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(First published at – this article is recommended for those already working through the steps in Back From the Looking Glass)

Looking for Love? Give Up the Unhealthy Dream . . .

Steve loves the story of Bluebeard and today I want to share why . . .

The ancient tale begins with Bluebeard, the richest man in town, living in his castle on the hill.

We then meet the young woman—and her two sisters—whose hand Bluebeard sought in marriage . . .

Right from the start, all three sensed something was not quite right about Bluebeard; after all, his strange blue beard was there on his face right in front of them. Bluebeard’s wealth and prestige, however, caused them to ignore their initial instincts. The young woman was not seduced by Bluebeard, but by the idea that marrying him would cause all three to gain status and social superiority.

Steve will often ask;

If you are with a narcissist, I wonder why you decided to ignore your instincts?”

If you are familiar with the tale, you will be aware it was a truly horrendous situation Bluebeard’s young wife was walking into. In the original version—which you can read in Women Who Run With the Wolves—she earns a last-minute reprieve at the end of the story.

In my opinion, Bluebeard is a symbol of our unhealthy ego and this story about its destruction.

. . .

In our family’s personal story of Bluebeard, I now know that the unhealthy ego in our household was not just in Steve but also lived in me.

For example . . .  when I first met Steve; he was charming, the captain of the football team and had a wealthy and flamboyant father (who it turns out also was a narcissist). Right from the start, along with many other danger signs, my instincts should have seen Steve’s lack of compassion for me.

Instead, I wanted to believe the fairy tale romance my mind was constructing . . .  with myself in the starring role.

Can you see the unhealthy ego in this?

Because I didn’t want to let go of this dream (of us the perfect couple and better than everyone else), after we were married I didn’t tell too many people that behind the scenes Steve was regularly rude and abusive towards myself and our children. I was ashamed but preferred to blame myself that the dream had not materialised, rather than see it was unhealthy in the first place. 

Things didn’t improve for us until I let go of that dream . . .  and this took a lot of grieving.

However, I didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; letting go of the dream didn’t involve leaving Steve behind.

I had already seen too many people throw their marriage away for another ‘roll of the dice’, kidding themselves their prince would come along ‘next time’; but because the unhealthy dream was still there, end up in the same situation all over.*

Instead, I let go of wanting to be a princess carried off by my prince and decided I would need to face the fact Steve and I were both broken and in need of help. Even more important was that I had to accept it would need to be me (and not some knight in shining armour) who would lead us both out of the mess we had found ourselves in.

I decided to stop waiting for a hero and instead to become my own hero.


But what are heroes really made of?

. . .

In terms of social acceptability, our problem was not small and very embarrassing to admit. However, the problem was not going away without me acknowledging we needed help and accepting that help from whoever would offer it.

Asking for this help from community services, the police (and police social workers) took finding humility in myself as much as courage.

It squarely forced me to face the fact that really I was no better than anyone.

I also resisted crying victim.  

Instead, I learned to face facts that an honest relationship takes discipline and hard work. Raising children especially. A good marriage is both challenging and rewarding but takes dedication, selflessness, patience and humility.

These qualities in a person do not come from a desire to be better than other people. Like exercise, prayer or meditation, they are disciplines and practices requiring physical acts that must be performed repeatedly.

. . .

Are you stilling clinging to a fantasised reality of who your partner is and what they are really capable of?

I blamed Steve for all our problems, while also expecting him to be my hero; seeing him as a monster for his lack of concern for us while also demanding that he be our saviour.

This, of course, was ridiculous.

Steve’s immaturity and irresponsibility may have been hurting us, but a monster? No. Just a damaged human being (and I had my gaps too) with no way of knowing how to be the hero I was demanding him to be.

After years of grief,  finally, I accepted that I would have to drop my unrealistic expectations.

