An elderly couple was about to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary and were being interviewed. The interviewer asked question after question about their marriage and time together but noticed that the wife was answering every question while the husband remained absolutely silent. Finally, he directed his last question to the husband, “You haven’t uttered a word this entire time. I must ask, to what do you attribute making your marriage last 70-years?”

The husband fidgeted a bit before replying. “When we first got married, money was tight so we decided to take a small honeymoon at the Grand Canyon. It was absolutely breathtaking – the rock formations, the river, the vastness of the Canyon, itself – I couldn’t wait to soak in all its majesty with my new bride. We each rented a mule and began our descent into the Canyon on muleback. About halfway down, my wife’s mule stumbled, to which she said, “That’s one.”  As we neared the bottom, her mule stumbled again, to which she stated, “That’s two.”  Soon afterward, we were in the Canyon basin and her mule stumbled yet again. My wife exclaimed, “That’s three!” She promptly dismounted, pulled out a revolver, and shot the mule dead. Naturally, I was flaberghasted. I jumped off my mule, ran over to her and began yelling, “What have you done?! Why did you shoot your mule for just stumbling?!” My wife turned, looked dead at me and said, “That’s one.”

What does that have to do with narcissists? Everything. You see, in all jest, there is a measure of truth. Those of us who have been unfortunate enough to be a narcissist’s supply, are much like the mule. We willingly and unquestioningly carry our narcissist and their emotional baggage over rough and rocky terrain, ignoring any and all distractions because our narcissist has trauma bonded us to them and convinced us that our unfathomable sacrifices, and their endless burdens which we bear with Herculean fortitude and might, are a perfectly normal and natural dynamic in any “healthy” relationship. But each time we stumble or falter, our narcissist is keeping a tally – whether quietly or vocally – waiting for that moment where we fail them in some minor something that’s really nothing which they turn into everything that’s wrong with the relationship and us.

They then threaten us with a myriad of actions – albeit “needing a break” to figure things out, perhaps to see other people because, “…it’s just not working,” or possibly ending the relationship in its entirety. Regardless of their proposed “solution,” do you notice the one common denominator in all of their threats? Our narcissist is choosing to remove themselves from our lives. And we panic! We panic not because we are going to miss being manipulated, gaslit, or further trauma bonded to someone who is nothing more than toxic to us and our happiness. After all, at this juncture in the relationship, we have no inkling that we’re anyone’s victim. We panic because we have been conditioned to believe we can’t live without a toxic person and their toxic presence – the hideous “magic” of being trauma bonded to someone.

And what’s worse, if our narcissist does indeed extricate themselves from our lives for a day, a week, a month or longer, we are an abysmal mess, aren’t we? We can’t sleep, we can’t eat; in fact, we can barely function. And we imagine our narcissist is suffering just as horribly as we are and can’t fathom why they haven’t responded to any of our texts, phone calls, or emails. Why haven’t they made any effort to reach out, to work this out, to fix things so we can be together and happy again? And that’s our first mistake in this breakup: we assume they’re hurting just as deeply and inexorably as we are and we couldn’t be more wrong. When our narcissist left, s/he knew exactly what they were doing and they had no qualms in doing so.

This abandoning us is called the Discard Phase and while the emptiness their absence ushers into our lives takes every bit of our energy and our soul, it takes absolutely no energy or effort on their part. Think about it: they have to make no time to spend with, talk to, or invest in us or the relationship. If anything, it’s a reprieve for the narcissist to not be saddled with the arduous chore of perpetuating this façade of a relationship, of “putting up” with us in their life. No more feigning to love us or care about us and the relationship. “But if this is a repreive for the narcissist,” you’re probably wondering, “why do they return?!”

In a nutshell, their constant craving for external validation cannot be as readily satiated by anyone else as deeply and profoundly as it can be by someone who is, or was, a primary source of supply – someone who’s existence has come to rest solely on feeding our narcissist’s abyssal appetitie for attention, affection, and adulation. So, our narcissist returns and we rejoice…for a while. For it’s never long after the narcissist’s return before the Hoovering Phase ensues replete with tales of longing and woe, of how they missed us and our love, which soon gives way to the Idealize Phase where we think, “S/He gets it! S/He can’t live without me, either!”

But here’s a kick in the pants. That nasty gut-punch we were sure would never find its way to our heart: for every Hoovering and Idealize Phase, there is always, always, a Devalue Phase and a Discard Phase. Thus is the cycle of loving a narcissist. And one day, whether it be sooner or later, that Discard Phase will invariably give way to the Final Discard Phase. This is our narcissist’s, “That’s three!” where they put the proverbial bullet in our heart and in the relationship as we’ve now outlived our perceived uselessness. And that’s probably the cruelest truth of all: we don’t matter to someone who quite literally means the world to us.

So how many times are you going to lovingly and forgivingly welcome your narcissist back into your life after yet another Discard Phase? Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve done so a dozen or more times. Wanna know a secret? For me, it was well over two dozen times that spanned 4-½ years where I forgave my narcissist for countless lies and multiple infidelities and welcomed her back. And do you know why? I did it because I honestly believed my narcissist loved me. More than that, I did it because I most assuredly loved her. And it took almost another 18-months, after it ended, for me to finally realize that being alone and content without her was so much better than being alone and lonely with her.

What about you? How much longer are you going to dutifully carry your narcissist and their baggage much like the mule in our story? Blindly stumbling along the path, relentlessly reprimanded and scolded for your best efforts perpetually failing to meet the narcissist’s unreasonable expectations while they never even half-heartedly attempt to meet, let alone fulfill, any of yours. Because, you know what? The journey and scenery is beautiful when you’re not arduously plodding along, laboriously looking down at the ground; saddled with being someone’s beast of burden.