February 12, 2022 |Gideon Hanekom

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In this post, we’re briefly looking at signs of narcissism in marriage that can leave you exhausted and deflated as a person.

Narcissism in marriage is a common issue that can drain your energy while also causing significant tension and unhappiness in a relationship.

A narcissist is someone who is overly focused on themselves and frequently lacks empathy for others.

They may appear charming and charismatic at first, and in some cases, even very appealing due to obvious success, but their true colours will start to emerge.

If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you may find it difficult to try to convince them of your point of view, and they may regularly try to influence and manipulate you for their own gain.

What Is Narcissism?

I covered Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) extensively in a previous post, so we won’t go over it again here.

In general, NPD is characterised by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. 

However, before we look at eight specific signs of narcissism in marriage, I’d like to share a few general ideas about narcissistic behaviour.

Narcissistic behaviours can vary, but some common ones include being overly critical of others, being overly sensitive to criticism, needing excessive admiration, being unable to handle any perceived criticism, and being grandiose and self-important.

Narcissists fundamentally believe they are superior to others and, as a result, are exploitative.

As a result, narcissistic people do not usually empathise with others and do not consider other people’s feelings or points of view.

This individual can sometimes believe that they are better compared to others and that others should realise their primacy.

In a nutshell, they believe they are superior to others and expect or assume others to realise this.

However, narcissists will frequently refuse to acknowledge their belief in their own superiority and may even appear to be selfless in a fictitious way.

For example, when they are praised, they may downplay their accomplishments or act coy and humble, or they may seek to control those around them while claiming to be “doing good.” 

But it’s all a ruse to make them appear more likeable and attractive to others.

Fundamentally, narcissists crave attention, admiration, and control and will go to any length to obtain it.

And when they are not acting humble, narcissists frequently manage to make themselves the victim by preying on others’ sympathy.

They regularly portray themselves as victims of circumstance or the mistreatment of others, or they may use their wit and charm to make others feel sorry for them.

This allows them to commonly get what they want from others while avoiding responsibility for their own actions, which is often the last thing a narcissist will consider doing.

Can A Narcissist Have A Happy Marriage?

In one of my previous posts, “Can You Have A Healthy Relationship With A Narcissist?” I argued that there is no simple answer when it comes to being married to a narcissist husband.

While it is possible to have a healthy relationship with a narcissist, it will almost certainly take a lot of effort and patience.

Psychologists continue to disagree on the subject of narcissism and relationships.

Some believe that narcissists are incapable of forming healthy relationships, while others believe that narcissists can form healthy relationships if they can recognise and address their own narcissism.

Many psychologists agree that it is possible to have a healthy relationship with a narcissist, but such relationships are frequently problematic.

For example, if the narcissist is abusive, it will be difficult to have a healthy relationship, let alone any kind of positive relationship.

Even if a narcissist is not abusive, most people who attempt to have a healthy relationship with a narcissist end up being used and discarded.

As a result, if you are thinking about dating or are already in a relationship with a narcissist, you must set boundaries and be assertive in order to get what you need from the relationship.

Although it may appear paradoxical, you must sometimes set limits with the person who is attempting to impose their agenda on you and urge them to stop.

Narcissism in Marriage

It’s important to remember that many narcissists are extremely charming and persuasive, especially in the beginning, so standing up to them, later on, may be difficult.

In the early stages of a relationship with a narcissist, their behaviour may appear normal.

After all, they appear to be ideal partners, but when you scratch the surface, there are red flags everywhere.

Some people, unfortunately, may not want to see them.

So, to avoid being drawn into an emotionally draining or, worse, harmful relationship, it’s critical to be on the lookout for any behaviour that suggests a narcissistic personality disorder or narcissistic tendencies right from the start.

The Typical Narcissist Marriage Dynamic

Before we go any further, it is true that it is frequently difficult for the victim to identify the narcissist in the early stages of a relationship.

It becomes easier to identify the abuse once the relationship has progressed to the point where the victim is experiencing significant amounts of abuse.

Often, a relationship will start out fairly well and deteriorate over time.

In these cases, the victim will not recognise the abuse until much later in the relationship.

Remember that the abuse does not have to be physical.

Emotional and psychological abuse are also forms of abuse and can be just as harmful as physical abuse.

Emotional and psychological abuse in a marriage can involve a wide range of behaviours, from verbal attacks and threats to more subtle tactics like intimidation, manipulation, and silent treatment, and can be extremely damaging to a relationship, eroding trust and causing long-term emotional harm.

