Why Your Abusive Partner Treats You That Way

29 Aug 2018

How could he treat me that way?” was the question that I asked myself endlessly when I was with my emotionally abusive partner.  In the years since, I have worked with many hundreds of women. None of them could come to terms with why an abusive partner treats you that way. Only much, much later do you realize that they treat you that way because they are actually a Narsehole – a wonderfully evocative word that perfectly encapsulates the ingrained Narcissism of these toxic people.

What makes it so hard to understand why your abusive partner treats you that way

If you are someone who believes in treating other people well, it is close to impossible to understand what an abuser could possibly get out of being abusive. You can’t understand how they operate because you live by different values.

In fact, one of the things that keeps you alive – even if only just – despite having been horribly abused by “loved ones” is a deep-seated commitment to your values.  You believe in humanity.  You believe in being a good person.  You believe in love, respect and consideration.

Over time, you are forced to register that an abusive partner (or other loved one) does not act in accordance with your values.  So, you ask yourself, “How can they treat me that way?”

The shortcut to hell

That “How” question often bleeds into the even worse question, “Why do they treat me that way?”

That way lies hell.  Those of us who ask ourselves the “Why” question end up with an answer based on what must be wrong with us.  The true question becomes, “What is it about me that is so wrong that they feel they can treat me that way?”

The question less asked

What you do not do ask yourself – because you automatically assume that, at bottom, an abusive, narcissistic partner must have the same values that you do is, “What is it about my abusive partner that he feels he can treat another human being that way?” That is a far more empowering question. Plus, it will take you a lot further into understanding how that partner actually works.

As I write this, staying with me I have my dear friend who is just starting out on her recovery journey from a 20+ year marriage to a monstrously abusive, almost insanely narcissistic man. Needless to say, this man told her many, many times exactly why he treated her that way. 

Mr Narsehole (not his real name but you can see where I am coming from) justified treating my friend that way because of what was wrong with her. Essentially, he said to her,

“I can’t love you because…”

Like all emotionally abusive people, this man was a master of language –despite all his uncharacteristically modest protestations to the contrary.  He would tell his wife, in all seriousness, “I can’t love you because,…

  • You’re not physically attractive enough for me.
  • You’re starting to look old.
  • You’re not intelligent enough for me.
  • You don’t do enough to support me.
  • You are too harsh and critical (of me) to be lovable.
  • You’re not sweet and gentle enough for me.
  • You make too many demands on me.
  • You don’t offer me unconditional admiration, no matter how badly I behave – towards you or the rest of the world.
  • You dare to have a few needs of your own.
  • You try to hold me accountable(!!!!)”

Mr Narsehole had a long, long list of “reasons” why he simply could not love his wife.  As he saw it, the problem was all hers.  She needed to understand that, given the circumstances, she could not reasonably expect better. He was – in his own eyes – a pretty special guy whereas she was past her sell-by date.

One Mr. Narsehole’s next chapter

(Because this man has quite fallen off my list of people I respect and value, thanks to his appalling treatment of his lovely wife, I share with you the next chapter of the story. He surrendered gleefully to a mid-life crisis as big as his ego. He has “replaced” the wife he could not love with a “woman” (aka Stick Insect) barely more than a third of his age.  All the evidence points to her having as big an ego and as cold and shriveled a heart as he has. Despite her extreme youth.

I think they may have been very happy together – momentarily, while they shared a Two-Exceptional-People-Against-A-Banal-World narrative.  I believe they could even have a teeny tiny chance of being very Happy Together Forever – provided at least one of them undergoes a total personality transplant. Within the next 2-3 months. Unfortunately, that will never happen – not least because they are both incredibly satisfied with the “Personality” they already have.)

“How can he do that to me?”

Initially my friend got caught up in the old, “How can he do that to me?” line of self-torture.  Ultimately, the question itself is not a bad question – provided you use it correctly.  Provided you use it to look at yourself and say, “Hey! How dare they treat me like garbage? I have done so much for that person. How dare they not value it?”

That would be all perfectly well and good – provided it reminds you of your own value.

However, you need to be watchful of the tendency to look at your abusive partner’s treatment and explain it in terms of your lack of value.

Don’t let a Narsehole write your “relationship report card”

Your partner’s treatment of you is not your “relationship report card”. Instead, it is a clear reflection of their need to feel powerful. And, of course, they can only feel powerful by stealing your power.  They truly are vampires who feed off you.

For an abuser, the world revolves around them.  Narsehole  is their middle name.  They are emotional animals of prey who feed by sucking you into the dark sinkhole of their inner world.  An abusive partner sees you as existing simply to feed them.

Now, you and I know that you did not come into this world to be someone else’s nutrition.  That is just plain crazy.  However, let’s be honest, you probably bought into not just the helpmeet piece but being your partner’s lifeline, as and when necessary.

You are not a One-Woman-Life-Support-System

You have been your partner’s lifeline in so many ways.  For you, not unsurprisingly, that has been a badge of honor.  Possibly the only badge of honor you felt you deserved.  They, however, viewed the reality differently.  They have seen you – and have treated you -as a One-Woman-Life-Support-System.  A Life-Support System, NOT a human being.

Dehumanizing you served to make them feel “good” about themselves – inasmuch as a Narsehole ever feels good about anything. They have used you as their Happy Pills, their food supply, their mental health professional, their scapegoat, their Bottom Dog {the creature at the bottom of their social hierarchy} and much, much more besides.

Your abusive partner sees you that way because of what they are – not who you are.  Probably about the nearest you will ever come to a sincere compliment from a Narsehole is that they saw you as being a rich enough source of supply to be worth getting into a relationship with.

I am not suggesting that that is much, it isn’t.  However, as you already know from your own experience, when you are around a Narsehole there is a HUGE gulf between what you deserve and what you actually get.

Don’t blame yourself for what you couldn’t know

Your abusive partner sees you that way because humanity is not their thing. Exploitation is.  You couldn’t know that then.  That is why you had to learn it the hard way.  You did the best you could to transform a Narsehole. Narseholes don’t change.   Narseholes have no wish to change. You were not to know that.

You can’t blame yourself because you couldn’t know that an emotionally abusive partner sees you “that way”.  Period.  Being with an emotionally abusive partner teaches you things you never wanted to learn about  just how horrible one human being can be to another.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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