Narcissism is only being able to see yourself and your interests. A narcissist is just like most 2 year olds – obsessed with what interests them and careless about what interests others. Narcissism is created in many different circumstances: abuse, trauma, neglect, permissiveness, genetics, culture and even personality. And I’m sure more circumstances can be listed. One common feature to recognize narcissism is an inflated sense of self-importance and disregard for what’s important to others. When you are married to someone like a two year old results in many disappointments, hurts and maybe even abuse. This person is always right and will not admit to being wrong. They will only apologize when it’s in their interest. Their perspective can’t be controverted. They are not easy to get along with or live with. They often raise their voices to intimidate and retreat in silence – also to intimidate.
The spouse of a narcissist can’t be a narcissist. They are usually pleasers who constantly make excuses for their spouse’s selfish behaviors. They often are very responsible and feel obligated to fulfill their commitment to the marriage even if the narcissist does not.
So what should you do if you are married to a narcissist. I’ve read many writers whose only recommendation is to abandon the marriage because there is no hope for a narcissist. Once a narcissist always a narcissist is the belief of many. I would admit from my experience working with hundreds of couples it is counter intuitive for a narcissist to acknowledge their narcissism and seek to change. However, I have seen cases of narcissist men who remarkably became remorseful and seriously pursued changing their behaviors. So to categorically write off all narcissist to me is irresponsible. People can change. That is the position I take with all of my clients and pursue treatment methods with the hope that change will occur.
With this said my prayers go out to the spouse of a narcissist because for change to occur in the marriage, it will generally be incumbent upon the spouse to insist on things being different in the marriage and then to be willing to deal with the narcissist accusing them of doing something wrong. In fact, the narcissist may threaten to abandon the marriage and blame the spouse for it. Holding a narcissist accountable is a very difficult task for someone who is a peacemaker and enabler.
What I recommend for someone married to a narcissist is to get therapy for themselves. They generally would be classified as codependent – meaning dependent on the behavior of the narcissist rather than being able to function independently of the narcissist. The narcissist is in control of them. Therapy is needed to help the spouse build enough self-confidence to stand up to the narcissist and even leave the relationship if necessary. The spouse must be willing to end the marriage if they are going to stand up to a narcissist. Standing up to a narcissist may mean the end of your marriage. That is because if you stand up to the narcissist they no longer have you to reinforce their narrative of being without fault.
One last thing I might add here. Narcissist are so concerned about themselves and their image that they may do anything to preserve their image. This may include eliminating the one who is tarnishing their image. Every day in America at least three women die at the hands of their narcissist spouse. Many women stay with their narcissist husbands (men too) for fear of what their spouse would do to them if they left. Under circumstances where there is a possibility of physical retaliation from a narcissist for leaving I advise a spouse to seek counsel in order to develop a well thought out plan to leave. This plan may include escaping while the spouse is gone to a safe house or shelter, leaving town altogether, filing a protection order, etc. Of course with children involved this becomes all the more complicated. Let me emphasize that leaving or even filing for a divorce doesn’t have to be the end of the marriage. It may actually be the catalyst for change. However, there should be significant evidence of remorse, emotional and physical safety along with a willingness to stay in therapy to have any level of confidence a narcissist is safe to stay with.
My prayers go out to you if you are living with a narcissist. You have a problem. You can either accept this as your lot in life and put up with the abuse or neglect and go with many of your emotional and possibly safety needs unmet. Or you can decide you want something different and make the difficult decision to stand up for yourself and demand change. With this decision, placing your emotional and physical safety at risk. That choice is up to you. No one can make it for you. Once again I urge you to seek counsel and gather support around you to help you feel good about your decision.
Never deal with a narcissist by yourself. You will always be outnumbered.