Home > Abusive relationships, Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Psychology, relationships > Can a Man Who Was Emotionally Abused By His Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend Have a Relationship with a Healthy Woman?

Can a Man Who Was Emotionally Abused By His Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend Have a Relationship with a Healthy Woman?


picasso-wounded-bird-and-catHi Dr Tara,

I had some questions after reading Why Men Are Attracted to Crazy, Emotionally Abusive Women and the question from Anonymous  in your last post, Can a Man Break the Cycle of Emotional Abuse After Being with a Crazy Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend?, could’ve been written by the man I was just dating! I know your site and advice are geared toward men, but want to say how helpful I find the information you provide. I’m also hoping you can shed some light on my situation.

I stumbled across your site while trying to find answers about why a truly decent man with a history of horrible relationships and a Borderline Personality Disorder mother wouldn’t be able to accept (or reciprocate) the love of a kind and emotionally healthy woman (although I don’t feel like I am that now!) even though he seems to want to. Intellectually, I know it has nothing to do with me, but the whole situation was so confusing toward the end that I started to feel like it was me and that I wasn’t good enough. I still have doubts about some of the decisions I made, which  is why I’m posting this.

He held me at such a great distance most of the time while telling me I was the greatest girl he’d ever met. He almost never opened up about anything personal in 6 months, but near the end I got tidbits about his mom and some of his exes. None of it sounded good—mostly a series of women who made him feel terrible.

When I ended the relationship, I explained that I couldn’t keep feeling like sh** and confused and pulled around all the time. He said he was surprised by what I was saying because it sounded so familiar except he was the one who usually said that stuff. He was never mean to me though, just thoughtless—similar to what you said about the abused becoming the abuser in your response to Anonymous.

I said I have a lot to offer and deserve to be with someone who knew, at the very least, whether or not he wanted me to be his girlfriend after 6 months. I said I felt like a place holder until someone better came along. He said didn’t see me that way and was also confused because he’s never known another woman as good as me. He asked if we could try again after he sorts himself out. I said I won’t make promises I don’t know if I can keep, but would like him to be in my life. The conversation ended well and seemed fine and friendly.

Did I do the wrong thing by ending the relationship? Did I bail out just when he was starting to actually get to the point where he could open up to me? In your response to Anonymous, you said he should just “ride out the weirdness.” What if the woman can’t ride it out? Did I compound the trust issues he already had? I don’t think so, but the whole 6 months we were together were so confusing and so filled with “give a little and then run and hide a lot,” that I don’t really know anything.

I care a great deal for this man and don’t want to be just another woman who lets him down. I’m also afraid that I may not have been patient enough. Maybe if I’d just waited a little longer… but then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to be in a committed relationship with someone after 6 months—yet the thought still pops up.

Since this site is about men who have been through the same things my ex has been through, I’m hoping you could give me some insight. What it is that he needs before he is capable of a loving relationship? Did I do the right thing for both of us by ending this relationship since he wasn’t ready? I’ve never dated a man with his background and want to gain a little more understanding since I truly care.

– Nicole

Hi Nicole,

My site is geared toward men, but women are absolutely welcome to participate in my blog. Women who date or marry a man who’s been emotionally abused are definitely affected by the aftermath of his previous abuse. It’s sort of like being the girlfriend/wife of a veteran with PTSD.

I was once in a relationship similar to the one you describe. It left me feeling confused, angry, not good enough, and questioning my own sanity. There’s something extremely intoxicating about hearing, “I’ve never known a girl like you before. You’re so kind and understanding. No one has ever been this nice to me.” It makes you determined to be even more loving and try even harder to help him heal. Sometimes this is possible; sometimes it isn’t. It depends on the length and severity of the man’s history of abuse and his ability to tolerate the strangeness and discomfort of not being abused by someone who loves him.

Men who’ve been involved with emotionally abusive women need to go through a period of “deprogramming” and relationship “re-education.” Being with crazy, abusive narcissistic or borderline women warps these men’s perspective on love and relationships. They view crisis, criticism, conflict, drama, insults, neglect, etc., as normal because, with these women, it is the norm. Sometimes, it’s difficult to break  this pattern because of the rush from being on constant high alert and the exquisite thrill of the rare occasion when these women are nice to them.

Men who don’t have a previous history of being emotionally abused have a much better prognosis when it comes to having healthy relationships in the future. They can remember how it feels to be treated well and they want to have that experience again.

These men were somehow sucked into a relationship with an emotionally abusive, BPD/NPD woman. The abuse is just as disorienting and damaging, but they’re better equipped to heal and move on to healthier relationships.

Men who had an emotionally abusive, distant and/or intrusive parent(s) who believe love is supposed to hurt and, on some level, get turned on by the abuse. It sounds like your ex is in this group. These men equate the conflict, crisis, chaos, conditional or transactional love/acceptance, and the exquisite tension of trying to please the NPD/BPD woman while avoiding her wrath with “chemistry.”

If these men are able to enter into a relationship with a healthy woman in which the tension is absent, it feels “off” to them. They generally can’t articulate what’s missing, which is very confusing for them and you. If they’ve never met anyone as wonderful as you, then what’s the problem?

The problem is that they don’t have a mental roadmap of what a healthy relationship is. You don’t compute. Consciously, they know that they hated being criticized and abused by their exes, but it’s what they know. It’s familiar. Change is scary; even a change that you want. It means dredging up and acknowledging a lot of painful memories they’d rather not deal with and/or they don’t want to stop nursing these old wounds because it means letting go of the past and moving on.

These men often get stuck in a weird, in between twilight space. They don’t want to be abused anymore and desperately want to be in a healthy relationship, but miss the adrenaline rush from the drama and conflict. Intellectually, they want something different, but can’t quite get there.

