Growing up, my father ignored me a lot. On purpose. He would become angry with me and then not speak to me for what seemed like weeks at a time. It was probably more likely days at a time, but to a little girl, days seem like weeks sometimes. Especially long, painful days when your own father is ignoring you. Words are important. Words communicate. Words validate. Words cut to the quick and hurt. I am 50 and, to this day, I am extremely hurt when people ignore me. I often tell people it is the WORST thing anyone can do to hurt me. It’s a childhood wound that I can’t seem to get over.
I talk a lot. Especially when I am nervous or feel awkward! I enjoy conversation, debate and being around people. As I have gotten older, I have learned to slow my speech down and have tried to work on not talking so much. Maybe before I’m 90, I’ll get it down. My husband would tell me all the time that I talked too much. He would go further and tell me that I never said anything when I spoke, that I spoke in circles and sometimes told me to shut up in front of other people. He corrected my grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary ALL the time. Over the course of the 24 year marriage, it became annoying.
Once, at a company Christmas party, I was talking to another employee at the table. My husband told me to shut up, adding that the employee with whom I was speaking didn’t want to hear what I had to say. Thankfully, the gentleman was a gentleman and told my husband, “Oh, no, I am enjoying our conversation!” I was mortified. Absolutely, completely mortified. On the way home, I brought this up and we argued. Of course, arguing with a narcissist meant that *I* was simply too sensitive about his constructive criticism. *He* was completely right about his assessment, I did talk too much and the way he went about chastising me in front of his fellow employee was completely called for, in his opinion. This was a common occurrence in front of my boys, their friends and girlfriends, our neighbors and even his own family. I once snapped at him after he told me to shut up in front of his parents. Once again, I was at fault because I was simply too sensitive to his “constructive criticism”.
On more than one occasion, I had to take out a dictionary to prove that I was pronouncing a world correctly. Yes, you read that correctly, I had to show him in a dictionary that not only did I have the proper diction, but that I was using the proper denotation and connotation of said word in question. Y’all, I may not be the smartest person on the planet, but I have never had to do this with anyone other than my husband. Most people I speak with on a daily basis seem to understand the words coming out of my mouth. I made As in my college English classes and have always felt this gave me SOME credibility to say that I have a decent command of the English language.
As an example, one day I asked him not to be so patronizing to me. I pronounced it ‘patre, nīz (the e should be upside-down there, but I don’t have that option on my keyboard!). He told me that not only did I pronounce the word improperly, but that I was using it improperly, as well. I tried to explain that when someone is being patronizing to me, I pronounce it that way, but when I say someone is patronizing a business I pronounce it ‘pātre,nīz. I don’t know why I do, maybe because that’s how folks where I grew up did it. The argument got so bad–he was insisting that I was completely WRONG and that there was only one definition for the word and only one way to pronounce it. Without the dictionary, I wasn’t able to give a concise definition for either denotation of the word nor could I prove that there are two ways to pronounce the damn word. I whipped out a dictionary and SHOWED him. HA! I was correct after all! No apologizes on his part, of course. The advent of the smart phone made it easier to drum up pronunciations and definitions. Apologies remained in short supply.
Arguments were always such a joy. Instead of the original point of contention, we ended up arguing over WORDS. Every argument ended with us arguing over my use of a word or my misunderstanding of a word he used. I kid you not. I once got so frustrated that I started crying and began jumping up and down in place and screamed something like, “Why the eff do we always end up arguing over a WORD!? WHY? Why do you think I am too effing stupid to comprehend what you are saying? Why do you always think I can’t choose the right effing word to convey what the eff I am trying to convey?” Then he called me the word we all know the meaning of. Psycho. I was always the psycho one. Y’all have probably been there–trying to explain to someone what you mean, over and over. They become angry, so you try to explain more to diffuse the anger, but instead, it goes nowhere or escalates the anger. 29 years of this and counting.
I would actually say things like, “Okay, okay! If that is what you think that word means, then THAT is NOT what I am trying to say.” I would try to think of anther word to convey my thoughts more clearly to the narcissistic jerk. It never helped. It only confounded me more that he couldn’t just understand that I wasn’t this evil, horrible bitch trying to harm him with my words. He would say, “That word means blah, blah, blah so you are saying what I think you are saying.” If you are out there living with a narcissist, do what I didn’t do. Walk away! I had this incessant need to be understood by my husband. I wanted him to know that I wasn’t being snarky, obnoxious, cruel or evil. By the time the argument ended, I was being all of those things, of course. I believe that if a person tells you something isn’t what they meant or how they meant it to come across, then they should be believed. If I have wrongly ascribed intent to something a person says, I generally apologize and thank them for any clarification. I never got the benefit of the doubt, I was always deemed guilty. Yet, I was to always assume the narcissist had my best interest at heart and would never misuse a word in an attempt to harm me in any way. Always the double standard with narcissists.
