Dealing with a Narcissist Spouse: A Comprehensive Guide

Married to a narcissist? Follow these top tips and techniques in dealing with and protecting yourself from a narcissist.
Two hands using strings to control paper puppets
Relationships can be a roller coaster, but when you’re married to a narcissist, that roller coaster can feel like it has more dips and loops than usual. If you’re currently in such a relationship, you’re probably wondering how to survive those dips that come with it.

5 Common Signs of a Narcissist

Let’s dive into the signs that you are in a relationship with a narcissist.  Recognizing that you’re in a relationship with a narcissist can be challenging and distressing. Here are five common signs that may suggest you’re dealing with a narcissistic partner:
  1. Lack of Empathy

    Narcissists often have difficulty in showing genuine empathy towards others. If your partner consistently fails to acknowledge or respond to your feelings and needs, it might be a sign of narcissism.
  2. Belief of Superiority

    Narcissists typically have an inflated sense of self-importance. They often exaggerate achievements and talents, and may believe they are superior to others. If your partner frequently boasts about their abilities or accomplishments and belittles others, this could be a red flag.
  3. Need for Admiration

    A constant need for admiration and validation is a hallmark of narcissism. If your partner requires excessive attention and gets upset if they don’t receive it, it could be indicative of narcissistic tendencies.
  4. Manipulative or Controlling Behavior

    Narcissists often use manipulation or control to maintain power in relationships. This can manifest as gaslighting, where they deny or twist reality to confuse you, or emotionally manipulative tactics like guilt-tripping or playing the victim.
  5. Lack of Responsibility and Blaming Others

    Narcissists rarely take responsibility for their actions and often blame others for their failures or mistakes. If your partner consistently shifts blame onto you or others and fails to acknowledge their role in conflicts or problems, this might be a sign of narcissistic behavior.

Techniques to Approach the Relationship

It’s easier to determine if your significant other has narcissistic traits.  The more challenging issue is how to approach their behavior.  So, what are the best ways to deal with a narcissist spouse?  Here are seven effective ways of approaching the relationship:
  1. Set Clear Boundaries

    Establish and maintain clear boundaries with your spouse. Be specific about what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t. Narcissists often test limits, so it’s crucial to be consistent in enforcing these boundaries.
  2. Avoid Power Struggles

    Engaging in power struggles with a narcissist can be draining and unproductive. Try to stay calm and avoid arguments that are designed to provoke or disempower you.
  3. Focus on Self-Care

    It’s important to prioritize your own mental and emotional well-being. Engaging in activities that you enjoy, seeking support from friends and family, and possibly seeking therapy can help maintain your own sense of self.
  4. Use Clear Communication

    When communicating with your spouse, be clear, direct, and assertive. Avoid ambiguous language and be straightforward about your needs and feelings.
  5. Don’t Take Behavior Personally

    Narcissistic behavior is often a reflection of the individual’s own issues and insecurities. Understanding this can help you not to take their behavior personally and maintain your own self-esteem.
  6. Seek Support

    Whether it’s from friends, family, or an online counselor or coach, getting support can provide you with additional perspectives and strategies for dealing with your spouse’s behavior.
  7. Educate Yourself About Narcissism

    Understanding the traits of narcissism and how it affects relationships can provide valuable insights into your spouse’s behavior and help you develop strategies to cope.
Dealing with a narcissistic spouse can be emotionally taxing, and it’s important to take care of yourself in the process. If the situation becomes too difficult to manage, seeking professional guidance is often a prudent step.

