I get asked this question a lot in my counseling sessions. So, I thought I would take some time to address it here. Most of the time I am asked by one member of a marriage or relationship if their partner is narcissistic. Usually this is a question that they ask because they are genuinely confused as to why their spouse always seems to control the conversation, belittle or dismiss their opinions, or seem to have a sense of entitlement.
The first thing I check is if anyone else outside of the relationship sees this pattern? Do other family members, friends, or co-workers see these behaviors or is it just around you that he or she acts this way? If your spouse is treating other people this way and/or they have a history of doing this in their past, then it’s more likely that are narcissistic.However, what if you are the only one that they seem to act this way around. Does that make them a narcissist? Honestly, it makes it less likely. If a certain behavior only shows up in one setting, then there is something about that setting that is causing the behavior. In other words, if you are the only one who thinks your spouse is a narcissist then you might what to consider other possibilities. One possibility is that your marriage has reached gridlock.
A marriage that is in gridlock tends to look like this:
- There has been a long period of mutual pain, frustration or disappointment.
- It has been a long time since you each genuinely enjoyed being in each other company.
- When you fight neither you nor your spouse view it as productive.
- When you fight neither you nor your spouse feel heard.
Marriages in gridlock get that way because one or both spouses feel hurt. Because they have been hurt repeatedly by their partner they stop seeking the other partners well-being. Instead the hurt spouse begins to focus on damage control. Their goal becomes just getting through each day with their head down and hoping that they don’t piss of the other spouse.
This type of mentality causes a person to mimic many of the signs of narcissism. The person starts to control the conversation instead of listening because they are trying to prevent you from hurting them with your words or tone of voice. They begin to focus predominantly on their own opinion and will often stop trying to convince you they are right and will just tell you they are right. This happens because they haven’t felt “heard” in a long time. And when you don’t feel heard you shout your opinion even louder.
Furthermore, a gridlocked marriage can lead to a spouse developing a sense a sense of entitlement. This happens because both partners feel as though they have already given up a lot for this marriage and now their partner is asking for more.
Maybe they feel like they already do spend enough time with the kids, but you want more.
Or maybe they feel that they are already having sex more often they want, but you want more.
Often times their spouse doesn’t seem to appreciate how much they have given up to make this marriage work, so why give more up?
Finally, narcissism and gridlock both look very similar because pain causes all of us to be self-focused and narcissistic. Have you ever known someone who is sick or in pain to not be narcissistic? So, if you think your spouse is a narcist get a second opinion.
Maybe you’re right and you are married to an unhealthy individual but what if is just a symptom that your marriage is near the point of no return? Are you willing to end a marriage without trying everything you could to save it? Seek a second opinion either from a trusted therapist or read a book on the subject.
For more information about being married to a narcissist I would recommend Shannon Thomas book “Healing from Hidden Abuse.” She outlines what narcissistic personality disorder looks like and how those people tend to behave.
If you are having troubles or unresolved issues in your marriage or relationship, I can help you. Reach out to me today and schedule your initial appointment.
Anyone who has been in an abusive relationship and has lived to tell the tale is a survivor. This includes those who are currently in such a relationship and either working their way out or making preparations to do so. One large obstacle to ending and healing from an abusive relationship is guilt. This guilt comes from pity for the abuser, which is born of compassion, which the abuser has learned to twist like a knife in the survivor?s gut.
Most people are moved with compassion when they see others in pain. Examples include an elderly person having trouble breathing, a parent grieving over the sudden loss of a child, a crippled person struggling to walk, or an infant painfully and weakly crying. Such examples, which move the vast majority of human beings, generally do not move abusive people, because they often lack the ability or desire to feel compassion. Instead, they view such circumstances as tools they can use when the time is right. Can you imagine someone storing the memory of a parent grieving over the loss of child, and later using it to twist and manipulate that person? Not only do people like that actually exist, but there are far more of them in the world than most people realize.
Pity differs from compassion in that pity often functions similar to compassion but without boundaries. It can be endless reservoir of power and control. Abusers learn to manipulate survivors into feeling pity for them. They do this by closely observing the survivor and learning what moves them to compassion. They then create intentional scenarios which turn that compassion towards the abuser and simultaneously infuse the survivor with intense guilt. Over time, the survivor is left feeling helpless, stuck between staying in an abusive relationship and living with the horrible guilt of abandoning someone who needs them. The tragic irony is that the abuser cares nothing for them and would feel no emotional loss, only the loss of someone to control and manipulate.
A Way Forward
Leaving an abusive relationship and finding healing is no small task. It is critical for a survivor to continue to have compassion without falling into the trap of pity and guilt. We must see abusers for who they are and not throw away valuable compassion that can be twisted. If we must feel sorry for their eventual fate, it can only be done from a safe distance, well after the relationship has ended and proper boundaries are in place as safeguards. The survivor must also learn to recognize when their compassion is being used against them and learn to keep a proper distance from abusive people. One temptation can be to leave all compassion behind as a precaution against abusers, but this is also a mistake because it leaves the survivor stripped of what once made them human, and the abuser ultimately holding the victory. Instead the survivor must learn to hold on to all them makes them good and regain all that had been taken. The ultimate victory of the survivor over the abuser is the complete restoration of their soul, sending a strong message that they remain unconquered.
?I Remain Unvanquished?