By Jen Grice, Crosswalk.com
When I married in early 2001, I had never heard the word narcissist. We barely had the internet to search and learn online. I had no idea what narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder was. That seems to be the case for many who’ve been married longer than fifteen, twenty years, as it’s just recently become more mainstream to use the word narcissistic to describe someone’s self-centered, egotistical behavior.
You may realize, after the wedding day, that you married someone who is uncaring, unkind, and hard to live with. But it’s often difficult to put the title of narcissist on someone you love.
Even Pastors and Christian counselors are fooled by a charming narcissist, so they have told you to pray more for your spouse or just wait until they mature. They’ll come around!
But a person with a narcissistic personality is not capable of “coming around” because there is no cure for this disorder. Most times they’ll continue behaviors for the rest of their life because it’s their personality and character, rather than just a bad day or immaturity.
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
As reported by the Mayo Clinic, narcissistic personality disorder, one of several types of personality disorders, is defined as “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
The Mayo Clinic goes on to say, “A narcissistic personality disorder causes problems in many areas of life, such as relationships, work, school, or financial affairs. People with a narcissistic personality disorder may be generally unhappy and disappointed when they're not given the special favors or admiration they believe they deserve. They may find their relationships unfulfilling, and others may not enjoy being around them.”
This gives only a tiny glimpse of what it’s like to be married to someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD or narcissist for short). The problems experienced while married to a narcissist are not that of a normal, possibly, difficult marriage experienced between two imperfect human beings. Instead, it’s a disintegrating of the love, honor, respect, loyalty, and fidelity that the couple should be building upon.
Warning Signs of Being Married to a Narcissist
If you’re wondering what life is like married to someone with NPD here are seven ways that narcissism can manifest in everyday life, especially behind closed doors in your home.
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1. There are two sides to your spouse—a public persona and a private persona.
Sometimes it’s a Jekyll and Hyde episode living with a narcissist. Like when they come home and remove the charming mask that they’ve been wearing all day—the face that they show to others. The Hyde persona is a shocking foreigner without compassion or remorse.
Often, this private side is committing sins they don’t want anybody to know about. This causes them to rage when you find out and don’t help keep it all hidden. Anger is one way they manipulate you into silence. They also lie and gaslight people to believe the lies that they’re telling.
“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” John 3:20
It’s like they paint a beautiful picture for all the world to see but behind the image is secrets, lies, manipulation, and sin (the truth). Because he/she is skilled at excusing away behaviors and blame-shifting, the narcissist can hide the dark side and secrets for many years while showing others their perfect image.
This is usually someone who is covert in their narcissism—pretending to be someone else in public. But narcissists can be overt in their narcissism, in public as well, meaning they let their arrogance and conceitedness show.
2. Your spouse needs constant admiration and affirmations while not being able to handle any sort of criticism (including perceived criticism).
The narcissist’s inflated ego and deep insecurities cause him/her to need to reminded many, many times every day that he/she is more important, special, loved, and superior to all other people–even their children.
This could even cause an NPD husband to feel abandoned and unloved when a newborn arrives—needing more of people’s attention. Many narcissists will seek out an affair partner when a medical condition or baby takes their spouse away from fully serving them. They feel abandoned so they retaliate and abandon you in your time of greatest need; unable to serve you as you would do for them.
Furthermore, when you kindly share that you need them, are seeking some extra attention because you don’t feel cared for, or you just don’t like how you’re being treated (unkindly), the narcissist only hears this as criticism.
This usually leads to a blame game about all that you’ve done wrong. They don’t want to hear they’ve done anything wrong or need to change.
And in their brain, they hear, You’re a bad person, You can’t do anything right, and I’m going to leave you! (when that’s not what you’re saying). So to avoid perceived abandonment, sometimes their biggest fear, they’ll rage, threaten divorce, or discard those closest to them first.
3. Your spouse may take advantage or manipulate others to get what they want.
Narcissists are master manipulators. Because of their insecurities, they have to control things, have everything their way, in their time, while projecting their controlling nature onto their spouse—it’s her/him who’s controlling (when you try to control yourself) not me.
They triangulate people to cause division, divide and concur. They don’t want two or more people to have a conversation that would lead to confrontation from both about their choices, behaviors, or the sin their trying to hide.
They also flip between Nice Person or Mean/Angry Person, depending on what works for them to get their desired outcome. You may be treated poorly one minute, but then treated sweetly when they want something. They use you to get what they want and they’ve learned what works to get you to bend to their wishes.
