Am I in a Destructive Relationship?


I will use masculine pronouns for the destructive partner the sake of simplicity, though destructive partners are often female.

There are a number of MO’s a narcissistic or socio/psychopathic partner employ in a destructive relationship, as a response to your needs, complaints, or issues in the relationship.  One is that you are kept off balance.  You may be feeling desperate and alone a lot in the relationship because your partner has become more distant, disengaged, angry, and rejecting (sexually and/or emotionally).  Perhaps he has even become abusive.  But, if you complain too much or bring up suspicious behavior, you may find he has turned back into the lovestruck partner who wooed you in the beginning, being attentive, engaged, “making love” to you, or giving you gifts.  This makes you wonder if you were wrong about him distancing, or your suspicions.  You begin to doubt your perception as any trusting partner would, and become confused.  He is counting on your trusting nature to do just that.

Another MO of the destructive partner is to never take responsibility for a relationship issue.  If there is a conflict, or you bring up a need or complaint, or question a suspicious behavior, he may use escalated anger to stop the conversation, or turn the problem around to something you have done wrong, or say you are being “needy, paranoid, crazy.”  He may dismiss what you have to say as ridiculous, stonewall with silence, or walk away.  He will never admit wrong or have remorse for a behavior that has caused you hurt.  His blaming behavior may cause you to examine yourself, wonder what is wrong with you.  This is because you are willing to take responsibility in the relationship, as a responsible partner would, and he is counting on this.

Another MO of the destructive partner is to act like a victim.  He may complain you are being too demanding or harsh, and you may feel guilty, because he appears to be so wounded by what you just brought up.  You might feel compassion for the “wounded boy” that you can sense in that moment, because you know he has come from an abusive or sad childhood.  You never wanted to be another person who abandoned or hurt him.  On the contrary, you wanted to be the one person who really loved him, hoping your love could help heal his wounds.  In a healthy relationship, safety and compassion does reciprocally help heal childhood wounds.  But, this can’t happen with a person who is not really present.  He is actually emotionally disconnected from his childhood wounds, and has created a false self, or facade.  He can’t reciprocate, and he is counting on your compassion to keep him as the victim and you as the guilty party.

Another MO of the destructive partner is to create (consciously or not) the illusion that he is experiencing the relationship in the same way that you are.  During the beginning romantic phase of the relationship, during sex or fun times, being parents together, you felt emotional connection with your partner that has deepened over time.  When there were no emotional demands, and nothing was threatening his false self and sense of control, he may have felt attachment or even brief spurts of empathy.  Remember, narcissists and socio/psychopaths by definition lack true empathy.  [They are, however, able to fake empathy and emotions!]  The work of a committed relationship – the demand for emotional intimacy – would always be threatening to their false self and sense of control (and deep down they know they are incapable of it).  Empathy and compassion is what causes you to act lovingly, to consider his needs and emotions before yours even when it’s hard, and to do everything in your power to make the connection right.  This he cannot do.  So, when you think he feels love like you do, what he actually feels is a sense of control or power, or attachment to domestic or financial security, looking good, or a cover.  Unfortunately, this is not love.  But, he is counting on you to think it is.

As the destructiveness of your relationship becomes apparent to you, it is hard to wrap your head around what has happened.  You can’t fathom that your partner was not who you thought he was all this time. This person who supposedly has loved you has hurt you more than anyone else ever has.  He has felt comfortable hurting or taking advantage of you, lying and deceiving you for perhaps many years – many years that now seem to have gone up in smoke.  Many years that you believed you were investing your love in a life together.  Perhaps his greatest deceit of all was to encourage you to believe that you were loved.

A person is not one’s potential, words, nor image.  A person is what they do.

Love is not its potential, words, nor feelings.  Love is action.

To get better clarity for yourself or your therapist about whether you’ve been in a destructive relationship, you may open and download the questionnaire from our Resources page.


Comments ( 152 )
  • Robin says:

