Narcissists can be very destructive to relationships, and they can cause a lot of emotional damage. They often leave their spouses feeling drained and confused.
However, don’t give up hope—there are things you can do to protect yourself and improve the situation.
If you’re currently struggling with a narcissistic spouse, here are helpful ways to deal with them:
Your spouse may have narcissistic inclinations or a full-blown narcissistic disorder. Only a professional can clear up the distinctions for your particular mate.
However, in general, as a spouse, you may not feel recognized, acknowledged, and proud of who you are yourself.
Before ‘dealing’ with another, it’s essential to be clear on how you want to see yourself. This takes constant self-reflection about where you are, where you’ve been, and who you want to become—on the inside as well as the outside.
Reflect on what you think your spouse needs
Set ideals for yourself as a guide. Then look at the reality of your life inside yourself and outside your life and chart your path. Reflect on what you imagine your spouse needs.
Ask them if they can define their goals
A narcissist may find this difficult to define emotionally but consider these goals reached at this point even if they don’t include you in a relationship. Then consider how each of your goals can be respected by the other for now.
If you find your goals invisible or not recognized by him —at worst, not even able to engage in this type of conversation—working on yourself is the way to deal with another.
Work on yourself
If you cannot love yourself and accept where you are and wish to be (with hard work and perseverance), you won’t know what it is that you need from your spouse and, thus, what’s lacking.
Avoid arguing with them
Avoid arguing with another who doesn’t understand you or him, or herself for that matter. The arguments will repeat and go nowhere.
A few brief, quietly-spoken words, stating concisely what you need and followed by a long endured silence gives your spouse time to begin the process of contemplating whether you exist in your own right as a person of value, of consequence, and of substance:
- “I want…”
- “I desire…”
- “…from you…”
Clear, short statements followed by silence are far more compelling and remembered than circling arguments.
Related: How to Communicate With a Narcissist
Face the limitations of your spouse
Face the limitations of your spouse at this point. Those are their limitations to know you as a person for yourself, not only someone to boost his pride.
You can’t ‘deal’ with someone you don’t understand. Consider understanding this charmer may feel silently inferior, always hungry to be validated because he cannot do so for himself.
If you think of this as sad, not mean-spirited, you may be able to reach this person’s insides bit by bit. Your spouse’s silent treatment, sidestepping your words, and rage reactions are all covers for fear and doubt.
That perception will shift your approach because your empathy will be for this vulnerable person, not the outwardly charming, maneuvering, unempathetic, grandiose outer shell.
Remember what’s in a shell—emptiness. Can you ask someone who is as hollow as a shell to hear you? It’s tough, but that’s what you’re up against.
If you think of it as sad instead of a source of your fury for being invisible, you’ll reroute your attempts to reach him—inside of him:
- Be brief. Be clear. First with yourself, then with your spouse.
- Speak in almost a hush of your wants and desires, then allow for silence.
- Your spouse needs lots of time to reach a contemplative mindset. Raised voices shut that down for both of you.
- Quiet moments. Clear, brief moments followed by absorbing silences may be entirely new to you and your spouse. But now you have a direction.
Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC
Psychotherapist, Self-Love Recovery | Author, “The Human Magnet Syndrome: The Codependent Narcissist Trap“
Know about the possible roadblocks they might attempt to do
When facing the termination of the relationship with a former self-love deficient (codependent) person, pathological narcissists react as if their oxygen supply has been blocked.
Their “last gasp” attempts to circumvent, reverse, or sabotage the escaping partner’s plans to terminate the relationship take many forms, most of which are described below.
Because the escapee has overcome their self-love deficit disorder (codependency), they have developed enough emotional fortitude, knowledge, and courage to pull off their meticulously planned escape plan.
Related: How to Break Codependency Habits
Their ability to successfully escape from or terminate their relationship is likely because of their involvement in “Self-Love Recovery Treatment,” aka a “Codependency Cure” program.
Incidentally, in my book “Human Magnet Syndrome: The Codependent Narcissist Trap,” the term “pathological narcissist” describes three personality disorders that all share a distinct narcissistic core: Narcissistic, Borderline, and Antisocial Personality Disorder.
The list is organized linearly because the next technique requires the preceding one to fail.
Each manipulation method is guided by the pathological narcissist’s intricate and multi-layered system of manipulation that can be traced to the earliest days of their life.
By applying the strategies below, the narcissist attempts to instill:
- Manufactured empathy
These are enough to entice their “escapees” to return to their “prison cell” voluntarily.
Although the below list represents a linear process designed to be highly predictive, it may not be an exact replication of the experience for all escaping codependents.
They sabotage your no-contact and termination efforts by:
Turning up the gas—manipulative gaslighting
To break the resolve of the escaping partner, the gaslighting narcissist amplifies their formerly effective gaslighting. The narcissist “turns up the gas” in hopes of reactivating semi-extinguished conditioned responses that were once the bones of the formerly “successful” gaslighting campaign.
Related: How to Respond to Gaslighting
Increased verbal and emotional abuse
Verbal and emotional abuse are used in tandem to break down the will of the escaping SLD (codependent). The intent is to sow the seeds of doubt that will infect and ultimately break down the codependent’s resolve to escape.
Such a strategy is most effective for people with posttraumatic stress disorder/PTSD.
Related: What to Say to Disarm a Narcissist?