Many of these men just can’t seem to let go of the self-destructive impulse to recreate their abusive relationship(s) from childhood with a woman (or series of women) in the present who is the psychological embodiment of the abusive parent(s). They’re drawn to these women because they’re seeking an emotionally corrective experience, which is never going to happen. “If only I can make Emotionally Abusive Annie love me and be nice to me, it will mean that I really am a good person, deserve to be loved and then everything will be ok.”

This is what I call being in the right neighborhood, but knocking on the wrong door. Part of the healing process does involve having an emotionally corrective experience, but he’s not going to get it with a woman who has the same traits as his emotionally abusive parent(s). He’ll only experience this phenomenon with someone who is capable of love and acceptance. He may need to address these issues in a therapeutic setting before trying with a “civilian.”

When these men meet a healthy woman woman, the thrill of being abused and the possibility of being able to stop the abuse vanishes (i.e., winning acceptance and love from a woman who isn’t capable of it). They miss that. Other reasons these men can’t fully transition into healthy relationships include not being able to let go of the “knight in shining armor” thing or the Stockholm syndrome effect.

They find the lure of crazy, emotionally abusive women all too seductive and, unfortunately, being patient with them, hanging in there, and giving them time usually only results in wasting your time.

This is truly heartbreaking because these men have many wonderful qualities, but sometimes, people are just too damaged. You can’t help someone else by sacrificing yourself. Well, you can sacrifice yourself, but that won’t help the other person to change. I believe these men can break the cycle, but they have to consciously work at it while mourning the loss of the past.

Men like your ex can find their way out of the in-between world they inhabit, but they have to be the ones to pull themselves out of it and that requires a lot of work and probably some professional help. You can’t do the work for him.

Additionally, some men who get stuck may begin to behave like their abusive exes when they’re involved with a healthy woman. They recreate the abuse pattern that’s familiar to them, in which case, you must end the relationship.

I don’t think you did the wrong thing by ending your relationship. He’s the one who needs to resolve his issues and ride out his weird feelings and confusion; not you. You did not compound his issues. If anything, you’ve shown him that a person has the right to be treated well in a relationship and the right to move on when the relationship becomes hurtful.

By your account, you were extremely patient and gentle with him. You didn’t blame him when you ended the relationship. You told him how you were feeling and that you needed to take care of yourself.

The emotional pursuit and distancing behaviors, which you describe as “give a little and hide a lot,” aren’t unusual for men like your ex. However, in their emotionally abusive relationships, they were the pursuers of intimacy, which NPD/BPD women avoid. I’m sure he didn’t know how to handle it when you not only didn’t avoid emotional intimacy with him, but sought it out.

You did not let this man down. You showed him that kind and loving women really do exist. As you point out, he’s just not ready for a healthy relationship yet. Sadly, he may never be if he won’t confront his past and make the conscious choice to move forward.

You need to figure out if being attracted to men with these issues, who can’t commit to a healthy relationship is a pattern for you, what it means, and start making different choices. If you have a pattern of being attracted to men with emotional abuse histories and/or who are otherwise emotionally unavailable, this may be an issue of your own that you need to resolve. It could be your way of avoiding intimacy and a reciprocal relationship.

If you do have a pattern of being attracted to or wanting to “save” someone like your ex, it might mean that you’re not ready to make yourself completely vulnerable to someone either. Perhaps you recognized this similar aspect in your ex, which made the attraction “safe.” In other words, a lasting, intimate, healthy relationship isn’t going to happen. I wonder if this is what’s going on with you?

If so, the good news is, you can un-stuck yourself. Consider this relationship with your ex another step in your development toward having a mutually satisfying, reciprocal relationship. Maybe you were trying to prove (to yourself) that you are “good enough” by trying to make him see that he should want to be in a relationship with you. Conversely, it sounds like he wanted to be in a relationship with a woman like you, but didn’t feel good enough about himself because of his abuse history. This can get very circular.

It’s important to really understand what happened in your last relationship. Look at it in the historical context of your previous relationships and see where it falls in your progression toward achieving what you consider to be your ideal relationship. Keep trying and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need in a relationship.

Kind Regards,

Dr Tara

Shrink4Men Counseling, Coaching and Consulting Services

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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  1. Lucy
    June 17, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    I’ve been dating a divorcing man for 15 months. I strongly believe his ex is BPD and this has delayed the process. I’m sure he also had grieving issues with the end of the marriage and they have 2 young kids.
    Everything is now finally come to a head with paperwork and she’s thrown in all sorts of child abuse allegations with ridiculous arguments to support her case and his attorney said this shouldn’t even be going to family court.

    Unfortunately I’ve become obsessed with trying to get him to see that she is BPD and won’t ever be reasonable despite me knowing it’s his process to go through. I think my efforts have led to him confusing my behaviour with her and seeing me as trying to hurt him with my “truth” about her and trying to control.
    We are taking a break until the court case is over-a couple of weeks but I was wondering if this is definitely a common thing for victims to do. When it’s all so overwhelming that the slightest bit of assertiveness from can trigger his fear of being controlled. He’s always saying how wonderful and kind I am but during our last conversation he was asking if I was determined to hurt him and said he was scared of what I would do if we broke up.
    I don’t believe I’ve ever done anything to induce this fear but I do know I really tried to get him to read up about BPD, so I see it as projection and over sensitivity to 17 years of being with her.
    I know I need to stop getting dragged into conversations about her and just focus on being my usual compassionate self but can I expect him to keep projecting his fears of her crazy behaviour onto me? She has massive traits-rage over nothing, blames, projects, tries to get his own family against him, is convinced the kids belong to her and custody can’t be shared despite him being a very involved parent when he can get a look in.
    I guess I’m just looking for more information on PTSD and how to not let it ruin our otherwise great relationship and I’m definitely working on letting go of focusing on the woman who is causing the man I love so much unnecessary grief.

