Certainly all relationships have challenges. But being married to a narcissistic husband can be a very complicated and thorny journey. A narcissistic husband can be vain, insensitive to your needs, violent, and exceptionally critical of you. Living with a person like that can be destructive and demoralizing. It can leave you feeling confused and hurt by their seemingly incomprehensible actions. Theoretically, it is possible to negotiate a relationship with a narcissistic individual; but keep in mind that most narcissists are unlikely to recognize or take responsibility for needing to adjust the current unhealthy relationship.
If you cannot leave a narcissistic person, or choose not to for whatever reason, then your only other option is to learn to cope with him. You cannot change a narcissistic person; that is almost impossible as narcissism is a deeply ingrained personality disorder. However, you can learn more effective ways to deal with your husband. Of primary importance is your attitude toward him; you must truly believe that they are ‘difficult to handle’ people, but don’t develop hatred toward them. He is not evil or purposefully trying to hurt you emotionally, verbally or physically. There is a difference between narcissistic abuse and sadistic abuse; when a narcissist hurts you, he is oblivious to your pain but when a sadist hurts you, he does it to see and enjoy your pain.
How did I get myself into this?
The story is the similar for most women who marry a narcissist: Boy meets girl; boy sweeps girl off her feet; boy marries girl; boy changes soon after. A narcissist can be very intense in the beginning of a relationship and bombard you with love and attention, and placing you on a pedestal. It’s easy to fall in love with a narcissist. However, his true personality starts to reveal itself as the wife endures his criticism, insults, possible beatings or other forms of abuse.
Loving and living with a narcissist takes a heavy toll; the wife takes years of abuse and loses her sense of self-worth and remains submissive to his demands. Being married to a narcissist is like walking on eggshells. You don’t know what will cause an outburst or provoke his wrath.
After the honeymoon period, the narcissistic husband starts berating his wife, criticizing her behavior and pointing out each and every detail that bothers him. His wife stays with him at this point because she feels trapped and helpless, still in the throes of the emotional “hook”. Over time, the relationship disintegrates but by then her self esteem has disintegrated as well. This is where the wife usually decides to leave, or if you are reading this article, decides to stick it out but knows there has to be some changes to make their marriage last.
How do I know if he has narcissism? What are the signs?
There are primary traits that most narcissists display, although they probably won’t exhibit all of them and they will differ in intensity from individual to individual. Only a mental health professional can diagnose a personality disorder, but you can suspect it if your husband shows at least five of these signs:
- Lack of empathy toward others. Your husband has difficulty putting himself “in someone else’s shoes”. His behavior seems callous, unemotional and selfish. He may be able to playact the part of a loving husband or father to outsiders, but you will not see that behavior at home.
- A sense of grandiose self worth. This is an over-inflated ego to the point of exaggerating or lying about his accomplishments and worth.
- A sense of entitlement. Your husband expects preferential treatment from you and all others. He expects things to happen according to his wishes and expects total compliance from his spouse at all times.
- Idealized fantasy. Your husband may be obsessed with ideas about “perfect” love, beauty, or power. Although you were most likely put on a pedestal during courtship, you will have had to disappoint him at some point and then you become worthless and possibly discarded; there is very little room in between these two states.
- A haughty and superior attitude toward others. The narcissistic husband feels he is “special”. He often must have the very best of everything and feels he can only associate with others at his level or at his preferred institution (club, university, etc.)
- An excessive desire or need for admiration from others. Admiration and praise act like a drug that he craves and he will go to extreme lengths to get it.
- Jealous of others and thinks others are jealous of him. He is envious of other people’s accomplishments and may even get enraged at hearing about the successes of others.
- A willingness to exploit others for his own benefit. Your husband may be comfortable with the idea of “stepping on others” to get ahead and sees no harm in it; he may even brag about it.
- Lying. Many narcissistic husbands are pathological liars. They will try and manipulate you with a complex web of lies and half-truths. Their highly selective memory will filter out the truth. They will blame you and not take responsibility-for anything. They will lie about everything in an attempt to justify their behavior or maintain their inflated ego. If you question their version of the truth, they may get enraged and lash out in anger or come up with an even more absurd lie to explain it away.
- Violent tendencies. Your husband may experience episodes of uncontrollable rage. His bouts of anger may include screaming, hurling obscenities or even physical violence. He may force himself on his wife sexually even if she is not consenting. He will try to modify his wife and children’s behavior according to his wishes by criticizing.
How can I deal with this behavior?
In relationships where the husband is self-absorbed, the scales are always imbalanced. The narcissistic husband assumes he is always the focal point of the family and the marriage. If you want to try to address some of the imbalances, you can try the following:
- Convince your husband that giving you what you want reflects well on him. Narcissists are very concerned with outward appearances.
- Always apply flattery before suggesting something your spouse can do for you. He is more likely to be generous if his ego tank is full.
- Use positive reinforcement. At any time your spouse supports you or does something unselfish, reinforce that behavior with praise so they will want to do it again.
- Don’t dismiss his grievance even if he is being irritable. Listen. Then use echoing (paraphrasing what they said) or mirroring (let them know you are familiar with the feeling they are having) to show them you understand.
- Check in often. Your spouse will be more tolerant of you doing things on your own if you periodically touch base to remind him that you love him.
- Flirt. This is good advice in any marriage to keep an element of fun and mystery alive. But narcissists actually crave this kind of sexual attention.
Above all, be sure not to lose sight of who you are. Remember that your goal is to create a better relationship.
What are some other things you can do for yourself?
- Create a support system outside of the household, whether it is friends or a mental health professional. They can provide you with accurate perceptions of you and your actions.
- Maintain connections to the outside world. This will help counteract the negative feedback you get at home.
- Maintain your self esteem. A narcissistic husband will often belittle you and put you down. Members of your support system can assist you if they know what is going on.
- Establish personal boundaries and communicate them to your narcissistic spouse. It is important to be consistent with these boundaries-if you do not, he will exploit that fact. If you give in just once, he is likely to disregard all your preferences.
- Keep an eye out for escalating abuse. Although it isn’t that common for a narcissistic husband to turn physically violent, it does happen. He is already in a verbally abusive relationship so it can happen. You need to take a serious look if he suddenly becomes more possessive and controlling, the verbal abuse increases, criticism intensifies, he requires all control of finances, or if he isolates you from family and friends.