My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited.
Women caught up in relationships with narcissists and psychopaths often ask themselves, what have I done wrong? What am I doing wrong? What should I have done differently? Why is this happening to me?
Well, to understand the answers to these questions, we need to discuss romantic relationships in general.
Romantic relationships with intimate partners, significant others, are comprised of three important components.
There is the issue of mate selection or mate choice. There is the issue of relationship model or hypotheses. There is the issue of termination triggers.
Mate selection, how you choose your partner, is critical, of course, but even more important is to ensure compatibility between the mate or the partner selected and the model of relationship one has in mind.
There are as many types of relationships as there are couples, and one would do well to define precisely how one would like to live her life with her spouse.
Consider an open marriage. Open marriage calls for one kind of partner, and then a traditional marriage calls for an entirely different sort of a person.
Mismatches between the personality, character, and temperament of the members of the couple and the relationship model that they have adopted, these mismatches are often the main fount of trouble, knowing the foundations and leading to the disintegration of the pair.
Yet even when one's mate, spouse, partner has been selected with care and perfectly fits the relationship one has in mind, some relationships still do crumble.
This is because the members of the couple have disparate, different termination triggers and abandonment anxiety thresholds.
We all have insecurities, fears, and co-dependence, and these often rise to the surface and lead to self-defeating behaviors, such as preemptive abandonment. I will walk away before he does this to me, before he abandons me.
Romantic, intimate relationships are comprised of various dimensions, functions, and axes. You should deconstruct, you should understand your past relationships in order to avoid mistakes in future ones.
So start by asking yourself, how do you perceive the role of relationships in your life? Is it something that fosters personal growth? Does it help you attain your life's goals?
Write down your personal narrative, and then ask yourself the following.
Which of the external and internal functions of relationships matter to you most in your romantic liaisons?
Use your answers to the following list to construct a prioritized list.
So I'm going to read now a list of external and internal functions of relationships, and you should consider which of these matters to you most, and then you should prioritize them.
The first thing we expect of a relationship is to experience love. There is this romantic love, infatuation, excitement, hearts, computations, and sweating, and so on, and there is mature love, as distinct from mere and fleeting infatuation. Which type of love matters to you most?
Second thing, do you wish to be desired, chosen, focus of attention and adulation? Do you insist on your relationship being monogamous and exclusive? Do you expect your relationships to provide you with excitement and thrill to counter boredom? Do you want your relationship to be stable, safe, predictable, and reliable to counter anxiety? Do you expect mirroring? Do you expect your partner to emphasize and share similarities with you? Do you expect your relationship to enhance your personal growth, as we have mentioned before?
What would you rather do in your relationship? Would you rather give or would you rather receive? Do you expect your relationship to enhance your social acceptability? In other words, to help you with conforming to society? Do you wish your relationships to confer social status on you? Do you expect your partner to be sexually available? How important is sex in your relationship? What can you do without?
Don't confuse sexual relations with intimacy. You can have either or, or both.
Do you want to have children? Do you expect your relationship to provide you with opportunities for procreation?
Are you looking for companionship, the unrestricted and immediate physical and mental availability of another person with whom one shares the same range of opinion, interests, and pursuits? Are you looking for a friend in your spouse or maid or partner, this deep or pervasive bonding to another person involving full, unmitigated trust, a great measure of non-sexual or also sexual intimacy, and the pursuit of the mutual well-being and happiness of both parties? Friendship.
Then, having prioritized this list, you should proceed to identify your commitment triggers.
What is it that determines whether a prospective partner, a person you've just met on a first date or a second date, what is it that determines whether this person you have met would end up being a one-night stand or your life-long spouse?
What makes you commit? Which triggers? And what are your relationship predictors?
In other words, you should commit to paper or screen. Everything that your inner voice tells you when it says, this may be the one, this may be Mr. Right, or when it guesstimates how long the relationship is likely to last.
These inner voices are critical, very important. You should listen to them. You should ask yourself, when do they come into play? When do they tell me that this may be the one?
You should list your expectations of yourself and of your partner and generate a coherent expectations profile. What am I looking for? Or what to look for? And what is he looking for?
