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 )
  • Kirstin says:

    All of these comments are too familiar. As a woman who was able to extract myself I encourage all to pay attention to how much better you feel emotionally when there is no contact with him (or her). This is the key to freedom. It may take a long time, to little by little, wean yourself away from this destructive relationship. Try to get involved in new activities/interests. Over time, the no contact will get longer and longer. Eventually, you will get stronger – more confident. When you can sustain the no contact, you will be FREE.

  • Then it hit me says:

    The worst was when you are going through this with no clue what is going on. Confusion and emotional roller coaster was my key words for my relationship. Damaging to many as they go through life. The best thing that helped me was later finding articles like this and many others it finally gave me answers and helped the healing. This one and a few others have helped me so much. Keep learning



  • anonymous says:

    thank you for the website and the stories. These are liberating. and it is interesting how they all speak to my situation with the man I married for 10 years but do not feel married to call him husband or even take his surname. I was caught up with the thought of helping him through his past and low self esteem. But when my left hand started acting up and being worried that I maybe hit by stroke. I started searching the net to make sense of it all.
    This is really beyond my control and the thought that he might be doing it intentionally makes me even more determined to leave. I am busy trying to get him to agree to the separation for both our sanity, but next week when the kids close off schools. I am leaving for two months to recover. once I have gathered my strength and self worth, I will begin a process of permanent detachment from his sociopath and narcissism behaviours if not divorce. But away from him is the only answer. I am always happier away from him. THANK YOU. IT ALL MAKES SENSE

    • admin says:

      It sounds like your body is talking to you that you feel better when he’s not around. It’s a common thing when your partner reveals a childhood wound or low self-esteem to want to help and be there for them – and if it’s a narc/path there is usually considerable wounds – but unless that person wants to process that pain (and I’m guessing he doesn’t) you can’t help him. Best regards.

  • mentally drained says:

    I’ve been in a relationship for 7 years with my partner. I’m almost certain he’s either a social/psychopath. I’m worried. We have three kids and he’s built me up to believe all I have is him. I know different but when I try to leave I turn back to him because I feel alone and like I can’t do it. He makes promises he never follows through with. I’ve done none stop googling to try and understand it all, I can’t. I don’t get it. I feel like I’m over reacting, and maybe just obsessed with googling it all. He told me he sees the relationship as black and white. If I’m not apart of the relationship he will not work on it. But I don’t want yo be apart of it. I feel like if I leave that gives me all I need for validation that he actually lacks empathy, and doesn’t really love me. But when I try and leave, he starts with the suicide stuff, saying he’s going to text the girl he had chested in me with, because “I don’t care about him”. So untrue. That’s why I’m STILL here.. I feel like maybe I can fix him, help him understand what is going on with him. He’s cut out all my friends/family, they are all bad influnces and brainwash me is what he says about everyone in the outside world. I’m lost, mentally drained trying to call him out with logical information, rather then the crap he says. I’m trying not to listen to his manipulation, I’m trying to fight to victory here.

    • admin says:

      Hi Mentally Drained. Whatever your relationship is it has features that make it controlling: manipulation and isolation. Perhaps you might seek out a therapist or a domestic violence counselor (Even if there’s no violence they understand control and can help with boundaries, etc). We have an online support chat group here this Sunday 5/22. Click on the highlighted “live chat support group” under the Services section for details.

  • Bianca says:

    Omg….. i knew there was something weird about my bofiance too..lots of mind games…to the point of makimaking me physical sick ..i ended in the hospital..ladys i have always consider myself  a very strong woman i never thought that i will have love and alowe aan like this into my life..after months  of seeing jim act i decided to stop participating  in this destructive  way of living…..i will never again give someone more than a second chance..life is to short to ne unhappy  with a mental case of a man..save yourself for a better man…remember think with your head..listen to your gut..and remember what normal supposed  to feel like again…love you more…he is sick and he will never ever change his sick ways
    Safe yourself only u can….run and dont look back

    • Lost but hopeful says:

