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 )
  • confused says:


    I have fallen very hard for a man I met two months ago and who promised me the earth. I am someone who people would describe as strong, confident, and not one to put up with BS. But I am putting up with it. 

    He told me very quickly he loved me, wanted us to live together, never met anyone like me, I was too good for him etc etc. I have lapped it all up and taken it to heart. In the meantime he leaves plans hanging, he has deemed me ‘dramatic’ in wanting to discuss our seeming problems communicating and I have ended up apologizing and chasing him. I have even ended up apologising for a situation where all my friends thought his reaction was completely unbelievable and the actions of a psycho. 

    I know in my head this is madness and that, especially after such a short period of time I should ask myself why I am feeling the need to google ‘destructive/controlling relationships’. But, I feel so drawn to this relationship, with the picture he has painted of what a future with him could be like and the seeming love and happiness I feel when I am physically with him. 

    But when I am away from him, in his messages and calls he is a different person. He is distant and cold. He makes me feel like I am demanding on his time but the next day says he wants to be with me all the time. I want a happy relationship. I want a family and I thought he wanted the same. 

    I seem to be drawn to people who cannot truly love or commit. What is it I see in them that attracts me? What can I do to change the pattern?

    • admin says:

      You are in a classic state of cognitive dissonance that is typical in these relationships. The intensity of the good keeps coming back and over riding the bad. Also, your own optimism that the person operates like others and can change keeps you hoping, along with our own childhood magical thinking – if I’m good enough or loving enough I’ll be loved. If this person treats you in an abusing or controlling manner, that’s re real person. The closer you get the more destroyed you’ll be. You can probably already feel this happening on a visceral level. Please join our online live chat to get more clarity. That’s what’s important right now.

    • jojo says:

      I’ve  just come out of an abusive relationship. But my child now seems to side with him and I’m so hurt. I see that all of the above is what I have been suffering and am cross I waisted 20 years on him and had not left him when he hurt my son as an infant…he’s now 12 and I left it I guess because I was in denial and suffered  low self esteem.  I also  witnessed domestic violence as a child with my sister and was adamant in my head I was not going to make the same mistake…how wrong was I. I ALSO spent so much energy questioning my self and my recent behaviours all to my detriment as it’s knocked my confidence further. A week ago I was hopefully about my future but my ex has revered to the above behaviours again and keeps saying he wants to be friends then makes threats, uses abyse body language and tone. The next ten mins in front of family hes as lovely as pie so it looks like its just me with the wrong behaviour. Its making me feel resentful of him. Hurt angry want to sream. Hes got no respect for women. Hes selfish  manipulatuve and contolling unpredicabke and it makes me scared and frightened. Right now I need to know  where I stand and I want to move on ..I hate the uncertainty  of my future it’s making my depression  worse. I feel like I have become bis punch bag and he’s used me for twenty years to get everything. Right now I feel like I have not got anything. And I hate that feeling because I used to have a stronger survivor side in me. I think recent events have reduced it to a quivering wreck. I did not realise  so many people  have these bad relationships the past few weeks has taught me that. As well as people all suffer in some way but we deal with it differently and each has only life story to tell. It’s amazing what life can throw at you when you least expect it. I just was built with a sensitive personality.  

      • admin says:

        Hi Jojo. Quite astounding, isn’t it, that there are so many who have had these relationships. The first thing in healing is to keep educating yourself to get clarity about the type of person you are with so you can stop blaming yourself. This can happen to anyone – yes, there are things that cause vulnerability and traits they look for in a partner – the biggest vulnerability is not realizing people like this exist. You have to forgive yourself for believing what someone says to you who you believe loves you like you love them. It is typical for them to side a child against you, cruel as that is for the other parent and the child. Many have stayed in these relationships because of children and not wanting to give up on a marriage – good reasons. Now you should get yourself support, perhaps therapy, a support group. Learn some mindfulness practices, yoga, exercise. There’s an online chat here posted under “live chat support group” under the Services section. At the time of the group click on it. Also check out The London Narcissistic Support Group on Facebook.

