Unfinished Business

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


“The memories are still fresh, but so are the emotions. Why do I revisit that bad time over and over? I think I have moved on with my life, I certainly want to, but I can feel the pain and the frustration almost as though it is still happening.”

“Every time I think about those conversations, even now, I get angry. Shouldn’t I be able to let it go?”


We recently purchased some old electronic equipment from a thrift store. We have been trying to get it to work. I found an owner’s manual online, but the instructions are not complete. The equipment does not work in the way it should. Nothing seems to be wrong with it, but it just doesn’t work right.

After a considerable amount of time trying the same things over and over with different and unpredictable results, we gave up. But the feeling was that there was just some piece of information we didn’t have. If we had just done this or that, it would have worked. We might just let it rest for a while and then go back to working on it. After all, the solution should be there someplace.

This is how it can be when dealing with narcissism. It feels like the whole thing could be fixed if you just had that certain piece of information or tried that certain approach. There was so much potential in the relationship, but something didn’t work right. No matter what you tried, you couldn’t find the problem.

Then, when you gave up because you couldn’t take the pain and frustration any longer, you still felt that there was something left undone, some unfinished business. It stands out as an incongruity in your mind, a problem left hanging. And most of us find it very difficult just to walk away.

Narcissistic relationships can be very frustrating. When they end, they leave a mess in our heads and hearts. We don’t understand why that person acted that way. We feel like we should blame ourselves, but we don’t know what we did wrong. Or we know things we did wrong, but know that those things were not the cause of the problem.

These relationships usually do not end well. They often end with sudden abandonment or long abuse. Questions are left unanswered. Rights are violated. Trust is broken. Even if we knew the right words to say, we aren’t sure we would have said them.

I have been impressed by how quickly people tell their stories of narcissistic relationships. Even if they don’t know the word, they are ready to share as soon as they realize they have met someone who understands. And the stories are fresh and emotional, even when they “ended” twenty-five years ago. That’s because they don’t feel like they have ended.

But there comes a time to stop trying to figure things out, to let the unfinished business go. If you are still in the relationship, stop trying to fix it. If you are out of the relationship, let it be done. Accept that certain things will never work, or never be understood.

Please know that this is not giving up. This is accepting that you do not have the information or power you need to change what happened. There is no going back, but there is going forward. That relationship no longer defines you, even if you are still in it. Let the confusion and frustration be set off to the side with the understanding that it doesn’t matter anymore.

All of us will end our lives with unfinished business. Sometimes that frustration drives us to good things. But it should never hold us back. You are more than that relationship, more than that pain.

Perhaps the old Serenity Prayer has the answer we need. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote it and used it for many years and it has become an important tool for helping people accept the troubles that have come into their lives.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”


Filed under Narcissism

25 responses to “Unfinished Business

  1. Lisa Mary

    This was meant for me to read this morning. Thank you for posting!

  2. Janet

    “this will not end well”. I heard those very words in my Spirit about two months into my friendship with my N. She SUDDENLY became extremely offended with me over something I said. It was the FIRST sign of trouble after our friendship began with no trouble before. I remember the stabbing shock I felt, with no clue what I had done. Thats when I heard, “this will not end well”. I should have ended the relationship right then and there. Instead it was a 6 year roller-coaster of highly stressful, viscious fights, blame and draining weeks and months, years, interspersed with some of the most wonderful closeness and identification I had ever known. But, it was mostly very horrificly bad. And, I STILL get toxic emails from her, even though I walked out 6 months ago.