      I love my husband so very much. I’ve known him for 30 years, married for ten. I use to b his everything and now idk anymore what I am to him. We have two children together. I used to be so strong but now I cry all the time. If you knew me you would know how weird that is. I was raised by single mom and she taught me to me strong. Crying is a weakness. Anyway, I’m uneducated 38 year old woman who depends on her husband. He’s cheated now. It started 2 years ago I think the first time. Now he’s back at it. Won’t admit it. Has his phone all locked and tells me he doesn’t and I’m crazy or paranoid. I’m neither and never have been.  I beg and plead for him to just admit it and we can move on but I can’t trust him if he keeps this game up. He’s always the center of attention and if I’m not giving him all mine,even over our kids he gets insecure and angry. I praise and thank him regularly for taking care of us and I really do mean it but it’s the constant demand of it that drains me. Anyways, this isn’t even a third of how he is but when he’s on top again things couldn’t be better but I start to question or get depressed and he just shuts down. I always believed I done or did something for him to have no empathy or compassion for me. Not me, our love at one time was what I only dreamed of. He treated me like a queen. Then, I was looking up mental disorders for myself and came across this. Describes my husband so much it was like someone was writing my story as well. I don’t know where to go from here but the fact that there’s a name for this and I’m not crazy. I really thought I was losing my mind that o really made all this up. I’m glad you are doing good and are happy. Now maybe I can too.

      • admin says:

        Hi Lost But Hopeful. I think you’re getting the picture, and, no, you’re not paranoid or crazy. Someone having passwords on devices or computers has something to hide, especially when they tell you you’re paranoid when you question it. A lack of empathy and remorse will make resolving difficulties next to impossible. At least you’re coming to see what you’re dealing with and can stop blaming yourself. Please join our live chat on 5/22 and get more clarity.

  • Trustno1 says:

    Wow, this is spot on. I saw a comment here about trying to not listen to your heart. I think people like us who are victims of this kind of abuse, find not listening to your heart is the hardest thing. To condition your mind that the person you love and you saw all the (FAKE) signs who loved you is an illusion. How do you really wrap your head around that, and how do you move on. I haven’t figured this out yet, and I’ve found therapy doesn’t help because all they want to talk about is working on my goals and how I should stop being hard on myself. WTF.

  • Doug Nusbaum says:

    From my limited research I have concluded that most people are in destructive relationships because … well they want to be.  That is why they go from one destructive relationship to another.  

    And when they find a nice person — well those people are just so boring.   

    But here is some help.   It worked for me and is easy to implement.   I NEVER give a person a second chance to lie to me.    None of my business is an acceptable answer.   Or maybe some form of  “Maybe I will tell you later.”   Lies — nope.    Boy does that make live simple 🙂

    If I were a girl, I would have similar rule about hitting.  No matter what apologies are offered, leave after the first blow.   Oh as a boy, you can give her a 2nd or 3rd chance.   Most girls are not likely to do much damage  from striking a boy.  ONCE — Maybe twice.   I would walk after the 3rd time.

    • Onetimetoomany says:

      The advice about not allowing a second lie is the best I have ever heard.

    • Trustno1 says:

      Hold on, what?, “…..most people are in destructive relationships because … well they want to be.” No one wants to be in a destructive relationship. These individuals are so good at being deceitful, that they create a persona of and relationship that appears to be wonderful. Unfortunately, this can happen to just about anyone.

      • admin says:

        So true. This can literally happen to anyone because of the subtle slow way the control is exerted. They are masters at being what you need them to be, and after you’re invested the mask comes off, but it comes back on and off again as needed. It’s very confusing. We try to think the best about someone we love. Clarity comes when it comes and can take a long time. 

  • Marion says:

    There is no known therapy or cure for sociopathy. The fact is – some evidence suggests that therapy makes them worse because they use the therapeutic interactions to learn more about human vulnerabilities they may then exploit. They learn how to manipulate better and they learn better excuses that others will believe. They usually do not pursue therapy, unless there is something they can gain from it.

    Considering this, there is only one solution for dealing with a sociopath: Get them completely out of your life for good. While this seems radical you need to protect yourself from the drain on your attention, time, money and positive attitude. Healing or helping a sociopath is a pointless waste of your life. Your own goals and life are far more important.

