[I will use masculine pronouns for the destructive partner for the sake of simplicity, though destructive partners are often female.]
There are a number of modus operandi a narcissistic or socio / psychopathic partner employs in a destructive relationship, as a response to your needs, complaints, or issues in the relationship.
One is that you are kept off balance. You may be feeling desperate and alone a lot in the relationship because your partner has become more distant, disengaged, angry, and rejecting (sexually and/or emotionally). Perhaps he has even become abusive. But, if you complain too much or bring up suspicious behavior, you may find he has turned back into the love struck partner who wooed you in the beginning, being attentive, engaged, “making love” to you, or giving you gifts. This makes you wonder if you were wrong about him distancing, or your suspicions. You begin to doubt your perception as any trusting partner would, and become confused. He is counting on your trusting nature to do just that.
A destructive partner will never take responsibility for a relationship issue. If there is a conflict, or you bring up a need or complaint, or question a suspicious behavior, he may use escalated anger to stop the conversation. Or your partner may turn the problem around to something you have done wrong. He may say you are being “needy, paranoid, or crazy.” He may dismiss what you have to say as ridiculous. Or you may get stonewalled with silence as he walks away.
He will never admit any wrongdoing or have remorse for a behavior that has caused you hurt. His blaming behavior may cause you to examine yourself, wonder what is wrong with you. This is because you are willing to take responsibility in the relationship, as a responsible partner would, and he is counting on this.
Acting like the victim
A destructive partner may act like a victim. He may complain you are being too demanding or harsh toward him to make you feel guilty. He may appear to be the “wounded boy” that came from an abusive or sad childhood, because he knows you never wanted to be another person who abandoned or hurt him. On the contrary, you wanted to be the one person who really loved him, hoping your love could help heal his wounds.
In a healthy relationship, safety and compassion does reciprocally help heal childhood wounds. But, this can’t happen with a person who is not really present. He is actually emotionally disconnected from his childhood wounds, and has created a false self, or facade. He can’t reciprocate, and he is counting on your compassion to keep him as the victim and you as the guilty party.
Illusion of a relationship
A destructive partner may create (consciously or not) the illusion that he is experiencing the relationship in the same way that you are. During the beginning romantic phase of the relationship, during sex or fun times, raising children together, you felt emotional connection with your partner that has deepened over time. When there were no emotional demands, and nothing was threatening his false self and sense of control, he may have felt attachment or even brief spurts of empathy. Remember, narcissists and socio/psychopaths by definition lack true empathy.
A destructive partner is able to fake empathy and emotions! The work of a committed relationship — the demand for emotional intimacy — would always be threatening to their false self and sense of control (and deep down they know they are incapable of it). Empathy and compassion is what causes you to act lovingly, to consider his needs and emotions before yours even when it’s hard, and to do everything in your power to make the connection right. This he cannot do. So, when you think he feels love like you do, what he actually feels is a sense of control or power, or attachment to domestic or financial security, looking good, or a cover. Unfortunately, this is not love. But, he is counting on you to think it is.
Many years of destructiveness
As the destructiveness of your relationship becomes apparent to you, it is hard to wrap your head around what has happened. You can’t fathom that your partner was not who you thought he was all this time. This person who supposedly has loved you has hurt you more than anyone else ever has. He has felt comfortable hurting or taking advantage of you, lying and deceiving you for perhaps many years — many years that now seem to have gone up in smoke. Many years that you believed you were investing your love in a life together. Perhaps his greatest deceit of all was to encourage you to believe that you were loved.
A person is not their potential, words, nor image. A person is what they do. Love is not its potential, words, nor feelings. Love is action.