  2. Lady Pyro
    May 13, 2017 at 4:38 am

    The letter writer took the words right out of my mouth. Everything that I have experienced over the past six months is right inline with what she is saying. And I still truly care about this guy. It’s really hard, but I know that it’s not me and there’s nothing I can do different. And it’s absolute the question of should I hang around? But it’s really not fair to me, and it is his choice if you wants to break the cycle. I can always hope to be a catalyst for his change, but that’s not my responsibility. And I will always love him, but change needs to start from within. For himself and for me

  3. drichtheaspiringrn
    December 18, 2016 at 4:41 am

    This happened with me and my child’s father; I’m certain his ex was a narcissist, and I waisted 8 years of my life going back and forth and I’m sure that relationship left me with my own issues. It helped to read this. Most articles talk about what it’s like to date a narcissist but never what it’s like to date/deal with a victim of a narcissistic individual

  4. Nicole Milman
    December 12, 2016 at 12:29 am

    This was extremely helpful for me to read, while also sad 😞 I dearly love a man who has distanced himself from me because he does not feel worthy of my love. His 20+ year marriage with a toxic woman left him questioning his sanity and worth. And he has treated me poorly despite telling me that I am all he could want in a woman 😔. I have hope that we could make things work, as nothing was ever anything but peaceful and beautiful between us. But he has pushed me away and is ignoring me 😑 It is a heartwrenching situation.

    Thank you,
    Another
    Nicole

  5. Linda Merlo
    November 5, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Wow, this is spot on. It was erie reading this …It described exactly what I am going through…3 years. I suspected this situation was happening but never had it described so perfectly. This helps give me direction.

  6. SS
    May 9, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Thanks for this very insightful information. I am a Middle aged widow of 6 years. I had a great marriage and know what a great relationship feels like. I have done a lot of dating the past 4 years and walked away from any man I perceived as dysfunctional without looking back.

    I met a recently divorced man and find myself falling in love for the first time again. He is sweet, kind and caring. We laugh, have deep intimate conversation and like to do the same things. Physical intimacy has been difficult for him, but feel he is worth my patience.

    As things progress I am discovering he has some deep scars from a long emotionally abusive marriage with a cheating narcissistic ex wife.
    I find myself in very confusing territory wondering if he can be in an emotionally and physically healthy relationship long term. I know he has deep feelings for me as well and hope our relationship can continue to grow. I know we are both looking for something special and permanent. He has been very upfront about telling me about his marriage and what he wants in the future. I hope he is capable of healing with me in his life but unsure if this is a possibility.

    Glad I found this article to help me understand what I am dealing with. Our ending will either be one of happiness or pain for both of us. Since things are still new I plan on giving us time and willing to take the risk of getting hurt. I will bookmark this site for future reference… Thank you!

  7. Jamie
    August 1, 2015 at 9:34 pm

    I want to thank you for this article. I, like the question-asker, am a emotionally healthy woman in a relationship with a man who was emotionally (and I think physically) abused by his ex-girlfriend of 10 years. They were never married, have no children and from what I understand, before me, she’s the only relationship he’s ever had, so I completely understand that abuse is all he knows and “normal” was never introduced to him before me.

    I’ve only been with him for 6 months. He finally left that abusive relationship in early 2014, so he was “single” for a year before he met me. Things were fantastic in the beginning few months. He loves that I’m emotionally stable and independent and he is embracing the fact that not all women are like his ex. He’s been nothing but good to me since day one.

    Recently and out of nowhere, like a ton of bricks, some issues have risen that have a lot to do with his ex. I had a medical emergency a couple of weeks ago that left him with an anxiety attack because my being there brought up memories of his ex trying to kill herself. It was bad enough that he needed to take a walk to a liquor store for a drink to calm his nerves…and he doesn’t drink! I feel awful about that.

    Also, he’s a truck driver so he has nothing but time to think while he’s away from home.

    He told me when we first met that he was in this awful relationship with her so I was fully aware. She was very emotionally abusive and from what I understand she cheated on him and often. Lately he’s fallen into a depression of sorts and I very rarely hear from him. His friends speculate that he may be still be mourning the decade long relationship he had with this awful woman. She recently got married to someone else so she obviously was able to move on, but it left my boyfriend still picking up the pieces.

    This emotional rollercoaster he’s been on has been kind of exhausting and very frustrating. I am a very patient person. But, I find myself thinking I might be better off letting him go but the feeling that I don’t want to give up on him is stronger because the good has by far out weighed the bad. Other than this issue, his friends and family think we’re a really good fit.

    My question is, how can I help him overcome this? Being a truck driver, I have no choice but to give him time and space. Is it ok to talk to him about all of this or should I wait until HE brings it up? I’m definitely taking care of myself in the meantime but I am still very worried about how this could effect us in the long run.

  8. Christi
    April 23, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    I just wanted to say thank you for this article. I stumbled upon it and it really has helped me understand things from my fiancées’ point of view. We were both married previously to someone who physically, financially and emotionally abused us. I feel his abuse was worse than mine. He loved her with all that he was and tried so hard to be everything she wanted. I have told him several times he is the man of my dreams and a good person, but he doesn’t feel he is. He gets scared and pulls away and tries to leave. It happens every three months or so. I have issues as well, but I feel I have been able to put all of it in my past and give him everything I have to make him happy and feel loved. He says he has never felt unconditional love and while we are in no way physically intimate, I can feel that he loves me. Yes, the lack of physically intimacy does at times bother me, like we do not hold hands, hug or kiss for more than a mere peck. I know in time that will change and he finally told me why sex is so hard for him. She forced him to have a botched vasectomy and he can no longer achieve an erection without medication. She told him he wasn’t a real man any more but still forced him to have sex with her on a schedule. She was a truly horrible, sadistic bitch, excuse my language.