4. There is a lack of sincere empathy for others, especially those closest to them.
Because the narcissist is so consumed with themself, they have no room to be concerned about what someone else might be going through or feeling. They’re unable to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. But when they’re keeping up with the charming, covertly narcissistic persona, they can fake sympathy to impress others.
Yet, they lack empathy and understanding for those whom they say they love. Again, when you’re sick or just had a new baby, they’re much too busy to help care for you. Or they see you as seeking the attention that they feel they’re entitled too.
Are you married to a “Christian” Narcissist? Watch my video to find out.
5. Your spouse is jealous of others while thinking others are jealous of them.
A narcissist has a very competitive nature and believes that if someone else is successful then they must do better. They need to be the most successful, have the most prestigious, high paying job, to be making the most money so they can have the nicest home, cars, and other material possessions.
They just are not content with some things, they have to have them all. The narcissist is not only envious of the achievements or accomplishments of others and will use others to get ahead in life. The narcissist will befriend someone they want to be better than.
They want to have what others have and more. And they often think others are jealous or envious of them and everything they’ve done or have.
How Did I Marry a Narcissist?
The narcissistic person started their tactics during the courtship phase of the relationship. The narcissist is very skilled at pretending to have love, care, and affections for their new love, this is often called love-bombing. They will give you attention and gifts that deceive you into believing their love is sincere--especially because of how extreme they seem to feel.
It’s a trap that entangles the victim to fill their need for new supply of attention and admiration. That’s why it is hard to separate from a narcissist once you fall for these 8 tactics.
They’re often relationship dependent, meaning they’ve never been alone.
5 Quick Tips to Disarm a Narcissist
- Don't disagree with someone who believes their lies–they are skilled pathological liars. Any disagreement about their lies leads to arguments that go nowhere. Even with the proof, they find a way to talk themselves out of any real consequences. Just allow the truth to come out in God’s timing (John 3:20).
- In the meantime, avoid getting sucked into their drama or mental games. Don’t press the panic button when they do. Emotionally separate as much as you can and keep yourself as emotionally grounded as possible even during high tension, emotional outbursts, or when they’re panicked about a situation. When he/she realizes that you won’t be controlled into reacting, they may even call you “unemotional”—this is you winning at not being their pawn.
- Don’t play the same psychological games they’re playing hoping they see their own behaviors. They won’t understand or get it. And you’ll just feel worse for how you chose to behave. When you do slip into acting like them, as happens sometimes, they’ll just use your behavior to justify their own.
- Have clear and healthy boundaries. If your spouse does things they know bothers you—ie. coming to the table after you and everyone else has been sitting there for 10-15 minutes waiting for him/her to show up or making you wait hours to leave to do somewhere as a family. Assert a boundary, as in dinner is at 6:00 PM, we’ll start without you if you can’t make it. Or we’re leaving for the party at 1:00 PM, those who are ready to go will ride with me, you’re welcome to meet us there if you won’t be ready then.
- Get a job, a hobby that keeps you busy, go back to school, or whatever else will keep yourself from circling your life around your spouse. The narcissist wants to be worshipped—the place where only God belongs. My best advice is to take them out of the middle of your life, create balance, and find fulfillment in other things besides your spouse. (This does not mean have an affair.) Find out what God created you for besides being a husband or a wife—there is more to life than this one job.
If these things are difficult for you, especially while living with a narcissist, seek professional help from a licensed counselor, domestic violence advocate, or boundary/empowerment coach to assist you.
Where to Find Supportive & Understanding Help?
The narcissist doesn’t believe they need to change anything about themselves; it is everyone else who needs to do the changing. For this reason, going to marriage counseling or even individualized counseling with them, hoping and praying for change, won’t cure their NPD.
And even if they admit to a problem, they’re just not willing to do the work needed to change.
You are better off finding a support system to help you to deal with this person, knowing they won’t change. While learning to emotionally separate and assert solid boundaries, you can find peace in your life. But you also have to accept that the narcissist might not like the new you and discard you to find someone else–this is where my ministry helps you to survive.
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Jen Grice is a divorce coach and the author of “You Can Survive Divorce”. She empowers Christian women to not only survive their unwanted divorce, caused by abuse, adultery, and/or narcissism, but to become stronger and thrive after. Jen Grice can be found on YouTube, talking about divorcing a narcissist. Or you can find out more about Jen’s books, coaching for women, and ministry at JenGrice.com.