Married to a Narcissist?
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Music Credits: Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, “Cold, Cold Eyes”
What to Do When You’re in Love With Someone Who’s in Love With Themselves…
Are you married to a narcissist? Or is that person you’re dating a narcissist? Do you suspect that a family member may be a narcissist? You might be right: They’re definitely out there. As I’m sure you’re well aware, it’s incredibly difficult to have a relationship with a selfish person. You can love them “perfectly,” but it’s never enough to get the love you want and deserve back.
Today, we’re talking about how to tell if someone is a narcissist as well as determining what type of narcissist they are— redeemable, or irredeemable. We’ll also cover what to do and how to cope if you’re married to a narcissist, as well as look at codependency and narcissism, narcissistic relationship dynamics, and the steps you can take to protect yourself from narcissists. Because these relationships are so agonizing, I get so many questions about how to deal with narcissists. Here are just a few I’ve heard that we’ll be tackling on today’s podcast:
- “Dr. Lisa, I think I’m married to a narcissist; what do I do?”
- “What is the narcissistic abuse cycle?”
- “What are early warning signs you’re dating a narcissist?”
- “How do you tell the difference between ADHD or narcissism?”
- “How do I coparent with a narcissist?”
- “Does therapy work for narcissists?”
- And my very favorite one: “Dr. Lisa, do narcissists cry?” (The answer is yes, narcissists do cry. Primarily they cry tears of self-pity when they’re not getting the respect and deference that they feel entitled to.)
Answering Your Questions About Narcissists
Because I get so many questions about narcissists, I’m devoting this entire episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to tackling them. We’ll be doing a dive into the psychology of narcissism, and also how to tell the difference between different kinds of narcissists. (i.e. People who behave selfishly but who can become more loving and empathetic, versus irredeemable, toxic narcissists).
Narcissistic Relationship Dynamics
But even more importantly than talking about narcissists (who, let’s be honest, enjoy it very much when we talk about them), I want to talk about YOU. To be a narcissist is one thing, but to be with a narcissist is a whole other thing. Identifying how you may be subconsciously attracting narcissists, or participating in unhealthy toxic relationship patterns with a narcissist will help YOU become empowered. Particularly if you grew up with a narcissistic parent, understanding how you might be vulnerable to engaging with narcissists is vital for you to have a healthy relationship.
In this episode, you will learn about the different types of narcissists. You’ll learn how it’s possible to be in a relationship with one and how to deal with them. Knowing these will help you navigate your relationships with grace and dignity because you are worth it.
Tune in to the podcast to learn how you can understand narcissists and discover strategies to cope with them when you’re in a relationship with one.
In This Episode: Married to a Narcissist, You Will…
- Learn the different types of narcissists.
- Discover the traits of different narcissists.
- Realize that some narcissists are treatable over time.
- Identify the things you need to watch out for if you’re dating or married to a narcissist.
- Uncover the reasons why narcissists are the way they are.
- Know the different ways individual and couples therapy can (potentially) help narcissists and their partners.
- Realize that staying with a narcissist may be unhealthy.
- How to manage narcissistic relationship dynamics so that you can protect yourself.
All that and much, much more on this episode of the podcast. You can listen by scrolling down to the player at the bottom of this post, or you can listen to “Married to a Narcissist” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. (And I hope you subscribe while you’re listening so that we can stay connected!)
You can also cruise through the show notes below, and I do hope you check out some of the resources that I have shared in this episode.
Wishing you all the very best on your journey of growth and healing,
Married to a Narcissist: Podcast Episode Highlights
On the surface, narcissists may not make sense. They may behave outrageously but understanding how they work and what is important to them will help you make sense of how they function.
To help you get your bearings as to what’s going on (and what options may be possible) it’s first important to understand that there are two kinds of narcissists: wounded narcissists and malignant narcissists.
Empathizing With Wounded Narcissists
Wounded narcissists are often stuck in an adolescent stage of emotional development, so they do not feel good about themselves. They may include:
- Those who have very low self-esteem.