    I just left a narcissist. I would have been married for 22 years on 3/7. I am 43 years old and have three children. My oldest boy, 14, has autism. I also have a 12 year old boy and a 9 year old girl. I had t leave the state in order to get away from him, because my whole family lives here. God bless my parents. They took me with my three kids and four (small) dogs and my cat. They have paid my lawyer as well as everything else since I got here, because he cut me off immediately from all money/accounts. He currently is not in contact with my kids, because he was extremely abusive to them on the phone. Saying everything from I’m cheating and I followed my “lover” out of the state and I’m a fucking liar, and I’m fucking crazy, I’m a slob to “tell your mother to fucking kill herself”. That was the last call. That was 12/4. He would also say that my parents were fucking geezers who would be dead in a year and my sister is a “fucking cunt”. Can you believe he would speak like that to his kids? He hasn’t sent one dime to support them. I could go on and on with how bad everything got. It got scary bad like I just didn’t know what was going to be next … Sexually or otherwise. One of his last isolation moves really hit home with me. I didn’t have any friends left. He took care of that. But my parents would drive 500 miles to see us 3 times per year. It got so stressful that I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t even want them to come. But the last time he told me that they couldn’t come to the house until he left for work at 2:00 and that he was doing me a favor. That’s how he justified it to me. He told me he has absolutely nothing to say to them.
    Right now I’m facing having to go to court with him and state my case because he won’t settle, keeps changing attorneys and not returning their calls. I’m SO nervous to face him. He was ordered through a motion to start paying child support this past Friday. We will see if he does.
    I hope I can meet women who can relate to this abuse. I need to.

  • Annie Seaham says:

    I’m not certain he’s a sociopath but I suspect it. His words and actions don’t hang together, he has a serious communication problem in that he doesn’t, or what he says doesn’t make sense to me; I just can’t work him out. He gives me very little and takes a lot. He says he loves me but never shows affection, not even a little squeeze. He always has an explanation that makes me at fault, he makes up arbitrary reasons out of quite ordinary things I have said to explain why he is justified in treating me badly or negligently. He twists words and never accepts responsibility for any wrong. since I have been with him I have lost confidence and clarity and sheer – self. I try to cook him meals when he gets in and it seems like he’s trying not to be there: never tells me when he’s coming except when it’s too short notice to cook anything or not true and he doesn’t turn up. Constantly on his mobile or just coming in or going out, never spending time together. Our first 8 months were wonderful, then out of the blue he gave me an impossible task then slammed me verbally for refusing to do it. Since then he’s been subtly making me feel bad about myself and blaming complaints on my own negativity. I’m always watching him to try to pick up clues about his feelings but nothing’s there. Sometimes he just holds me down and rapes me. 8 years and I’ve had enough but my family’s fallen apart and I’m so isolated there is literally no one to support me. Help.

    • admin says:

      Hi Annie. He sounds clearly like a sociopath. I wonder if that impossible task was sexual. Either way, you didn’t give in to his demand and control, and that’s all you’re useful for. So now you get the real guy coming out who is angry under the surface. All the other behavior you described is a lot of shadiness. In a trusting caring relationship, there is openness and honesty, and you don’t feel uneasy, off balance, trying to make sense of what he means, and you certainly don’t feel like you’ve lost yourself. In fact, in loving relationship, you should find yourself. You also don’t get raped. With a socio/psycho/narc, the sex is not emotionally connected on their side. Now you have proof.

  • T says:

    Pretty much the whole second paragraph I just experienced. I brought up a issue with my now ex-N and he just went into a Narcissistic rage, and pummeled me emotionally just shutting me out, telling me he was going to call me the next day and never called me again. It’s been 6 days, and I just unfriended him on FB. I don’t know WHAT to think anymore. I know about Narcissism, but it does feel like as one person said “a rape of the soul.” I feel like I’ll always be a different person from this point on,

  • Cindie says:

    Currently in a marriage with a sociopath for 8 months and ready to pull the plug on it. Lived together for 1 1/2 yrs and now he is Jekyll and Hyde on a moments notice. Absolutely disgusted and depressed. Of course I’m the crazy one causing problems.

    • admin says:

      Hi Cindie. I’m glad you’re not hesitating to pull the plug already. So many partners regret wasting so many years trying to get someone to take interest in and care for them who is just not capable. The term “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is used all the time by partners in these types of relationships. I know though that even 6 months in one can wreak destruction psychologically, physically, and spiritually. It’s a strange phenomenon how unique that energy is. It seems to be more destructive than an abusive relationship with someone who is capable of remorse, or someone who is emotionally unavailable or has a substance problems. Those are all bad situations, but somehow not nearly as damaging to self and soul of partner than someone without a conscience like a narc/soc/psych.

  • admin says:

    Please join us for our first Online Live Chat Support Group which will be on Sunday December 8th from 7 to 8 pm EST!

    • Sherry says:

      This is so true! I’ve been caught up in this type of relationship for over 25 years. It was screwed up from the beginning but I didn’t know what a healthy relationship looked like.
      He “caught” me looking for websites about leaving an abusive relationship and asked me if that was about him. I gave up a very long time ago trying to tell him how much his actions hurt me. When I did complain he shifted the blame to me so I took the blame and kept my mouth shut. Now he wants to “talk” and has asked me how he has hurt me. I told him some very obvious painful situations and actions of his and he seems totally oblivious to the obvious pain! Things like when he did not get me any Christmas presents nor take our kids out to buy any and when I complained to him in private that he was teaching our kids how they will treat their future wives, he gave me the silent treatment for 4 days until I apologized (for what??? I guess for complaining!) He cannot even fathom the pain from many, many incidents – because he is incapable of true empathy! Thank you for helping me to understand! I’m getting out of this craziness. Do you have any advice for me?