When someone is psychologically or emotionally abused, they frequently believe that they are not good enough, that they are unworthy of love, and that they are incapable of doing anything right.

This frequently leads to feelings of isolation and a lack of self-confidence, which can be exhausting over time.

Additionally, a  narcissist may also trick the victim into believing that the situation and abuse (for example, being controlled, manipulated, or intimidated) is their fault, which can further damage the victim’s self-esteem and cause them to withdraw or remain silent, reinforcing and increasing their spouse’s narcissistic behaviour.

However, in the following section, we’ll look at eight specific warning signs of narcissism in marriage to be aware of in order to help you avoid ending up in such an abusive situation.

8 Signs of Narcissism in Marriage

Recognizing narcissism in marriage is important because it can help individuals understand why their partner is behaving in a certain way, as well as identify potential problems in the relationship that need to be addressed.

If untreated, narcissism can have a number of negative consequences for both parties involved in the marriage.

In this section, we’ll look at eight signs of narcissism in marriage that can sap your energy.

However, it is also critical to avoid jumping to conclusions and labelling your spouse as a narcissist for every little thing, as doing so can frequently lead to incorrect assumptions and potentially harmful consequences.

In order to accurately diagnose and treat any potential narcissistic behaviour, it is critical to seek professional assistance or insight.

Narcissism in Marriage

With that said, let’s take a quick look at a few common signs of narcissism in marriage to be on the lookout for.

1. A need for excessive appreciation or admiration

The excessive need for admiration of a narcissist is most likely due to a lack of self-esteem.

Narcissists may believe that in order to feel good about themselves, they must constantly be appreciated and revered.

They may also use nice comments to manipulate and control others. 

In a marital context, an excessive need for appreciation may manifest as one spouse constantly needing validation and acknowledgement from the other to the point where the relationship becomes all about meeting that person’s needs.

It could also appear as one spouse being overly critical of the other or always needing to be right.

In marriage, a narcissist’s need for excessive adulation may manifest as a desire for their spouse to constantly compliment them, never disagree with them, or always put them first.

2. Unreasonable expectations of favourable treatment

A narcissist typically expects favouritism and appreciation from others.

They may believe that because of their accomplishments or status (past or current), they are entitled to preferential treatment.

Narcissists frequently have an overinflated sense of self-importance and may believe they are superior to others.

They may also expect others to meet their needs and fulfil their wishes.

A narcissist may expect their spouse to be constantly available to them and to meet all of their needs.

They may also expect that their spouse will never criticise or disagree with them.

Furthermore, a narcissist may expect their spouse to always be supportive and positive, even when they are depressed.

The issue is that a narcissist typically lacks empathy (see #3), making it difficult for them to even consider their spouse’s current state of mind or emotions, let alone make room for it.

3. Lack of empathy

What this means is they have trouble understanding how others, including those close to them, might feel, or the fact that others feel differently about things than they do.

They understand it rationally and cognitively, but when it comes to truly appreciating and making room for others’ thoughts, opinions, wants, needs, and feelings, the narcissist struggles to process or consider it.

In a marriage, a narcissist’s lack of empathy can manifest itself in a variety of ways.

They, for example, might be unwilling to listen to their spouse’s concerns and instead focus solely on their own.

A narcissist may be unconcerned about their spouse’s feelings and may react negatively when their spouse attempts to communicate honestly with them because they don’t want to hear (or can’t) that they have flaws because it contradicts their superior belief in themselves.

A narcissist may also be uninterested in their spouse’s thoughts and feelings and make no effort to understand them.

Finally, a narcissist may be verbally or physically abusive if their spouse expresses thoughts and feelings that differ from their own.

4. Believing that they are special, unique, and superior to others (including their spouse) in some way

A narcissist’s belief that they are superior to others, including their spouses, is most likely based on their inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement.

They may believe that they are smarter, more attractive, or more successful than others and thus deserve preferential treatment.

They may also believe that they are above the rules and that they can do whatever they want without repercussion.

Some narcissists may justify their superiority complex by claiming that they are “special,” and thus deserve special privileges or treatment.

They may say things like, “If everyone was like me…” or “If everyone thought like me…”, then “the world would be a much better place.”

A narcissist’s superiority complex can manifest itself in their marriage by them making all of the decisions, never listening to their spouse, and always needing to be right.

They may also expect their spouse to meet all of their needs and to have no needs of their own.