You should determine how you test for reciprocity. What in your mind? How does it go in your mind? Is it a sort of quid pro quo type of ledger? Are you an accountant in your mind? Do you measure each and every give and take and balance them out in a sort of an accounting ledger? Or is it more diffuse, synoptic test, like generally you feel that your love is being reciprocated, your giving is being answered?
How do you build trust in the context of your relationships? Do you share information with your partner? Are you more into information discovery or not to put too fine a point on it, spying? Do you constantly gorge his reliability and responsibility? Is he on a constant test, in a constant test or exam? To what extent are you self-aware of your own good and bad qualities, forties, limitations, shortcomings?
Then there is of course the issue of sexual trajectory. What is the frequency of sex throughout the life of your typical past relationships? Are you sexually creative, imaginative, inventive? Do you initiate or merely respond to advances and cues? Are you initiating or the responsive type? Do you frequently end up finding yourself in sexless relationships? Are you mostly sexually available or are you withdrawn? To what extent do gender roles express themselves in your sex life with your intimate partner?
What about social, religious and cultural structures, strictures and biases? Do they hinder your sex life, enhance them?
To ask yourself with regards to your bus relationships, what is your relationship horizons? What are your expectations regarding the longevity of the relationship? And whether this expectation determines the relationship style.
When you believe the relationship is going to be short lived, do you choose the type of one style of relationship? Or do you treat all relationships as created equal and give all of them the same chance? Do you expect your relationships to last? Or are you always doubtful, pessimistic, cynical and fatalistic from the get-go?
Then there is a question of course of spatial proximity. Are you into cohabitation or otherwise sharing the same premises or area of life? Or would you rather live in separate departments and schedule your encounters? What role does territoriality play in describing the survival of your relationships?
Ask yourself about time as well. Temporal proximity. Do you need to do everything together with your partner? Which could amount to clinging and smothering? Or can you give him or her some space? Is it synchronous interactivity or time-delayed interaction that you seek? Do you immediately progress from casual acquaintance to full-fledged commitment? Or do you give it time and proceed incrementally and gradually and carefully?
There is a question also, of role allocation. Who decides on the allocation of roles and functions and duties in the couple? And how are these allocating? Do you typically talk over your roles, functions and responsibilities and reach an agreement explicitly? This is called explicit role allocation. Or do you let life dictate? Do you live it to life and play it by ear? It's role allocation by emergence. How specific are your roles?
Once the roles in your relationships have been defined, are they cast in stone? Are they rigid? Or are they subject to change as circumstances change and both of you grow and develop?
Essentially there are two types, two major models of relationships.
The type of relationship can be negotiated. Matchmaking, as simple as that.
So it's more of a business arrangement with some companionship thrown in.
The relationship can be emergent, can be romantic, love-based.
The type of partner. The partner could be a companion, a friend, and then you know, you seek out an active intellect, some charm, accomplishments, goal orientation, self-sufficiency. Or the partner can be a hypersexual, adventurer, or even a narcissist. Which of these two appeals to you?
The dynamics of your relationship. The relationship could be based on routines, full disclosure, common activities, hobbies, common growth goals. Or the relationship could be based on excitement, thrill, surprises.
The type of bond, the bond can be based on demonstrated exclusivity and perceived threat protocols where you communicate to your partner that you are feeling threatened, that you are hurt, that you feel insecure. Demonstrated exclusivity together with threat protocols, communication protocols. Or it could be an open relationship where both of you can do whatever you want, even in the sexual field.
There are then the territorial dimensions of the relationship.
There is a predefined relationship with predefined autonomy enclaves. These are areas of your life or even physical premises where you are autonomous, you have your privacy, and no one can barge in or ask you anything.
And there is another type of relationship where there is dependence and clinging and smothering and utter enmeshment of the two parties.
There is a type of relationship where there is spatial progression.
You start with separate apartments and you move in for a few days a week and then you end up cohabiting. So limited cohabitation with private spaces reserved in house or outside and then up to full cohabitation. Full cohabitation is the other part.
Then there is relationships with temporal progression.
You move incrementally and gradually and cautiously. And relationships which are immediate, full fledged.
So it's important to clearly define the model of relationship, to cohere with, to be compatible with the mates you select.
Once you've done that and once you've tackled your termination triggers by establishing communication protocols with your partner, the longevity of your relationship is virtually guaranteed