Every marriage has its ups and downs, but when your partner doesn’t hide the fact that they’re never going to care much about your needs and wants, the “ups” might be few and far between. But if you learn how to deal with a narcissist spouse, perhaps you might just turn it into a workable union—as much as possible, at least.
When you’re married to a narcissist, their lack of empathy might baffle you. You’ll have the same fights over and over again, and the only thing you’ll ask for is a little consideration. But when the next fight rolls around because you didn’t pay “enough attention” to them, the cycle will start again.
When the bickering and glaring inconsideration get too much to handle, you might just end up feeling helpless, trapped even. With the help of clinical psychologist Devaleena Ghosh (M.Res, Manchester University), founder of Kornash: The Lifestyle Management School, who specializes in couple counseling and family therapy, let’s take a look at how to deal with a narcissist spouse so you don’t end up feeling like there’s no way out.
5 Sure-Shot Signs You Have A Narcissist Spouse
Though it may seem like we’re all married to the most selfish person to have ever existed, a misdiagnosis of narcissism is almost as fatal as not attending to it. You don’t want to confuse a narcissistic spouse with a selfish one, knowing what signs to look out for can help you immensely.
So before we get into how to deal with a narcissist spouse, let’s take a look at the classic signs of NPD, so at least you know what you’re dealing with.
1. They can do no wrong
“The first thing to consider in a narcissistic spouse is that they never take responsibility for their actions, they’re always right. There’s always a lot of blame-shifting in the relationship since they can’t accept to be ‘losing’ an argument,” says Devaleena.
If you’re upset with your partner because they haven’t talked to you in weeks, it’s your fault because you “didn’t make an effort”. If they forget the car keys on their way out, it’s your fault because you didn’t remind them. One of the most common narcissistic marriage problems is the fact that such a lack of responsibility always leads to constant bickering.
Related Reading: How To Make A Narcissist Miserable – 13 Things To Do
2. They have a grandiose idea of self-importance
“They have a peculiar sense of entitlement and believe that the world owes them something. It can also come as a disguise where they oscillate between blatant self-importance and victim playing when they think they’re helpless souls who have got a raw deal in life.
“It then becomes the moral duty of the people around them to cater to whatever is not going well in their lives. And if you don’t cater to their needs, you are one among those who have wronged them,” says Devaleena.
3. You’re constantly reassuring them of how great they are
“They need praise, constant admiration and adoration from their spouses all the time. They have to constantly hear how great they are at everything that they do. They fish for compliments every chance they get. Words of affirmation aren’t a sweet gesture to them, it’s the only way they wanted to be communicated to,” says Devaleena.
If you don’t congratulate them on something they did at work at least half a dozen times, they’re going to get upset about it. If you don’t tell them how much you love them and why thrice a day, they’re going to think you don’t. As you can probably tell by now, understanding how to deal with a narcissist spouse isn’t that easy.
4. They’re always expecting special treatment, no matter where they are
“It doesn’t matter if they’re in a new environment, they expect special treatment everywhere. And if they’re not given this special care and attention, they’re going to want to leave or will throw a fit the entire time.
“Even if it’s important to you, they won’t consider staying and they’ll want to leave – because they’re not treated as they think they should be,” says Devaleena.
It doesn’t matter if they’re meeting your friends, people they’ve never met before or even if they’re in a new country. If they’re not the center of attention or if their made-up “needs” aren’t being cared for, they’re already upset.
5. They can’t stop talking about their achievements (which they exaggerate)
“They exaggerate their achievements and talents. They expect you to constantly hear them bragging about things they may have done way back when. It doesn’t matter if decades have passed; they’re going to repeat the story every chance they get.
“They’ll expect their spouses to agree with them and offer praise all over again. If you don’t, and if they get a feeling that they’re not being attended to, they get offended. And since there are no conflict resolution strategies they’ve ever used, the fights get nasty.
“Narcissists often react to criticism very badly. They’re absolutely closed to any kind of criticism, even if it’s the most constructive one. That’s because they think they’re always right and superior to you,” says Devaleena.
If you’re living with a narcissist, you’ve probably heard the same old stories of their triumphs over and over again. God forbid you say something like, “I know, you’ve told me before”, because it’s not going to end well for you.
Now that you know what the classic signs of someone with NPD look like, it’s time to figure out how to stay in a marriage that has made you pull your hair out. Don’t worry, these expert tips will make sure you don’t end up going bald.
9 Expert Tips On How To Deal With A Narcissist Spouse
If you’re living with a narcissist when leaving is not an option, you’re not doomed to a life of invalidation and belittlement. While their victim-playing attitude may make them believe they’ve been dealt a rough hand in life, it’s actually you who’s got to bear the brunt.
Unlike your narcissistic spouse, you’re not one to sit around and complain about the injustice you’re facing. Below are a few expert tips on how to deal with a narcissist spouse to help you get the most out of your marriage:
1. Tell your spouse how you feel
The narcissistic marriage problems will eat away at you, and your spouse won’t even get to know about it unless you communicate your feelings to them.
A narcissist doesn’t think about how his/her actions affect those around them. They’re not much bothered with the repercussions until they affect them as well. Chances are, your spouse is oblivious to the damage they’re causing to your mental health.
In a non-hostile manner, try to put forth the things you have been feeling. Since you’re not dealing with the easiest person to talk to, you might have to brush their ego a bit before you get into it. If you feel invalidated, say something like, “I love you so much, but when you don’t listen to me, it makes me feel uncared for because…” Let them know what bothers you and what you’d like to do differently.
