked to threaten that he wouldn’t move out anyway since his name was also on the lease. Yet if I said that I was the one who would move out, he would say that I couldn’t because my name was also on the lease and I had to pay my share of the rent, and if I didn’t he’d just abandon the apartment to move back in with his parents.
So I just needed to get out of the situation. I needed him to agree to sign paperwork to break the lease so we could both go our separate ways, and, best case scenario, for him to pay his share of the substantial fees required to do that after the requisite sixty-day waiting period once notice was given.
In order to get any cooperation from him, I was going to have to manipulate him, just as he was trying to manipulate me.
He started off making it fairly easy for me. The week after everything blew up, he moved out in a huff. Yet, after a few days of no contact, he sent me a message and asked to see me “one more time” before he left the country. I did not know that at the time this was a new form of manipulation, through subjecting me to first a silent treatment and then a “hoover,” with the added urgency to it of “leaving the country” to get me to agree to it. He didn’t know, however, that I needed something from him and during the meeting, I asked him to sign a letter stating we wanted to move out early. Because he’d told me he wanted to leave the country, he couldn’t refuse.
That was easy enough.
It was the sixty-day waiting period, however, that changed everything.
He continued to pursue me, asking if we could “date” and see if we could eventually get back together. That was perfect because it gave me the opportunity to keep him in my life for the next two months and I had to let him believe it might work. If I could hold out, maybe he would pay his share of the thousands of dollars required for us to vacate.
I knew it was a dangerous game. I didn’t know how dangerous.
First, I was weak from the get-go and was in no shape to keep up that kind of a facade. I was devastated by what he’d done and had not even had a chance to process everything that I’d learned about him. Overnight, he had morphed into a person I didn’t know and it had sent me reeling. I’d also lost so much– my memories of the past, the friend in him I’d thought I’d had, and my expectations of the future. Being around him, having just learned the extent of his betrayal, magnified my pain. I was in turmoil and my mood frequently shifted, and though I tried to control it when I was around him, I often could not.
Second, my emotional volatility was made worse by the way that he acted. I understand now why, but at the time I hadn’t yet researched narcissism and didn’t understand what was going on. Ordinarily when someone has engaged in behavior that hurts their partner and is attempting to show that they will not do it again, that person will express genuine remorse, be completely transparent and show empathy. In this case, he did none of these things below the surface level. He contradicted himself constantly (e.g., lied and gaslighted); he was secretive and defensive; he continued triangulating me with others; and he fluctuated between love-bombing me and talking about marriage, and devaluing me and insulting me with every name in the book. He constantly tried to control my behavior and accused me of being with other men. He alternated between silent treatments and hoovering. He also went cold or sometimes just walked out when I cried or asked him to explain why he had done the things that had hurt me.
All of these things continued the pattern of showing me the other side of him I’d uncovered that precipitated our break up to begin with. Which one was he? I wasn’t sure. I’d lost track of what was real and what wasn’t, because I never had the distance to process what had happened. His constant mind games had the effect of just adding to the original trauma and my mental and physical health declined.
Realizing that things were deteriorating and I needed to focus to get through what was turning into a nightmare scenario, I tried to follow a new set of rules I set for myself in order to keep engaging with him, telling myself none of it mattered… it wasn’t important what was real and what wasn’t. All I needed to do was hold out until I got out of that apartment and then I never had to talk to him again.
My rules of engagement:
1. Don’t ask any questions about anything that looks suspicious or is obviously out of the ordinary, and for sure don’t ask about any girls, his phone, social media or his private life away from me.
2. Take everything he says about missing me and not having a girlfriend or getting together with any girls at face value.
3. If he lies, don’t call him on it. Pretend you believe everything he says even when there is blatant evidence that it’s false.
4. When he manipulates, try not to call him on it.
5. Compliment, compliment, compliment.
6. Lie back to him. About everything. Use the fact that he himself doesn’t want you to know what he’s doing via technology and is therefore not able to check up on you to your advantage (e.g., he deleted you from Snapchat and Facebook so he can’t ask you to send him a snap to see where you are and doesn’t know your GPS location, etc.). Tell him you’re in bed when you’re actually going out. Tell him you’re going to sleep or fell asleep when you don’t want to talk to him. Tell him you are with female friends if you want to be in a mixed group or with male friends. If he asks questions about when you want to date again, make him feel good about himself. Repress your frustration and true self, and stop telling him he is prying and it is none of his business. Stop trying to be honest. It doesn’t work.
7. Show mostly the emotion of happiness. But if you’re happy all the time though, he is going to get suspicious and think you found a new boyfriend. Show a little sadness sometimes over what has happened but not too much and mostly over what it did to your relationship, not directed at him specifically.
8. See him whenever he wants to see you. Be willing to change your plans. But don’t demand he come see you or be needy about it, and don’t be upset if he changes your plans together even at the last minute.
9. Do whatever he wants. Only if he says he wants you to choose should you pick something you want because it makes him feel good about himself, like he’s being the good guy.
10. Don’t spend too much time on the ways he has hurt you. If they come up, be sure and focus mostly on how good of a job he has done trying to make things right.
I had to set up these rules for myself just to even survive the confusing and hurtful behavior in which he was still engaging. But no matter what I did, he was still never happy with it. For example, if I wasn’t upset enough, I must have found a new guy. If I was too upset, he took it as a criticism and it annoyed him and he would give me a silent treatment. I just kept telling myself that if I could crack the code, thread the needle, find the right way to activate these rules, they would work. But I didn’t know how to do it. It was as if I was supposed to be robot with no feelings or desires of my own. I never knew what would upset him.
The rules ultimately proved to be harmful for a more important reason. Most of them were designed to appear to give him the upper hand. Yet by trying to abide by them, they actually did give him the upper hand and they slowly dug themselves deeper into my subconscious as I held myself back from challenging him as much as possible.
This was made so much worse by the fact that a part of me was still in love with him and as his mind games penetrated deeper and the pain lingered on, that voice clamoring for his love to soothe the pain got stronger. I was no match for him.
By the time I got out of that apartment, yes, he paid everything I needed him to pay, but I had no idea what I was up against or what price I would be paying for that later. The shock at what I had found out about him had faded due to all of his head games, and I had learned how to reconcile the cognitive dissonance in his favor due to continually being around him since that time and being unable to process it without his influence. He had beaten me down into an anxious mess at that point, into a person who no longer trusted herself, but believed maybe he had just made some mistakes and our relationship could be fixed because “I love you so much.. look I’m still here trying to work everything out.”
My love for him won and, inside myself, I beat back the feelings of fear and paranoia that he had generated, even while he used them to sell the idea to others I was part of the cause for the deterioration of our relationship.
I went through two more years of abuse, physical and mental health decline, confusion, humiliation, and tears before I finally broke the spell for good.
You should never have to manipulate anyone, but the sad fact is that I’ve realized that this is not the only time I felt as if I had to manipulate him just to take care of myself. When someone puts you in that position, they do not have your best interests at heart. And when you finally realize later that they don’t, you will also realize that they kept you in a state where you were not able to realize that they didn’t at the time. On purpose.
So… the moral of the story is you can’t manipulate a narcissist if you’re emotionally involved because they aren’t– not the same way you are. And since you’re caught up in their reality and not the other way around, that puts you at a severe disadvantage.