Passive aggression is a secret and indirect weapon of aggressive harm that has plausible deniability built into it. Pathological narcissists apply this offensive strategy to look good while delivering the maximum amount of undetectable harm.
Triangulation (Relationships sabotage)
Triangulation is used to punish or control the codependent by strategically turning a former friend, supporter, or ally against them. By shifting the alliance against the codependent, the level of coercion is manifestly increased.
Threats of or actual physical aggression
Physical aggression is often the most intimidating, frightening, manipulative strategy. Whether it is a threat or act, the resulting physical and emotional harm intends to break the codependent’s resolve to flee their prison-like living conditions.
Giving convincing apologies and promises
The narcissist may deliver believable and authentic-seeming promises to change and an apology that drips in empathy, sensitivity, remorse, and insincere promises.
Being willing to negotiate
The quickly approaching “termination train” may be stopped by an inauthentic willingness to stop the codependent’s biggest complaint while allowing them to continue other harmful activities.
For example, the narcissist may promise to seek employment and contribute to the family if he is allowed to keep drinking with his friends.
Agreeing to couples therapy
Because personality-disordered narcissists are unable and unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions, couples/marital therapy rarely deliver tangible positive results.
But when put into a corner, these narcissists may claim an interest in couples counseling while touting their new-found abilities to take responsibility for their actions.
The humanization trick
Narcissists exploit the codependent’s capacity for empathy and forgiveness by the emotional expression of previously undisclosed details about their severe childhood abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
In recounting the trauma, they regress to the deeply sad, frightened, anxious, and tearful emotions that, until this tactic, were dissociated from their conscious awareness.
Such contrived “humanness” is most impactful when the narcissists cry and beg not to be abandoned as their parents did to them.
Related: Do Narcissists Cry?
Begging for “one more chance”
At this stage, narcissists plea for “one more chance” while they promise to seek the mental health services they formerly rebuffed. In some cases, this is a sincere promise.
However, it cannot work because people with personality disorders respond quite poorly to this type of mental health intervention.
Threats of self-harm or suicide
Incapacitated by fear of abandonment, pathological loneliness, or the shame-based belief that they will be forever alone, some narcissists become suicidal.
Other pathological narcissists, like those with Borderline or Antisocial Personality Disorder, or Covert Narcissists, may use the real or contrived threat of suicide to lure the codependent back into the relationship.
The last gasp of the soon-to-be terminated narcissist comes in the form of a no-holds-barred barrage of destruction. This is when the narcissist’s rage, hatred, and contempt are focused on the person they believe is trying to harm them.
Because this is highly dangerous, legal and protective services are absolutely required for this stage.
With no hope for reconciliation, the reality of the termination sinks in. This is when the narcissists experience debilitating painful core shame, which evokes otherwise deeply buried dissociated memories of abandonment.
Then, due to the torrent of shame, loneliness, and depression, the narcissist surrenders openly or secretly. This is when the fight is over.
The narcissist’s pathological ego cannot live in shame and loneliness for a long period of time. This is when they resume the relationship “prowl” that originally trapped the now departing partner.
How to deal with the narcissistic spouse:
The more a recovering codependent knows about possible roadblocks, the better they can re-route their path out of the relationship.
Practice “predictive awareness”
Even if they are out of order or not all represented, it will help increase what I call “predictive awareness,” which is the primary concept of Stage 6 of my Self-Love Recovery Treatment Program, “Preparing for the Narcissistic Storm.”
Proactive knowledge, preparation, and chess-like strategies are the primary goals of this stage.
This phase of treatment delves deeply into their pathological narcissist’s manipulation strategies and their historical ability to use them against their codependent prey successfully.
Strategies such as gaslighting, triangulation, parental alienation, and power, control, and domination strategies are deconstructed, analyzed, and critiqued.
Finally, the impact of each strategy or group of strategies on the beleaguered and powerless codependent is analyzed.
By scrubbing away irrational emotions and maintaining a focus on facts, former potent strategies used by the narcissist, former ineffective defense strategies, failures, and triumphs, a state of mind called “predictive awareness” is achieved.
Predictive awareness aims to learn about, practice, and master the necessary knowledge about the narcissist’s harmful and entrapment strategies and the codependent’s chronic susceptibility to them.
In this stage of treatment, codependents are taught the interactional mechanics and consequences of placing boundaries on narcissists.
Once mastered, the following techniques, and many more, are utilized to neutralize the harmful impact of the narcissist.
Utilize non-aggressive, defensive, and escape techniques
Through a process of proactive education, coaching and practice, and eventually skill mastery, the recovering codependent will be able to successfully utilize just some of the below non-aggressive defensive and escape techniques.
- The worst-case scenario technique
- The observe-don’t absorb technique
- The three-strike boundary technique
- Induced conversation defense technique
- The “of-course” response technique
If leaving your abusive narcissist is your goal, then there is no need for preparation, education, practice, and skill mastery, aka predictive awareness.
Consult a psychotherapist
Having a psychotherapist who understands the “human magnet syndrome,” narcissistic abuse, and codependency will greatly impact the probability of success.
You can do this! In the words of George Eliot: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
Todd and Diana Mitchem
Certified Relationship Coaches, Peak Relationship Center
Narcissism is a destructive mental issue that can cause:
- Extreme selfishness
- Lack of empathy
- An overall negative relationship approach
The narcissist can’t fully process emotion on a normal basis like the rest of us and, as such, can, if not properly managed, ruin a relationship. The good news, however, is that this does not necessarily mean the relationship is lost.
