Narcissistic relationships have the potential to last forever. Throughout my research, I’ve met victims of narcissistic abuse who were trapped within the abusive cycle for a few months, and some who were trapped for decades. The duration of a narcissistic relationship is different for everyone, so there isn’t an exact answer to, “how long do narcissistic relationships last?” However, there are plenty of circumstances that could dictate the duration of a narcissistic relationship. This article is going to break down the most commonly seen circumstances I’ve come across while working with 67 survivors of narcissistic abuse.
A Low Self-Esteem
The behavioral patterns of a narcissist are designed to erode the emotional stability, and subsequently, the self-esteem of their victims.
Gaslighting is the most commonly known form of narcissistic abuse. Gaslighting in a narcissistic relationship is when the narcissist will doubt, manipulate, and deny the victims reality so frequently that the victim begins to doubt their ability to interpret their reality accurately.
Simon and Cindy have been going to the same restaurant, ordering the same food, for 3 years now. One day, Simon decides to get a different meal. When Cindy makes a comment about the change up, Simon acts like he has no idea what she’s talking about, and tells her she’s losing it.
After the two of them finish dinner, they begin to walk back to their apartment. Every time the pair share a dinner together, Simon always buys vanilla ice cream after.
This time he buys chocolate. Cindy makes a comment about the change, and Simon denies ever having vanilla ice cream, then calls her crazy.
With nothing but her memory to back her perception of reality Cindy feels extremely disoriented and becomes consumed with self-doubt. She can’t trust her own perception of reality anymore.
Gaslighting has a major role in the continuation of many narcissistic relationships. The example above was a very basic example of gaslighting. Gaslighting in narcissistic relationships usually circulates around both physical and emotional abuse.
Whether it be the minimization of the victims feelings or denial of physical abuse, gaslighting is an extremely manipulative tactic that can be done by the narcissist or narcissist enablers.
9 Things a Narcissist Will Say to Gaslight You
- This is why nobody likes you!
- Everyone thinks you’re crazy!
- That’s not what happened! You have a terrible memory!
- No one else would ever love you like I love you! It’s your fault I cheated!
- If you really cared about this relationship, you would…
- You’re too sensitive!
- You can’t take a joke!
- You’re the only person I’ve had these problems with.
- Why would you think that? What does that say about you
7 Things Flying Monkeys Or Enablers Will Say to Gaslight You
- Every relationship has rough patches
- He/she is a good kid I know he would never mean to hurt you
- Are you sure that’s how that happened
- I’m sure you guys will work it out
- If it’s as bad as you say it is, why don’t you just leave? It sounds like you’re being dramatic
- Well I’ve never had a problem with him/her
- Give them a break, he/she is probably just stressed out
Gaslighting can be detrimental to an individual’s emotional stability. In fact, many of the participants who I interviewed weren’t even sure that what they were experiencing was abuse because because of how severely they’d been gaslighted.
Family of Origin
Not for everybody, but for some people, growing up in an abusive environment corrupts their perception of a healthy relationship. Unfortunately when this happens, the individual accidentally equates love with abuse.
Without any therapeutic guidance, the individual could be drawn to an abusive relationship in adulthood, simply because it’s familiar.
Under these circumstances, there’s no logical way to predict the duration of their abusive relationship. What will most likely happen is that the narcissist will extract all of the narcissistic supply they can, and discard them when they choose to do so.
There are a few different reasons a narcissist is more likely to discard a victim, who grew up in an abusive environment, before the victim acknowledges the abuse and discards them.
For starters, the individual is accustomed to normalizing, rationalizing, and justifying abusive behavior. Without guidance, it would be no different in their adult relationships.
Secondly, the individual is most likely riddled with self-blame and self-doubt. If an individual truly believes that they deserve the abuse they’re enduring, and feels like they have no right to make it stop, it would be very difficult for them to summon up the courage to take control of their lives, without guidance.
And lastly, after a lifetime of abuse, and the trauma of an adult narcissistic relationship, the concept of a healthy relationship could feel foreign to the individual.
Rumination is the process of continuously thinking about the same thoughts, and in the narcissistic realm, it usually causes depression, an unhealthy desire for justice, and anger.
After being forced to endure the level of manipulation that comes with narcissistic relationships it can be very hard for victims of narcissistic abuse to understand the depth of the abuse they experienced.
Narcissistic relationships are plagued with guilt, shame and projection, therefore a common form of rumination is self-blame.
Karen just got out of a terribly narcissistic relationship with her boyfriend Jeff. Jeff was in between jobs the entire relationship so a lot of the financial responsibility fell onto Karen. Money was tight, so she didn’t have the ability to cater to Jeff’s every want and need. Jeff would blame Karen for just about everything.