- Those who doubt themselves on various levels.
- Those whose primary fears include rejection, a fear that they may not be loveable or not good enough, and that they may be ridiculed.
Wounded narcissists come from a place of fragility, and they genuinely struggle to love themselves. They may not get their needs met in their family, or they may have been bullied in school. Such narcissists seek plenty of external validation. They often feel the need to be propped up by others, and commonly have trust issues in relationships.
They are very image-conscious. “People who are in this place will often try hard to seem cool, seem smart… Often on social media, they’re posting things that are very intentionally trying to make them look good.”
If they don’t feel affirmed, they will take criticism hard. It is because they are very fragile on the inside. They don’t know how to make themselves feel good. However, despite these challenges, wounded narcissists can often heal and grow with the support of good therapy.
Helping Wounded Narcissists
With the support of a good therapist (as well as lots of patience and “boundaried compassion” from people who love them), wounded narcissists can feel more safe and accepting of themselves. Although becoming more vulnerable and authentic can create a lot of anxiety for them, it’s also the path forward. However, before achieving this, it is significant to make them feel like talking to you is a safe space, and they can be vulnerable with you. You may ask them why they feel a certain way. Let them share what’s on their mind and listen.
Wounded narcissists may need help identifying what their feelings made them do.
- Did it make them spend extravagantly to look good?
- Did it make them spend an hour dressing up to impress others?
These are just some of the things you can (very gently and kindly, being careful not to make them feel criticized) talk about with a wounded narcissist.
Through these kinds of questions, they become more aware of themselves, and the conversation will naturally flow from there. This could help build their confidence, too.
Additionally, low self-esteem often leads to the development of trust issues. Because they’ve been too self-absorbed, wounded narcissists often have difficulties when their partners try to open up to them. Instead of talking about the feelings of the other person, they shift the point of conversation towards themselves. If they don’t feel acknowledged, they may become unhappy with you. This cycle can be exhausting for both partners when they don’t feel safe or listened to.
Nonetheless, marriage counseling or couples therapy paired with empathy can help resolve this problem. It’s relatively easy to empathize with narcissistic partners, but what may become challenging is that they may find it difficult to empathize with you.
Nevertheless, it is not an indication that empathy is impossible for wounded narcissists. It merely means that they still have a lot to work on themselves. A great way to do it is to engage in couples therapy or counseling.
Couples counseling can help restore healthy boundaries in a relationship, improve communication, and give each partner insight into how they may be impacting the other. However, it’s important for a fragile, wounded narcissist to work on themselves independently, in individual therapy as well.
In contrast with wounded narcissists, malignant narcissists are consistent with a disordered personality individual as outlined by the DSM 5. Malignant narcissists have a profound belief that they are better than anyone else. Rules do not apply to them.
If you really peel the onion and go back in their life, which is hard to do, you will find not even wounds, but often that they did not get their needs met, often in earliest childhood.
You can recognize a malignant narcissist because they have a deep and persistent lack of empathy for other people. “It doesn’t matter what other people might be feeling or needing because whatever’s happening with them is much more important.” If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, this may result in a narcissistic abuse cycle.
Their feelings are not due to pain. Instead, it is because of their grandiose sense of self-importance, which may be contrary to their actual accomplishments. Since they cannot empathize with other people, they do not often care about others feelings. Malignant narcissists will often reject any criticism because they believe that they are beyond reproach. Instead of recognizing their faults, they might shift the blame on others. They also often feel envious of people (at least, the ones they don’t feel superior to!).
True, malignant narcissists are rare. They comprise only about 5% of the population. These people may fail to attend therapy sessions because they find nothing wrong with them. Malignant narcissists are also exploitative — they have absolutely no regard for the feelings of others. However, they do feel self-pity and depression whenever things don’t go the way they want to.
