A narcissistic spouse is typically manipulative, self-centered, difficult to feel connected to, and may be verbally aggressive or abusive. Being married to a narcissist can result in low self-esteem; diminished healthy connections with others; restricted access to resources needed to leave the relationship; and mental health struggles as a result of the narcissistic abuse endured.
What Is a Narcissist?
Someone with a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) will have an overinflated ego, a lack of empathy for others, and an intense need for excessive attention and admiration from others.1 All of this stems from having a fragile self-esteem, which can make a person explosive and hostile when criticized.
15 Signs You’re Married to a Narcissist
A narcissistic spouse will primarily focus on themselves, with their secondary focus being on attaining the admiration and attention of others. They will often deploy a variety of narcissistic relationship patterns such as manipulation, charismatic, and exploitational tactics in order to ensure that their own needs and wants are met. As a spouse, you may be the subject of their manipulation and abuse, while your partner treats everyone else positively. This is done to maintain a facade worthy of praise from others, making it difficult to see or believe the signs that your partner is actually a narcissist.
Here are 15 signs you’re married to a narcissist:
1. You Don’t Feel Connected to Them
One of the foundational diagnostic criteria for NPD is a lack of empathy.2 Human beings connect emotionally by feeling seen, heard, and understood by others, which is at the core of empathy. In place of this trait, narcissists tend to be overly charismatic, thus naturally drawing others toward them. This can feel confusing for their partners, as they may find it difficult to distinguish between narcissistic charisma and a lack of empathy.
2. You Are Gaslighted by Them
People with narcissism often gaslight their partners, which is the act of invalidating another person’s experience in order to make one question its authenticity. Narcissists gaslight others because their fragile self-esteem crumbles if their imperfections or mistakes are perceivable.3 When these mistakes can’t be hidden, narcissists will outright change the narrative to reflect a more favorable narrative for themselves.
3. They Love Bomb You
Love bombing is when someone bombards their partner with affection; strong emotions; and gifts of time, energy, or things. A narcissist uses love bombing to build a facade of intimacy and trust, so their partner will stay in the relationship. Because of this, the partner may not notice the deeper underlying problems; this in turn creates an idealized situation that the partner will attempt to pursue and re-create throughout the relationship.
4. They Hold Grudges
When a narcissist feels as though they have been slighted or insulted, all of their insecurities and deepest fears are realized. They cannot process, understand, or release internalized pain in a healthy way, so they often hold grudges and seek revenge in the future.
5. They Use Triangulation
Triangulation is when two people are having a disagreement, and a third person is brought into the argument in order to resolve the problem. Narcissistic triangulation is a manipulation tactic to ensure that only the narcissist’s viewpoint is validated. The opposing person’s perception is then invalidated, convincing the victim to question themselves and eventually abandon the argument altogether.
6. They Control You
A narcissist fears being rejected and abandoned so much that it often leads them to seek control of those around them. They may do this by restricting who you spend time with; how much money and resources you have access to; and how many decisions you are able to make for yourself before you face negative repercussions from them.
7. They Isolate You
Narcissists cannot keep up their facade of perfection forever, so they isolate their partners from loved ones that may point out their manipulative and abusive behaviors. In order to keep you from leaving, a narcissist will convince you to cut off these relationships. This may be done by the narcissist formulating lies about your loved ones, or telling you that it’s best for you to cut ties.
8. They Treat You Like a Child
Narcissists truly believe that others are less competent than they. Because of this, narcissists often use what’s called “infantilization.” They may treat you as though you were an infant or child, allowing the narcissist to take away your responsibilities, talk down to you, or limit your ability to perform simple tasks.
9. They Call You Names & Put You Down
A narcissistic person will often call their partners names or highlight their weaknesses in demeaning ways. Over time, this can convince a person that they aren’t worthy of being treated better. This often starts in small, sometimes seemingly “joking” ways, but usually builds in frequency and intensity until their partner gets used to it.
10. They Feel Impossible to Please
“Moving the goalposts” is when someone changes the rules of a situation midway through, in order to keep another from succeeding or meeting expectations. A narcissist will do this so that their partner will continue to seek their approval, allowing them to maintain a place of authority.
11. They Are Always Talking About Themselves
Because narcissists are solely focused on themselves, they will often incorrectly assume that everyone else is as interested in their thoughts, feelings, and desires as they are. They may talk about their opinions in inappropriately lengthy detail, failing to realize that others’ viewpoints deserve to be heard, too. Because of this, conversations often feel one-sided, as others are rarely permitted to contribute anything substantial to the dialogue.
12. They Never Seem Happy With Your Present Life
Another foundational diagnostic criteria for NPD is a preoccupation with fantasies about being successful, wealthy, powerful, beautiful, etc. Because they are preoccupied with the possibilities of their grand future, it may seem that they are dismissive or unappreciative of the current life you share together.