With the right boundaries, good communication skills, and proper self-care, you can manage this kind of relationship; with one caveat, does the narcissist want to keep it alive?
How to manage a person in your relationship who is narcissistic:
Define and get clear about the condition first
The first step is always to have a professional properly diagnose the person in question. Sometimes people call others narcissistic when they are simply mad because the person does not bend to every whim. This is not narcissism.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a very extreme condition that is often articulated as a deep and never-ending need for attention and admiration at all costs. So, we always advise you to get clear about the condition first.
Set clear boundaries
Setting clear boundaries may include saying no to results or respectfully only giving praise to the person once or twice a day instead of constantly. Also, make sure you do not bend to every request of the narcissistic individual for the sake of ‘saving’ the relationship.
This will actually work to feed their mental illness rather than help them. People who are truly narcissistic have little impulse control and will often react like children who have had their favorite toy taken from them.
By setting a boundary, you protect yourself from getting wrapped up in the chaos of their thinking.
Develop the right communication skills
Often, a narcissistic individual will say things like, “You are not hearing me,” or “You don’t hold space for me.” But these are controlling statements they use, albeit unconsciously, to get control of adoration.
Again, be clear in your communication.
For example, you may communicate in a heated discussion by saying: “I love you and respect your opinion. I hear you on this, but right now, I need to take a moment to process your thinking. Can we pause while I think for a moment?”
This builds a boundary and gives the relationship the needed pause, so you don’t become wrapped up in a fight. Remember, it takes two people to argue, and the narcissist wants to fight. Don’t bite that hook.
Take care of “you” first
We can’t stress this enough. Being in a relationship with a narcissist is work. Often you will be managing your emotions, response, and your own needs against the never-ending changes and needs of the person in your relationship.
These individuals put huge demands on you, can often attempt to isolate you away from friends, and will not be very graceful when you are struggling with normal issues.
So please work on yourself:
- Take a yoga class.
- Go on a long walk often.
- Eat well.
- Be careful with alcohol around these types of people.
If you do not strengthen yourself inevitably, they will strike with some oddly placed, out-of-context anger, rage, or fit at the moment you are most relaxed.
Rapid Transformational Therapy Practitioner | Licensed Hypnotherapist
Realize that you’re the victim and identify the signs
The biggest issue that victims of narcissistic abuse have is that they question whether they’re actually a victim of narcissistic abuse in the first place. Even though their instinct says, “Get out,” they second guess themselves and wonder if they are to blame.
It is common to feel as though you’ve been brainwashed into believing that you are the problem, not the narcissist. If you’re caught up in confusion, the first step is to realize that you’re the victim.
Here are seven ways to identify whether there is a narcissist in your life:
Narcissists make everything about themselves
Be on the lookout for someone who makes everything all about themselves. Narcissists are self-absorbed and will oftentimes resort to bullying or playing the victim in order to get what they want.
Narcissists need control
Does your partner place a lot of restrictions on you by limiting what you’re able to do, what you should or shouldn’t wear, who you can see, etc.? Are you able to make decisions for yourself?
You know that they are incredibly controlling, jealous, and possessive, but you accept it because these restrictions are made under the guise of “I am doing this because I love you.”
Narcissists are always right
A narcissist will truly believe they are right, even when they are clearly wrong. There is no convincing them otherwise.
You could know, without a shadow of a doubt, that your partner said he would do something, but he firmly denies it. The more he denies things, the more you start to question yourself.
You’ve started losing friendships or feel extremely isolated
One way a narcissist will gain control over their spouse is by isolating them from outside relationships and even their hobbies.
Your partner may:
- Put down your friends.
- Say they aren’t good for you.
- Come up with excuses for why you can’t do something.
- Shame you for wanting to spend time with other people.
- Monitor your phone or social media usage.
They are an emotional ticking time bomb
Narcissists constantly swing back and forth like a pendulum between being mad, angry, or upset at you for something, followed by smothering you in affection, compliments, or expensive gifts (“Don’t go, baby, I love you so much”).
You feel like you’re walking on eggshells or that you need to sugarcoat things in order to not upset them.
You feel like your recollection of past events is distorted or confused
This is because narcissists use gaslighting tactics to make it seem like you are the problem, it was your fault, or that you did something wrong. You may stop trusting yourself and your decisions and feel like you’re being too sensitive or overreacting.
Blaming others or bullying
Narcissists have the inability to accept responsibility for anything and will frequently put others down in order to build themselves up. Bullying may not be difficult to recognize at first because it is done gradually.
If all of this sounds familiar, there are several things you can do to take care of yourself and deal with narcissism:
Give yourself permission to leave the relationship
It is important to understand that narcissism is a personality disorder, and narcissists are tough people to change. Likely, they will never change.
That being said, the first thing I recommend is to give yourself permission to leave the relationship.
Take some time to prepare yourself for what’s ahead
If this is something you decide is the right choice, take some time to prepare yourself for what’s ahead. Divorcing a narcissist is rarely easy, so make a plan and get support.
Get an attorney familiar with narcissism
Get an attorney who is familiar with narcissism, set realistic expectations, document everything, assemble a support system, and stay focused on a better future.