I saw that I was going to have to stop complaining and get in and roll up my sleeves and do loads of dirty work that previously I had been avoiding, like finding work, sorting out our finances and finding the strength to walk away from the fights and put more love and time into the care of our children.

Once Steve saw me;

  1. Get in and do the tough stuff and not take any more childishness from him.
  2. Stop asking him to be the big hero he was pretending to be with others (but deep down we both knew was an act). 
  3. Stop asking him to take care of my negative emotions.
  4. Reassure him that I was not going to abandon him.

Slowly he began to see he was safe with me.  

When I stopped needing him to be the fantasy, dropping his defences and being honest and real became easier. 

No more castle in the sky. Just me, Steve and the kids putting one foot in front of the other.

 . . .

Are you still hanging on to a dream of life wherein some way you are superior to others? Are you asking your NPD partner to support you in ways they are not equipped for?

Ask yourself these questions honestly.

If you are the partner of someone with narcissistic tendencies, you need to see an unhealthy ego in your partner, but most likely these tendencies reside in you also.

If not I wonder if you would have fallen so hard for this person in the first place or held on so tight after you discovered the other side to their personality?

Let go of the unhealthy dream and don’t walk into Bluebeard’s castle again.

. . .

Steve and I might not be royalty on the hill (with a dirty secret) any more, but we are a great success story recovering from a problem which could have destroyed our family or left us just plain bitter.

I have compassion for those who have not fared as well as we have, but I am also proud of that success, and because it has been earned, feel this pride is healthy. 

Humility gives us strength.

Kim Cooper  🙂

PS. If you want the same results I achieved, you better roll up your sleeves and be prepared to give this all you’ve got, because I can assure you they will not lay down their pride without you proving you are stronger than they are!

*, Of course, you may decide the person you are with is not worth the effort I put in . . .  but whether you stick together or not, if you truly want the pain and the conflict in your marriage to end, you will need to tackle the parts of yourself that seek privilege and entitlement through a partner. If not, changing partners won’t help. These tendencies in yourself will lead you straight back to the dungeon in Bluebeard’s castle.

Kim Cooper

Kim is the author of seven books on the topic of relationships and emotional intelligence.

A prolific multi-media content innovator, Kim has created and shared a library of articles and multi-media educational tools including radio shows,
movies and poetry on 'The NC Marriage', and 'The Love Safety Net'.

This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. Recognizing that I have been expecting my husband to be the person he pretends to be on the outside (which is also who he wants to be) and that he can’t yet be this person has been challenging … and an ongoing process. Recognizing how I have allowed him to blame his failure to achieve this ideal on me has been even more empowering.
    Thanks for years of assistance .

  2. Thanks for sharing that example and yes,I am in an unhealthy marriage but, I don’t want to give up on it either. I need to give up on the idea of a fairytale marriage and fix me and work on fixing us.

  3. Hi Kim and Steve

    What a brilliant encapsulation of this problem.

    You’ve helped me so much.

    The way to holiness? Humility, humility, humility.

    Let’s pray for each other and bless those who we can’t get along with due to long term prejudice (both ways, sadly) and too much hurt (my siblings).

    May God bless them as they are!!
    May God continue to bless you both too, and all your family. xo

  4. Thanks for sharing this. It shines a light on questions I have had growing up and even now within my marriage. You validated some things for me.

  5. I completely agree with the message in this article. I think I truly “gave up the dream” a couple of years ago. It was a point where we were at a crossroads and truly had to make a decision to make this work or call it quits. I don’t know if he gave up his own dream of me becoming someone I was not, but I know I did in order to see myself through my commitment to my marriage and family. I began my process with grieving, just as you described. I was letting go of a little girl’s dream and forcing myself not to be jealous of those I knew who “supposedly” gotten their dream. I was in it because of my love for my husband and someone else’s dream was not part of that agreement. There have still been many ups and downs, but I truly believe things took a strong turning point at that time. I found this site earlier this year and I’m learning leaps and bounds. Thank you.