  3. Allie

    Pastor Dave, I’ve been following your blog for the last two years, and it has helped me beyond words. Today again, I could so relate to trying to “fix” my relationship with my n husband. In an effort to fix my marriage I read book after book on marriage help, on love languages, on the languages of apology, on any Christian author I thought could help. I vividly remember the day when I found it all beyond my ability to fix, and stopped trying to fix and to please. I am still married because I don’t sense God calling me out of this relationship, and have become deeply dependent on Him for each day. For a long time I prayed the Serenity Prayer daily with tears and gained strength from it. Here it is in it’s entirety:
    God, grant me the serenity to accept the thing I cannot change,
    the courage to change the things I can,
    and the wisdom to know the difference.
    Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time;
    accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
    taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it,
    trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will,
    so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
    and supremely happy with you forever in the next,
    Thank you, Pastor Dave, for the work that you do here.

  4. I’m really struggling with this one. I feel as if there was something I had done different…prayed more, been a more Christian wife, been stronger, just taken the abuse and continued to believe and pray through it , things would have been different. Why else would the people I love the most try to kill me if there wasn’t something wrong in me or with me? Why did my mother want me dead…why did my husband of 34 years try to kill me ? What did I do wrong….What should I have done different? Even my children have come to believe the lies because that is easier than fighting for the truth.
    Am I gone to live the rest of my life alone as a throw away? Will there ever be some one that God has for me to actually love me just the way I am…the way I love? I’m tired of being treated like garbage buy much of the world. Although I know that God defines me …the world has decided along time ago that I was worthless and undeserving of love or human kindness let alone a decent life. God help me …I’m Tired !

    • Sister in the Lord

      bless your heart Sister, you are a daughter of the King of kings… you are beautiful, you are precious you are priceless… of great worth to your Creator, Your Heavenly Father. You are one of His holy people… He loves you deeply… Jesus has made you a new creation… I pray that through Divine orchestration, He will connect you with a sister in the Lord to share your heart with and grow in your relationship with Him, the author and finisher of our faith.

    • Anne

      It’s so much harder when it’s a blood relative who is the narc or the narc enabler. You can get a divorce but you can’t cut the family ties without extreme difficulty. My adult children also side with my ex, as does my identical twin! I believe she is also a narc, although not as severe as my ex. It is so hard for me to stop trying to get her to understand why I left my husband and to believe what he did to me.
      You are not worthless and you deserve love and respect. I am sending you hugs right now.

      • Thank You Anne…Hug you right back !!!! <3. In my soul I know this …I just get very tired of fighting to survive. I'm not totally alone ..I have my church family ..but it just isn't the same…I bought into the narc husbands lies…I was the perfect target because of the false belief system that my narc mother instilled in me. I know now that it was all lies of the enemy …but I'm still tired.

    • Lady Quixote/Linda Lee

      Dear AngelsforHorses, I did a double take as I was reading your comment about your narc mother and narc husband both trying to kill you. The same happened to me! Although my mother tried to gas us all to death, not just me only, so maybe I shouldn’t take it so personally. However, she did single me out to be her scapegoat, and in the process she murdered my soul. Killed my soul dead, my momster did.

      But praise and glory be to the Lord Jesus Christ, for HE has brought my soul back to life!!

      I am 63 now, still healing, but stronger and healthier than ever before. Life is so much better with the Lord’s gentle yoke guiding me.

      I, too, wondered what was so “wrong” with me that my mother, and another time my father, and two exes, would actually try to kill me. But… they killed Christ, remember? They murdered the perfect, sinless One at the age of 33. And Herod had tried to kill him as an infant.

      ***Murder isn’t about what’s wrong with the victim, murder is about the evil in a killer’s heart. Satan comes only to kill, steal, and destroy, but Christ came to us so that we might have Life in Abundance!***


  5. You described it perfectly. My hardest hardship with the N’s was when I bowed out and said no thank you and tried to get on with my life on my own, they still tried to interfere and did so in heinous ways. I had to relocate. I’m hoping this is the end of it.

