Are You Married to a Narcissist?
You may think of a narcissist as someone who is vain and full of himself, someone who talks a lot about himself and his accomplishments, but that’s only scratching the surface. When you are married to someone suffering from this personality disorder, your life swings out of control fast. In the well-known Greek myth, Narcissus is the handsome and self-involved young man who falls in love with his own reflection in the river and is trapped there forever, gazing in awe at his own beauty.
While it is true that most narcissists are male, an extremely handsome spouse isn’t necessarily a narcissist, nor does a narcissist need to be good looking. Too mental health professionals, a narcissist is someone with a personality disorder that requires a constant focus on himself. Narcissism precludes empathy and ruins relationships, with debilitating effects to all involved. Given a narcissist’s constant focus is on themselves, you may think he or she is supremely self-confident, but this is far from the truth.
A narcissist carries such deep feelings of insecurity that, in order to cover this self, they create another, idealized self-image of themselves as an exceptional person, better, more intelligent and more interesting than others. It is this false self-image that he or she revolves around to the exclusion of everyone else. If your spouse is a narcissist, you are likely to grow increasingly unhappy the longer you stay together. Your narcissist spouse is incapable of true intimacy and will not spend much energy – if any — meeting your needs. You may find yourself used and manipulated to meet their needs. Once they do not need you any longer, they may leave you or withdraw from you without a backward glance.
How can you tell whether your spouse is just an insensitive, self-centered guy or gal, or whether he or she is a pathological narcissist? Here are some traits that tell the tale. Their only topic of conversation: me, me, me. A narcissist has no trouble espousing about themselves and their life for hours on end, but they will find it difficult to focus on your interests for very long. You’ll find it difficult to wedge your thoughts into a “conversation” with him or her, and if you do manage to say something, he or she is likely to ignore or correct you.
A narcissist has an exaggerated sense of self-importance, bordering on grandiosity. They truly believe that other people in their sphere – like you — cannot have a life worth living without them. That means that they simply cannot tune into or value your feelings or those of your kids. They use external props to establish their superiority. Everyone enjoys driving a new car or carrying the latest iphone, but a narcissist is obsessed with amassing these props to make himself or herself look good to others.
They believe the property they own, degrees they hold, places they have visited and the people they claim as acquaintances give them the elevated status they crave. Because they have a sports car, or knows Bill Gates, or graduated from an Ivy League school, they are better than you and, indeed, better than anyone else. This in turn gives him or her a sense of entitlement – to him or her, it’s only normal that you and everyone else caters to their whims. This seems so much the natural order of their constructed universe that they never consider giving back.
They turn on the charm when they want something. Did your spouse charm the socks off of you when you were wooing, then grow increasingly cold and distant after you were wed? Narcissists are among the most magnetic and persuasive individuals you can ever meet, and when they want something from you, they make you feel special, desirable and fascinating. Alas, the moment a narcissist gets what he wants, he or she moves back to their true focus – themselves — often without any explanation or apology. Even if he or she doesn’t move out, you simply disappear from their radar, leaving you heart-broken and bewildered.
What did you do wrong?
Nothing, other than marrying a narcissist. Nothing is ever their fault. A narcissist spouse is the master of the blame game. If there’s something wrong, they fault everybody and anybody other than themselves, even when it’s clearly a matter within their own control. They never accept responsibility for their own behavior. They don’t show up at your couple’s therapy session – you should have called to remind him or her. He or she smacks the kids – they shouldn’t have made him so angry. He or she gets a speeding ticket – the cop had it in for them. With a narcissist, it is never their fault.
In the same vein, a narcissist believes that rules and conventions are for other people, not them, and keeping their word is not a high priority. They borrow things and never return them, break promises to you and the kids, violates established rules – like cutting into the front of the line at the bank or refusing to leave tips – and somehow, throughout, blames you or someone else for it. Their anger flares frequently. A narcissist sees their spouse and kids as an extension of themselves and they are easily angered if you don’t give them the attention they want, fail to cater to their desires, or disagree with their opinions.
Any perceived slights or inattentiveness can result in a tantrum. If your spouse is a narcissist, his or her response to criticism will be extreme – they will either lash out in anger or detach completely. Don’t think this sensitivity works both ways though. Your narcissist spouse will be quick to criticize and judge you. They attempt to make you feel inferior as a form of emotional abuse, which is intended to boost their own ego.
Considering divorce? If you are married to a narcissist, you may think with increasing frequency about ending your marriage. While that decision is one only you can make, be sure to get a good attorney on board before trying to divorce a narcissist. For tips on how it might go, look for the other articles in this series about divorcing a narcissist, including Divorcing a Narcissist, and Child Custody and Narcissistic Personality Disorders, and Child Support and the Narcissist Parent, Narcissist Divorce Advice, and Choosing a Divorce Attorney Against a Narcissist.
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