  • Jon says:

    Thank God I was “aware” enough to see signs that just didn’t make sense to me. I would hear things come out of her mouth that floored me sometimes. after a year of truly not knowing who she really was, and her emotional separation from me, I realized I had nothing to gain by staying, and nothing to lose by going. I flat out walked away. without a trace. no contact, nothing. the very first day, I was an emotional wreck. I have never felt such pain in my life. after a week of this, I started to realize this person was someone created for me, for her needs. I am only 3 weeks removed. in that time I have read everything on this subject. it is strange how much information you can find by just typing in the word liar. I know things now I never knew, and every article, blog, letter, comment, educates me, and actually is making my recovery easier. The very first thing I did was forgive her, the second thing I did was forgive myself. After reading literally hundreds of articles on the subject. I realized I was not alone. it gave me great comfort, and a sense of belonging to an exclusive group of truly caring people who’s experiences are welcomed, and sanity soothing. I get it now, My hardest struggle was trying to understand why? after reading so much material, I know the why’s. knowing I was a victim was not easy to accept, but also knowing it was not anything I did, was very helpful. I appreciate every site, every blog, every article, every reply, and every comment. it is all very good medicine for the healing process. You are doing a great service, it truly is helping me get past, and move on from, one of the most difficult times in my life. My heart, soul and mind WILL recover, because I refuse to allow someone so underhanded and deceitful to get the better of me anymore. I loved her, I lost her, In reality I didn’t even know her, or ever knew who she really is/was. we will all recover in our own time line, the best advice I can give, even though I am not out of the woods so to speak, is to read everything you can, relate to people who have been there done that, and to surround yourself with kind, loving people. God Bless You all………….

  • Sandra says:

    In response to Sue: You are probably suffering from adrenal burnout – years and years of stress caused by your husband has left you with chronic fatigue. Google info and get a supplement for adrenal support. Good luck!

  • neveragain51 says:

    Everything I read shows me that my situation is not unique, that many have suffered at the hands of these folks.  I am still in the stage of trying to believe it could all be true.  I have broken all contact and even moved to another state, but I have allowed one means of contact…email…because a part of me could not allow her NO contact.  I wanted to save her and believe her stories were the truth, despite contradictory stories from her friends.  Her words are so convincing…

    • admin says:

      Hi Neveragain. I know it’s hard to believe! She operates differently than you and wasn’t in the relationship in the same way. You experienced love and connection, but she feels attached only so long as it meets her needs. When you lose your usefulness or she is unable to feel good or excited with you (through no flaw of your own), then you get the side of that person that doesn’t value you anymore, and might be demeaning, dismissive or distance from you. Sometimes you can be discarded like an out-of-season outfit. I know that’s harsh and hard to fathom, yet it is their way. Keep reading to get clarity. Please join our live chat on Feb 8th.

  • Becky says:

    Hi all.
    Greetings from Wales in the UK. I have just found this website, via the marvellous Bonnie Kaye. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any support group for people like me in the UK (apart from something like one monthly meeting in London!) I recently discovered my husband of 20 years was gay and has been having sex with men (no idea how long it’s been going on as I can’t believe him, with him being a complete liar). I found out in June and so it is now nearly 7 months on and my problem is that I remain in a complete state of shock. I made him move out and have no money worries (I always controlled the finances), and I am behaving in a strong way in general. But I can’t shake off the shock and the realisation that he stole 20 years of my life and has now robbed me of the life I expected in the future. I was riding through what I thought was a difficult phase – one where he was increasingly ratty and moody with me and the kids for no reason – thinking that he would eventually snap out of it. I also got used to the idea that my sex life was over – with no intimacy for the last two years of our relationship. In the meantime, as I felt I was dying inside and old before my time (I’m 49), he was out enjoying a very virile time. I thought he was impotent, but he was in fact very potent – any man would do. Anyway, I could write a book on it (probably will), but am just wondering if anyone has any words of wisdom about the shock and how to somehow get myself out of it? A friend who split up from her partner said she was in a ‘fog’ for a year, and maybe that’s the same thing. I’m just worried I’ll never snap out of it.

    • Sue says:

      Hi Becky,
      I am in a very similar situation. I found out my husband of 26 years was being unfaithful with a number of women (many!!) I had to reevaluate my whole family life. He also announced to me that he would not be having sex with me ever again. That was five years ago and I blamed myself  for so long. Now that I have done some research I feel a sense of relief but also feel cheated as you do but the thing is i felt robbed also but also felt the lack of any acknowledgement of the false world I lived in because of the lies. He refused  to admit to any wrongdoing and always blames me. There seems to be no resolution to having suffered so much for so long. This has lengthened the time it is taking me to recover. I am still in a fog and it has been 12 months since I found out, however I am improving over time. The only thing that brings relief seems to be physical action keeping myself moving in the right direction even though it is so slow. Sometimes I feel so debilitated I don’t do much for a week or two. I think we all need affirmation and this situation gives little as the person is so clever at devaluing you and everything you say and do. My family and friends have had great difficulty coming to term with this as he was very convincing in his role of good bloke and family man. He manipulated our family situation so I worked and  he stayed at home. He only worked – in three different jobs – for 6 of our 26 years together. It gave him all the time he needed to lead another life.
      I also are having trouble seeking support. This website is great and has saved my sanity. But I find it hard dealing with lawyers and psychologists who have not experienced this. My lawyer wants me to negotiate a settlement with my husband. It won’t work and he has refused anyway but my lawyer seems to think I am not being positive enough with this approach. I don’t have much personal money and I am finding this aspect of the separation very difficult and worrying and again it does nothing to affirm my situation when I am feeling so ‘at sea’

  • Hope says:

    I was shocked and unbelievably thrilled to find your group.  There simply are not enough resources regarding this subject.  My support network is quite small and most cannot even begin to digest our stories and pain anyway.   I feel that the amount of persons devastated by these relationships is monumental, and most suffer in silence, or worse, end their life as I definitely gave some thought to.  I attended one meeting and cannot wait to return & meet other survivors.  Thank you so very much to the organizer of this group.  I left with the most amazing feeling of HOPE.  You are doing incredibly important work here!

    • admin says:

      Hi Hope. Yes, Hope is the operative word here. Hope for healing, peace, wholeness, and surviving well. “Nobody heals alone” it is said according to research on healing trauma and our brains. Support is so crucial in a situation like this where no one gets it but those who’ve been in it. Welcome to our healing community!

  • Tricia says:

    I am so glad I found this site and your organization! I’ve been through all the “stages”…. the “warm and fuzzy” beginning; believing everything he said; eventually questioning some things to him- and acquiescing to the reaction of rages and threats; “God, get me out of here, or off this earth- being HERE is not an option”; putting the pieces of the past together with “knock the wind out of me” realizations of lies/ manipulations; hearing/ reading about “narcissism” for the first time (another “knock the wind out of me”); decided to “enlighten” him on his narcissism (wait, while I pause to laugh on that one!); thinking I could outsmart/ handle him; thinking I was setting “boundaries” by stating my rights (quickly realizing “don’t do THIS to me” guaranteed “THIS” would be done); being counteractive by diffusing his threats with “go ahead!” (pause- laugh at the shock on his face), and by saying “not my fault” just before he twisted situations and blamed me (“if YOU didn’t (I’m the cause), I wouldn’t have (his effect)”…) (he’s quick, so I had to get “YOU did that” out first, and repeatedly to block his opportunity of rebuttal… ie- accidentally step on the dog in a tantrum (dog is fine)…. FINALLY accepting that he has no basic human ability to care. (Combine that w/erratic temper and irrational thought process= scary stuff!)

    And then, Christmas was the final “enough!”.(There have been many “enough’s!”) Vacillating between sobbing (I NEVER cry!) and anger/ hate, I realized there is no more verbal interaction to fuel his fire, and I revisited “narcissism 101” on the web. I realized that I really did lose myself over the past 16 years, I have no idea who I am, and need to rebuild myself…. while under his roof. While processing this on Xmas— Next came, in rapid succession- the (recurring) stages- he’s nice to push the “reset” button. I call that “come closer (I’ll be nice) so I can slap you (start the abuse over)” phase. Usually at this stage, it’s a relief that there is peace, and I interact with him, he feels safe again, and within a week the rage/ abuse starts over. Well, not this time. Not ever again. No more “emotional rape”. Then, since the “I’ll be good” didn’t work, he did the “poor me” pouting on the couch to no avail, then “push her buttons” by spending the bill money on takeout food for 4 days (yawn…), and the grande finale is giving me the energetic silent treatment.. meaning- no passive aggressive “I’m here! Look at me!” with noise, etc. (thank you, God!). Busy day for him! LOL! Now, my challenge is- I have to stop my occasional “under the breath, but loud enough that he can hear” comments about his evilness, which is better than the alternative- acting out years of fantasies of pummeling him. I read the line “your suffering is his affirmation of a job well done”. This is now my mantra (to keep my mouth shut), and I’m not NOT giving him the satisfaction. Now to plan the physical separation…. rebuild my inner strength, remember who I was, diffuse the unfamiliarity/ apprehension of focusing my energy MY ENERGY on me without the trepidation of his rage…. find an avenue of income… a friend or two (or three or four)… and rebuild my health from the intense stress (adrenal fatigue/ TIAs- mini strokes). And, I know that if it is not planned carefully, he will make me pay dearly.

