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What to do About a Narcissist Pretending to Change

My ex-husband, a diagnosed narcissist, didn’t really want to divorce me, at least initially.  I had given our marriage and family everything I had.  And he knew I was a source of supply that would not be easy to replace.  So, when his feet were held to the fire, his weapon of choice was pretending to change.

So, what do you do about a narcissist pretending to change?  How do you know that’s what they’re doing?  How do you call them out effectively?  Plus, how do you get yourself out from under it?

When dealing with a narcissist pretending to change, you must observe them backing up their words with action.  They must not just sound sincere, they must be sincere.  If they are really changing, you will see it without having to ask for it.  They will do it on their own as they increase in emotional health.  But if they don’t ever get beyond merely talking about it, it may be time for you to move on.

Let’s take a closer look at all of the issues surrounding what to do about a narcissist pretending to change.

How do you Know Your Narcissist is Pretending to Change?

The biggest way you will know your narcissist is pretending to change is when he (my most recent narcissist was a man; change your pronouns to fit your specific situation) says exactly what you want to hear but his actions never line up with that.

For example, say you tell your narcissist that you need him to stop lying about things that you keep catching him lying about.  He says he doesn’t know why he would lie, he doesn’t think he really would, but he will make sure he doesn’t lie again.  And then he lies again.  And lies about lying.

There is no change; just a bunch of words to convince you to keep on going with him.  And then the next time he will again say the words he knows you want to hear.  Until at some point, you realize they are just words to suck you back in and rarely if every words that are sincere and show a willingness to truly change.

This pattern of non-change shows you that the narcissist’s claim to change are not real, but a way of keeping you attached to them.  Most people who are attached to narcissists are deeply committed people.  That is why the narcissist chose you.  And they knew if they could convince you to be with them, you would battle your own commitment as well as them to regain your freedom.

Is There Ever a Time Your Narcissist will Sincerely Change?

While extremely rare, there are some narcissists that will sincerely change.  But that depends solely on one thing:  how high on the narcissism spectrum they rank.  If your narcissist is low on the scale, they will have a much better chance of being able to “battle their demons.”  And in that case, there are things you can work through together to help that healing along.

You must be careful when you hear that your narcissist will change.  It will definitely be a two-steps-forward, one-step back situation.  Progress will be difficult.   And you must be ready for the long game.  But if your narcissist is truly sincere and you are both fully committed, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

If your narcissist ranks high on the narcissism spectrum, you will not have the same success.  After some time of trying, this will be very clear to you.  And if you are emotionally healthy, you will know when it’s time to pull the plug for you and your family’s sake.

How Long Can a Narcissist Pretend to Change?

The answer to how long a narcissist can pretend to change is super easy.  It will be for as long as you keep falling for it and they keep getting a good amount of narcissistic supply from you.  The minute you stop catering to their empty words, they will be looking for their next source of narcissistic supply.  And you will very quickly become nothing but the trash they discard.

The way this plays out for every relationship, whether it is a marriage, family, work, or other relationship, depends on how strong the narcissist’s abuse is versus how much you are willing to put up with in the end.  Once a narcissistic abuse victim realizes there is not way out and that they can indeed emerge from the abuse, it usually doesn’t take very long to get out from under the narcissist.

But sometimes the journey to that realization is very long.  While some people leave their narcissist in as little as a few months to a few years, others spend decades with their narcissist.  I was with my narcissistic husband for 35 years between courtship and marriage.  After being under my narcissistic mother for 21 years.  It took me a long time to see what he was.  And a long time to realize I could thrive out on my own.

It takes abused women an average of seven attempts before finally leaving their abusive husbands.  I was able to do it the first time, but only because I stayed trapped for so long, until I finally felt like I could do everything I needed to be on my own with my children.  I knew that if I ended up having to go back to him, the kids and I would pay dearly.  The punishment would have been way worse than before we left.

There are ways to make sure you are safe and all your bases are covered when you realize your narcissist will never sincerely change and you are ready to leave.  I have a free divorce guide that can help you make sure you are doing everything you need to do to prepare and keep yourself safe financially, custodially, emotionally, and materially.  Click the picture of the book below to get more information:

What Your Narcissist Really Means by “I won’t do it again.”

In the last days of our marriage before we separated, the counselors would press into behaviors that were triggering and troublesome and assigned us ways to work through them.  I would talk to him about those things.  And he would eagerly tell me that he wouldn’t do it again.  And he actually didn’t.  Sort of.

Let me explain.  When he told me that he wouldn’t do or say something again, what he meant was that he would do it again, but in a different way.  He would change one word in a continuing accusation.  Or he would hide my things in a different place or throw them in a different trash can.  Then, the next time I told him that I was triggered by the new accusation or narcissistic attack, he would again tell me that he wouldn’t do it again.  And he would tweak it just enough to go back to counseling and say that he “honored” my request.

So, yes, your narcissist may tell you that he won’t do it again, but he knows very well that for all intents and purposes, he has no intention of actually stopping.  And it will be at this point that you realize that this particular issue will be a never-ending battle that you cannot win.  You have to either decide that you need to leave or learn how to handle it in a way that is not detrimental to your emotional and mental health.


You can know with certainty that if you are in relationship with a narcissist pretending to change, they are not actually changing from the heart.  Their whole purpose is to find better and easier ways to secure narcissistic supply from you.  So if they tell you that they are going to change, you can be assured that they will change.  Just not for the better.

They will change their tactics to be able to manipulate and control you in brand new ways that you won’t see coming.  And they will always be working on ways to maneuver around you so they can constantly catch you off guard.

Has your narcissist promised to change, only to do the same abusive things to you but with different tactics?  How did you work through it?  Did you confront him about promising to change but then just doing the same things with small tweaks to make it seem different?  How did he (or she) react?  If they did change, how long was it for?  I would love to hear about your experience.  Please feel free to share in the comments below!

Are you just now in the beginning stages of recognizing narcissistic abuse in your life and not sure where to go or what to do next?  Marie helps people start to put the pieces together to get quickly on the pathway of healing.  She has many resources you can check out here, but if you would like quicker, more direct guidance specific to your situation, a direct consultation with Marie may be more helpful to you.  You can check out the various consultation options here.

Blessings and hugs,

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Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

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