    My point in all this is how do I make him feel secure and safe. I would never and could never hurt him. We have talked marriage and children and it is something I know we both want, he has no children, I have one, but at times I do not know how to break through his walls. Do you have any advice for me?

    FYI – we have been together nearly two years. Thanks!

  9. ashamed
    January 3, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Dr T, can i ask a question thats been bothering me for sometime, i seem to have attracted crazy women all my life and the one normal woman i did meet, i left her after 3 years for the latest crazy in my life because i lost interest in her after 2 years. My question is, for as long as i can remember i have always been turned on by the thought of being extremely sexually humiliated and degraded by a woman, im talking really humiliated, and i know thats wrong, normal sex doesnt interest me, even if i am having normal sex most of the time i have to imagine the other person is degrading me in some way to reach a climax. Im ashamed to admit this, but is there some underlting issue woth me and is there a connection between this and the crazy women i choose as partners (or choose me me) What the hell is wrong with me?

    • shrink4men
      January 8, 2014 at 7:17 pm

      I don’t know, ashamed. Do you have a history of childhood sexual abuse? Were your parents so abusive that you confused pain, humiliation and degradation with love? It seems like you might benefit from working with a therapist to understand the underlying issues and then doing something about them, if that is what you wish to do.

  10. Stephen
    October 14, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    I have been searching for answers. I an 52 and have been married twice, and divorced twice. I was emotionally abused by both women in different ways. At this point in my life I do not even know who I am anymore. I feel as though I am adrift alone in the middle of the ocean. I yearn desperately to be truly loved and feel I have so much love to give, but I feel broken and damaged. I do not know if I will ever recover. I happened upon this site by chance and I instantly wept. I felt a glimmer of hope spring within my tattered soul. I need help desperately . I must be honest….I have come to the end of my rope and have thought of ending it all. I still want to believe in my heart that I am still worth something and possibly wanted and might have maybe just one more chance at a real loving relationship. Can I be helped? I am a willing subject. A piece of clay so to speak. I don’t have a prideful bone in my body and am humbly crying out for help. Can I be salvaged?

  11. Jil
    March 13, 2013 at 12:35 am

    scubakitty – I had a very similar situation….after 5 years of being together & living together (knowing him at least 14), after him swearing he’d “NEVER go back to her even if she became a saint”…guess what…he cheated on me & went back to her. He started working out, tanning, etc… told me he was doing it for himself, to feel better with me… He was really doing it for her. It didnt matter she started calling the cops on their teen son as a game, didnt matter the love of my life had been through numerous TRO’s, more court dates than imaginable, false child abuse allegations of which he & the teens were dragged through – dropped by family services BUT because he never defended himself all these years against her…he lost overnight visitation until he completed anger management — which didnt happen because she pulled on the leash & said you want to see the kids, come here this time, this day…etc. Did I mention he also sat in a jail cell due to false allegations, probation & commiunity service….and that isnt even all of it. I’d need a full day at least to go through it all. We were happy, I’m the ONLY one who was ever always there for him, helped him, tried to get us to a better place so he & the kids could have a stable home…I tried to be it all to him because of the love I have for him. In the end, I found him lying & cheating with her. I ended up being left & then harassed by a tag team …after all these years…Yet, I was the nicestperson he ever met, I was the only one who did things for him… he just couldnt stay away from her despite all the things she had done to him & the kids. I’m devistated. I thought he really wanted a better life like he told me…I just think some of these guys are so addicted to the drama, chaos, sickness…etc, that a stable loving woman is so off for them, no matter how much they say they want it. I’m sick over what happened & all the years I gave…

    • Jil
      March 13, 2013 at 12:37 am

      by the way – when I say her, I mean his ex-wife

      • March 13, 2013 at 4:13 am

        Wow Jill, it truly sounds like we’re in the same boat. I’ve decided to see if he’ll initiate contact but right now, the same guy that was telling me up until late last week that I’m the best woman ever is most likely with that creature (who btw sent me threatening messages via facebook). Like someone posted above, it’s like my amazing wonderful guy is a different man…he’s like an addict….and I’m devastated but instead of him being with me, he’s with her (and of course no one in his family knows he’s gone back to her). Ah, what I would give to see her move far far away….

  12. March 12, 2013 at 5:22 am

    Wow, the above could’ve been written by me. I met the most wonderful amazing man in the world and we started off great. Then the ex re-appeared (if she had ever been gone). To make a long story short, she sounds like she has NPD (I recognize it because my previous relationship was with a man who had it and it took me a long time to break free and get to a healthy place again). My boyfriend keeps telling me how wonderful I am but has broken up with me…he says he can’t commit. What it translates to is that she has a hold on him. She has given him black eyes, bruises and bite marks, she destroys everything he cares about. Yet he continues to go back. This weekend he blew me off to be with her….even though he has told me repeatedly that he wants to get to a better place (he just seems to think she can be a part of that). What are the chances of a man like that coming around? He admits he’s only happy with her 5% of the time…yet he thinks he doesnt deserve any better. At this point, I’m realizing that maybe I need to distance myself because I’m becoming an emotional wreck. Is there anything I can do to help him? Is there any way to save our relationship?

