Loving and Leaving a Narcissist and Redefining Happiness: Kelly Skeens

“Ultimately the universe gives you what you need sometimes, just not exactly how you wanted it. … I’m still a mom, just not the way I thought.”

Last year I got a random Facebook friend request from Kelly Skeens, my longtime bunkmate and co-conspirator at summer camp whom I hadn’t talked to in over a decade. After we did our initial polite summaries of our lives, I decided to tell her I was getting divorced. A few months later, she shocked me by messaging me that she was going through the same thing. Once we really began talking about our failed relationships, it became clear both of us had escaped marriages to narcissists. If you don’t know what that’s like, Kelly, my latest featured Bride In Reverse, has some insights:

How it began …

“By the time I was about 32 I was looking for somebody I wanted to settle down with and have a baby. I got on eHarmony and met this guy … Josh seemed to be everything I was looking for. Two kids from a previous marriage. I always had a rule I wouldn’t date anyone with kids. I met him and I broke all my rules … we moved in together very quickly … I fell in love with the kids.”

The reality of being with a narcissist

“He and I fought like cats and dogs during our first year we were married … he would say the meanest things to me like, ‘You’re never going to be a good mother, you just do what you want to do and you don’t think about the consequences that has.’ Our fights were extraordinarily vicious. There is no winning an argument with a narcissist. You end up saying ‘I’m sorry, you’re right, I apologize’ … that’s just the mode you live in. My mom once said to me, ‘Does Josh ever ask you what he can do to make your life better today?’ I think he probably loved me to the best of his ability; I don’t think he’s capable of loving the same way you and I understand that term. I spent 6 years with someone who wasn’t in love with me … he was in love with the idea of me.”

Glimmers of Hope

“I can remember plenty of times that Josh and I had periods of real happiness. We would go on a hike, or we would go on a great date, or we would go for weeks without a fight. These periods are what kept me in my marriage. I would think, ‘There he is - there’s the man I love.’ I would see this sweet, caring man and fall in love with him all over again. I would forgive so easily all the bad stuff that happened, and even forget. I wanted my marriage to work- everyone does. I really loved him, you know? But then with a word, or even without one- he was a master of withholding - all that happiness would just wash away. That glimmer of hope would just be gone, and again I’d be wondering why I stay.”

Trapping you by making you feel bad

“I remember telling Josh so many times that I was unhappy … he would tell me I was spoiled, that I didn’t realize how good I had it. I can take criticism in my personal/professional life. But what he was doing wasn’t criticism … he would almost get gleeful when I would fuck up. It’s a sickness. … It takes a huge toll on your self esteem that you’re not even aware of until you’re out of it. … People (in relationships with narcissists) are scared and walking on egg shells. Your partner will say something that hurts you to your core and you just go to bed and you cry.”

Realizing it was time to leave …

“The night that it was over, he had said some things that were extraordinarily rude to me … it was more than I was willing to take. … that night I slept in the spare bedroom and I thought about all the things he had done, all the times he had made me cry. All the times I’ve wanted to leave and hadn’t done it. Something just told me, ‘Kelly, this is the one you can go out on … you can hold your head high because you tried. This is the last time this motherfucker can talk to you this way.’ … The next morning I called my Mom and I was crying, and I said, ‘Mom, I’d like to move in with you for a while.’ She has this big house that just sits empty. She said, ‘I’ve been waiting for this call. Pack enough stuff for this weekend.’ I personally know women who are in bad situations and can’t leave… they just can’t. The child support just doesn’t cut it, they don’t have an education, they’re not skilled. What are they going to do, what’s next? They don’t see a life after that. And it’s very sad. I feel really lucky.”

Redefining reality …

“I live in a small town in Eastern Tennessee. A lot of my friends have grandchildren and are married to people they’ve known since the eighth grade. In this area at least, this is what you do. You get married and you stay married. … On my Facebook page I changed it to ‘single’ not ‘divorced’ … I don’t know why, I’m not comfortable putting ‘divorced' yet. He was my family, that’s my family. He knows my family, we’ve gone on trips together. He’s been places with my family. I’ll call him my husband, even still.

My friends were ecstatic I had left my marriage. The only hard part was how to deal with the kids. Fortunately for me, their mom and I get along really well. Over the course of my marriage, she and I became friends and talked on the phone. … When I called her and told her what I was going to do, she said, ‘Thank God. Anytime you want to see the kids you just call, you just show up.’ I have a lot of support there. Part of the reason I stayed so long is because I wanted the kids to see what a stable, loving home looked like. I remember so many times Josh and I were in a massive fight all week long and the kids would come to visit and we would go into perfect couple mode … we’d put on this play. I never wanted them to see us fight, to see us unhappy.

The kids are now in high school … I plan on taking them on college visits. Just because I divorced their dad doesn’t mean I divorced them. Ultimately the universe gives you what you need sometimes, just not exactly how you wanted it. … I’m still a mom, just not the way I thought.”

A new true, happiness …

“I’m not a religious person but I’ve been sending out wishes for the past two years, sending out good energy in the universe. I can’t tell you all the good things that have been happening. This divorce is just part of the process of me finding true happiness; I wasn’t going to find it in my marriage. I’ve been reconnecting with all these old friends, people thank me for sharing my story. All these blessings are starting to occur and this divorce is just part of it. As painful and sad as it’s been over the past couple of months, mostly I’m just really excited.”

Thanks so much to my friend Kelly for sharing her story! If you appreciated it, too, please recommend it so others can find it and read it. Do you know someone who would be a good person for me to interview? I’m trying to do these every month and would love to hear from you. Thanks again.