April 13, 2021

Married to Narcissism: Spotting the Signs & Finding Relief

The word narcissist is frequently used to describe people who are egotistical or selfish. But this label is probably thrown around more than it should be, as the traits of true narcissism may indicate a serious underlying issue. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health disorder with symptoms that can significantly impact a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. A formal diagnosis of NPD can only be assigned by a qualified mental health professional following a thorough assessment. 

Is My Husband a Narcissist?

Each month, thousands of people ask their favorite search engine if their husband is a narcissist. While narcissistic behavior can vary from person to person, the basic causes and signs can be seen across all demographics of people.

In this article, we’ll examine the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, potential causes of narcissism, and how you can cope with a narcissistic partner.

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Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder

To meet the criteria of narcissistic personality disorder, a person must exhibit at least five of the nine symptoms identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates talents and achievements, expects to be recognized as superior regardless of achievements).
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of power, success, beauty, or brilliance.
  • Believes that he or she is “special” or unique 
  • Requires excessive admiration.
  • Has a strong sense of entitlement (e.g. unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment)
  • Exploits others (e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own goals)
  • Lacks empathy
  • Is often envious of others.
  • Regularly shows arrogant behaviors and/or attitudes.

According to the DSM-5, approximately 1% of the general population is diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, with 75% of those diagnosed being men. But this statistic may not represent the actual number of people living with NPD, as many never seek treatment, and thus, are never diagnosed.

As with most mental health disorders, the symptoms of NPD fall on a spectrum and can look different from person to person. Nonetheless, being in a relationship with a narcissist can be extremely challenging.

Signs of Narcissism

If you think your husband, wife, or partner is a narcissist (even if he has not received a formal diagnosis of narcissist personality disorder), then you may have noticed some of the following signs:

  • Conversation hoarder – narcissists like to talk a lot, and mostly about themselves.
  • Gaslights you – gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation used by many narcissists. Gaslighting can cause you to question yourself and your reality.
  • Spends a lot of time on appearance – because narcissists want to portray a certain image, a lot of time and energy is put into outward appearances. 
  • Materialistic – similar to the significance of appearance, narcissists place great importance on external things. For many narcissists, their sense of worth and esteem relies on what they have or what they can buy. 
  • Belittles others – puts others down to feel “better-than”
  • Frequent mood swings – narcissists moods frequently change on a whim 
  • Manipulates – does your spouse frequently twist your words, give you the silent treatment, or threaten to end the relationship? Manipulation comes in many forms, yet all are attempts to gain some sort of power or control. 
  • Always right – if yourspouse is a narcissist then you have undoubtedly learned to not disagree with him. Narcissists do not like to be wrong and are quick to anger when disagreed with.
  • Does not apologize – unlikely to hear the words “I’m sorry”
  • Materialistic – relies on external things to boost self-esteem
  • Hypersensitive to criticism – difficulty taking feedback about his behavior
  • Loves compliments – needs a lot of praise and is often looking for acknowledgment of greatness
  • Assign blame – seems to always find someone or something to blame, even when an assignment of blame is not warranted.

Narcissism is notable fo its subtypes and differential presentations. Furthermore, just because someone exhibits one of these behaviors does not necessarily indicate a pattern of narcissism. The severity and frequency, among other factors, should be considered as well.

Causes of Narcissism

If you think your husband is a narcissist, it may be helpful to understand why. Although there is no one identified cause of narcissism, much research indicates a familial component. This means narcissistic traits can be inherited, so if your husband has narcissistic parents, he may have been more likely to struggle with narcissism as well.

The development of narcissistic traits may also be attributed to parental behavior. If your husband was excessively praised for good behaviors while being greatly criticized for bad behaviors the likelihood of him developing narcissism was greater.

There is also the possibility your husband’s narcissism has nothing to do with his parents or how he was raised. Research has shown individuals with narcissistic personality disorder have less gray matter in the part of the brain responsible for emotion regulation, empathy, and compassion.  

Narcissists in Relationships

Many people are drawn to narcissists and narcissistic partners can be quite captivating in the beginning. This is because narcissists tend to have big personalities and it can feel exciting to be in their presence. However, over time, the difficult traits of a narcissist start to show. 

Narcissists tend to be so self-focused they lose sight of their partner’s needs and wants. Narcissistic partners can be jealous, easily hurt, and dramatic. This often leads the other person in the relationship to feel angry, lonely, and resentful. 

Dealing with a Narcissistic Partner

If you think your spouse is a narcissist, it is important to remember you cannot change them. Yet there are some ways you can better deal with narcissistic behavior.

  • Focus on yourself– being in a relationship with a narcissist likely means much of your attention (whether positive or negative) has been focused on your partner. Your needs have probably taken a backseat to theirs. But you matter too. Remind yourself of this and set aside “me time” to take care of yourself and your needs. 
  • Set boundaries – a narcissist’s sense of entitlement often lead them to thinking they can do or say whatever they want without consequence. While it may seem easier to stay quiet, it is essential to speak up for yourself and articulate clear boundaries to your spouse. Share what you are or are not okay with. 

Boundaries can look many different ways from no name-calling to having time alone with friends. When communicating your boundaries, make sure to include the consequences of a crossed boundary.

  • Focus on the positives – although your husband’s narcissism brings out the worst in him, he likely has some positive qualities as well. It can be helpful to focus on the positives from time to time. Note, that focusing on the positive aspects does not negate the negative aspects, nor does it invalidate your experience.
  • Find a support system – being with someone with a narcissistic personality can be emotionally draining. It is vital to build relationships outside of that with your husband. Spend time with family, rekindle old friendships, and nurture new connections. 
  • Engage in enjoyable activities – creating a life outside of your marriage is needed for the maintenance of your mental health and wellbeing. Engage in hobbies, join a class, or volunteer at a local charity. 
  • Pick your battles – letting minor arguments or unintentional insults go can make your life easier. Telling your husband each and every time he has hurt your feelings can get exhausting and can further sour the relationship. Save the fights for the more significant times, like when your boundaries are crossed.
  • Encourage treatment – narcissists rarely recognize they have a problem, and as a result, rarely seek treatment. Although you cannot make your husband seek professional help, you can suggest it.
  • Seek your own professional help – being in a relationship with a narcissist can take a huge toll on your emotional, physical, and mental health. You do not have to deal with it alone. Seeking mental health support is very important in sustaining your own wellbeing as well as navigating your narcissistic relationship. Therapy can also help you determine if you want to stay in the marriage.
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Disclaimer: This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your healthcare provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or lifestyle choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

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