  6. Larae

    This was such a great article. Thank you. I tried for years to figure out and fix a relationship with a narcissist. I felt so confused why everything I tried wasn’t working. I constantly tried to understand why things had happened, what I should have done differently, why they acted a certain way, or did the things they did. I sent cards, gifts, was polite even in their rudeness, let things go, politely asserted myself, then started to lay boundries all the while things got worse. First dirty looks, then silent treatments, then shunning, then a gift in the mail from them telling me they “loved” me. It was crazy and so confusing. This article really reaffirmed to me that it is ok to leave the unfinished relationship behind and move forward. That I can’t fix it. I used to have so much guilt and sadness walking away but now understand even more that I have to let it be done. It cant be fixed. Thank you for your blog!

  7. Mark

    True words! With things like electronics, there is an easy response to someone who blames me for “not trying hard enough to fix it.” I hand them the equipment and say, “you try”. Unfortunately, with relationships, it doesn’t work that way.

    Thankfully, I don’t have any close N relationships, but I grew up in a church with authoritarian and abusive tendencies. I had a similar process to go through. I tried to fix it. I read the manuals. I tried to stand up against unhelpful and authoritarian teaching. I tried to take a stand against members who were abuse. I just got labeled a complainer. When I left the church, I wrote the leaders a letter giving clear reasons why I left with examples for each reason. I got what I expected, “we’re only human” followed by “you complain a lot and we don’t really feel like answering you.”

    They made my wife believe that the door was still open for talking, but it was a lie. I sent a follow up e-mail or two and got the door politely closed on my face. It has been a constant battle for me. My wife attends occasionally, and sometimes she comes home angry about what’s taught and sometimes she thinks they’re getting it. For me, I finally decided I had to draw the line. If they have a change of heart, they’ll contact me. Otherwise, I have to assume that they will never change.

  8. Terrific analogy! This was very helpful and meaningful to me this day. Thank you.

  9. Lisa Mary

    Yeah…it really is all about accepting things that we can’t change. Thats where so much of the suffering comes from. The resistance to accepting reality. There are rare cases where limited contact might be possible…but mostly I’d have to agree with George Bernard Shaw when he writes “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

  10. Rachel

    Lisa Mary, I love that pig quote! It really made me laugh after a hard week! Thanks so much for sharing, it’s good to add a little humour to the difficulties we live with. Blessings x

  11. Lisa

    You so understand the struggle we face with dealing with a narcissist. I have read some of your other posts that also helped me to understand that when my ex-husband suddenly left me and our family after 33 years of marriage-that It Was Him-and not what I did wrong. I have struggled for 41/2 years in the aftermath of this. My marriage and family were the most important part of my life, and your post reinforced what I have come to realize. I will never understand or change him. He abandoned his family in every way possible-physically, emotionally and financially. It took me a long time to admit that fact, and realize I needed to move forward for myself. God and my three children have been the reason I have been able to get this far, and I am determined to keep going. I grieve for his soul and his choices as this is
    his legacy and the way he is remembered by us. His choice to leave and behavior following prove how narcissist he is. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for “getting it” and the encouraging words to us.

  12. Thanks, Pastor Dave. I’ve been struggling with this one. I’ve finally reached the point where I know I can’t change them but wonder why I feel like I haven’t changed. I realized that events in my current life were reminding me of past problems. I’m able to analyze what I’d done then and see if it would work now. I’ve saved myself a lot of frustration by accepting it isn’t about me or what I have or haven’t done.

    Sometimes, when things churn back to the top, it’s because I didn’t have the skills for dealing with them before. I’ve learned and now I’m ready. Not to fix them but to choose a healthy way to step back and protect me.

    I appreciate and look forward to your weekly posts.

  13. Becoming a Better Me!

    Here is another version of the prayer:

    God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change,
    The courage to change the person I can,
    And the wisdom to know it is me.

    Change your perspective, and emotions. God loves us. Forgive yourself, he does!

  14. HisDaughter

    Thank you so much for this post. It was just what I needed!