  13. justfriends
    December 14, 2012 at 5:11 am

    Kati,
    Wow, I know right where you are. With me, it wasn’t a former, but a new abusive woman he has found. I have the same hope you have- that he will see how harmful this relationship is and have the strength to step away. He has done it before.

    I just feel incredibly foolish for not seeing the pattern sooner in his past relationships and recognizing his need to prove himself, so he can “earn” love. I’ve watched the same transformation as the addiction to abuse takes hold. He’s not the same person he was before because he’s turning himself inside out to please her and not make any mistakes. It doesn’t seem to compute to him that love isn’t supposed to hurt.

    I love your response to him, that you were no longer vying for his love, you just wanted to see him be loved the way he should be. I must confess, though, I’m not yet at that place. I desperately want to compete, to drive her away. I’m sure I do know the right thing to say to get rid of her, but he’d hate me for it because the craving to transform a crazy woman into the woman who gives him the love he wants is too strong, So, all I can do is sit back and watch the train wreck and hope he doesn’t get too badly damaged.

    I think I’ve figured out that if a woman isn’t trying to control him, isn’t punishing him with rages or making him fear her jealousy, he doesn’t feel loved. So I did EXACTLY the wrong thing by loving him for the person he is and not trying to control or change him. I fell like an idiot.

  14. Kati
    November 18, 2012 at 1:38 am

    Hi, I’d like to share my experience. First off, this site is wonderful and I’m so grateful I stumbled upon it. Second, thank you to any one who reads this. Any advice on my situation is much appreciated. Third, I apologize for the length, but I did my best to summarize it all I decided to comment on this thread because after reading Danielle’s comment, my situation seems quite similar.
    Okay, so here is my story. I started dating this guy, lets call him A, back in May. He had recently gotten out of an abusive relationship, and while I was hesitant, we took things slow, were just friends and talked a lot at first. He really seemed to have his mind straight in the sense that he knew he could never be with her, he knew it was going to be tough but that he needs to let go, heal and move on. I didn’t expect, so soon after their break up, for him to be “there” yet, but the fact that he was heading the right direction, I felt comfortable starting a relationship with him. He was incredibly sweet and respectful, we felt a genuine special connection before we even first kissed. He had moved into a house with his best friends, the ex was moving back to her home state, he had a huge support circle of friends and family, recently had gotten a good job, started seeing a counselor, in other words, everything seemed like it was reasonable to think that he was going be able to move on with his life.
    Their relationship came to an end in early April after she had cheated on him twice with some random guy (they had been together almost 2 1/2 years at this point, with physical abuse and legal action and multiple break-ups in their past, etc etc). At this point he was fed up, acknowledging that she was only doing things to hurt him. He broke up with her. Everyone else in his life greatly supported this. They had watched the abusive, roller coaster relationship of theirs for the last couple years.
    In the beginning, when I first started hanging out with him, she was still calling him repeatedly, sending very hateful text messages (words I don’t even want to repeat), but he knew she was trying to get at him. He acknowledged that and was determined to not let her get to him. He would never respond to her, or even listen to her voicemails. He was also very open with me about when she would contact him, in other words, he didn’t try to hide it. He was very grateful for my support and help. A grew up with an abusive mother who first abused the father, then him. When A was 10, the dad left the mom. A is very close with his dad and considering what the dad had been though, I knew he was able to help A through all this. A talked with me about how he had associated love with conflict. He acknowledged that my genuine care, with out abuse, was unusual to him.
    I saw this all as good signs. For the time being, they had to be in communication because they had gotten a dog while together and until she moved, it wasn’t clear if she was going to take it or not. A did not try to argue with her one way or another, he knew it was pointless, she was going to take the dog if she wanted to, and if not, she wouldn’t. In the beginning it was clear she used the dog as a way to get his attention. She would guilt him, or blame him for anything she could. He was aware of this, and it just further reassured him that he made the right choice breaking up with her.
    Not soon after they broke up, she moved back to her home town, 800 miles away. Everyone was happy about that. A began to re-strengthen his friendships and his relationship with his family, including his mother. He had been rather isolated when he was with the ex. He was happy to reconnect with everyone in his life.
    The issue with the shared phone plan was this. It was in A’s name. For the ex to continue to have a phone, she had to call the phone company and have her line removed from his plan. If A called the phone company and had her line kicked off his plan, it would cost $300 (break of contract) and her phone would be cut off. Unfortunately, A couldn’t bring himself to just cut her phone line, when she had just moved and was trying to get a job. He was persistent in telling her to call the phone company, but she never did. As I will explain, the ex certainly used A’s care and concern for her well-being to her advantage, as a way to stay in communication with him.
    Over the next 5 months, the ex stayed in contact with A as much as possible. There was a shift from awful terrible texts and messages, to basically anything she could say to get his attention. It started with drama with the dog (until she gave it up to a shelter) and then for months, she would come up with anything she could say to evoke emotion out of A. She was clearly using her distance to her advantage, she could basically say whatever she wanted and he couldn’t necessarily prove it to be a lie. Just to name some of the stories/events, she lost her job, became addicted to heroid, broke her arm, was being used by a junky, had to kick her way out of a hitch-hiker’s car, was on the streets of san franscisco, was pregnant (first claiming another guy got her pregnant, but saying she was going to make the middle name of the kid A’s name, claimed to know the sex before it is even possible to know the sex, then claiming it was A’s kid), miscarried (3 months into the “pregnancy”….by the way, she had an IUD), oh and she faked being in a coma, and then claimed her friend Michael went to NA meetings with her, and she started seeing a counselor about her anger issues and she that was getting married and invited A and me to the wedding.
    I can’t count the number of times, I talked to A about all of this. I wrote message after message trying to explain how everything was from my perspective. We talked about everything. I tried to be as patient, understanding, compassionate and supportive as possible. We both had acknowledged and talked about how A’s energy was being diverted to her still. He agreed that to get over her, and really “be” in a relationship with me, that he needed to cut communication with her, so he could let go and heal. He acknowledged that he couldn’t “save her” and wasn’t responsible for her well-being. At one point, only 2 months into our relationship, after this continued tie/relationship to his ex had become an incredibly apparent problem, A was still trying to get back on his feet, making just enough to cover living expenses. I gave him the $300 to disconnect her phone line. He still never did, claiming he couldn’t just shut her phone off when she was in all these horrible situations (he believed everything she said of course, despite how irrational, despite not only me, but his father, who he is close with, and anyone else he talked to, stating our opinions that she is making everything up). He even paid for her half of the phone bill on multiple occasions, with the reason behind it that she had supported him financially for a big chunk of their relationship, so he felt he needed to help her while she was without a job.
    I explained time after time how badly this all hurt me. I asked him to simply be honest, “do you want to be with me?” he would answer yes and then we would talk about and agree upon what needed to happen for that to be possible. But A just never backed up his words with action.
    This went on for 5 months. At this point, A had been feeling a lot of guilt for not being able to be much a boyfriend to me, and we decided he really needed to put his time and energy into getting over her so that he can “be” with me. I had suggested this multiple times, but wasn’t going to force A. Finally he made the choice to take “time and space” from our relationship to get over her. He made it clear that his intentions were still to be with me. I told him that he needed to tell me if his intentions ever change. I was supportive of all this, I saw it as a hard step to take, but out of respect for our relationship. I even let a couple good friends and his dad know, so they could be there for him during this.
    The flaw was, A took time and space from me, but not from her. He stayed in communication with her. She is incredibly manipulative and influential (i know this from what he told me about their past relationship, her actions and words from the last 6 months, and from all his friends and family). This resulted in A stealing his mom’s car (his was broke at the time), and driving the 800 miles to spend the weekend with her, sleep with her of course, and then come back. I tried to not jump to conclusions when he came back. I wanted to hear him out, why he did it, what his intentions were. I also made it very clear that if he wants to be with me, that this is where I put up my own healthy boundaries, that he needs to cut her out of his life if he wants me to stay in his.
    Well he decided that he is going to be with her. She “has changed”. She “was being real”. He even said they talked about all the lies she had said to him over the last 6 months. He claims it is different than any other time they got back together
    In other words, he is brainwashed. He is under her spell completely. He was successfully hoovered.
    Here is what I experienced. I watched A transform into another person. Basically I saw him become an addict (or return to being one). The guy I originally fell for was not giving her any attention, the wounds were so fresh, he knew he couldn’t be with her. As time went by, she kept accumulating his attention. A few months into it she started sending pictures of them together, or other nostalgic things. She would say things like “I’ll always love you”. I can guarantee, this is the sort of stuff that sucked him back in in the end. After they broke up in April, A’s self-esteem had been smashed to pieces. He also dealt with the “did she ever love me?” troublesome thought. All he ever wanted was for her to love him.