13. They Fish for Attention & Compliments
A narcissist’s lack of self-esteem keeps them from seeing the positives within themselves, keeping them reliant upon the positive input they receive from others. Because of this, a narcissistic person will often fish for compliments or ensure that all attention remains on them. They will continue to engage with those who provide them with praise and favorability. Alternatively, those who do not do so, will be treated negatively by the narcissist.
14. They Are Highly Reactive to Criticism
Comments perceived as negative or critical will feel like a direct attack to a narcissist, because it elicits the shame that is often associated with their need to outwardly project perfection.4 A partner with narcissism may lash out to conceal this sensitive aspect of themselves through denial, insults, and verbal or physical violence.
15. They Treat You Like an Object
Narcissists cannot comprehend why you are deserving of love and attention. Because they see their needs and wants as paramount, they will often completely ignore your own desires. This can result in you feeling more like a “thing” within the relationship, instead of a person.5
Effects of Being Married to a Narcissist
Being married to a narcissist can affect your life in a variety of ways. It can impact your relationships, self-esteem, finances, and ability to be independent. Moreover, it can lead to negative effects on your mental and physical health.
Effects of being married to a narcissist include the following:
- Low self-esteem
- Loss of connection with other people in your life
- Losing a sense of your own identity and individual needs
- Poor boundaries in all areas of your life
- Low motivation and fatigue
- Developing mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression
How to Deal With a Narcissistic Partner
Living with a narcissistic partner can be incredibly difficult. However, taking steps to recognize and mitigate negative impacts can make a major difference in protecting your mental health.
Here are nine tips to cope with a narcissistic partner:
- Learn about Narcissism: The more you understand NPD, the easier it will be for you to recognize emotional manipulation tactics and the reasons why your partner behaves in certain ways.
- Set and maintain your boundaries: Boundaries are defined as the maintenance of both party’s needs with as much balance as possible. Take time to identify your needs, communicate these clearly to your partner, and restate them as often as you need to.
- Learn to identify manipulation tactics: Narcissists use manipulation tactics to meet their needs in a variety of ways, resulting in others being hurt by their actions. Taking time to recognize and understand manipulation tactics can help you know how to stop these unhealthy behaviors when they occur.
- Foster other healthy relationships: It is important to have relationships outside of your marriage, but it’s particularly important when you’re married to a narcissist. This way, you have objective input that has your best interest in mind.
- Don’t tolerate insults: Name-calling and insulting your partner is unhealthy and can be abusive in any relationship. Communicating that this behavior is unacceptable will help to protect your self-esteem.
- Don’t feed into emotional tantrums: When a narcissist lashes out, they are attempting to intimidate others into offering them the attention that they desire. If your partner is having an emotional tantrum, give them space to begin learning how to self-soothe and to break this cycle.
- Recognize that you are not to blame: A narcissist will treat everyone the same way; there is nothing that you have done wrong to deserve their behavior. Realize that their actions are a projection of their illness, and they have nothing to do with you.
- Focus on recognizing and meeting your own emotional needs: When you give in and prioritize your partner’s needs over your own, this opens the door for resentment and burnout in the relationship. Take time to recognize your own needs just as often as your partner’s.
- Work on acceptance: As much as you might like to, you cannot change your partner or control their actions. Trying to do so will only cause exhaustion and frustration. Accept what you can, and know that it is okay to leave the relationship if there are major issues or your partner is unwilling to work toward compromise.
What Are My Options When Married to a Narcissist?
Narcissists will often convince you that you have no options outside of the relationship, and that you can’t be trusted to make decisions on your own. This fallacy is created to protect their best interests, not yours. If your partner recognizes their fears and is willing to take responsibility for them, therapy can help improve the health of your relationship. However, due to the nature of NPD, this will rarely be the case.
The number one thing to determine is whether or not you feel safe in the relationship. This applies to a variety of areas in your life – your physicality, emotional well-being, financial stability, and parental role. If you do not feel safe in any of these areas, it may be time to consider what an exit plan from the relationship might look like.
When & How a Therapist Can Help
When considering professional help, individual therapy will likely be best for both you and your partner. Couples counseling is generally advised against when one member is actively abusing and manipulating the other. This being because what is covered during a session will likely be used against the victim later on.
When looking for an individual therapist, it is important to ask if the professional has experience and training with survivors of narcissistic abuse. Because this type of abuse can take many forms, having the support of a therapist who can help highlight the ways that a narcissist might twist or manipulate a situation is beneficial. In turn, you’ll be better equipped to ground yourself in reality, begin to trust yourself again, and heal from narcissistic abuse. Finding a therapist using an online directory is a great way to get started.
Being married to a narcissist is challenging and can impact you in a multitude of ways. Recognize the ways in which your partner is affecting you, validate your needs and wants, nurture other healthy relationships, and make sure you’re getting the support you need. Remind yourself that it is not your job to change your partner; instead, advocate for your needs and be sure to take care of yourself.