Why Don’t Women Leave Narcissistic Partners?

Snowy winter house

(Photo: Dr. Candace V. Love)

During my many years counseling women who are in relationships with narcissists, I’ve heard every excuse under the sun as to why they don’t leave their partners. The most simplistic answer I hear is that they’re in love, but there may be more complicated reasons.

If you cite love as the reason for staying with a narcissist, you probably remember how the relationship was in the beginning, back when your partner made you feel special and understood you so well that you felt you’d met your soul mate. You may not have ever felt that way with anyone else — or at least not to such a degree.

Perhaps you believed that you don’t deserve love because you feel inadequate, unworthy, or unlovable, which is why you never felt anyone would — or even could — understood you.

It’s intoxicating to meet someone who appears to love you, warts and all, someone who is interested in everything you say and do, who is easy to talk with — someone who really gets you.

So when red flags begin to crop up, you do what we all do — you minimize and ignore his hurtful words and actions and hold onto the hope that he’ll go back to behaving like his former self, the person you originally fell in love with. Your love for him convinces you to stay.

But you might also stay with a narcissist for more complicated reasons. Perhaps your partner had a terrible childhood and you feel sorry for him. You rationalize his insensitive behavior toward you and others because, deep down, he’s just a hurt little boy, and you protect him by excusing his behaviors and defending him to others, and perhaps go so far as to cover and lie for him. You would feel too guilty leaving such a broken soul.

Other complicated reasons for staying are similar to why battered women stay with abusive men: children, financial reasons, even position in society. Some women opt to stay until the children are 18 (even though divorce is difficult for children of any age, and witnessing an abusive marriage can be even more traumatic than watching parents separate). You might fear going through a difficult divorce that would be both emotionally and financially draining. Or your partner may be a prominent figure in society and, by leaving him, you’d be faced with humiliation and also lose your status. Unmarried women of child-bearing age sometimes stay because they fear it’s their last chance before the alarm on their biological clock goes off.

Perhaps your reason for staying is different than some of the above. The next blog post will address questions you should ask yourself to help decide whether to stay or leave your narcissistic partner.

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