It is also a great time to start reconnecting with family or friends and start incorporating daily wellness practices into your life to help manage your emotions and stress.
If you choose to stay in the relationship (at least for now), there are some ways to manage the challenges and support yourself emotionally.
First and foremost, remind yourself that you are worthy of better. Practice self-acceptance and tell yourself daily that you deserve a kind, loving partner and a healthy relationship.
Over time, you will begin to naturally pull away and gather up the strength to:
- Take more direct action, such as setting firm boundaries.
- Stand up for yourself.
- Insist on time away.
- Exit the room when there is a tantrum.
Know that when you take these actions, a narcissist’s natural response will be to get angry, argue, minimize your feelings, make accusations, or smother you in affection. Do not tolerate it.
If you’re a victim of narcissistic abuse, you likely feel:
- Completely exhausted
Seek support and know that you’ve got this.
Jocelyn Hamsher LPC, CST
Professor and Course Creator | Licensed Professional Counselor, Courageous Living AZ
If you want to stay in a marriage with a narcissist, there are a couple of things you can do to help yourself cope:
Go to therapy
Everyone needs someone to talk to, and this is especially true when being in a relationship with a narcissist.
Going to therapy can provide you with support and encouragement during difficult times, as well as provide you with tools to protect yourself physically and emotionally.
Set boundaries on what you are willing to engage in
While the narcissists may be engaging in inappropriate behaviors such as manipulation or control, you can choose to no longer play the game. You can set boundaries on what you are willing and not willing to accept or engage in.
For instance: “I will not engage in a conversation where I am being yelled at or name called. If this continues, I will walk out of the room (go take a drive, etc.).”
This lets the narcissist know you will no longer engage in dysfunctional behavior.
Note that it will likely not be received by the narcissist well, so be ready for pushback but stand firm on what is important to you.
Choose your battles wisely
Not every battle is worth fighting, so choose your battles wisely. It will be exhausting and unproductive to nitpick or fight the narcissist on everything that you don’t like.
Choose the ones that are most important and spend your energy advocating for those.
You can choose to be a willing participant, not a victim
By choosing to stay in the marriage with a narcissist, you are not a victim of their behavior but are now a willing participant because you are choosing to stay engaged.
You can choose to set boundaries, to leave, or to stay the same but you always have choices.
Remember that when you are evaluating the relationship and what you would like your future to look like.
Related: How to Fix a Broken Marriage
Perhaps being married to a narcissist is the best training in the world for disconnecting from codependency and becoming very good at taking care of yourself.
Read books about recovery from codependency
Narcissists tend to attract partners who feel a lot of empathy and want to ‘help’ the narcissist with the problems created by narcissistic behaviors.
Related: Who Do Narcissists Target and Why?
You may need the help of some good books about recovery from codependency and therapy that strengthens your own sense of self apart from your spouse.
Nurture your personal growth
This doesn’t necessarily mean separation from your narcissistic spouse, but you’re using the challenges of living with this person to nurture your self-growth.
Without caring about yourself, a narcissist can eat up your energy and self-worth with their unwavering focus on:
- What they need
- What they want
- Their perception of what you should be to them
With an amazing dedication to personal growth, you can appreciate the good things the narcissist accomplishes or creates while creating healthy boundaries that nourish and protect yourself.
Related: How to Live with a Narcissist
Katie Ziskind, BS, MA, MFT, LMFT
Licensed Holistic Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Wisdom Within Counseling
You cannot change your partner no matter how much you try
If your spouse is narcissistic, there are a few ways to deal. The first thing is to recognize that you cannot change your partner no matter how much you try.
This goes for all types of relationships, but it’s most important when you have a narcissist for a spouse. People can have happy and successful relationships with narcissists, but it takes a mental choice not to want to change them.
The more you try to change the person, the more mental suffering you will experience because it will be impossible, and you will feel hopeless.
Choose your own happiness instead of trying to change them
Instead of trying to change your narcissistic spouse, choose your own happiness:
- Practice self-care, such as going to the gym daily or weekly.
- If you like to do yoga or go to a yoga class, make time for this on a daily or weekly basis.
- Make sure you have healthy sleep routines for the evening and a healthy morning routine to start your day on a positive note.
- Take the time to journal about your feelings.
- Go for long walks.
- Have good nutrition.
- Take good care of yourself.
Do not think your partner will complete you, or you will often end up feeling defeated.
You can bring a more grounded, centered, and calm version of yourself to the relationship by taking impeccable care of yourself. Practicing good self-care is an essential part of being married to a narcissist.
Understand your personal triggers and gain self-awareness
The next step if you are married to a narcissist is understanding your own personal triggers. Take the time to work with a therapist, gain self-awareness, and look at your generational trauma patterns.
Perhaps, you are not the first person in your family to have known a narcissist, or you can work with a therapist to identify how there has been a legacy of generational trauma.
Looking at your triggers and childhood wounds can help you understand how to fulfill your needs.
In every relationship, we do rely partly on our partner to bring us some level of joy and happiness, but so often, people find themselves miserable because they are trying to make their partner fill a void that they, in fact, need to fill themselves.
If you are married to a narcissist, understanding your triggers can help you know what behaviors really bother you and communicate these in a healthy and calm way by sharing what makes you feel unsafe due to your childhood trauma.