If their spouse does not agree with them, they may become enraged, and if they do not receive the desired response, they may become frustrated and lash out at their spouse.

Narcissism in Marriage

Narcissists are also extremely reliant on their spouses, expecting them to meet all of their needs while never having any of their own.

That can be exhausting for the other spouse, who is constantly at the narcissist’s disposal.

5. Requiring constant attention and affirmation

A narcissist requires constant attention and acknowledgement because their ego is often very fragile.

As a result, in order to feel good about themselves, they need to feel like they are the centre of attention or in the middle of everything that is going on, including the affairs of everyone around them (loved ones and strangers alike).

They also require people to constantly communicate to them how important they are in order to boost their self-esteem, whether by keeping them involved or by constantly seeking their input and advice.

If people don’t, they will most likely make it their business to stay in the limelight as narcissists will do enough to get the attention back on them or their feelings.

According to Ann Pietrangelo’s article,

“When a narcissistic personality is in orbit, attention seems to gravitate towards them. That’s by design – whether it’s negative or positive attention, those with narcissistic personalities work hard to keep themselves in the spotlight.”

The constant need for recognition and acknowledgement that a narcissist has in their marriage can manifest in a variety of ways.

A narcissist, for example, may constantly seek validation from their spouse, expecting them to agree with them or make them feel good about themselves.

If a narcissist does not receive the attention or affirmation they require, they may become easily enraged or defensive and may lash out at their spouse as a result.

Furthermore, a narcissist may use their spouse as a source of narcissistic supply, expecting them to always be available to meet their needs, speak well of them, or maintain a certain level of closeness in order for them to feel good about themselves.

According to Kristy Lee Hochenberger’s article,

“Narcissists thrive off power and the ability to control others and can be exceptionally sneaky at succeeding.”

All of this, of course, can lead to the narcissist believing he or she is entitled to special treatment in various forms.

6. Feeling entitled to special treatment

Because they think they’re better than others, narcissists believe they are entitled to favourable treatment.

They frequently believe they are above the rules and are not held to the same standards as others.

They may also believe that they are entitled to certain benefits, such as financial compensation, social standing, or sexual access, simply by virtue of their existence.

Narcissists frequently believe they are entitled to preferential treatment in their marriages.

This could manifest as expecting their spouse to always prioritise their needs, never challenge them, or never speak up for their own needs and desires.

Narcissists may also believe they have the right to expect their spouses to meet all of their emotional needs without reciprocating in kind.

They may also expect their spouses to handle all household chores and parenting responsibilities while they do little to assist.

Narcissists frequently believe they are entitled to preferential treatment from their children, expecting them to always meet their needs, never question them, or always put their parents’ needs ahead of their own is one example.

Narcissists may also expect their children to always put them first, even if they never ask for help themselves.

Narcissists may expect others to cater to their needs while never doing the same for themselves.

7. Taking advantage of others to get what they want

The narcissist usually takes advantage of others to get what they want by exploiting their weaknesses.

A narcissist, for example, may use flattery to make someone feel good about themselves in order to get them to do what they want, or they may use threats or intimidation to try to influence or scare someone into doing what they want.

In relationships, narcissists can be incredibly controlling.

To get what they want from their spouse, they may use threats, coercion, or guilt.

Narcissism in Marriage

A narcissist, for example, may threaten to leave the marriage if they do not get their way.

They may also exploit their spouse’s emotions, such as playing on their sympathy or tricking them into feeling guilty.

In general, narcissists are very good at reading people and may detect and exploit their spouse’s vulnerabilities.

They have an uncanny sense of what people want, believe, or expect them to say and do.

This puts them in a position to obtain whatever they want from others.

8. Having an inflated sense of their own importance

The inflated sense of self-importance of a narcissist stems from their belief that they are superior to others (see #4) and that they are entitled to preferential treatment (see #6).

They may believe that they are smarter, more attractive, or more successful than others and that they deserve to be recognised and admired.

As a result, narcissists frequently have a sense of entitlement, expecting others to meet their wants and needs.  

They may be demanding and impatient, expecting others to constantly live up to their high expectations.

A narcissist’s inflated sense of self-importance can manifest itself in their marriage in a variety of ways.

A narcissist, for example, may believe that they are entitled to be treated better than their spouse and may become irritated if they do not receive the level of respect or admiration that they believe they are entitled to.

A narcissist may also be extremely demanding of their spouse, expecting them to be available at all times to meet their needs and cater to their every whim.