    • Jane says:

      Thanks Marion
      I’m pleased to say that I have moved out of our home and told him it is over this week. I have asked that we cut contact as I  find it too difficult to deal with, and feel that when I speak to him he twists everything to lay the blame on me and I then start doubting myself.
      It’s a tough journey but I have to admit feeling better when I am away from him. I just told another friend about the break up this morning and her response was that she was glad, as there was always something about him that she could not put her finger on.

      • admin says:

        Good for you, Jane. That’s the hardest part. There may be times of weakness when you want to run back to him, but it’s then that you have to bring to mind or even write down all the bad stuff. Those good memories can come back to haunt when we’re lonely or sad. Stay strong. 

  • Jane says:

    Hearing about others experience is really helping me through my current situation of leaving my fiancé who I believe is sociopath.
    We met in dating site in 2014….’dated for six months until I found out he had been cheating on me numerous times and was also on a dating website setting up more new dates! I finished it, cut contact and tried to move on. Five months later he was back in touch and telling me how he is missed me so much, and that the reason why he did what he did was because he loved me but didnt think I reallt felt that same so was protecting himself by not getting too close. I was sucked in. His wooing new no bounds, constant phoning, texting, declarations of love…I agreed to move in with him, and within two months he proposed. We then had a good few months but the cracks started to show…my mother didn’t like him and he felt that I should stick up for him and tell her I wouldn’t see her.

    I had a busy time at work which meant I had to be away a couple of nights a week…he didn’t like this and made constant comments about my work, family and friends being more important to him, yet he puts me first over everyone and everything.

    He became jealous of my friendships with any other males in my life, good friends that I had known for 20 Years he wanted me to cut contact with.

    Then, in November 2015 I was hospitalised with swelling on the brain and signed off work for two months to recover. One of the main things I was meant to avoid is stress…that’s when the arguments really started, he would continue them for three days at a time, either by silent treatment or shouting and become very animated…I sat sobbing in front of him telling him that I pyhsically couldn’t handle it but still he continued.

    Through the support of some very good friends I found the strength to leave last week. When I ended it he has spent hours telling me how everything has been my fault, that I am controlling and manipulating and that I never put him first. And yet yesterday I received a call saying he wants me back and he didn’t mean those things and instead the old caring man I fell in love with was back.
    I am trying hard to stay away from him and not get sucked back in…..I am horrible place of wondering whether he is a sociopath or just a guy who loves a girl and wants to be the centre of each other’s world.

    Any feedback will be greatly appreciated to help my confusion! 

    • Tracie says:


      I finally divorces my N a month ago. He promised me all the same your N did you…after going back three times to “work” on our relationship, i.e. counseling, church, psychiatry, etc…nothing changed on his part.

      I was the one always wrong, putting my children and family first, not respecting his wishes, doing things his way and if I “bucked the system”, the silent treatments and demeaning snippets started.

      When out in public and with our mutual friends, he was so doting and the perfect gentleman, they couldn’t understand why I left….I tried to explain it, but they definitely couldn’t understand. He got them to believe he was the victim and I was the deadbeat…

      I beg you, do not go back….my counselor cautioned me, but the man I fell in love with is only an actor who can only play the part for 3-4 months then the monster has to come out of hiding.

      I wish you the best and I’ll be praying for you.


      • Trustno1 says:

        This right here is what scares me. My N husband after having an affair, recently came back into my life with tears and all saying he’s sorry for what he has done to both me and my daughter. He has a way of making me feel sorry for him. Telling me he has this whole in his heart, and he is not capable of filling it so he took as much love as he could from me. Then asks me what I want to do, which confused the crap out of me. I’m fine the way things are separated from him, but when he comes back in my life my feelings for him come back again. All the sudden he’s willing to go through marriage counseling again. (Which by the way will be the 2nd time) I actually gave him a second chance last year, and after counseling he still went back to this woman. He’s the father of my child, and I hate that I love him. Letting go of something you thought was real is the hardest part, especially when you see how it affects your child. My child just lights up when he’s in the room, and is so happy when we get along. Don’t know what to do. And I’m skeptic about his apology because he’s still following this woman on social media.

