The Narcissist and the Work Horse

Poor Sally*. It was the scandal of a small office when word got out shortly after her husband Marc graduated from college and shocked her with divorce papers that weekend. This was so unexpected because Sally spent many long nights and weekends taking on as much work as she could to pay for Marc's tuition. Marc in the meanwhile was totally financially and otherwise cared for by Sally in every way. The man didn't even do his own laundry. As for Sally, if ever another employee needed someone to pick up the slack for them, Sally was the go-to person for the job. This is a story of how a person was used for years and then thrown to the curb, a common theme in a relationship with a narcissist.


To set the scene, Sally and Marc were in their 30's and had two young children. Sally was an account manager and Marc was a delivery driver when they met. It was Sally who originally pushed Marc to go to college to become a manager after he had been passed up for a promotion. Outwardly Marc was a loosely committed guy and although the couple never fought publicly, they were rarely seen together much outside of organized events. Their lives seemed to split long before their divorce ever made it to court. Sally aged quickly as the family's sole breadwinner and Marc became less and less invested in his family. Sally might as well have been a single mother and Marc the obnoxious roommate as far as anyone who knew them was concerned.


More than once gossip spread that Marc looked for reasons to avoid Sally and their kids. Maybe Marc got too comfortable being in the college lifestyle and it seemed his family revealed his age. Every time anyone ever had to stop by Sally's house, be it morning, evening, or afternoon Marc was either "on campus" or taking a nap in their bedroom. The funny thing about that was that for a guy like Marc who swore that he had to be on campus all day, he sure was home a lot when Sally was at work and the kids were at daycare (something Sally also paid for). An example of Marc's shady behavior long before he dumped Sally, was when Sally rubbed her eye too hard at work causing her contact lens to rip and need to be replaced. Being on my route home I gave her a ride so she could change it out. Sally thanked me, saying she couldn't bother Marc while he was at school during the day and she would have had to have taken a cab otherwise. Only when we pulled up to their house, although Marc's car was nowhere to be found, inside he was on the couch drinking a beer. I left Sally to greet him with a surprise. On my way out, I couldn't help but notice that Marc had parked his car on a side street as if to hide that he was home at all. Right there I knew that Marc was probably hiding a lot of things from Sally.


There were other signs our office staff took note of regarding Marc. Everyone but Sally that is, could tell some story about Marc's appalling behavior. At one of the few functions Marc ever went too he talked to the one other man who worked with us. In that conversation, Marc could be heard complaining that his wedding ring because it made it hard to "talk to people." He also went on about how he wished he was "free" Sally's co-worker, on the other hand, was very uncomfortable. It seemed that Marc assumed that no one at work liked Sally and so he would make comments about her as if she were a pariah. The truth was that even when Sally was snippy from being overworked, she was still a likable person. Unlike Marc who was entitled and obviously trying to act younger than he actually was. We felt sorry for Sally and thought Marc was a jerk to put it nicely.


Their split only came as a surprise to Sally. She was devastated. To her Marc was her ideal man, she never noticed the slight put-downs Marc made toward her or his habit of loafing around all day or even the blatant leeching Marc had spiraled into. I suppose that since Marc was never around Sally, so she resorted to filling in her feelings about Marc with what she wanted him to be and not who he was. Others saw a dysfunctional relationship, but to Sally, he was her ambitious go-getter. Sally had become the "mom" and Marc acted like a bachelor. Marc was a spoiled manchild who saw Sally as baggage. He wasn't too proud to take her money, but the minute he had a secure source of income of his own he ran off and never looked back.


The divorce process between them was wretched. The kids were too young to know their dad wasn't a nice guy. Marc used the raw feelings Sally had about the revelation that Marc had broken promises to paint her as a bitter nag in court. Marc recorded her testy voice mails when Marc had split and played them to the judge acting as if she was always in a state of agitation. The cruelest thing of all was that while Sally was putting in those long nights at the office, Marc was filling out the paperwork to bury Sally in court.


It would have been great to say that Sally bounced back, but she didn't. Marc took Sally for all she was worth and then some. The court process dragged on for years and Sally gained 40 lbs and went gray. It was as if every time Sally started to feel happy Marc would file another order or use their kids as a means to punish Sally. At first, she was angry at his actions, and over time she withdrew completely. In some twisted way, it was as if Marc was hurting Sally for putting him through school as if it was all to prove himself the better over Sally. She was his stepping stone into a higher tax bracket and he hated her for it.


This type of story more than once has been told to me, always with different people but the same plotline. It is not a male and female thing that happens. It is a giver and a taker relationship problem. For people in this unhealthy kind of relationship, the Marc's will drain you because they can and they get a genuine high from the power it gives them. Marc resented Sally, maybe always and Sally never understood it. The Sally's out there will always try to rationalize their partner's actions, but there is no method to it other than that they have a punching bag. The only way to handle people like the man in this story is to put some distance between yourself and them.


*Names have been changed to protect privacy.