Relationship Committee

Relationship by Committee

“Sometimes I feel like I’m in a relationship with a committee, instead of just you,” I told Tina. It was a frequent concern of mine. Tina and her Mom existed in a state of homeostasis. They were accustomed to making decisions together. I was a new element in that dynamic and probably a disruptive one, but I believed that as Tina and I were to be married, priority had to be on making decisions for the two of us. “I don’t need two wives,” I’d said.

Tina agreed with that sentiment, but often reversed course on agreements we’d formed together after conferring with her mother. It was frustrating, but I’m patient and adaptable. Ultimately, I just wanted everyone to be as happy as we could be in our circumstance. I was willing to compromise. It could be confusing having so many reversals, but everything about my relationship with Tina was confusing. It all kept me off balance.

I’ve come to learn that this kind of dependence on others for decision making is a common trait of people suffering from borderline, histrionic and vulnerable or covert narcissistic personality disorders. It stems from a core lack of confidence. People with borderline traits often rely on a committee of sorts to govern the details of their lives. Of course, this problem is only exacerbated when the members of the committee are presented with a version of reality that isn’t just biased, but a complete fabrication.

I came to realize that Tina mischaracterized what other people said and did when she told a story designed to garner sympathy for herself. She would gloss over important details that might explain the motivations for what her “oppressors” said or did. She’d use a bit of word salad to obfuscate information that would get at the truth of a situation (also see: 10 Warning Signs of Word Salad). Very often, when quoting someone else, she’d replace significant portions of what they said with “de dah de dah da dah.”

At first, I just accepted her conclusions without thinking too hard about the missing or confusing bits – that’s natural trust and sympathy for a loved one. As I became more aware of the patterns of her behavior, I realized the truth was probably often buried in “de dah de dah da dah.” That’s where Tina’s own behavior might be implicated, or her “oppressor” might be exonerated.

Triangulation is a manipulation tactic employed by narcissists and borderlines where they play one person off of another. They create romantic rivalries (real or perceived) and other animosities. They misrepresent what people close to them have said and done to make themselves look better, to garner sympathy or create animosities. This is how they extract narcissistic supply. They lie to friends and family about other friends and family. This also has the convenient side effect of preventing people who’ve heard different versions of reality from comparing notes.

I was beginning to realize this, mostly on a subconscious or instinctive level when Tina disappeared with Nate. I imagined what lies she must have been telling him to justify lying to me.

Since a narcissist is essentially incapable of acknowledging or taking responsibility for their shameful behavior, they project, twist and contort the truth any time they think they can get away with it. I was starting to get an inkling of that in the aftermath of Nategate. I knew Tina was discussing her “relationship problems” with Nate and her friend Amber and I realized that to preserve her own fragile ego, she’d have had to be lying to them and since she had woven so many lies with so many people, she couldn’t possibly get rational advice from anyone about anything of consequence. It was like the old programmers’ adage: Garbage in, garbage out.

I imagined that Tina’s committee was offering her all manner of sympathy and advising her to dump that mean old Dan. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that skewed advice just might have helped save my life.

The only real “relationship problem” (at that point in time) stemmed from Tina showing me that I didn’t matter to her while telling me the opposite – that I was the most important person in her world. I was depressed, anxious and confused and seeking answers that Tina refused to produce. In that state, I wasn’t fun anymore. Tina had pushed it too far. She had broken her favorite toy and it no longer amused her. More importantly, it – I – no longer provided what she needed most: Narcissistic supply.

In one of her more honest and revealing moments, she said to me, “you used to provide me validation. You aren’t doing that anymore.”

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