Karen truly loved Jeff but she got to a point where she couldn’t take the financial, emotional, and sometimes physical abuse anymore. She made the decision to leave him for good and she’s sticking with it.
The problem is Jeff wasn’t always a schmuck. They had a really passionate beginning, like most narcissistic relationships do, so it leaves Karen obsessively wondering if she could’ve done more, if she is to blame, and if she made the right decision.
The problem with this type of rumination is that it makes the victim of narcissistic abuse very susceptible to hoovering.
Hoovering is a manipulative tactic a narcissist will use to drag the victim back into the relationship, usually after they’ve broken up, separated, or divorced, through guilt, shame, and/or hope.
10 Things An Abuser Will Say to You During the Hoovering Phase
- I miss you so much
- I can’t live without you
- I’ve started to go to therapy for you and now you’re leaving me?!
- After everything I’ve done for you…
- It took this breakup for me to realize how amazing you are. I can’t lose you
- I need you
- You’re the perfect partner for me
- I’m watching out TV show, thinking of us
- Can we meet up and talk?
- I dreamt about you
3 Things Narcissists Will Say to Others In the Hoovering Phase
- Telling mutual friends how much they miss you and don’t want to let you go
- Keeping in touch with your parents and telling them how much they miss you
- If you’re co-parenting with a narcissist, using your child to guilt you into communicating with them
These were just a handful of examples. Narcissists have been known to make up a crisis where they need the victims help, physically harm themselves, pretend like nothing had happened and continue with their shared daily routine, and even make crazy accusations in a pathetic attempt to bait you into an argument, so they can gaslight you even more.
Angry And Vengeful Rumination
Understandably so, many victims of narcissistic abuse want some sort of justice after escaping narcissistic relationships. Sadly, justice is rarely served to a narcissistic individual. Narcissists are incredibly charming, charismatic, and intelligent, so they are often able to evade justice.
Jamie is absolutely furious with her narcissistic ex. He’s taken anything and everything he can from her. The police told her that there wasn’t enough evidence to create a case. Her parents think that she’s being dramatic because her ex is “such a good kid…” And she has lost many of the friendships she cherished because of her narcissistic ex.
Instead of healing she uses her time ruminating about how sweet revenge will taste. She has a whole script laid out for the next time she sees him. She’s going to go ballistic on her eggs and really make him feel how badly he’s hurt her. She wants him to feel sorry. She wants justice.
The problem with rumination is that even though it usually occurs after the relationship has ended, it still traps the victim within the relationship. For a victim of narcissistic abuse who is confused about what they endured, rumination will surely drag them back into the narcissistic abuse cycle.
And for victims who want justice, ruminating about it is very harmful to their mental health. Rumination prevents the victim from healing and moving on in their lives. Which means they’re still trapped within the abusive cycle.
If you’d like a complete guide to trauma bonds, please check out How to Break a Trauma Bond With a Narcissist, because this section is going to specifically focus on one aspect of trauma bonds.
A trauma bond is when someone is incapable of leaving an abusive relationship. And as a hint of that above, there can be many different circumstances that can create trauma bonds.
I’m going to focus on intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals.
Victims of narcissistic abuse are severely emotionally starved, therefore even the slightest amount of empathy makes them feel like they’re on top of the world and in fact, causes hormonal attachment.
The malicious oscillation between abuse and empathy fills the victim’s body with extremely high levels of dopamine, and they become addicted to the feeling they have when they’re “rewarded” with empathy.
Victims of narcissistic abuse addiction to their abusers’ kindness is very similar to a drug addiction. Just like drugs, intermittent reinforcement activates the brain’s reward sector, flooding it with dopamine.
The feeling victims of narcissistic abuse feel during intermittent reinforcement is something they chase relentlessly, making it nearly impossible to leave the relationship
A narcissist’s internal instability causes them to have an insecure need for power and control. In the era we currently live in, money embodies the definition of power and control. Therefore, it’s very common to see financial abuse in narcissistic relationships.
Narcissists have been known to coerce their victims into leaving their jobs, taking control of family finances, steal from family accounts, and much more. Being able to control the financial stability of their victim, makes it nearly impossible for the victim to escape the relationship.
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
The duration of narcissistic relationships is entirely dependent on the circumstances. All of the circumstances that I listed above are huge obstacles one must overcome to escape narcissistic abuse.
With that being said, oftentimes victims of narcissistic abuse only need one other person to acknowledge their reality. Read How to Support Someone In a Narcissistic Relationship to ensure you’re a supporter, not an enabler.
All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.