Red Flags of a Malignant Narcissist
If you’re wondering if you’re married to a narcissist (or wondering what kind of narcissist you’re married to), it can be helpful to think about characteristics that may have existed in your relationship (or in your partner) prior to marriage to see if they exhibit any of the signs of a malignant narcissist. With increased awareness, you can spot the signs that you’re attracted to narcissists, or take heed of the early red flags. Here are a few of the warning signs of a malignant narcissist.
- They are highly-attractive.
- They may be superficially charming because they are witty and fun to talk to.
- Malignant narcissists want people to feel jealous of them by putting on performances whenever they share stories about themselves.
- They have a “love-bombing” experience (listen to the podcast for more on this).
- You may develop empathy for them because they talk about themselves quite frequently.
- They are quite manipulative as they can feign empathy.
- The test to know a narcissist is to make them uncomfortable and then see what happens.
It is a terrible idea to marry anyone that you’re just getting to know. It takes time to get to know people, and that is the purpose of dating.
I Married a Narcissist! Is There Hope?
If you think you are married to a narcissist, it is essential to know what kind of narcissist you are with. If you are with a wounded narcissist, hope and healing are often possible with the right support. However, when you are with a malignant narcissist, they may be irredeemable.
“As you are figuring out your options for what to do with your life, the idea that we can get this person to change and heal, and if they talk to someone, they could have empathy and they could treat me with love and respect — that can’t be one of the factors that you take into consideration.”
Significant change almost does not happen, and it can require a 10-year plan to achieve. You must also rethink leaving a child with this kind of person, or at the very least, establishing an effective co-parenting strategy. There may come a time that you need to leave this toxic relationship behind. It is challenging, but you can do it with dignity.
Just remember, you have power!
“You cannot have a healthy relationship with an unhealthy person. And the corollary of this is that you can’t be in a stable relationship with a narcissist or be married to a narcissist without participating in a narcissistic cycle to some degree.”
Being with a narcissist may cause you not to have your feelings validated or needs met. So, it is critical to be careful and be self-aware. If you grew up in a household filled with narcissists, you might be used to having your feelings be set aside. This kind of gaslighting could cost you a lot of energy.
“If you are married to a narcissist, or in a relationship with a narcissist, it doesn’t matter how good you are, or how much you do. They will not love you because they cannot love you.”
There are no easy strategies or answers for what to do if you’re married to a narcissist. If you are in love with a narcissist, you have to refrain from being dependent upon their happiness. Check out “How to Stop Being Codependent” for more on that topic. You might also think about when to call it quits.
But no matter what, get some support for yourself to help you navigate this difficult life-space. Getting involved with a great therapist who can help you sort through your feelings, develop healthy boundaries, combat gaslighting, stay out of unhealthy relationship dynamics, and practice good self-care is absolutely vital to YOUR long term wellness, irregardless of what you decide to do about the relationship.
Also, if you do decide to leave a narcissistic relationship, be ready for the possibility that you may need to do some work on yourself to heal. Narcissistic relationships are notoriously toxic, and when you’ve been with a narcissist in the past, it can be challenging to feel trusting of people going forward. It’s normal, but it’s also real: therapy can help.
ADHD or Narcissism?
People with ADHD will often show up as thoughtless and forgetful. They are also pretty self-absorbed as a long-standing partner. They may not do well in school because of being too busy with their little world. However, ADHD is entirely treatable and is different from narcissism.
Resources for Married to a Narcissist:
- Leaving a Toxic Relationship?
- Are You Over-Focusing on “Chemistry?” (And Ruining a Great Relationship?)
- Evidence-Based Therapy Online & In Person
I’ve shared invaluable advice on dealing with narcissists as gracefully as possible. What did you connect and relate to the most? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below. Also, I am well aware that this subject is VAST. I tried to present an overview of narcissism that (hopefully) speaks to you, but if you have follow up questions for me leave them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast
Married to a Narcissist?
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Music Credits: Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, “Cold, Cold Eyes”
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.