How do you know what was real in a narcissistic relationship?

01 Nov 2022

How do you know what was real in a narcissistic relationship?

“Was any of it real?” my client asked, sadly. As the survivor of a long, narcissistic relationship, she was at the stage of picking through her memories and trying to establish what – if anything – was quite the way she remembered it. Specifically, of course, she was wondering about The Good Times.  Were they really were that good? Had she destroyed a good enough relationship? How, if things really were not good enough, had she managed to blind herself to the reality for so long?

And what did it all say about her? 

These are the questions that I want to look at in this blog.

Every narcissistic relationship requires not one but several post mortems as you search and research the causes of its demise.

Some of us – like me – recall remarkably few, untainted moments in their narcissistic relationship – which makes life a little less problematic. Others recall happy family moments, happy couple moments – even happy times that went on for a while. 

But still, we all need to keep revisiting the relationship in an attempt to understand how we ended up in a place where being reviled by a partner became our norm.

The “How Could We?” question

The more survivors start to see the unreality of a narcissistic relationship, the more they have to ask themselves the “How Could We?” question. More correctly, we have to constantly turn our attention to the “How Could We?” coin.

One side of the coin covers such questions as: 

  • How could we not see it? 
  • How could we be so stupid?
  • How could we ever trust ourselves again? 

That flip side covers the Love questions:

  • But surely there must have been love there?
  • They must have loved me once?
  • Surely they loved me to some degree?
  • Was it something I did that caused them to stop loving me?

Now these are all important questions that are undoubtedly useful in the course of a normal relationship.

However, a narcissistic relationship is as much like a normal relation as a turnip is like a lettuce. They have precious little worth mentioning in common. Yes, they both grow in soil and might find their way on to the same – main course – plates but…

None of the “How Could We?” questions help you to establish objective reality. Rather, when you start to look at them analytically, you will notice that they all lead to the same underlying concern:

“Surely, at some level, it must have been my fault?”

Wrong question!!!

To understand what is so wrong with that question, we need to revert to first principles.

First principles

What is the first principle of all abusive relationships?

You are not to blame for the abuse that an abusive person inflicted on you.

Abusers abuse because that it the nature of the beast. 

They don’t abuse everyone because that would work against their best interest. Ideally, the abuser wants to hide in plain sight by abusing, behind the scenes, only those who want break their cover. 

But abusing people is their way of living – their preferred lifestyle, if you like. 

All questions about the nature of the relationship you had with that abusive loved one need to start from that first principle that abuse was:

  • not your fault
  • not triggered by you
  • not a result of insufficient love on your part
  • not a consequence of selfishness or neediness
  • not your responsibility for not being something or other enough

Abusers earn the copyright to that label by their choice, actions and above all commitment to abusing loved ones.

Ultimately, all the “How Could We?” answers come from the flip side – the love side of the coin.

Narcissists appear in your life offering you a great invitation to Love. They invariably bait their hook with Love and/or Everything You Ever Dreamt Of But Weren’t Sure You Could Have. 

That is why you decide to invest heavily. Even if you have already noticed a few things that might cause a cautious investor more than a little concern.

So how do you know what was real in a narcissistic relationship?

You learn, at the end of a narcissistic relationship, that nothing the Narcissist put in, right from the beginning, was your kind of real. 

You know, for a fact, that everything that you put into the relationship was 100% real. 

But does that explanation really satisfy you? Or does it leave you still struggling with disbelief.

Looking at my client’s anguished face, as she struggled to separate truth from lies, it struck me that there was another way to explain it that might make more sense.

Right from the start of the relationship, you and the Narcissist are using two different currencies. Both of you are, as it were, paying into the relationship but using two completely different currencies.

Different currencies

While you were using Kuwaiti Dinar (worth $3.22 each), they were using Indian Rupees (226.27 to that KD). 

So, while at the start, you were both putting a lot into the relationship, what you were investing had a real value. But what they were investing had very little value.

Did they think that their investment was as valuable as yours?

They likely did, because it was their money.

In their eyes, that investment was far more valuable than yours ever was. 

It gave them all the rights in the relationship.

Did they know that you were putting far more in?

Quite probably. But they worked on a “Winner Takes It All” basis.

And they were always going to be the winner – because they did invest something in the relationship, after all. 

Their something was, in their eyes, worth far, far more than your everything could ever be.

In a sense, you were duped by that grain of reality in a tissue of lies. 

You need to guard against getting caught up in that tissue of lies. 

Check out the currency

A narcissistic partner does put something real into the relationship. Not much but a little something, in a currency that has very little worth. 

We never see that at the time because, for us, there is only one currency – our currency. We therefore assume that everyone must be using it.

So, we don’t take the time or the trouble to check.

That, like all the lessons of a narcissistic relationship, is a tough lesson to learn.

How do you protect yourself, going forward? The image springs unbidden to my mind, from the dire Westerns of my childhood, of the cowboy biting on a dollar to check that it is real. You really have to check out the currency that other people are using. Not with your teeth, clearly. But with your intelligence and your intuition.

When you do that, you will never again be left retrospectively wondering about what was real in a narcissistic relationship.

If you found this article helpful because you are struggling to make sense of and heal from a narcissistic relationship, I invite you to check out my Break Free Membership where you will find an unparalleled range of tips, tools and blueprints for healing from narcissistic abuse. 


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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