      • admin says:

        Hi Sherry. I apologize for the late reply to your request for advice. The reaction you got to complaining about not getting Christmas gifts says it all. No insight or remorse or responsibility for actions. It will make you crazy for sure. I would say keep getting support. Talk to your friends and really make them understand these aren’t normal fixable problems you’re having. And the same if you have a therapist – sometimes they are not familiar with their manipulations. Come to this online group if it’s convenient. I started a support group for this on Meetup.com. Anyone can start one. If you did, you might be surprised at the response you get from others like you looking for support. There’s a lot of information on saferelationships.com and Lovefraud.com.

    • Lyn says:

      This is very helpful. I’m in my fifth hellish year of trying to divorce a sociopath. It has been soul robbing to be in this relationship for 20 yrs. I wanted to really alert you to a massive nightmare that my going to a therapist has caused. He deposed her, my internist and subpoenaed all their records. He read thru them, has his attys depose and grill me using only my therapy notes – notes almost exclusively about him. He now knows all his tactics are destroying me and is absolutely enraged that I said all these things. He has already threatened and tried to kill me during and before the divorce. Only with violence once. The other two were gas leaks and a “break in.” Your clients need to know how crucial it is NOT to seek any therapy under their own name. They should use a false name and pay cash. My therapists notes have been used like weapons. Every visit is more bullets. It is a huge danger I was unaware of. I was absolutely terrified of my husband and now he’s got recreational reading that he obsesses and plots revenge over. He’s drug out the process four plus years, cost us literally millions, destroyed my kids and me. All using things that were supposed to help us. Now our tormentor has all the info and tools he needs to make life unbelievably stressful and frightening – and he gleefully uses it. Your clients need to be aware that there therapy notes and their children’s therapy notes will be used against them – no matter how horrible their sociopathic spouse is.

      • admin says:

        Hi Lyn. This is a potentially serious infraction of your confidentiality, according to HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) federal rule that protects health information from being disclosed. If you were the only one in therapy only you can release those records. A release form gives the holder of the information (e.g. therapist, doctor) permission to release it by you the client, with your dated signature and specifically what you agree can be released and to whom. Only a judge can subpoena records without a written release by the client, and this is expressly done in criminal cases, not divorce cases (unless a crime has been committed). A lawyer does not have the power to subpoena records without a written release from the client(s). Also, in my state, children’s therapy notes cannot be released without the written release of BOTH parents. In my state, a therapist cannot release information of a couple in therapy without BOTH their written permission to release. You might check in your state what the law says.

  • Karen says:

    Your post was a referral from Quora. It describes what happened to me perfectly. I am bookmarking this page. Are some people more susceptible to this type of relationship? It has never happened to anyone else I know. I am trying to recover. I was so happy for a while but found it was based on a lie.

    • admin says:

      Most people can’t fathom what it’s like to be in a relationship like this. They say things like, “Just leave. Try harder.” Being in such a relationship begins to take away your self, and attempts to take your soul in the process. It takes support to clear your head of all the lies and manipulations.

  • Alice says:

    Years after the relationship ended, the effects on me and my family continue to emerge in the most painful events. I have found in this commentary and related readings and in support from others a framework in which to understand and share. As a result I do not feel so lost and isolated. I am more in touch with my feelings now; and I have some more tools with which to proceed in healthy relationships. I can even laugh at myself now and then. Please keep the info and suggestions coming. There is strength in numbers.

  • Tara says:

    You know I never realized that I started walking on eggshells without even realizing it earlier in the “relationship” than I thought I did. As soon as I saw my ex distance himself more and more, I started to do whatever it took to not upset him. Now I feel very manipulated, and that he and I were in “different” relationships the whole time, except maybe the very beginning. Ugh, THAT makes me feel sick. Thank you for this article, it gave me the exact info I needed at the exact moment I needed it.

  • Josie Clary Corpus Christi,Tx says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, it really has opened my eyed and look at my relationship of 14 yrs and what u wrote about a being in a destructive relationship ,
    You described everything to a tee! Thank you for writing such a detailed article ,and helping me open my eyes and stepping back and taking a look at my own situation .

    Take care ,and thanks again.
    Josie Clary

  • Judi says:

    Everything I read on your website is absolutely succinct, informative, and confirms my own feelings about my, almost past, relationship. Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge, so others can benefit from it.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *