Mary Ann Glynn, LCSW: The modus operandi of disordered partners

By Mary Ann Glynn, LCSW, located in Bernardsville, New Jersey

 [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.

Never responsible

 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.

No wrongdoing

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.

Faking 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.


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This is so clear and helpful – thank you.


This is a good post. It describes my experience very well. I’m now in recovery. 28 days of NO CONTACT, of which I am very proud. It’s easy to remember how many days because my last contact was New Years’ Eve 2013. I’m also happy that he was the last one to contact me asking me in a text if I was at war with him ‘again’ blaming me for his silent treatment last time. I feel like he’s losing the control of me he needs. Later he called my number and I didn’t pick up the phone. YES!

I’m a very sensitive, compassionate person so I found your line ‘Perhaps his greatest deceit of all was to encourage you to believe that you were loved’ very sad and difficult to come to terms with. Basically it was 7 years of a toxic, fake, parasitic relationship. I always gave the benefit of the doubt when I should have trusted my instincts. I feel he must have been laughing at me believing 7 years of lies. After he left me once my lifesavings had been spent the smear campaign was difficult to deal with. He also became jealous of what he imagined I had more than him. So he treat my money like it was his. He never contributed one penny either. I’ll never forget it, but if I never see him again and get my divorce in another 3 years, I have learnt an expensive and very valuable lesson. Caution is now my watchword!

What a great post!

When my son, who’s Borderline, would tell me he “loved” me after a heart wrenching episode, I used to tell him the following:

Love is a strange word because it’s both a noun and a verb. The noun is a feeling, the verb is an action. The noun is a thing you can’t control, it’s either a part of you or it’s not. The verb is totally yours to control. You don’t love someone if your actions don’t reflect that you do.

Neither his father, nor my son, could comprehend the meaning. To them, the word love was simply the word they’d use to get what they wanted, like forgiveness for their misdeeds.



Joyce, do you think there is any hope for your son?

There is not only a problem with the manner in which he relates, but he destroys the trust of the people he relates to and relationships are a two way street. When you have a friend or lover who has these characteristics, you can take it or leave it. When it’s your very own child, the problem is more complex.

I can’t fathom what would drive him to take steps toward recognizing and effectively dealing with his issues. If that were to take place, however, I’m not sure that I would trust that he had effectively done so. My son has shown me that he can stand on his own two feet. When he was younger, I had to tolerate him because he needed my support. He no longer does and exposing myself to his behavior is risky.

No contact is as important for people with damaging lovers as it is for people with damaging children, although I struggled to get him to go to family therapy when he first split. He has told me “now that I’m independent, what do I need you for?” And when I later learned I needed cancer treatments and sought him out, (don’t worry, it turned out to be a minor hiccup,) he told me “leave.”

Although I love my son with all my heart, I don’t have any hope that I could trust him again. It’s a very painful circumstance to love your child but not be able to trust them.

When I hear Oxy speaking of her concerns about her safety from her psychopathic son, who actually put a hit out to have her killed, I understand the double edged sword that creates.

Thanks for asking,


“Love is not a feeling; it’s an act of ur will.” Don Francisco (musician)

And always remember this wen the spath/npd/bpd says they are falling out of love with u, UNLESS u A,B,C and D (act quickly).

wen i wud say, ur not falling out of love, u must have not loved me ever, becuz love is not a feeling after that first rush, its a choice…the narc wud get SOOOO mad. it was allll feelings he wud argue. he cudnt help it.
i watched him cut ppl out of his life. he simply didnt care anymore. they ceased to exist except to be pissed about. he called his second ex “shithead”. his first ex tho, he truly loves, and misses, i think. maybe she damaged him? idk
i know i wudda killed him had i stayed with him for 6 yrs…or 13 as the second wife did! she deserves a medal lol


I will be the first person to admit that I don’t know what love is. And it’s a word I don’t say often except in talking baby talk to my animals. My mother used to tell me all the time that she loved me and I do believe she did in the best way she knew how. But she had little capacity to listen to me, protect me from harm, or encourage me. She was too narcissistic. After the spath-attack in 2008 (my 3-month encounter that brought me to this site), I came face to face with my own narcissism. It was ugly to see, but I had no choice but to own it as part of my shadow. I realized where I envied others and was jealous, just as my mother had been toward me. At the moment I realized that I had many narcissistic traits, I learned to accept myself as the imperfect person I am and to love myself even with those traits. Then slowly over the next few years, I watched it change. It happened in small increments. I just found myself caring more about people, even though I may have envied their situations in life. I focused on the caring part, and made the effort to express this often to others. I also started being vulnerable and letting them know when I envied them, too.

Now, 5 years later, I am beginning to have the capacity to truly care for myself and others. I find myself responding with joy to others’ happiness, as though those things were happening to me, even though they’re not. I’m also more able to be with my own depressions, emotional pain, and negative feelings more without judgment. I have learned to let people know when I’m not at my best (though I’m still not good and knowing what I need or how to ask for it.) And if I’m not at my best, I will not be around people so as not to put any negativity on them.

But all of this has given me much compassion for others. I can tell when my friends are down, and I offer support. I usually know exactly what kind of support they need and how to listen. After feeling isolated for much of my life, I feel like a member of the human race after all.

This is a gift the spath has given me. I don’t think he ever intended to give me anything positive.


I have witnessed a sociopath who admitted to bad behavior to gain sympathy from a partner who was ready to call it quits. It was quickly “forgotten” and denied later. It’s the craziest behavior ever.


Mary Ann, I can relate to all of the behaviors you listed…my ex husband had them all. After being married to him for almost 10 years, it was only weeks before he left that I looked at him and came to the horrible realization that the words “I’m Sorry” had never crossed his lips. When I asked him why, he told me it was because he was not sorry for anything.

The part you wrote about them being non empathetic made me think of something my ex would do to cover up the fact he had no empathy. One time during our marriage I became pretty ill with a scratched cornea. It was hard for me to get out of bed and I had to take pain killers for several weeks. Soon after I took to the bed he went to the pharmacy and bought absolutely every product they had for eye problems. From visine to eye patches….he probably spent $200.00 on medicine. I did not need any of it as I had already seen my doctor and was being treated. Your article made me see that he did this to confuse me. I can remember feeling like he must love me so much to go to all that trouble; when in reality he was masterfully trying to hide the fact that he possessed absolutely no empathy. He never once offered to rub my feel or make me a cup of tea when I as sick…but he knew for sure I would confuse his action of “buying medication” with him truly caring about me…


july I had something similar happen except she didn’t go buy me a bunch of stuff.

Many a times I had to baby her when she was sick or her back was going out, taking her to the ER, holding her hand, making her tea/coffee/getting medicine/taking care of house and kids (all things I should be doing anyway so I had no problem with it)

But I remember bout 5 years ago I got stomach flu really bad, just hit me out of nowhere and all night I vomited or had it coming out the other end, the next day I was dehydraded, wore out and running a fever, I fealt and smelled like death and ill never forget I was on the couch under a blanket with the fireplace going still shivering and she got made at me cause I didn’t get up and stoke the fire, had I done that to her I would have never lived it down, she would have brought it up the rest of our lives, I don’t think I ever once brought up what she did after that day.

oh and onmyown,,yeah that behavior is crazy and confusing I caught mine lying bout going to work one day and she went out with some guy she had been texting, she had broke up with me yet told me I could still live there then 2 days later is when I caught her doing this, she came home wanting to watch movies with me and have sex I asked her why she wanted to make up and she said cause she fealt bad for what she did, anytime I brought that up later about that guy she would always say she did nothing wrong, to which I said then why did you feel bad? She would just say “well I don’t feel bad about it cause I did no wrong”

This all still hurts cause im still in love, but im glad I wont have to go through this pain no more and can start to heal instead of moving back in like always just to have it all start over again.

Good article by the way, its so eerie reading everyones post its like we are all reading about our own exs lol.


Hope you’re feeling better Dave. Hang in there man!


one day at a time, I still feel anger and resentment, bitterness and depression, but its getting easier, the more I learn the more I realize this was not my fault and I need to cut the drug out of my life instead of running back to get my next fix for that high that only last maybe a month just to crash over and over for the next 9 months, then be kicked out and have the drug taken completely to the point where im not even functional, its time to complete the de-tox this time so I can easily say NO I have had enough, and even if she don’t try to get me back I can more easily live with it knowing it wasn’t all me that caused this and also knowing that no relationship she is in will ever work out.


Dave, what you are doing takes a lot of courage. You are on the right track and things WILL get better if you can stay away from her. No it is not your fault she was abusive to you. No one deserves the way she treated you. And you are correct, that is not love. She is not capable of it. Stay on course and lean on your supports. It will take some time. I think you said you had some health issues, and I know you are short on money. But if there is anything physical you can do on a regular basis like go to the gym, it will help. Swimming, walking, working out, yoga, dance, whatever……….it not only will help raise your endorphin levels but it’s also a good way to dispel some of the anger. Plus, it will help you to feel better about yourself in general and rebuild your confidence.



Thanks, and no, not as far as I know I don’t have any serious health issues, anxiety problems on occasion. I have spoke to my friend who is going through a divorce, we are planning on working out together here soon.


Fantastic (about the working out with a friend). I think I may have gotten parts of your story mixed up with someone else. I can tell you that when I started getting fit and dancing every day, it totally changed my life. The body and mind are connected. You gotta start somewhere, and that’s a good start. It’s something you can make yourself do. And you will get a feeling of accomplishment. As you add happy and productive things back into your life, eventually, those things will take over your life. Voice of experience. But be kind to yourself. You are still in shock and need to grieve a long relationship and the loss of your hopes and dreams. It will take some time.

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