    As I watched all of this unfold, it became very apparent that A, the transformed, under-her-influence A, was displaying the exact characteristics of an addict. He actually started seeing a counselor when we first started dating and the counselor pointed out just that, and A acknowledged it and understood it, but then to avoid taking action, stopped going to his counselor. A has been secretive, has been shutting everyone out/avoiding talking to them, he has lied to friends and family, stolen money, and hurt those who love him. These characteristics completely contradict the true A. But just like other addicts, he has been transformed because of his addiction to do things that contradict his true character, all out of pursuit and in defense of the addiction. Everyone around him has seen this happen. All of his good friends, who have known him for 8+ years, know this is not the real A.
    Unfortunately, I believe he strongly is predisposed to such an addiction because of his abusive upbringing. Hell, there is neuroscience that proves it.
    Everyone flipped out when A became facebook official with his ex. His reaction to this was to push everyone away. He moved out of his house, and is barely talking to anyone besides her. Of course, hearing straight from his dad, this is how A learned to deal with conflict. As a child, when abuse was happening, A would push it all away.
    As soon as A was back with the ex, her old ways resurfaced. She has even already cheated on him. They’ve already been fighting over the phone, they haven’t been able to leave their toxic history in the past, saying things like “not everyone would take you back after what you did to me”, she hangs up on him constantly/plays hard to get with texts, makes him feel guilty/at fault for everything, he has to word everything so carefully as to not make her angry, etc etc (I know all this because I am friends with his former roommates and they heard a lot and saw text messages while he still lived there).
    In their previous relationship, the ex would see A making good steps in his life, and do anything she could to destroy it. So far, this time around, she already destroyed our relationship, she destroyed the relationship he had been rebuilding with his mom, and she has damaged his friendships/isolated him from his friends. He has a good job now, I won’t be surprised if she plans on destroying that too…unless she wants to use him for his money first. I have no idea how far she plans to try to take this. Fortunately (due to court-ordered abuse classes from their relationship back in 2011, yes, she called the police on him, and they of course believe the female, A is stuck here for at least another 6 months), so that leaves the option of the ex moving back up here (away from all her friends, to a place where everyone who knows her here, but A hates her). Although, seeing the power and control she has over him long-distance, i would not be surprised if she chooses to not move ( keeps making him waiting, while she is free to do whatever she wants down there). A has some obstacles, he needs to save money to find a place to live (a place that is “good enough” for her), and then probably needs to save money to move her up here too (i bet she plans on having him pay for all the expenses).

