“Is that what this is!” William exclaimed upon learning from a therapist that his wife had Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He came into the first therapy session with a written note from his wife to the therapist outlining all of his issues and the areas she wanted treatment for him. When the therapist redirected the conversation towards asking questions about his wife, he said she was perfect with a slight temper issue.
Several sessions later, William regained his confidence and was able to more clearly see what happened in him in the marriage. When he first met her, there was something about magical that just drew him in. It seemed like an irresistible pull towards someone who so perfectly matched all of his needs and wants. However, the fairy tale engagement and marriage came to an abrupt halt the day he walked down the aisle.
She blamed William for the change and he believed her. He was so desperate to return back to the fairy tale that he became whatever she demanded. But it was not enough. The more he acquiesced, the more ultimatums surface. Now finally after several sessions, William was willing to look at his wife’s behavior. What he discovered was narcissism. Here are the warning signs:
- Unreasonable expectations. The narcissist expects their spouse to meet their needs at all times. The spouse is required to anticipate what, how, and when the narcissist needs admiration and adoration. This is a one-way street where the spouse gives, the narcissist takes, and there is no return. In addition, the narcissist’s appetite is not satisfied as the more the spouse gives, the more that is expected.
- Blames, projects, and guilt-trips. The narcissist projects their negative characteristics onto the spouse. The narcissist says the spouse is needy, never satisfied, ungrateful, doesn’t apologize, selfish, and has unreasonable expectations. They might also belittle their spouse by pointing out their flaws in front of others, taking a minor infraction and turning it into a major event, and highlighting intelligence gaps so the narcissist looks superior. Yet friends and family have not verbalized any such complaints about the spouse and usually are distant from the narcissist.
- Very jealous. The narcissist is jealous of anyone or thing that has the spouse’s attention over them. This includes children, pets, friends, family, and occupation. They will frequently demand attention at the same time the spouse is on the phone, working on a project, talking to someone else, or engaging in an activity that they enjoy. Their jealousy triggers intense rage and sometimes violence for which the spouse is subsequently blamed.
- Abusive cycle. The narcissist will provoke the spouse to leave by being cruel and/or abusive during an argument. This accomplishes two things: it verifies that the spouse will in fact one day abandon the narcissist and it sets the narcissist up to be the victim. Either way, the narcissist has gained more ammunition to use against their spouse. The narcissist will not take any responsibility for the aggravation.
- Abusive behavior. The narcissist punishes the spouse with abuse or neglect. The abuse can be physical (hitting), emotional (guilt-tripping), financial (withholding funds), sexual (coercion), spiritual (used God to justify), verbal (intimidating), or mental (Gaslighting). Or they will withhold love, attention, support, and communication. There is nothing unconditional about their love, it is very performance driven. Trying to address the abuse is like pouring gasoline onto a fire.
- Threatening behavior. The narcissist threatens abandonment, exposure, or rejection if the spouse won’t comply with their wishes. Most likely, the spouse has one or more of these insecurities, which is why the narcissist targeted them for marriage in the first place. These fears tend to keep a person in the relationship longer. Most of this type of behavior is triggered when the narcissist believes that they are entitled to something that they don’t have. It’s a form of an adult temper tantrum.
- Faked remorse. The narcissist uses remorse as a manipulation tool. Real remorse takes time to implement in order for trust to be regained. The narcissist will expect an immediate return to the same level of trust as before. Any mention of the past behavior will incite the narcissist and they will claim the spouse is being unforgiving. This of course justifies them doing the action again.
Once William identified his spouse as a narcissist, he was able to move forward. Since his wife was unwilling to see a therapist, admit to any wrongdoing, and averse to changing her behavior, he made the decision to divorce. This brought its own challenges but he was able to move forward in a healthy manner.