I was married for 17 years to a woman I’d been in a relationship with since I was about 19 years old. Before meeting Tina, it was the only long-term relationship I’d been in. I’d dated a couple girls and had one other short-term girlfriend – nothing of any consequence.
Growing up, my parents were in a perpetual on-again-off-again cycle that resulted, for me, in a new home, new school and new friends about every 1-2 years for my entire childhood. I took from that experience two absolute determinations. Firstly, I would never break up my family. Secondly, I needed to own my own home and take every step to ensure it’s security and permanence.
My relationship with Jessica could be volatile, but I felt protective of her and I was sympathetic to the horrors she’d suffered throughout her life. I probably tolerated too much, but we moved in together, got married and bought a house.
Eventually, I began to suspect I was contending with borderline personality disorder. A friend recommended a book, “Walking on Eggshells.” It described being in a relationship with someone with borderline personality disorder and it matched up to my life pretty well.
The last couple years of my marriage had deteriorated to a point where there was rarely peace at home. I was afraid to go home most days and I started drinking heavily to cope. Despite the dysfunction and mutual unhappiness, I would never have left. Divorce was not an option. I would not break up my family and I would never give up my permanent home. All of that proved beyond my control. Jessica hired a pitbull of a lawyer and initiated divorce.
I was ultimately forced out of the home I’d been renovating for years and I felt like I’d failed in the worst possible way because I’d not been able to maintain my marriage. My carefully constructed reality shattered. Dearly held beliefs were disproven.
There was one bright spot I could see in my situation. My friends had invited me to go to Ireland with them and this is something I’d never have been able to do while married. Jessica did not tolerate travel and also would not abide me being away from home more than a day or two. Even a single night away was often too costly domestically to be worth the price.
I fled the country and had the most marvelous adventure in Ireland. That trip completely changed my perspective on my situation. I came back optimistic, feeling open to possibilities and I met Tina. Only eight months later, I found myself on bended knee asking Tina to be my wife, despite my vow to never marry again.
We’d decided not to have a church wedding. I wanted to do things differently than how my first wedding had gone. It had to be unique to Tina and I. We agreed on a very unusual arrangement. We’d hire a licensed minister (I had a friend in mind for the job) and exchange vows on her dad’s double-decker pontoon at his lake home. After the ceremony, we were going to “take the plunge” by leaping off the pontoon into the lake.
After two miscarriages, my ex-wife had decided she no longer had any interest in having children, so I’d written that idea out of my future. With Tina, everything became possible again, including children. It was a second chance to get it “right” and thanks to Tina’s love-bombing, triangulation and gaslighting manipulations, I was convinced that it was “meant to be.” The stars aligned, or so it seemed.
I committed myself entirely to the new family we were creating. We decided to write our own vows, which made sense to me. It was different from my first wedding and I could draw on my marital experience to write vows that were more fitting in my view.
I took a crack at writing my side of the vows right away. I took into consideration the things Tina said were important. She valued the fact that I listened to her and took her seriously. She felt like other people didn’t. She was often ill (I didn’t realize at the time how often her illness was just drug and alcohol withdrawals) and I took care of her, another thing she seemed to appreciate me for immensely. We’d agreed at the very beginning of our relationship on a policy of total honesty, “even if it’s bad.” I upheld that ideal even though it turned out that Tina never did.
There were also my “rules” for the proper care and feeding of Tina to consider.
I mulled all of those things with the purpose of marriage and wrote my very intentional and heartfelt vows.
“Tina, I promise to love, cherish and care for you, forsaking all others, to treat you with honesty and kindness and to listen to you, for all the days we are allowed on this Earth together and beyond.”
It was brief, but said all that mattered, I felt. I shared it with Tina and realized that no marriage ceremony was required to make these words true. “I mean this, now,” I told her.
“I’m yours forever,” she said.
I was fully committed. As far as I was concerned, the upcoming wedding was a mere formality – a celebration of our love with friends and family. Every decision I made was done in consideration of our future together. I was determined, whatever it took, to make this marriage succeed.
I had set hard boundaries for myself. No matter how tough things got I wasn’t going to break and run. I was going to try to work it out. Rather than mirroring my devotion, Tina seemed to take mine to mean that she could abuse me in any which way and never fear losing me. Over time, I realized, I was beginning to feel like Tina saw me as disposable. She took me for granted. Her abuses increased and became more remorselessly apparent with time.
Narcissists need conscientious victims. Their manipulation tactics will only work on people who are willing to introspect, question themselves and consider other points of view. So, when I would call Tina on her behavior, or simply question something that seemed off, she could spin stories and however implausible, I would give them weight. I’d promised to listen to her, after all! I’d consider the possibility that my suspicions were unfounded or that I was missing some important detail that would make sense of perfectly innocent situations.
The first time I felt I was being deceived by Tina, I was prepared to leave. I was going to leave in the middle of the night while she slept, but that felt wrong. I’m better than that. I felt I should give Tina an explanation, so I woke her up. Somehow, she convinced me to stay and even made me feel bad about bringing up her dishonesty. I ended up promising her that I would never leave without telling her why.
Because I held myself to high standards of faithfulness, loyalty and empathy and because I felt bound by my promises, Tina could see that I was a reliable source of narcissistic and material supply. I’d been through “walking on eggshells” for over 20 years with a cluster B disordered person, so I was already inured to that kind of abuse. Tina’s mom often observed, “you’re so patient, Dan.” That kind of patience came natural by then. Tina never raged at me, so on the surface, dealing with her quirks seemed easy by comparison.
I take my promises seriously. All of my vows served to bond me to Tina, but she exhibited no such constraints of conscious. When things got difficult, instead of making an effort to work it out, her instinct was to simply vanish and she’d run off to secondary or new sources of narcissistic supply and validation. That would inevitably leave me asking why and never getting answers. I would feel like I’d done something horribly wrong, but later I learned that all I’d done was cause a narcissistic injury – which is suggesting or observing anything even remotely critical of a narcissist.