    I wrote him a series of lengthy letters. I made it clear I am no longer vying for his love, but merely caring about him as a friend. I explained all the reasons I think has happened. I tried to make him aware of his addiction/the psychological wounds that are underlying it all. I’ve urged him take more time to consider this action, to resume seeing his counselor, and to please not shut out those who care about him. I reminded him of what real love is, and what a healthy relationship is like.
    The only response I’ve gotten from him is “i’m very sorry that i hurt you so much. i’m very sorry that i ivolved you in my life when deep down i wasnt fully there. i just want you to know that i believe in my heart that i am not setting my life up for disaster. i just want to thank you for being there for me”
    The last thing I said to him was:
    “Thank you for not shutting me out completely. Im grateful you feel like you can still talk to me, at least a little. The last thing i want is for you to feel as if you dont have any friends that you’re able to turn to and talk to. So thank you for finally responding. I know i’ve said a lot in the last few weeks, but please remember, everything I said is because i sincerely care about your well-being. You’re a beautiful person with a huge heart and deserve to be healthy, happy and loved. I hope she is treating you well, with complete honesty and faithfulness, giving you the love and respect you deserve and not playing games with your heart. Please don’t allow yourself to be treated any other way. You have been through too much abuse in your life. You do not have to put up with more just to attain “love”. I tried to give you the healthy, loving relationship you deserve. Don’t ever settle for anything less.”:

    Basically I did my best to approach all of this in a gentle manner. His former roommates (and long time friends) were more harsh, forcing him to talk (or at least listen to them), asking things like “what has she done to show she has changed” and saying things like “stop lying to yourself” (they confronted him on overhearing the conversation where they learned she had already cheated on him. It is sad to watch how she controls him, he starts to stand up for himself, she shuts him out and he ends up begging and pleading for her love. They shove aside the apparent problems by repeating “everything will be ok, i love you”, as a way to not actual deal with reality). While I think his roommates approach did plant some seeds in A’s mind, it also resulted in A shoving them away, although deep down, I know he knows they care about him. One of them is really like a brother to A.
    Fortunately, A has not completely shut me out. His father is there for him, but in no way supports this relationship. He has been giving A space though (since he clearly became overwhelmed). His stance is to “let him fly and he will catch him when A falls”. He is sure that A WILL figure things out eventually, and believes A needs to make his own decisions, and learn from them. I agree, but I am also deeply troubled by the fact that A was so unfairly predisposed to this addiction because of his upbringing. I’m continuing to try to be there for him, reminding him that he deserves health, happiness and love. All of his friends have also been reminding him that they are there for him.
    Unfortunately A just seems to be in denial. I am sure he wants so badly to believe that she has changed and does love him, but I am also hoping that not only what everyone has said, but even her own recent actions have been planting seeds in his mind, possibly making him a little unsure.
    I don’t think A will open up to anyone about being the least bit unsure about his choice to be with the abusive ex, not until he is ready to take action upon it. I think he feels like he needs to be 100% defending her and their relationship, or ready to 100% not defend either. The only talk he has had with his dad (this has all happen in the last 3 weeks), his dad said A is confused.

    So, here is where I am at, and this is where I could use some advice. I feel good about everything I did and said to A. I still care about him greatly, and I still have hopes that the real A will overcome the addict in him. Even some of his best friends have said things like “once he is out of her spell and has taken time to let go and heal, maybe consider being friends with him for a while, and then if it feels right, being in a relationship again”
    I feel like this situation holds a lot of potential, good or bad. When the relationship fails (again), it could prove to A that he can’t “just be friends” or stay in communication with his ex. This whole experience could be what A needs to have happen to be able to move on. Chances are things will be awful between them again (they are already on their way), and at some point she will do something so awful that he breaks up with her again, or maybe she will break up with him for revenge from last time. Either way, when it is over, I feel like A could learn from this situation, and take good steps. For example, this could make him accept that he has to cut her out of his life (new phone number, block her number, get rid old photos, etc, etc). It could also make him see/accept the deep psychological wounds he has that attracted and re-attracted him to her. I feel like he would have the opportunity to take some big steps to heal those wounds, and works towards developing a healthy relationship (redefine/reprogram his brain for healthy love). I plan on printing off a lot of the wonderful articles on this website and just having them stashed away for when the time is right (if he gets there). I hope one day he will be open and receptive to them. He has a huge support circle, and could resume seeing the counselor (who he said, was the first one he ever felt comfortable with). I just feel like that if he became aware and conscious of how his childhood has affected him, and did some self-discovery, he could really heal from all this and change his life (rather than continuing this cycle). He was making all sorts of good steps back when I started dating him….the one huge step he didn’t take (no contact with the ex), this recent get back together with the ex, when it is over, will prove to him that no contact is absolutely necessary.

    So, any other females in my situation, or any other males who have been in A’s situation, what do you think?