Related Reading: 11 Tips To Deal With A Narcissist Boyfriend Smartly
2. Recognize the manipulation
“Narcissists are invariably great manipulators. The partner in question has been successfully manipulated without even realizing it. Once you spot how it works, there is a high chance of recovery from the effects of narcissism. But the first catch here is to recognize how they weave their (evil) magic and put you under their spell,” says Devaleena.
Do you fall for the victim card they end up using? Or do you tend to give in to their incessant demands? Perhaps they make you feel as though you’re the one who’s actually being inconsiderate and manage to turn the tables.
When you’re living with a narcissist, you can probably spot the signs that the foundation of your relationship is weak. The first thing to do is to figure out how they manipulate you. Once you’re able to identify how it starts, you’ll be able to break the pattern.
3. Find your support system
While you’re trying to figure out how to deal with a narcissist spouse, you might end up sidelining your needs and wants – much like your spouse does. Things can end up getting too rough for you to deal with, so you must find a support system that helps you when you need someone to talk to.
“Build your support system, your cheering squad, your own pack. It’s almost a necessity to have people around you who you can trust when you’re experiencing narcissistic marriage problems,” says Devaleena.
4. Have realistic expectations
Though it’s only human nature to expect that things will get better sooner or later, it’s also important to understand that NPD is a mental condition that alters the way a person thinks and behaves, and expecting them to change overnight is only going to lead to heartache.
“It’s natural for anyone in a relationship to have a lot of expectations from their partner. But when you’re married to a narcissist, it is very important to learn how to manage your expectations. Don’t confuse a narcissistic spouse with someone who keeps their promises, this person is going to hurt you consistently, often without even realizing it,” says Devaleena.
Expect them to lash back at you, expect them to be unreasonable and expect them to hate you for suggesting a few changes. When you’re dealing with such a person, you will need to change the way you talk around them, so that they don’t feel offended.
However, it’s also important to note that you mustn’t give in to their demands. Though you must manage your expectations in this relationship, the only way to stay in the marriage is for both of you to work together to improve things.
5. Accept their limitations and work around them
“If you are living with a narcissist when leaving is not an option, you need to understand the limitations of the other and work around them. Do not try to change them overnight or be hostile toward them for the things they say. In most cases, they will not cater to your considerations,” says Devaleena.
Do they get annoyed when people in a group don’t pay attention to them? Try to mention something they did recently, so people start talking to them. Are they hesitant to go to that play you’ve wanted to go to since forever? Tell them how they’ll look like a better spouse since they’re doing something for you, hence showing them how this benefits them too.
Though it may seem unfair, you’ve got to accept this person’s limitations and work around them if you want there to be some peace in your house. If you’re constantly blaming them for the things they do wrong, since they lack empathy to see where you’re coming from, it’s only going to result in a screaming match.
Related Reading: 21 Ways To Tell You Have A Narcissistic Husband
6. Hold your ground, but pick your battles
“It’s very important to know which battles are worth fighting and which aren’t. If you are trying to fight with them to prove your point, you will end up being physically or emotionally wounded. It won’t do you and your family any good,” says Devaleena.
When figuring out how to deal with a narcissist spouse, you don’t have to indulge in screaming matches for everything they bring up, which will eventually lead to resentment in the marriage. Sometimes you can choose to walk away or ignore the accusations when you’re fighting over something petty, like that time you didn’t praise them enough for something they did.
But when a fight breaks out about something important like your child, you must stand your ground. You might be tempted to assume blame to reinstate peace in the house, but that way, you’ll just be encouraging them to disrespect you in the future. If you don’t want to leave a narcissist spouse, you’ve got to let them know that you will not let them walk all over you.
7. Let them know what’s okay and what isn’t
“To be able to set boundaries, you must establish with yourself what’s acceptable and what isn’t, with regard to how other people treat you. How much disrespect is too much? Where do you draw the line? The sooner you answer these questions yourself, the sooner you’ll be able to communicate it,” says Devaleena.
A narcissistic spouse doesn’t value your personal space and privacy too much. They may feel entitled to tell you what to think or what to do since it meets their whims and fancies. They may go through your phone, take you for granted and may not care much about the personal space you asked for.
Amicably, it’s important to let them know what’s okay and what isn’t. Since you don’t want to leave a narcissist spouse, you must make sure they’re not constantly disrespecting your boundaries.
8. Work on your self-confidence and self-worth
When you’re living with a narcissist, the constant name-calling in the relationship might eat away at your confidence. Don’t let their grandiose idea of self-importance fool you into thinking that they are superior to you – this is a union of equals, nothing less.
When you work on your confidence and self-worth, you’d better be able to hold your own during ugly confrontations. You’ll be less prone to being gaslighted in your relationship. Find your footing, your life isn’t defined by the fact that you’re married to a narcissist.
9. Seek counseling
As we mentioned, NPD is a mental health disorder. Though you may think that through continued effort you will succeed in “fixing” your partner, a professional mental health therapist will better be able to help your partner through practices like REBT or CBT.
When figuring out how to deal with a narcissist spouse negatively affecting your mental or physical health, individual counseling can help you as well. With the help of couples’ therapy and individual sessions, you’ll see things improving over time.
If you’re married to a narcissist or are seeking therapy for any mental health-related issue, Bonobology’s panel of experienced therapists would be glad to help you through every step of the way.
Sure, marriage is never easy. But when you’re with someone who constantly thinks they’re more important than you ever will be, calling it “difficult” is an understatement. Now that you know how to deal with a narcissist spouse, hopefully, you’ll be able to find the sort of love you’ve been yearning for.