  6. “Fairy tales” are treasured classics for a reason, (and a very good one), but what the ubiquitous Disney franchise has done with them, in our “modern times”, is something almost no one can escape being influenced by,… When I was a child, a Disney movie came out very infrequently, and could only be viewed, when offered, in a movie theater,… so, compared to all the rest of our rather “regular, normally earthbound and practical, daily lives”, these out-sized fantasy experiences, were indeed rare “full-technicolor” extravaganzas ~ enjoyed immensely, looked forward to, yes idealized and dreamed about to an extent (the impressionable human ego and imaginary fantasy-life being what it is!), transported us to “another world” we could “live and believe in” for those moments, BUT the daily grind, including walking to school in all kinds of weather, homework, chores, even boredom, etc, was the basis of our “existence” 24/7/365,…

    what a different story these days!,… most kids can watch these videos over and over, interchangeably, 24/7/365,… and in the comfort of their own homes,… they have become an accepted part of life, and children can’t really tell the difference between the two,… so much “glossy romanticism” surrounds us, that we become easily seduced by its aura and “beauty” and charm and subliminal messages,… but too often a healthy sense of reality is lost, replaced by something unlivable,…

    so, how to readjust and deprogram and reprogram ourselves for a more functional and realistic way of living life?,… truly a grand project and “real cultural need”,… I recommend Kim’s advice and examples very enthusiastically,… that, and/or living on a small family run dairy farm, out in the boonies, for a few years!

    1. Hey Georgie, You have really understood the point of this story. I do not mean to trivialise the reality of living with someone with narcissistic tendencies, just make sure we are careful to see how this cultural sickness can seep into our lives as well. Just as men are seduced by James Bond type adventure movies, being made to feel that being home with their family is boring and beneath them, many women are still longing for an adoring prince who will be at their emotional beck and call.

  7. After years and years of mental and verbal abuse, I sought answers as to why my husband was treating me in such a negative, disrespectful and destructive way. I was unaware of this condition called Narcissism. I always thought if I was better, my marriage would be better. I “expected” respect, kindness, love and support only to find that my husband would disrespect me, be constantly angry at me and would go out of his way to put me down and demean me. It has be a crazy circle of effort with no results to the point of insanity. I learned that “expectations” should be shunned because the hardest disappointments to bear are waiting for those things that never come. I have begun to work on myself to improve my relationship with MYSELF. I no longer tolerate my husbands abuse, I hold him accountable for his actions and I minimize confrontation. However, in spite of all this, I still feel (expect?) that, after 11 years of marriage, I have earned the right to: gentle love, true honor and dignified respect and have yet to receive them. Am I wrong to want these things or do I expect to much?

    1. I don’t know if there is a right or wrong Brenda. I also know that we don’t always get exactly what we want 🙂 Perhaps you might consider – does your husband display these qualities to anyone – or they simply not part of his nature? Has he learned new behaviour before and what encouraged him to be open to this? Answering these questions for yourself may help you set realistic expectations.

  8. I must admit that this is all true for me: I also thought I am a little better than the other girls and that I need and got my own Prince Charming. I realise that I really believed that he should be everyone and everything to me and that he should complete me. That I was the one half and he the other half. Only recently I came to realise that this is not how a healthy relationship should work; much less a healthy marriage. I decided to start the work in me. I am struggling to set the boundaries though, because everything became quite “gray”…

  9. I disagree about being codependent. We had a whirlwind long-distance romance and I was very well treated most of the time. Occassionally there were flares from him that in hindsight are obvious warning signs. After marriage, the change was abrupt.I didn’t leave him because I promised God I wouldn’t. Our marriage is full of conflict because I regularly stand up for myself. I am intact internally because I don’t buy into everything he says about me. My unwillingness to leave now is because of the children, not my codependence. It is reasonable to expect to have interdependence with a spouse. I feel the “blame the victim” approach is unjustified as a blanket reason for anyone who has married or stayed with a narcissistic loved one.