8 Ways to Protect Yourself

In addition to the 7 effective ways to approach a narcissist, remember to keep in mind that protecting your own mental and emotional health may mean setting realistic expectations for yourself.   Read through these eight techniques on how to set your own expectations.
  1. Avoid Arguing About Facts

    Narcissists often distort reality to suit their needs and arguing with them about facts or their version of events is usually futile and can be emotionally draining. We’ve all argued with people when we know we are correct.  Ultimately, we don’t gain anything from the argument other than a headache.  Why stay in an argument when there is nothing to gain?
  2. Don’t Expect Empathy or Compassion

    Narcissists typically lack empathy and may not respond to your emotional needs or distress in a compassionate way. This is a lesson that everyone should take to their personal lives.  Once we know who someone is, we shouldn’t expect a sudden change.  Seek emotional support from those in your life that have a proven track record of being there for you.
  3. Avoid Trying to Change Them

    It’s very challenging to change a narcissist’s behavior, especially through criticism or attempts at rational discussion. Focus instead on how you respond to them. This is closely aligned with avoiding factual arguments when there is no winner.  Remember that the only thing you can control in this situation is your response to your situation.
  4. Don’t Give Them Narcissistic Supply

    Narcissists crave attention and admiration. Avoid feeding this need, as it can encourage more demanding or manipulative behavior. This sometimes begins with “love bombing” behavior.  You’ve most likely experienced it before – out of the blue and out of character, your significant other will bombard you with praise and kind words.  You react with receptive kindness and return the praise with your attention, appreciation, and admiration.  A narcissist may employ this technique to replenish their need for your respect.  When your spouse or significant other acts in a way that is suspect – take a moment to pause and think about whether they are seeking something out of you.
  5. Don’t Isolate Yourself

    It’s common for people dealing with narcissists to become isolated due to the narcissist’s controlling behavior or out of embarrassment. Maintaining your social network is crucial for your support and well-being. If you find yourself crawling into your shell, not leaving home, avoiding your friends, or not returning calls or texts, then it’s time to reach out for help.  Social isolation is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems like anxiety and depression.  Remember that your friends and family love, care, and want the best for you.  If you are unsure how to get out of the situation, schedule an online appointment with a counselor or coach for expert advice.
  6. Avoid Revealing Your Vulnerabilities

    Be cautious about sharing personal information or vulnerabilities, as a narcissist may use this information against you in the future. Michael Douglas’s character, Gordon Gekko said it best in the 1987 movie Wall Street “The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”  Protecting yourself against a narcissist includes keeping feelings of inadequacy or vulnerability out of their reach.  It may be something as seemly innocent as saying, “I feel terrible when I work late and miss our son’s soccer practice.” That simple, honest, and vulnerable disclosure may worm its way into your next argument as a statement about not caring for your son or overall poor parenting.
  7. Don’t Ignore Your Needs

    It’s easy to get caught up in trying to please a narcissist, but don’t neglect your own needs and well-being in the process. Giving can be a great thing, but are you giving too much?  Are you ignoring your own needs?  Repeat after me: self-care is important!  Are you so used to giving away all your energy and time you can’t seem to stop? Does it feel that your self-esteem is dangerously low? It might be time to talk with an online health and self-care expert to develop techniques on how to better take care of yourself.
  8. Avoid Expecting a Genuine Apology

    Narcissists often struggle to take responsibility for their actions and may not offer a sincere apology. Their apology might sound insincere because it often is. Phrases like “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry if I hurt you” shift the blame and avoid direct accountability.  Your feelings are real and valid.  You cannot control their inability to recognize how their actions hurt you, but you can control your own reaction to their behavior.  Acknowledge their apology for what it is and remember that you’re allowed to feel what you feel, and you shouldn’t put yourself down for feeling that way.

Conclusion

Narcissistic relationships can be both exciting and draining. The intense charm, grand gestures, and promises of a narcissist might initially draw you in, but over time, the manipulation, lack of empathy, and constant need for admiration can leave you feeling trapped and emotionally exhausted. Leaving such a relationship is never easy, but with the right strategies and support, you can break free. Ultimately, this is a personal decision, but if you’re considering it, ensure you have a support system in place. Reconnect with friends and family, join support groups, and consider life or divorce coach. Prepare yourself by understanding your legal rights and options by talking with an online lawyer.  Stay informed, stay strong, and prioritize yourself.
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