As a last ditch effort to save my marriage (even though others knew and I knew he was seeing someone), I forced him to go to a Catholic marriage retreat called Retrouvaille. Yes, forced is the proper word, as he did not go of his own free will. There is an entire blog entry waiting to be written on the weekend hell the retreat was, but this one particular event goes with this current topic. I pronounced the name of the retreat wrong. Y’all would never have known this because you are reading this, right? My guess is that I am not the only person on the planet who didn’t know how to pronounce the actual name of that retreat. I have wondered how many couples going on the retreat have argued over its mispronunciation many times, however. I apologized for my mispronunciation and damn it if I didn’t do it again. The second time, I was corrected a little more harshly because, you know, having been corrected by a perfect narcissist once means it should never happen again. Once a narc tells you how to do anything properly, you MUST henceforth do it properly!
We did a lot of writing to each other that retreat weekend. We would listen to a talk, then we would write letters to each other that would be read once we reunited in the same room (alone) again. Over and over the leaders would say not to purport to know what the person writing was feeling as they wrote, not to ascribe intent behind the words, and to give the other person the benefit of the doubt if their writings were misunderstood. That didn’t happen with my words. Nope. Narcissists always know what you are feeling–better than you know what you are feeling.
I stormed out after one particular argument ensued post-reading session. Y’all it was just a replay of almost every argument we’d ever had our entire relationship! Oh my stars! He read what I wrote and told me that I was being snarky. I said, “No, no, what I wrote came from my heart. I was being sincere. I was NOT being snarky, I PROMISE.” He did not believe me and refused to take my word for it. Nope, he was right and I was wrong. Because HE knew what I was feeling when I wrote what the letter and he KNEW that I was being sarcastic and snarky. Case closed. Nothing could convince him otherwise. I begged and pleaded with him to believe me, just as I had done for the almost 26 years I had known him at that point. I was always begging him to believe me. I was always begging him not to see me as evil, horrible and wretched and believe that my words were sincere. I begged him to remember what the leaders said about ascribing intent to the words of your partner. 26 years of pent up frustration vomited out of my mouth. I ranted and raved like a lunatic. I told him that I was leaving the retreat because it was pointless if I could still not be understood. I didn’t end up leaving, of course, but I wanted to.
One day, he carried laundry up the stairs. As he went up, he dropped a washcloth. I said, “You dropped a washcloth.” I don’t think I was rude or sarcastic. I was matter-of-fact, if anything. You know, unemotional and practical. Y’all, he ripped me a new one. He told me that I always blamed him for everything and on and on. I tried defending myself to no avail. I really wasn’t blaming him– I mean, who really gives two shakes if you drop laundry? It’s not earth shattering or life-threatening. We have all done it. Why is it so hard to shut up when we are trying to defend ourselves from untruths? I honestly meant nothing other than pointing it out that laundry was dropped. no harm no foul. Obviously, I was an evil bitch for pointing it out and that was that. Narcissists always know what you think and feel. Always.
Another time, he grabbed his wrist and said it had been hurting for a while. I asked calmly and without hostility, “Did you take any ibuprofen?” Oh lawdy, y’all! I had no idea that was a forbidden question that related to the other person such disdain for another. He went off on me, “You ALWAYS belittle my pain! You never give a shit that it actually hurts!” What!!!? Try as I might to explain that I harbored no ill will and was really just wanting to help, it fell upon deaf ears. I was wrong. He was right. Never mind that I knew ibuprofen helps swelling and joint pain while acetaminophen does not. I can’t even. I did care and would have retrieved ibuprofen for him and even gotten a glass of water.
I would often tell him to take off his hate colored Pattie is a bitch glasses. I would sometimes yell things like, “I think you wake up every day thinking I am an evil bitch and thus everything I do or say is colored by that!!!! No matter how hard I try, you always see everything I do from that perspective. I can’t win!” It is true, there is no winning with narcissists, especially once they have determined such things. I couldn’t even say good morning properly. I would be told I was being too grouchy or too whatever. At some point, I just gave up even trying to understand. I mean, what is the point if the other person always ascribes evil intent to all of your words and actions?
Later, after he told me that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be married, we argued again about words. Sometime after the retreat we were discussing his not wanting to be married. I am 100% certain that I drove him batshit crazy because I needed an answer. He would tell me, “Plan for both.” I found it impossible to work on our marriage alone AND plan for divorce. He refused counseling (just as he had the entire 24 year marriage). My therapist agreed that a person cannot do both things simultaneously. It takes two to make a marriage work and only one to decide if it comes to an end. He promised he would never leave without telling me of his decision. He promised he would never leave unless we came to an agreement. He broke both of those promises.
This one particular day, he said, “I think divorce is inevitable.” Later during the course of the argument, I said, “You said that divorce is inevitable, then just tell me if you want a divorce.” Y’all we literally argued for an hour over the word “THINK”. To this day, he has never said these words to me: “I want a divorce.” Not once. That aside, we argued that day. He retorted, “I did NOT say divorce is inevitable, I said that I THINK divorce is inevitable!!! You always distort what I actually say! You have comprehension problems! There is a difference between saying I think divorce is inevitable and saying divorce is inevitable.” I spent an entire therapy session discussing this and still don’t see a difference in meaning. Neither does my therapist. The two sentences mean essentially the same thing, in my opinion.
In the end, he filed for divorce without ever having told me in any way, shape or form, “I want a divorce.” His actions spoke louder than words. Just as his actually having a paramour spoke louder on his thoughts about me and our marriage than any words he could ever utter.