    1. We do not suggest “staying” is codependence. Nor do we suggest the codependent partner to blame for their partners narcissistic behaviour. What we do suggest is that many of the problems people face in marriage are due to a system dysfunction that includes conflict due to opposing world views. Standing up for yourself effectively does not involve conflict. It involves doing what you must to protect your money, your self respect and your children. This may also involve bringing in outside agencies. Getting angry is understandable – but rarely works. Anger is a signal not a tool. Our view of codependence is that it means emotional dependence, ie. Needing your partners help to regulate negative emotions and not being able to carry through on necessary decisions that might cause negative emotions in them. An interdependent relationship is the goal of our work.

  10. Hello Kim and Steve,
    My husband and I are separated. After coming close to divorce we are trying once again to work out our marriage. I admire what you and Steve have done and are sharing with those of us still trying to understand why we want this and how to make it safer and happier for both. We dont have children together, they are grown, so our choice is for ourselves. I would like to know more about giving up the dream of happily ever after. I dont need him for financial security and we dont have children or family together. He avoids responsibility in even the smallest of ways. I guess thats my main source of dissatisfaction. It feels impossible to move forward in life with a partner who cannot be reliable, ever. Do you have suggestions for dealing with this issue?

    1. Giving up the dream means being realistic and honest about the challenges you face. The Love Safety Net Workbook covers what we consider the 4 pillars of a stable home life. The last chapter on gap work and how to challenge your partner may interest you.

  11. Interestingly, my husband has started reading Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell and actually attended a service at a Swedenborg based church yesterday. The philosophy being about love as spiritual growth as opposed to self love. I’m also reading the Road Less Travelled which has really been clear that the falling in Love process is not love at all. Once that bubble has popped there is a choice to love, with love being a commitment to spiritual growth not a desire to get the “falling in love” to last.

  12. Hi Kim!

    I have recently discovered your site and have signed up. My husband wants to divorce and he claims we are practicing a separation, which I am not interested in doing AT ALL. However, due to finances, we live in the same house, we share the bank account still, and we have kids. I carry him on my health insurance still. Basically, I have been the main (and often only) bread winner because he’s an entrepreneur and his finances are not stable. In no way are we “practicing” a separation (at least in my eyes). As I am reading a lot of your information, I see myself and my husbanding in many of the scenarios you describe. I had strong boundaries initially with him, but eventually he convinced me I was not acting as a true wife, so my boundaries dramatically changed (definitely revealing my true level of co-dependence tendencies that I never realized I was masking). My question is if I begin to set my boundaries again, and he is already trying to divorce me, will this not perpetuate his idea of divorce? The funny thing is, he says he is disengaged from me and headed for divorce, but he is now literally doing EVERYTHING I would want my husband to do. He is helpful, less critical, and a little more thoughtful, trying to be fair. However, when we were still trying to stay married, he was doing the exact opposite. I don’t understand. Your information has helping me gather and keep my peace, but I am so confused about his actions. Can you help with bringing some clarity from your experience?

    1. Hi Tonya, There is no guarantee that you setting boundaries will cause your husband to change his mind about wanting a divorce. It will however force him to respect you and stop seeing you as a soft target. Things may get worse before they get better – especially if you insist that he financially carry his weight. This is the best chance your marriage has however and will leave you in a better position either way.

  13. Hi, Kim,

    I am intrigued by your intellectual identification of triggers in your husband. I am getting the idea that triggers are situations, attitudes, or words that cause your husband to feel afraid or insecure, right? So he then has bad behavior, words, or attitudes that are disrespectful and hateful. So then you think back on what you said or did, or your attitude that triggered his insecurity and fear. Then you try to change whatever it is that triggered him to restore his security and feelings of safety. Do I have that concept right?