If you had a highly critical and narcissistic parent, sharing this with your spouse can help them develop a level of compassion for your triggers and your experience.
Work with a couples therapist weekly
Lastly, if you are in a romantic or intimate partnership with a narcissist, working with a couple’s therapist weekly can help you build a healthy relationship.
Marriage therapy is one of the best tools to help couples:
- Heal generational trauma.
- Build a sense of togetherness.
- Talk about shared goals.
- Overall, build long-lasting love.
Neuroscientist | Board Certified in Addiction Counseling
If your spouse is a narcissist, then first of all, please understand that it is not your fault; you must understand that there is nothing wrong with you. Whatever your spouse has been saying is not true.
Stop believing what they have been saying about you
Someone’s opinion about you is not your reality; other people’s opinions could be wrong. However, in this case, whatever opinion they have about you is a deliberate attempt to mentally and emotionally abuse you to control you.
Therefore, the first thing first you can do is to stop believing what they have been saying about you. Secondly, set a boundary and don’t let them cross that boundary.
Set a boundary and don’t let them cross it
A boundary means an invisible imaginary boundary you will not let them cross:
- No one has the right to disrespect you.
- No one has the right to insult you.
- No one has the right to misbehave with you or abuse you.
If they stop bothering you because of boundary formation, then that’s wonderful; however, it is unlikely. It is almost impossible that they will stop breaching your boundary.
In fact, the moment you set a boundary, it will make them more furious, and they will now resolve to take revenge. Because you stood up and set boundaries to protect yourself, they will not forgive you.
Make a “zero contact boundary”
If that happens, the only option is divorce or separation. But remember, after divorce, they may become more viscous and toxic and would want to destroy you and your life. Therefore, the final option is zero contact boundary.
It means you will not maintain any kind of communication or contact with the narcissist. Block them on social media and change your phone number because blocking them on the phone is not enough.
They will call you from different phone numbers; they know you have blocked them. That’s why blocking every possible way they can contact you is essential.
If you have kids and this narcissist is a male father, and you want financial support for your kids, you may have to go to court to fight this battle because narcissists love money and won’t give their money to anyone.
Moreover, they will carry a serious grudge against you; they may stalk you and still harass you in every possible way.
Ask legal help to make a restraining order against them
The final step could be to take legal help to make a restraining order against them.
In the end, I would like to say the battle against a narcissistic spouse is not easy, and you may eventually go to a restraining order. However, after some time, they will find another victim if they realize they cannot bother you anymore.
You can move to a new place without letting them know where
Thus, after divorce, if you can just move to a new place and switch your job and don’t let them know where you are, then you may not have to go to the extent of getting a restraining order. You can handle it with a strict “zero contact boundary.”
Ketan Parmar, MD, MBBS, DPM
Counselling Psychologist | Psychiatrist and Mental Health Expert, ClinicSpots
Narcissists are often known for being self-centered, arrogant individuals with an overinflated sense of importance.
They are not afraid to show it, either. A narcissist will make you aware of their views of themselves as the most brilliant, wonderful person that ever existed. These people have a distorted sense of self and usually need constant reassurance that they are indeed fantastic and above everyone else.
If you have a narcissistic spouse, it can be difficult to deal with.
Here is what you need to know about dealing with this type of spouse and ways to cope until divorce is an option:
Don’t take it personally—it is not about you
The first thing to remember if you have a narcissist spouse is that it is not about you. You are just the unlucky person who happens to be in their life and whom they happen to love.
This is not about you, and it is not personal.
It is very unlikely that it is your fault that they are this way. That said, it is incredibly difficult not to take it personally when a narcissist keeps putting you down or making you feel less important. You must try not to take it personally, though.
You are not being picked on because there is something wrong with you. It is just that your spouse is a narcissist and does not know any better. You will have to try your best not to take these things personally.
It can be difficult, but it is essential. Otherwise, you will end up getting hurt and angry, and that will make the situation much worse.
Set firm limits
Narcissists need constant attention, praise, and admiration.
They crave attention, and they will do almost anything to get it. With a narcissistic spouse, you will be expected to constantly praise them, agree with them, and make them feel special.
It can mean you are expected to give up your friends and hobbies to be around them constantly and give them the attention they crave.
A narcissist expects to be treated like a king or queen 24/7. They wish to be treated as if they are the most important person in the world.
You can set boundaries and firm limits on this:
- Make it clear that you will not be expected to praise them constantly
- You will not be expected to give up your friends in order to be around them all the time.
- You can even set times when you are allowed to see your friends and when you are not.
Establish a support network
When you live with a narcissist, finding people who will listen to you and understand what you are going through can be challenging. You may find they cannot understand what it is like to live with a narcissist because they have never done it before.
You may also find that other people turn away from you because they don’t want to get caught up in your drama.
This can be incredibly isolating, but you can combat this by establishing a support network for yourself:
- You can join online support groups for people in your situation.
- You can also talk to a therapist or counselor about the situation that you are in.
These people will be able to understand what you are going through and help you to cope with it. They are unlikely to judge you for what is happening, and they will be able to give you advice on how to deal with the situation.
Co-parent with your spouse if possible; put your child’s needs first
If your spouse has narcissism, it does not mean that you cannot co-parent with them. You may just need to be a bit more careful and make sure that you always put your child’s needs first.