Furthermore, a narcissist may be unable to see the validity in their spouse’s point of view because they are seeing things through a very distorted lens.

A narcissist may also expect their spouse to automatically agree with them and take their side in any given discussion or decision.

Now, all of this brings us to the critical issue of narcissism’s potential effects on marriage and what might happen if left unattended or unaddressed.

It is understandable that many spouses may choose to simply ignore or avoid their partner’s narcissistic behaviours, but this could be a mistake if left unattended for too long.

Narcissistic tendencies can develop over time, and a narcissist may become even more fixated on gaining the approval of others, displaying an even greater lack of empathy for their spouse and children’s needs.

They may also become more demanding because they believe that because everyone allows them to get away with their toxic behaviours, it must be okay.

As a result, they continue to act in this manner.

The long-term effects of being married to a narcissist

Make no mistake about it: narcissism can have a significant impact on a marriage and the victim of narcissistic abuse.

As we’ve seen, narcissists frequently struggle to empathise with others, which can cause a lot of conflict and resentment in a marriage.

Narcissists can also be very demanding and controlling, which can put additional strain on a marriage because no spouse wants to be controlled and constantly deal with someone else’s demands.

This may be especially true for women, who frequently bear the brunt of caregiving in marriages and feel powerless to change the dynamic.

narcissism in marriage

Furthermore, because narcissists frequently have an inflated sense of self-worth, they may feel superior to their spouses and disregard their opinions and input.

They may also regard their spouses as uninformed or willfully ignorant, incapable of comprehending the complex world of business and finance.

This sentiment can also be extended to their adult children, resulting in them being treated as if they are children who know very little.

However, despite their constant need for approval and being the centre of attention, all of the aforementioned factors can make it difficult for a narcissist to feel connected to and satisfied with their marriage or other relationships.

For example, because narcissists frequently seek constant respect and interest from others, which can make them very sensitive to criticism and shirking of expectations, it is nearly impossible to have a balanced, open, honest, and healthy relationship with them.

For instance, if their spouse is critical of them, they may interpret it as an attack on their sense of self and become defensive, childish, and vengeful, causing the spouse (or children) to refrain from speaking up in the future, thus condoning and reinforcing the above toxic behaviour in the narcissist’s mind.

In other words, if it worked once and they got away with it, they will almost certainly do it again.

Finally, narcissistic relationships and marriages are difficult and painful to be in, as well as painful to leave.

A toxic narcissistic relationship will frequently leave you feeling like a failure for being unable to meet your partner’s needs.

When you leave a relationship with a narcissist, he will frequently try to make you feel guilty for “failing” him or find some shortcoming in you, such as “depression” or “anxiety,” to explain why things didn’t work out.

Of course, they can never be blamed because they are always trying to do “good” for those around them.

The truth is, their needs, wants, and desires always take precedence over everyone else’s.

All you have to do is fall in line and accept it.

As a result, it is common for someone in a relationship with a narcissist to feel isolated and alone.

It’s understandable.

Over time, a relationship with a narcissist will severely harm their sense of self, and learning to trust yourself again will be one of the most difficult challenges moving forward.

E.B. Johnson writes,

“Narcissistic abuse is one of the most difficult challenges we can face in life. It completely destroys our sense of self and erodes our confidence over time. Even if you are able to escape narcissistic abuse, the effects are long-lasting and can follow you for years and years. It alters our worldview and can even cause significant changes in our personalities — changes that can have a significant impact on our lives.”

This brings us to the final section of this post, where we’ll make a few remarks about what to do if you’re married to a narcissist.

I’ll just say a few words on the subject.

What To Do If You’re Married To A Narcissist

There are a few things you can do if you are married to a narcissist to make the situation more manageable.

Please keep in mind that I said “manageable,” not “enjoyable” or “bearable.”

Expect the person to stay the same

To begin, it is critical to understand that narcissists are frequently incapable of change, so don’t hold out too much hope that your spouse will ever change or become a different person.

You will most likely be disappointed.

Psychotherapy has been shown to be ineffective in the treatment of narcissism because it can be deeply ingrained in a person’s personality as a result of largely environmental circumstances during his or her early childhood, such as parental abandonment and severe abuse.

It’s possible that they had inconsistencies in their sources of love as children, and that in order to survive childhood, they were forced to put on an outward mask of the perfect individual.

In the absence of a narcissistic supply to fill a void, these children may be hollow and devoid of a fundamental sense of self, predisposed to depression and anxiety.

