Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D., LMFT

Margalis Fjelstad Ph.D., LMFT

Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist


Are You Married to a Narcissist?

Being married to a narcissist can be overwhelming. Here's what you can do.

Posted Jun 26, 2013

Do you feel controlled, manipulated, or that you are losing your sense of self? Then you may be married to a narcissist.

Does your partner use one set of rules and expectations for him or herself and another set for you? Then you may be married to a narcissist. Does your partner dismiss your feelings as "crazy" or "needy," but no one else in your life sees you that way? Then you might be married to a narcissist. Does your partner act out sexually, act recklessly, manipulate you, or blame you for her or his feelings? Then you are probably married to a narcissist.

It can be quite confusing when the person you love consistently ignores, dismisses, and explains away your feelings, wants and needs, while complaining that you never do what he or she wants. It can also be very hard to feel safe, cared for, or even considered in such a relationship. You may feel under constant pressure to say and do just the right thing in just the right way to please her or him or to keep the peace.

This pressure can lead to depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, fear of making a mistake, and a lack of energy and enthusiasm. Basing your self-esteem on the opinions of someone else is always a vulnerable proposition, but when you are married to a narcissist, it is devastating. A narcissist feels most secure when his or her partner looks good and feels needy. So he or she keeps you off balance with criticism, withdrawal of love, impossible demands, and lectures about how he or she knows better than you do what you feel and need. Ultimately, all your attention goes to the narcissist, trying to get and keep his or her attention and love, and your needs get stuffed and ignored even by you.

The only way to break out of this scenario is to start paying attention to your own needs and wants and doing something to fulfill them yourself. Stop waiting for the narcissist to notice and spontaneously start responding to your feelings. Start paying attention to your own wants and needs and create a plan to fulfilled them yourself. Here are some ideas:

1. Be present in your own life. Start noticing what you feel and when you feel it. Write your feelings down so you won't later try to discount or diminish them. Paying attention to yourself puts you more in touch with your own experiences.

2. Respect yourself. What you feel, want, and need are all very important. These things are a part of you. Choosing for yourself your preferences, your friends, your activities, your thoughts, and your feelings are all ways of validating who you are and respecting your own uniqueness. Increase your self-respect, and you will decrease your reliance on the narcissist.

3. Quit making impossible demands of yourself. You cannot change another person, so stop trying to make the narcissist pay attention to you, hear you, respond to your feelings, understand your point of view, or be more thoughtful. This is an impossible task, so it is time to give it up and concentrate on something that can be successful, that is, doing these things for yourself.

4. Stop taking things personally. Don't take anything the narcissist (or anyone else) says or does as meaning anything about you. You are not the cause of what other people do. You can't make another adult think, feel, or act a certain way. That's under the other person's control, not yours. In fact, narcissists are so focused on themselves that whatever they say is actually a statement about themselves, not you.

5. Encourage yourself. Start saying, thinking, and believing good things about yourself. Self-criticism does nothing to make you feel better nor does it help you to be a better person or take better actions. Being kind, gentle, and forgiving of yourself are the best ways to become immune to the harsh criticisms and invalidations of the narcissist.

If you are married to a narcissist, what are you doing to take care of yourself? What are you doing to identify and meet your own needs? What do you need to start doing to make your life better? Narcissists, by definition, think only and entirely about themselves. So it is up to you to figure out how to take care of you.