    I am a divorced codependent who had my anger triggered. I distanced myself from my husband to be safe from my anger and his destructive words that were battering me and too important to me as when I gave him permission to have a relationship with me, I was starved emotionally. My first husband died after he left and divorced me. We were married 33 years and raised 4 children. My first husband was addicted to pornography and my father and sister were more important to him than I was. I spent my marriage to him focusing on all that I saw wrong with him and trying to fix him. I can see now that I was very unhealthy. My mother felt responsible for my dad. She was very enmeshed with him. She felt responsible for his salvation and never gave him consequences for his emotional, verbal abuse toward her and us four girls. She became very controlling, I am sure to compensate for the lack of significance she felt in her marriage.

    My grown children say I also was very controlling. My life was my kids. My husband was a workaholic as well as a pornography addict. I kept the house running, disciplined the kids, paid the bills with his money and money from my part-time job. I worked, worked, and worked. I worked to deaden my pain and feel significant. When I was growing up we were not allowed to show any anger or to process our emotions about how scared we were of my dad. My mom spent a lot of time talking to my older sister and when we grew up my two younger sisters were doated on. I became the scapegoat. This has been hard for me to break out of. I still struggle with feeling I am a failure and there is no hope for me. My faith has helped neutralize this toxic message and I have been working on mind control, blocking thoughts that are resentful, blaming, and critical toward others. I have been following Jesus’s example to forgive and trust God. Jesus also set some very effective limits before he went to the cross. The cross was the only time he let himself be put down. I don’t think God expects us to die for our husbands.

    I like your mind over emotions approach and realize that a lot of my problems have been emotionally driven because I never learned to handle emotions. I am learning now, and find much peace being away from my husband because he was triggering my fear and hurt often and I was becoming an angry mess. I recently saw him as he gave me a lawnmower. He came over to my house like an eager beaver and I refused to let him in my house. My house was a mess and I knew he would find all he could to criticize me about. I felt good about setting that limit. After the divorce his lawyer let him know that he was not welcome on my property. He had come over with a $700 tax bill that he was supposed to pay. I paid it, not realizing that he was supposed to pay it on the 20th and the divorce didn’t get through to the property tax office until the 28th.

    He seems to get his kicks doing things to hurt and disadvantage me. I admit I have felt very superior because of my faith. I regularly take in God’s love and forgiveness for me. I realize I probably have a side of myself that is hard for me to see. I wonder if talking about the advantages of having faith triggers his fear and insecurity. I hope I have not mentioned things in this post that are against the rules. I wonder if mentioning my faith is not allowed.

    I still care deeply for this man, but he doesn’t see it probably since I come across to him as superior. I will keep reading your material and look forward to your response.

    Trying to step lightly

    1. Learning our own and others emotional triggers will do a lot to help you understand where the conflict is in your relationship and why. In my case over the years it has led me to see that it has mostly been about decision making and Steve wanting to feel in control. I cannot leave every decision up to him, and would never suggest that a good option, but it has helped me put in place rules for myself that have set effective boundaries. Rules such as never letting myself be pressured into making a decision when Steve or my sons are being angry or impatient.

  14. Hi!
    I was recovering well and stopped expecting anything from my husband that would be helpful or kind. I felt stronger emotionally than I can remember feeling since I was a teenager! Now I’ve had to have another surgery. He is turning on the charm Bigtime! What I’m not handling so well is him sleeping beside me for the first time in over a month, then the very next night not even coming to the house until 11:00, at which time I’ve had to get our 6 year old his bath and to bed while barely having the strength to get out of bed. Then comes in acting like everything is perfectly okay??!!
    I’m sick and tired of him but I know our children need him.

  15. Good reading,make sense. But my concern is; it’s worth it the work to put on more than self growth, if the Narcissist lack of the ability of truly feel love or compassion towards other? Clinical is well known they are emotionally handicapped so how that can be reversed, teach or re-wire?

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