Tainted Love: When a long-term romance isn’t what it seems

Our columnist, writing under the pen-name Hope Shields, recounts how she ignored the red flags in a long-term relationship that began at a vulnerable point in her life.

Relationship Resilience

When I told my ex I was going to be writing a column on my relationship with him and how funny he could be, he said he had come up with a new idea: a travel company called Ego Trips, aimed at people like him with their head in the clouds. I’ve decided it’s a sister company to Gullible’s Travels, for people who will believe anything because they want to get away so badly. We’d had a great laugh coming up with that one together. Now, I realise I fitted in perfectly with its target market.

My ex ticked so many boxes when I met him. As well as being witty, he seemed practical, hardworking, refined, financially stable and kind to children, old people and animals – not to mention being tall, dark and handsome. He mostly paid the bill when we went out (something I wasn’t used to) and was surprisingly generous in the bedroom. We laughed about him having more stamina than Sting.

When we got together, I was dealing with the loss of my dad and the disappointment of yet another failed long-term relationship. Still, life was good. My career was on track, I had great friends and was fulfilled doing things I loved, like acting and singing.

Basking in his constant attention, I opened up, telling him what I had gone through and how I wished things could have been different. And so he presented himself as this solid male figure who wanted to show up for me and make everything better.

I got hooked and became emotionally attached. During the ghosting periods that followed, I craved being with the man I fell for. So much so that when he did reappear, I dived in headfirst, swallowing whatever reasons he gave for his absence. I was just so relieved to have him back.

Eventually, he moved into my house and stayed for four years – his idea. I was so happy and thought we would grow old together. But there were so many red flags, so many times I felt things were ‘off’. I often felt disrespected, unheard and unappreciated. By the time he brutally ended the relationship, I was a shadow of my former self, isolated and exhausted from the insidious emotional abuse.

After he left, I found out about serial cheating, compulsive lying and debts going back years. I had been duped. The man I loved wasn’t real. It led me to researching covert narcissism, and so began a journey of recovery.

There’s no going back. I am forever changed for the better and want to help other people to navigate such relationships and avoid the mistakes I made.

Find out how to spot red flags early in online dating in our masterclass with cyberpscyhologist Dr Nicola Fox Hamilton.

Hope Shields
Writing under a pen-name, Hope Shields shares her experience of having a relationship with a covert narcissist for over 12 years to help others come out the other side with their sanity and dignity intact, and feeling a whole lot better about themselves.

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