A narcissist may not be very good at co-parenting with you, or they may be incredibly unreliable. However, if they are willing to try, you should try to work with them.
You may need to keep a strict schedule for your child and ensure that everything is planned ahead of time. This way, you will not be left wondering where the narcissist is or if they will show up when they are supposed to.
You can also keep a record of everything that happens and make sure that both of you put it in writing.
This will help you to keep a record of everything that has happened and may help you to get what you are owed in child support or alimony.
Divorce is an option
If your spouse’s narcissism is causing you much suffering, you may want to consider divorce.
You should not do this if you are just frustrated and want to get out of the situation. Divorce is a big decision, and you should only do it if it is absolutely necessary.
You may want to consider letting them go:
- If your narcissist spouse has threatened to leave you.
- If they threaten to end the relationship and take your children away from you.
- If your spouse is violent toward you.
You need to protect yourself and your children from violence. It is okay to leave a narcissist because they are toxic to you and your children.
Chances are, you didn’t realize you married a narcissist. They were probably extremely nice to you in the beginning. They reflected all your values and desires back to you.
You probably felt like you found your soulmate and that you were getting a good deal.
How they treat you now:
If you’re reading this, you saw gradual changes in your spouse. Their behavior puzzled you. And now you realize you married a narcissist. By now, their behavior may be unbearable.
You’re wondering why they changed so drastically from the beginning. They went from perfect match to nightmare—from giving you tons of positive attention to critical and giving you the cold shoulder.
- Ignore you
- Withhold money from you
- Spend all your money
- Destroy your favorite things
- Make a mess of your house
You may be wondering if there’s any hope. Or if things can go back to the way they used to be.
If they are true narcissists, they slowly reveal their true selves over time. This means you get a more accurate picture of them as time goes on.
They did not change. And now they’ve got you. They don’t think they need to impress you anymore. They just can no longer hide themselves.
How to deal with a narcissistic spouse:
Don’t show a reaction
A narcissist loves getting a reaction out of you.
Some people will say, “Don’t show a reaction.” This is great advice to get a narcissist bully at work or school to leave you alone. You don’t have to face them always, so many will just find a new target.
The problem is, this doesn’t work the same with someone you live with. They will likely try harder and harder to provoke you if the same tricks don’t work anymore. So in some ways, life may get harder for you.
Related: How to Shutdown a Narcissist
Spend minimal time at home
It’s important to spend as much time away from the narcissist as possible.
Get a job working a shift opposite to when the narcissist is home. This is perfect so you can minimize the time together at home. You’ll also get a built-in social network of coworkers and make your own money.
That way, you hear other people’s ideas, not just what your narcissist spouse is feeding you. The biggest reason for these breaks is to give you some peace.
Go along with what the narcissist says
Truly examine whether keeping the peace is the most important thing for you. If you can keep your mouth shut and don’t question it when the narcissist lies or criticizes you, they won’t be so harsh towards you.
A narcissist wants someone who loves them unconditionally and does not question them. They want someone who goes along with their ideas, even if they’re ridiculous.
What happens long-term
You may want to figure out what you’re going to do long-term. Things won’t get better unless you let them do whatever they want and go along with everything they say. This is one option if you feel like you can’t leave them.
Remember, if you stay, be quiet and don’t complain. Complaining will make it far worse.
However, this would be torture for most people who realize their spouse is a narcissist. Plus, if you have kids, they’ll be exposed to your spouse’s bad behavior.
Even if they only treat you badly and the kids better, it’s still damaging. The kids pick up that this is how spouses are supposed to treat one another. This will make them more likely to choose bad relationships one day.
Moving out may be the best option
Making a plan to leave smartly may be the best bet for most people.
Save money in a separate bank account. Move your stuff out slowly—either to a trusted friend’s house or storage unit. Don’t give any signs of leaving or start any new fights.
It’s important not to give away any hints.
For more detailed tips on how to move out, check out my book: “Girl, You Deserve More: How to Break His Spell over You, Escape Your Toxic Partner, and Become Independent.” Most tips apply to both men and women, despite the title.
If you start acting differently, the narcissist will go on high alert. They may not say anything, but they’ll start watching you closely.
The narcissist does not want you to actually leave
It may seem like they wouldn’t care because they treat you like you’re a burden and insult you all the time, but that’s just to make you feel bad so you don’t feel confident enough to leave.
If you actually leave or they think you will, this will trigger an abandonment wound for them. They will feel rejected and make you feel pain, too. They will make it into a game to make your life miserable. That’s why it’s essential to get out of their reach before they find out.
Related: Why a Narcissist Won’t Divorce You?
Hiring a relationship coach can be very helpful
Hiring a relationship coach can be very helpful for faster results and getting insights into your specific situation. It’s important to think long and hard about the consequences of your decision.
Once you make your move, it is nearly impossible to go back.
Former Journalist | Divorce Lawyer and Consultant
Divorce the narcissist
I have experience with narcissists in marriages—well, more specifically, at the end of marriages and during the divorce process.
The key thing to understand about these divorce cases is that they will not end—not even once the judgment is signed. Narcissists will continue to find ways to drag their former spouse back into court in an effort to use the court system to help continue their abuse.
The term narcissist gets tossed around these days, and, in fact, the personality disorder is on the rise, but still, a small number of people are truly narcs.