Adult narcissists are frequently described as developmental stuck at the age of five when their emotional maturity ceased.

narcissism in marriage

Of course, there may be exceptions, but the temptation to revert to bad behaviour is likely to be too great.

Set very clear and non-negotiable boundaries

You must establish and stick to boundaries if you want to be married to a narcissist.

Narcissists, as you are probably aware, will try to manipulate and control you at every opportunity.

However, the adage “you teach others how to treat you” certainly applies, in this case, if you decide to stick around.

If you stand your ground from the start, you may have a chance to change their ways in the beginning stages.

This point is probably the biggest and also the most difficult one to do, however, as so many victims of narcissism are so tired of being put down and being controlled that they simply do not have the strength to do what is required to stand up to the narcissist.

That, however, will only perpetuate their actions, unfortunately.

Setting boundaries in any relationship is healthy, according to betterhelp.com, but it is especially important in a relationship with a narcissist.

Your husband will most likely want to be in charge of everything in the relationship.

As a result, it’s critical that you consider where your boundaries should be set in order to protect your mental health in the future.

You might want to think about the following boundary examples:

  • No name-calling.

You could tell your husband that if he starts calling you names, the conversation will end and you will walk away.

  • Spending time with family and friends alone.

When you spend time with family or friends, your husband may not really approve because it takes you away from him and his needs.

Isolation, on the other hand, can be a form of emotional abuse, so it’s critical that you have a strong support system in your life.

Obviously, these are just a few examples, but you get the idea.

When establishing boundaries, it’s critical to consider what’s important to you and what’s important for your mental health.

It’s also critical that you set clear boundaries and that your husband learns to respect them because chances are he’s picked up some bad habits over the years because he managed to get away with them.

He may try to make you feel guilty or as if you’re doing something wrong, but it’s critical that you stand firm and stick to your boundaries, or he may never learn to respect them.

Take care of yourself

You must look after yourself.

As I’ve already stated, being married to a narcissist is likely to be difficult and draining at times.

As a result, it is critical to take care of yourself because you may feel inadequate and that you must do more and more to make and keep your spouse happy.

You may also feel as if you are walking on eggshells and that you can never do anything correctly, which can be exhausting over time.

For that reason alone, it is critical to take care of yourself and to have a life outside of your marriage in order to keep your sanity.

This also includes creating a support system of your own that you can tap into whenever you need to.

Is my husband a narcissist quiz

As previously stated, narcissism in personality traits is commonly interpreted as excessive self-love.

Narcissus was a man in Greek mythology who fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water.

Raskin and Hall (1979) created the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) to assess narcissism as a personality trait in social psychological research.

It is based on the DSM-III definition of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), but it is not a diagnostic tool for NPD; rather, it measures subclinical or normal expressions of narcissism.

As a result, even if someone receives the highest possible score on the NPI, they do not necessarily have NPD.

A diagnosis can only be made by a qualified mental health professional.

You or your spouse can do the NPI online assessment here.

Please Note:

Your use of the NPI assessment must be strictly for educational purposes.

It can not be taken as psychological advice of any kind.

If you are interested in anything more than learning about narcissism and how it is assessed, do not take this test.

Also, your answers will be anonymously recorded and possibly used for research or otherwise distributed.

Take Away

The most important takeaway from being married to a narcissist is that it can be a very difficult and challenging relationship.

Narcissists are frequently manipulative, demanding, and self-centred.

They can be very difficult to live with and frequently cause a lot of stress and turmoil in the home.

As a result, if you are in a relationship with a narcissist, know that you are not alone and that you are not to blame, regardless of what the narcissist tries to convince you of.

Also, understand that healthy boundaries are your friend early on, as you must set the tone for how you want to be treated from the start.

If, on the other hand, you’ve left it too late and want to make some changes right away, talk to your spouse about it and go from there.

If they refuse to play ball (and chances are they won’t), make a decision to show them how serious you are, such as temporarily moving out.

If this isn’t enough to persuade them to see a marriage counsellor or make some changes, you might have a much bigger problem on your hands.

I hope this article shed some light on what it means to be married to a narcissist and provided some advice for those of you who are already married.

I also welcome any thoughts on the topic in the comments area below.

About the author

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a popular relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website helps couples to create happier, healthier, and more intimate relationships. Gideon is a trained professional counsellor and holds post-graduate degrees in Theology and Psychology. His articles have also been featured on respected platforms such as Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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