  15. Maya

    This is exactly what happened to me. My husband and I separated for 5mos and he had an affair which I knew nothing about. I had this determination that I had not been “a good enough wife” and wanted to reconcile to try and try again. I thought it was all my fault. When I learned of the affair, I began begging to return, which is just great with a narcissist. We reconciled and I hung on for 4 more yrs.
    His drinking and the abuse became worse after a brief “honeymoon” period. He quit his job and drove himself into bankruptcy, with me supporting him financially. I refused to file bankruptcy with him, and was badgered relentlessly for months over this.
    He sucked me dry, and I depended on God, and still do, for EVERYTHING. I prayed fervently for my husband, and he just got worse. He hardened his heart and retreated deeper into his false persona. He has an elaborate big bad boy image which he hides behind.
    In the end, I believe he could no longer stand the Jesus in me and I was having to use spiritual warfare against the demons in our home daily. He groomed another woman for weeks and I had no idea. He was so very secretive and lied about everything. He abandoned me and our home abruptly without a backward glance. It took a full yr of the Lord working with me, for my recovery.
    Thank you very much for this blog and for so wisely putting into words what this nightmare is all about. God Bless you abundantly!

  16. Sandra

    Thank you for this wonderful article, Pastor Dave.

  17. Janet

    The pain. just. never. ends.
    I thought by ending the relationship the pain would heal.
    I have to re-forgive just about every day, I have to determine and try every moment, and after 7 months, I am exhausted.
    This article really explains it perfectly. But my gosh, I DO NOT want to still be in this condition 25 years from now!!

    • Janet, Dear One:
      Let me give you a word of healing. I’ve been on a recover from Life long narcissistic abuse from first my mother and then my husband of 34 years (I’m 54) I’ve been away from my narc husband for three years now. Even though I still have bad days, they are Much fewer and far between. It does get easier …It does hurt less… You WILL see bright happy days. And best of all Your not Alone….You have one who walks with you and understands your pain…AND He wants to make it all go away. Also You have others who have walked this path ahead of you. My Dear Heart… it truly is one step, one day at a time. Its a daily releasing of the pain to God and a daily loving your self. The narcissist lied to us dear one. You ARE PRECIOUS !
      You are uniquely created in the Creators Image. You Are Precious because you are loved…Dear One It Will Get better ❤

  18. Thank you. This was a cool drink of water for my soul.

  19. Tryingtomoveon

    I have known my ex N since we were 16. He was one of my best friends in high school. We reconnected 30 years later and became involved and it was a classics narcissistic tale. Started with the love bombing and charming – but then I caught him in some devastating lies. He was separated from his wife – he had got caught cheating. He assured me the marriage was over. He fed me a sob story of how the marriage had been dead for years and how she was actually N and mentally unstable and how he was wrong to cheat but he lonely and depressed. He’s a public figure- was all over the news and his older kids weren’t talking to him – got the entire poor poor me. I asked over and over if he was sure he couldn’t fix his marriage before we became more than friends because I refused to have anything to do with breaking up a family. Fast forward a month – I find out he was lying. He was telling his wife he would do anything to work things out and taking her on dates! On top of it – he has given me herpes! And he had the nerve to tell me it was my fault – I should have worn a condom! So I messaged her and told her. She then filed for divorce. Of course it’s all my fault. I ruined his life -family carrier kids. Not him. Not his lies. And of course he tried to claim I was a crazy stalker. He no longer remembered all the times he told me he’s been in love with me since we were 16. It now changed to we barely hung out for a week or so !! Then I found out he was still seeing the woman he had the initial affair with too! She’s the one who supposedly gave him herpes. He claims he didn’t know he had it- I think he’s lying about that as well. So when I messaged that woman to see if she would agree to talk to me- he filed a vpo against me! He’s a ausa and told me he will bury me “he knows how to play the game” so know I’m spending a fortune defending myself against all the lies he’s told the court saying I’m stalking and harassing him! And what’s more sad- I cry myself to sleep every night still loving the N std spreading jerk who obviously has no care or empathy what so ever for me! All I can think about is what happened to that sweet 16 year old boy that always had my back in high school? What is wrong with me?

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