How does one know if their spouse is a true narc (outside of an expert diagnosis)?
Here are a few situations that I’ve seen in my practice that strongly suggest this personality disorder is at play:
- He is extremely controlling of the finances during the marriage. He keeps her on an allowance and wants a report of her expenses.
- He always needs to be right. He tells her that she is the one with the problems—and she is “lucky to have him at all.”
- He accuses her of the bad behavior that he’s really engaged in. Classic gaslighting.
- Nothing is ever his fault, especially his behavior when she makes him angry.
- She tries to give him what he wants, but what he wants changes all the time. This keeps her off-balance, never knowing what to expect.
- He does not really care about her or the kids based on his actions in front of them and in front of other people. She suspects this, but all her friends and family know it
- Possibly, he drinks too much. Narcissist disorder can correlate with alcoholism. And frankly, research shows that alcoholics exhibit similar behavior patterns as people with a narcissistic personality disorder.
Statistically, men are more likely to be narcissists than women
Why am I using the male pronoun in my examples? Because statistically, men are more likely to be narcissists than women, as confirmed by a report by the University of Buffalo.
The report examined 31 years of research on narcissism—with more than 475,000 participants—and concluded that considering all factors, such as age and background, men are more likely to be narcissists than women.
How a narcissist acts during standard proceedings
While 90 to 95% of divorce cases end before trial, cases involving narcissists will be one of those unlucky few.
In these cases, the victimized spouse will be vilified and degraded both in court papers and to friends/family.
The narcissist will try to manipulate the kids and tell them horrible things about their other parent. He will typically drag out the case as a form of financial abuse because the legal fees will continue to skyrocket due to his delays and refusal to cooperate in even legal proceedings.
Remember, every communication with a narcissist is viewed as a game—he thinks he can ‘win’ by:
- Delaying messages.
- Being vague about important issues like custody exchanges.
- Insisting that he is the victim of the situation.
A tell-tale sign of a narcissist will be his accusations against his spouse about behaviors that he has engaged in. Examples:
- He’s an alcoholic? “No, she is the one with the drinking problem.”
- He’s a cheater? “No, she is the one with the affairs.”
Narcissists cannot control themselves without relationships to fulfill their sense of power and control. Court provides a special thrill for narcissists because he’ll believe he’s in control and feel he has power by dragging his spouse into the courtroom.
Once the case is over, he’ll have to find another relationship to fill the gap.
If he’s in a relationship during your case, he’ll use his hostility towards you to hide the true nature of his personality from his new partner. She’ll think only the worst of you until it’s her turn to be his victim)
How to prepare for divorce from a narcissist
Prepare in advance—well in advance. Prepare for a year or more to have all the documentation necessary, especially potentially neutral witnesses, so that the case is more than just “he said/she said.” This means having a couple’s counselor or relationship coach who might be willing to testify.
Plan with a lawyer to document and log evidence and figure out how to avoid early litigation strategies.
Remember, a judge needs to issue a decision—even a bad one. This relieves him of the responsibility of compromise because a true narcissist can never compromise since that would mean he must concede his position.
By allowing the judge to control the outcome, the narcissist gives the illusion to himself and others that he is still in control; the result just isn’t his fault. (But don’t forget that he’s the reason the decision went badly for him in the first place).
Founder, Dating Iconic
Having a narcissistic partner can be draining on your mental health.
Educate yourself on what narcissistic characteristics are
How do you identify that you’re in a relationship with a narcissist? To cope with a narcissistic partner, you must educate yourself first on what narcissistic characteristics are.
Narcissism is a mental disorder that largely affects more males than females. It may have been developed due to traumatic events or as a coping mechanism.
These characteristics include an exaggerated sense of self, feeling too important or incredibly special, feeling overly entitled, and manipulations of other people’s feelings especially loved ones for personal gain or achievement.
There’s also faking the future, love bombing, bullying, or degradation without remorse or guilt, and constantly needing admiration or wanting to be the center of attention.
As much as these characteristics can be exhibited by anyone without them necessarily being narcissistic, they still apply in different intensities and can only be diagnosed by a mental health practitioner.
Adopt healthy coping mechanisms
After educating yourself on narcissistic traits, the next step is adopting healthy coping mechanisms.
These include seeing your partner for who they really are rather than the idea of what you want them to be or based on words they tell you. They could tell you they love you, but their actions speak otherwise.
Create necessary boundaries
Create necessary boundaries and don’t make compromises about those boundaries.
Try as much as you can not to argue unnecessarily and only share information that you sure won’t be used against you. Also, try not to take things too personally. Developing a thick skin towards abusive words or demeaning actions would help protect your mental health.
Don’t be afraid to:
- Stand up for yourself if they make you feel bad, as your feelings are very much valid.
- Speak to someone, be it a friend, a group, or a therapist. Don’t die in silence or expect someone to come and save you.
- Leave when you are done with the relationship.
Narcissists have no one else to fuel their ego and pride if no one pays attention to them. It is a product of low self-esteem, and you should not put yourself on the receiving end.
Ask them to seek help from a therapist
If possible, ask them to seek help from a therapist. Remember that it is not okay to be in a relationship with a narcissistic partner if you’re not comfortable with it. Your feelings are valid, and keeping quiet would only make things worse.
