Shortly after their marriage, Jack became aware of the narcissism in his wife. At first, he thought it was immaturity but after their child was born, things escalated. Unable to fully attach onto their child, she became more demanding and self-absorbed. There were times when life seemed to be a series of competition over who would get more of Jack’s attention, his wife or his child.
When Jack paid attention to their child, his wife would lose it. She would rant, call him names, belittle him, demand he does more chores, limit his access to his income, and expect perfection from him. There were many times when Jack would stay longer at work just to avoid his wife.
But then the Coronavirus hit and Jack was told to work from home. She resented him being more present and would retaliate by asking him to do even more work around the house. She interrupted his work, saying that she and their child were more important than anything he was doing. He was frustrated. Without an avenue to escape, Jack felt trapped. Here is what he did.
- Understand narcissism. It is not enough to know the definition of the word when living with a narcissist, rather a full grasp of Narcissistic Personality Disorder must be achieved. This is the equivalent of obtaining a master’s degree on the subject. As new information comes to light, the understanding of the disorder must grow and evolve. Jack spent his old commute time reading and listening to podcasts about narcissism. The more he learned the less he felt like he was losing his mind.
- Don’t expect change. One of the defining characteristics of narcissism is an inability to see that they are the problem. Instead, the narcissist believes they are superior and others are inferior. Expecting this to change is unrealistic and causes more issues, not for the narcissist, but rather those living with them. Jack stopped expecting her to change and rather challenged her. By saying that a friend’s wife did something, Jack got his wife to outdo her competition.
- Don’t lose your identity. Narcissists have a way of trying to transform the people in their lives into mini versions of themselves. Their dominant ego dictates that other’s lives would be better if they were more like the narcissist. It takes a large amount of self-awareness to keep an ego intact in the face of such pressure. While it is difficult, it is not impossible. Jack realized that he gave up parts of himself to keep the peace with his wife. He decided to systematically gain those areas back by choosing one trait at a time.
- Establish own standards. Narcissists expect perfectionism and clairvoyance from those around them through constant demands and belittling remarks. To survive in such an environment, a person needs to establish their own goals, standards, and expectations independent of the narcissist. Staying true to those beliefs and guidelines helps to maintain a healthy outlook on life and self. Jack set his own standards of expectations and stuck to it.
- Set invisible boundaries. When a person gives a narcissist a firm boundary, they constantly go up to the line and try to push things even further. It’s a challenge for them. So, the alternative is to set boundaries that are unspoken such as “I will leave if they have an affair,” or “I have a zero-tolerance for physical abuse.” Jack set boundaries about his work time. He gave her an incentive to leave him alone during the day so he could work by agreeing to make dinner at night.
- Counteract the gaslighting. A typical form of mental abuse commonly utilized by narcissists is gaslighting. This is where the narcissist denies reality and instead paints a completely different picture so believable that the other person thinks they are going crazy. To counteract this tactic, it is useful to keep a journal of facts and incidents. For instance, writing down that the narcissist had a fit at Thanksgiving over an ungrateful relative. This is not to keep a record of wrongs, but rather to have some point of reference when the story is twisted into the relative losing it and verbally assaulting the narcissist. Jack would review his list periodically to make sure that he remembered things accurately. This boosted his confidence.
- Have a safe outlet. A valuable asset, when married to a narcissist, is to have a safe person to talk about the struggles in the marriage. This could be a close friend or counselor, but should not be a family member. Jack found a friend who also had a narcissistic wife and was able to understand the disorder while providing unconditional support. This should not be a person with localities to the narcissist in any way.
While things were tense in the beginning, Jack found that he was able to gain a rhythm that worked for him and his wife. His wife’s narcissism seemed to decrease in intensity the more he understood about it.