Have you ever noticed that your spouse is selfish, controlling, and manipulative? Do you feel like they never take your feelings into consideration? Do you feel dismissed by them? If so, you may be married to a narcissist. Narcissism is a word that is often thrown around, but today I want to define what it actually is and give you tips for self-care if you recognize that you are married to a narcissist.
What is Narcissism?
Narcissists are self-absorbed, have a lack of empathy for others, and are grandiose. They are often described as being selfish, controlling, manipulative, and entitled. Arrogance is also a key trait. Narcissists believe they are unique and special. They may believe that they are the best at (fill in the blank). They are always right, and the smartest person in every room. This inflated sense of self often turns others away.
Narcissists often have very grandiose views of themselves and their abilities. They may have humongous goals for their own success. They will surround themselves with others who admire them and give them attention. Narcissists will take advantage of others and step on whoever they have to achieve their goals. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for a narcissist to receive criticism. Narcissism statistically is more likely to occur in males versus females.
It’s not unusual for a narcissist to initially appear to be charming, kind, and personable. They often come across as very caring and thoughtful. They want you to believe they are wonderful and will do things to show kindness and be sweet. Oftentimes these sweet things will benefit them as well, or may be used as a way to covertly manipulate you.
Narcissists may appear to be normal for a while, before their true self starts to show. They can be deceitful for a long time until they have you hooked. Then you may start to notice small things that are issues. When you begin to address any of these issues with a narcissist, they will make you feel crazy and may act like you are the problem. They may turn your complaint or concern back around on you.
According to the DSM-5, which is the diagnostic manual for those in the mental health field, 5 out of 9 of the following criteria must be present to diagnose narcissism:
- A grandiose view of self-importance
- A fixation with fantasies of success, control, brilliance, power, beauty/image, or romance
- A belief that he or she is extremely special and can only be understood by other people who are also special
- Requires constant attention and admiration from other people
- A sense of entitlement and expects others to give them favorable treatment
- Oppressive behavior towards others
- No empathy or understanding of others’ thoughts or feelings
- Is jealous of others and believes that others are jealous of him or her
- Displays arrogance and egotistical attitude
How Narcissism Looks in Marriage
When you first met, your partner may have been charming, thoughtful, and kind. After a while, you started to see their true colors. Maybe at this point, it was too late. The first time you tried to confront them about a concern or a conflict, it didn’t go well. Maybe they became defensive, or they turned it back around on you. You may have walked away feeling a little crazy. You probably thought you could fix them.
Narcissists love to talk about themselves all the time. If you come to them with something, they will make it about them EVERY TIME. Your needs will not be heard or validated. Narcissists are very concerned with outer appearance. Narcissists will attempt to keep up with the Joneses, even if they cannot afford it. They will name drop to show off how important they are. They may devote a lot of time to their appearance or spend a lot of money to have the best and most expensive things. What he or she wants or needs is the most important. Your wants and needs don’t matter.
Narcissists are emotionally and sometimes verbally abusive. They will manipulate you until you end up apologizing, even if you did nothing wrong. Narcissists will punish you for questioning their intelligence or decisions. Sometimes this means they will be condescending, belittling, and mean just because they can. They may threaten you, stonewall, leave you, or demand that you leave. Sometimes it can even cross the line into physical abuse.
How to Take Care of Yourself
If you are reading this and realize you are married to a narcissist, there are a few ways to take care of yourself. First of all, let go of the notion that you are going to change your spouse. It’s just not going to happen. Realize that all the energy you are spending trying to fix them would be better spent elsewhere. Focus that energy instead on taking care of yourself.
Don’t believe the lies that the narcissist tells you. They are not true, they are a way to manipulate and control you. Work on increasing your own confidence and rebuilding your self-esteem. Say daily affirmations to yourself and surround yourself with other people in your life who build you up. Remember that your spouse has a mental illness, and the cruel things they say and do to you are symptoms of their own illness.
Stop relying on your spouse to meet your emotional needs. It’s never going to happen. Let go of any expectations you have for them. The narcissist is never going to see your point of view or validate your feelings. Find other ways to get your needs met–through friends, a support group, or other family members.
If you are married to a narcissist, please reach out for help. Therapy is a safe space for you to talk openly about your marriage and work through your own issues. You don’t have to do this alone!
Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW
*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.
Journey to Joy Counseling serves the Indianapolis area, including Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Westfield.