  15. July 30, 2012 at 2:43 am

    Dr. T, I have been in a marriage/divorce/tried to work it out for 7 yrs, on an off. About year and half into the marriage I noticed that she had a small problem with perscription medication (taking more than perscribed) pain killers. She told me that she had indometrosis (?) and she was in consent pain . when I told lets go to the doctor to take care of that problem, she said all they are going to want to do is give me a Histerectomy (?). Looking back she didnt have INDO. As the yrs. went by, she would leave for long periods of time to spend with her mother and sister, mother having serve bipolar, sister on the way. I always asked her does she have it,she would get really mad and leave again.This went on for years to come. Until 2010 I filed for divorce. The anger got worse. calling 42 times in one night , I couldnt even function at work. You might think why didnt I just turn it off, I worked for the local power company and was subject to call out 24/7. I eventully had to change my #, then she started showing up, crying, Im so sorry, give me another chance please , I love you. I loved her and felt that I just cant turn my back on her, she is crying out for help and what type of person would I be if I just did turn my back. Things went ok for awhile, then I noticed the pill problem again and it also came with another problem, Drinking! I told her that I wasnt going to go through this again and that it was worse now. I told her as I did in the beginning, I was going to take her to the hospital. She became angry with me, yelling at me , telling me how worthless I am, and said go ahead I will just get my mom and sister to get me out. Well, on 7/17/2012 , she Mixed 3-1mg Xaniax, 2-20mg Addarall, Bottle of Champagn, bottle of wine, All in a time frame of 11/12 noon to 8:30 pm. when I got home. Seeing the state she was in she started argueing with me , because I confronted her on what she did. She drove a 4 wheeler to a little building on property where someone stays while they come out to visit. I followed her and tried to talk to her , but I have never seen her like this, I tried opening the door , locked , I tried opening windows they were locked , went to rear of building to see if that window was locked and that is when she took a shot at me through the glass barely missing me. Not knowing what to do I called a friend and he said you have to call 911. so I did. She has been in jail on Aggr. assult w/ deadly weap. charge. She has been calling me crying to come get her out, that she is scared. My Question to you, I havent slept but maybe 1 to 2 hrs. per night and sometimes not at all. I am feeling that it is my fault, instead of threatening to take her I should have just did it. If everything goes through on Aug 17,2012 she will be charged with a felony. That will ruin the rest of her life. Everybody says, but she tried to take your life. Is their any help hotline for me to talk to when things are really tough for me. I dont want to start taking meds. because then I will be no better than her and follow down the same trail. All thats out their is for Battered women what about us guys??? Any Help would be Appreciated, Thanks for your time MEH

    • shrink4men
      July 30, 2012 at 4:55 am

      Michael,

      Do not let this woman back into your life. Do not feel sorry for her. Well, feel sorry for her after she’s safely locked away. Quit taking her calls. JUst show up to testify. Next time, she may kill you or end up setting you up to be arrested. This is you chance to have an out, heal and get on with your life. Stop taking her calls. Please call the DAHMW Domestic Abuse Hotline for Men and Women.

      http://dahmw.org/

      1-888-7HELPLINE
      (1-888-743-5754)

      • July 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm

        Dr. T,
        Thank You for your advise,

        Michael

  16. JA
    July 28, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    Dr Palmatier,
    I stumbled upon this site while desperately trying to find info out about why my boyfriend of many years (lived with me for the past year) would EVER reconcile with his “ex-wife” who has done nothing but cause him trouble their entire relationship…TRO’s, 7 hours in jail, using the kids, community service, I could go on… Out of nowhere he left one day & went back to her after 4 years. He swears tthey love each other and although I am the nicest person and the only one who has ever alkways been there for him, that their love will prevail (ps…it NEVER did any of the other 10 times they reconciled!) I told him he is making a huge mistake. He wont hear any reason. I am a stable loyal loving woman who loves him to pieces. Why can he not see what a mistake he is making and how this is so dysfunctional?? I feel like the crazy one! :(
    J

    • shrink4men
      July 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      JA,

      Unfortunately, sometimes men who are involved with abusive, malicious, crazy women are just as dysfunctional as their partners. Does your boyfriend have co-dependency issues? Is he easily manipulated by fear, obligation and guilt? Is he a rescuer, fixer or “knight in shining armor? Were/one or both of his parents similar to his ex? Is he addicted to the drama and the crazy, so much so that stable and healthy feels “boring/”

      It also looks like he and his ex recycle back to one another, which is not good and does not bode well for him moving on with his life for once and for all. Maybe bringing in a third person (i.e., you) is part of their sick dance. Has he done to other women what he has done to you?

      If I were in your shoes, I would distance myself from your ex and his trainwreck of a life and marriage and not look back. He will only drag you back down and hurt you again. Please get some support for yourself. If you’re looking for online support, there are a couple of women who have experienced something similar on the Shrink4Men Forum, so you may want to register and get to know the good folks there.

      Best,
      Dr T

  17. kirst2
    April 10, 2012 at 10:44 am

    I have been seeing my boyfriend for about 6 months and he was with his borderline ex wife for about 20 years although she wasnt borderline for this entire time. He has had a couple of relationships before me with similar types of women to his ex which havent worked. He has always been very open and honest with me about how he feels and how hard its been and has never promised anything or been fully emotionally available with me. This is all ok as i realise that he is on a journey and needs to take time to heal and move on which he is gradually doing bit by bit. His divorce is getting finalised at the end of this month as his ex has dragged it out for 2 years, so this month is very hard for him. We went away together at the weekend and it was lovely, i told him i was in love with him, he didnt say it back which again is fine, i just wonder will he ever love me in time? 90% of the time we have a great relationship but sometimes it is hard for me. What would anyone advise

    • Dave
      June 27, 2012 at 10:49 am

      I have just come out of a relationship or rather marriage to a borderline and to be honest with you being married to one is very very hard but nothing compared to trying to get one out of your life, she was having an affair with a guy down the road she stole all of our money and left me with nothing she abandoned the kids and is now trying to now play mother of the year,but she has also levelled domestic abuse complaints against me as well as child abuse which of course never happened she even convinced the police that the allegations were true she even said that i sexually assaulted her so i guess the point i am coming to is that your boyfriend should go and see a counsellor, i know what he is thinking it is all about trust and thinking am i going to end up with another person like the previous, am i the person with the problem i was in a great deal of confusion and still am to a degree, also finding it hard to establish a relationship, Borderlines do such a number on you you couldnt possibly imagine what goes through your mind, and as the old saying goes time heals all wounds so hang in there dont put the pressure on him and try to be patient it is going to take time.
      regards Dave

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