    I would love to attend your group, but I’m night blind, so maybe online as an alternative. Thank you for this avenue of healing! Looking forward to one day living w/choice without fear of repercussions and peace without apprehension…. and in turn, paying it forward. Thanks for validating my existence in reading this! Appreciated!

    • admin says:

      Hi Trisha. I’m so glad you’re existence feels validated! Unfortunately one of the worst forms of abuse in a relationship with people like this is the continual invalidation you experience on so many levels – the continual questioning of yourself based on his blaming, negative perception of you and him playing the victim, plus the manipulation aimed at you doubting yourself and the evidence of your own eyes, ears, and gut. It’s insidious because you do lose yourself over time, and there’s so much debilitating stress in this psychologically and physiologically as you well know. Mini-strokes – yikes. I like what you called the “reset”: the abuse starts all over phase. Yeah, just forget what happened before and we can start over with the insane delusion that things will be different and changed…but deep down you’re just waiting for the next eruption. So, there’s never a reprieve really, just lower simmering anxiety. So glad you’re on the way out so you can heal. Good move to plan carefully and strategically – forget about getting validation or anything from someone who can’t give it. It’s survival now, and you want to survive well and get to peace. Best of luck. I hope you can join our live chat on 1/11 at 8 pm EST.

  • JD says:

    I only dated the narcissist for about 6 weeks, he was a coworker and I left him cause he would accuse me of stuff I never did and then tried to get me to move in with him, but what is really weird is I do feel like he took over my mind somehow. He was the first guy I really dated, I’m 41 years old. I feel like if this the way relationships are how can i ever trust someone else? I thank God I didn’t have sex with him or live with him. I spent all spring and summer listening to him pick me apart I walked away from my job only to come back this week because he left to find a higher paying job I live with the stress he will always come back to work and that he may start a smear campaign against me. If I start therapy, where do I start? I do feel like I have some PTSD and other stuff. I know he is just a user of people and I’m in no contact but how do I get to the point of thinking he’s just a being from the past, no one important anymore?

    • admin says:

      Hi JD. It’s such a phenomenon that when people talk about being involved with a narcissist/sociopath/psychopath even for a short time, they are traumatized and never the same. Distrust and loss of self are the inevitable fallout of being involved with these destructive people. Luckily you didn’t get anymore involved than you did, especially move in with him. Could you imagine?! The closer you get to them, the more of their dark side you see, and the greater the control and abuse. For help with PTSD you can search for a therapist trained in a trauma therapy at http://www.sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org, http://www.traumahealing.org, http://www.emdria.org. You may find others in your area. Anything that helps to ground and center you, and bring you back into your body on daily basis is good too. Mind Warrior app can help with that. Please come to our group tonight if you can. Take care. Mary

  • Sue says:

    I have been married to a man I now know is a sociopath for 26 years. We have two children together who thankfully have now left  home. I suspected his infidelity early in the marriage but when I expressed doubts and questioned him he always had an answer. I really started to question him when our youngest child was 6 months old. We had moved to a small town and it was obvious he was seeing a local woman. He stopped sleeping with me and when i questioned him he said ” you have nothing to offer me” I felt so trapped. I was not working, had no income, and was isolated in every way. This led to years of depression in which I was called mad put on medication (at his insistence) and generally emotionally abused to the point where I find myself finally able to leave  him but I can’t seem to move. I feel totally debilitated. I have bought a house have enough money to live on. All I need to do is move my things and start divorce proceedings. Why can’t I do this? What is wrong with me?

    • admin says:

      Hi Sue. The fact that you got to the point of recognizing the problem in the relationship is definitely not you and are ready to leave is the biggest part. And you got a place to stay, another big step. But, the actuality of filing for divorce is hard because it’s the first step to making it final. This is very emotional and represents a huge loss and sadness, even though you’ve come to the conclusion that he doesn’t love you – possibly never did. It’s all so painful, and self-doubts still pop up I’m sure. Try not to judge the steps you’re taking by your changing emotions, but by the abusive, demeaning, etc actions of the individual – and I know that is vast. They leave our rational thinking when all the emotions tear at us. Remember it’s the dream you’re losing, not the reality. Hang in there and please join our live chat for support. If you live in NJ please come to our live group. It will help a lot.

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