Relationship Expert | Managing Editor, Texas Divorce Laws
Resist the charm and quit thinking about them
Attention seems to gravitate in their direction when a narcissistic personality is in your sphere of influence. If you have to interact with a narcissistic personality, resist the need to let them define who you are or how the world works. You have value, too.
Remind yourself frequently of your virtues, aspirations, and objectives. Make decisions and schedule some “me time.” Remember to take care of yourself first and that fixing others is not your responsibility.
Stand up for yourself
Some narcissists take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable. If that’s the case, try not to appear agitated or annoyed because that will encourage them to go on.
You owe it to yourself to speak up if it’s someone you want to stay near in your life.
Try to approach things in a polite, calm manner:
- You must let them know how their actions and comments affect your life.
- Be clear and consistent about what is unacceptable and the treatment you require.
- Be ready for the possibility that they might simply not comprehend or bother.
Demand instant results, not promises
Promises are easy to make for those with narcissistic personalities:
- They pledge to carry out your wishes and abstain from doing anything you detest.
- They promise to do better overall.
- They may even be serious when they make these promises.
But there’s no denying this: For someone with a narcissistic disposition, the promise is a means to an end. Once they achieve their goals, they lose their drive. Their words do not always correspond with their actions.
Stand your ground and make the requests you desire. Demand that you’ll only fulfill their requests once they have completed yours. On this issue, resist giving in. Being consistent will make it stick.
Relationship Expert, Sameera Sullivan Matchmakers
Try to ignore their insults
Not every marriage to a narcissist is fun and games. A narcissist wants you to take their jabs personally, respond to them, and fight back. But there can’t be a fight if you don’t participate, so try to ignore their insults.
Since narcissists cannot be wrong, debating them is virtually difficult. Therefore, it’s a good idea to find a means to persuade your spouse that the “correct” decision or “right course of action” was their idea.
You can then congratulate them on their brilliant solution to the problem.
Related: How to Talk to a Narcissist
Consider irrational reasons you could’ve decided to be with a narcissist
Lastly, consider any irrational reasons you could have decided to be with a narcissist. It is probably a good idea.
You’ll be able to identify what you need with greater clarity once you start to comprehend your motivation.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I protect my children from a narcissistic spouse?
If you have children with a narcissistic spouse, it’s important to take steps to protect them from his or her behavior. Here are some tips:
Set clear boundaries: Let your spouse know what behaviors are unacceptable toward your children and the consequences for crossing the line.
Be a role model: Show your children what healthy relationships look like by modeling respectful and caring behavior toward them and others.
Don’t talk badly about your spouse: Avoid badmouthing your spouse in front of your children, as this can damage the relationship with the other parent and lead to further conflict.
Keep a record of their behavior: Keep a record of any abusive or neglectful behavior your spouse has toward your children. This can be useful if you need to take legal action to protect your children.
Seek legal help if necessary: If your spouse’s behavior poses a danger to your children, seek legal help to protect them.
Can I co-parent with a narcissistic spouse?
Co-parenting with a narcissistic spouse can be challenging, but with the right approach, it’s possible. Here are some tips:
Set clear boundaries: Set clear boundaries with your spouse and stick to them. Let them know what behavior is acceptable and what the consequences are if they cross the line.
Communicate in writing: Communicate with your spouse in writing, such as by email or text message. This way, you can document your communication and hold them accountable for their behavior more easily.
Keep it brief: Be brief and to the point when communicating with your spouse. Don’t get into arguments or allow them to provoke you.
Stay focused on the children: Focus on the well-being of your children and what is best for them rather than getting caught up in your spouse’s drama.
Seek support: Co-parenting with a narcissist can be emotionally draining. Seek support from friends, relatives, or a therapist who can provide emotional support and help you develop coping strategies.
Can therapy help me cope with a narcissistic spouse?
Yes, therapy or counseling can be valuable in coping with a narcissistic spouse. A trained therapist can help you better understand the situation, set healthy boundaries, and deal with the emotional distress you may be experiencing.
How can I heal after leaving a narcissistic spouse?
Separating from a narcissistic partner can be a difficult and traumatic experience, but there are some steps you can take to heal and move on:
Seek therapy: Consider seeing a therapist who can help you process your emotions and develop strategies for healing.
Practice self-care: Take care of yourself – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Exercise, eat well, and engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.
Build a support network: Surround yourself with supportive friends and family members who can provide emotional support and help you cope with the challenges of separating from a narcissistic spouse.
Set goals: Set new goals and focus on building a new life that is fulfilling and meaningful.
Forgive yourself: It’s important to forgive yourself for staying in the relationship and not leaving it sooner. Remember that leaving a narcissistic spouse takes courage and strength.
Be patient: Healing takes time, so be patient with yourself and trust the process.
Can a narcissist change if they want to?
While it’s unlikely that a narcissist will change, some may be willing to go to therapy and work on their behavior if they realize they have a problem. However, it’s important to remember that change is a slow process and cannot be guaranteed.
It’s also important to remember that you cannot change your partner’s behavior; they must be self-motivated to change. If your partner isn’t willing to acknowledge their behavior or seek help, it may be time to end the relationship.
How do I explain the situation to friends and family?
It can be difficult to explain the situation to friends and family, especially if they don’t know what narcissistic personality disorder is.
It’s important to be honest about your situation and explain how the behavior is affecting you. You may also consider providing educational materials to help those around you better understand the situation.
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