    • Tricia says:

      I’m so sorry for what you have gone through. I needed to say that my N acted in a similar fashion. Due to high stress from him, I started having TIA’s. Once he found out, he turned the rage up. I told him, “i’m going to stroke”. He sarcastically said, “what? I have to be NICE to you or you’ll stroke?” How dare I! Since then, there have been times where he’d be raging, and I’d tell him that my face / hands were going numb. Response? “Its all about YOU!” and the rage intensifies. How surreal! Recently I realized that I cannot exist to have peace. I realized that its not personal. He’d treat every female in his life this way. Then I realized that was my mother. So, he rages, I laugh silently with, “ok mom! Whatever!” Too many years n therapy to relive THAT mess again! That realization was the turning point. I’m still living with him, and long story short- there is total detachment. He rages, it doesn’t phase me. Its not about him, its about me… and why I attracted, reacted, allowed and tolerated this for so many years. By the end of the year he will be a distant memory. I just need to put things in place to protect myself. IE security camera’s, money, put important things in a storage unit, etc. Then, I’ll stop being home without telling him where I am (I’m ALWAYS home), not react to his hissy fits over it. His food supply (my energy) will no longer feed him enough and he’ll leave, onto his next supply. To throw him out will have the potentiality of him literally burning my house down and destroying my car. So, I’ll energetically starve him. Anyway, in the meantime, I am learning to take care of myself, build my self esteem, give myself permission to exist and feel safe in doing so, allow myself to do things I used to enjoy so long ago…. and stay invisible to him. Also, not listen to what he says, but listen to what he DOES. The two are worlds apart. Easy- just don’t talk about myself…. not a word that I’m hungry, sick, happy, etc. (PS He rages if I mention wanting a “career: or “work”… ahhh, so he controls when and if I eat or go out… and in the past I’ve gone for days without food or gas.) This will be over for me, and he’ll be stuck in his misery forever. He has no other choice. Sad.

  • Kerrigan Sanders says:

    Hi there,
    I’m actually writing in about my ex boyfriend- we broke up about three months ago but we’re still in phone contact and I’m still struggling very much with it.
    I identified a lot of strange behaviors in my ex that led me to break up, even though I really loved him.
    The relationship started out so perfect, he was a complete gentleman and drove three hours to take me on a grand date, drive me along the ocean, etc..not to mention we started talking about love and marriage very soon into the relationship.
    But when I moved to the city he lived in, I saw a whole other side of him.
    He was extremely racist, and also, seemed to be very paranoid when I wanted to step outside the apartment, as he was afraid I’d leave and never come back. Once in an argument early on, he grabbed my wrist and sort of threw me onto the bed. When I was crying, he asked if I was retarded. But then the next day, everything was perfect and we cuddled and I woke up to him kissing me and saying he loved me. It was such a roller coaster though , all along the way I tried to talk to him about serious things like our money issues and he did use anger or Silence to distract or ignore the issue.

    I guess, from the limited information you have, do you have any advice for me about what I experienced with  him? Now that I have some distance from it all, my mind is playing tricks on me and focusing on our pure, beautiful moments rather than the  emotional roller coaster that the relationship really was.

    • Tracey says:


      Go with your gut instincts and not your heart. I made the mistake of not listening to my instincts and am now going through a divorce. 

      These type of people have the acting part down to a T. They should get an award for it. My N had me so convinced that he loved me, cherished me, and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. This is only a facade and will use anything and everything he can to hurt you, keep you in his control and co-dependent.

      I also urge you to go No Contact with this person…he will make promises to you that he can not keep…will treat you like a princess after his cooling off period. I do not know how they do it, but eventually you will be convinced that you are the one that is causing all the turmoil in the relationship and you are the one needing professional help.

      We even went to individual and marriage counseling trying to make our marriage work. Living with a N is like living with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde….literally. You begin to lose your self-esteem, second guess your judgement and literally think you are going insane.

      He will try to alienate you from your family and any close friends you have just to keep you under his thumb and control.

      If a person truly loves you, he won’t play those mind games with you, get physical with you, and won’t pressure you to do anything  or threaten you.

      I beg you….RUN, RUN, RUN and go NO CONTACT with him.

      I’ll be praying for you. God bless.

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