Let me guess… your spouse is cold and distant. You feel like everything revolves around what your spouse wants. Your spouse may seemingly lack empathy or an awareness of how his or her reactions affect others. The list goes on and on. In fact, when you Google these things, everything you read points to the fact that your spouse is a narcissist…
He craves praise and attention and success.
Her defensiveness is surreal.
It’s nearly impossible to share with your spouse anything you want them to change without HUGE backlash.
Plus, when you hear others talk about their experience with a narcissist, it sounds just like your life. When family members have experienced this, they described their narcissistic loved ones as:
- Frequently dissatisfied with the actions of others
- Prone to blaming others (and making them feel guilty for all of their problems)
- Losing their temper about a simple side comment you made
- Turning their back (and giving people the silent treatment)
- Or being physically and sexually abusive*
- *We do not advocate for people to stay in an abusive marriage. If a person is abusing his or her spouse or children, remaining in that marriage is unwise. Abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, or a combination thereof. We have seen marriages reconcile after the abuser got proper help, but even then strict boundaries were put in place to ensure that no more abuse could occur. If the abuser does not seek or accept the help he or she needs so that their bad behavior is corrected, living with them is not a viable option.
Maybe this sounds like what you’ve experienced. But what if there was another explanation? What if you were missing a bigger (and even more important) explanation of what’s really going on? Wouldn’t you want to know?
In the thousands of marriages we’ve worked with, we’ve had many husbands or wives start off by saying, “My spouse is a narcissist!” And then, they realized there was something quite different going on than narcissism. But first, I’ll give you a brief history on narcissism.
All About Narcissism
The first thought of narcissism was published in 1911 by a man named Otto Rank. It was carried on in 1914 by Sigmund Freud (who you’ve probably heard of). Freud actually believed that everybody was a narcissist to a degree. He believed everyone had some narcissism in them. To Freud, narcissism was the “driving force” behind our need for survival: protecting ourselves, wanting to be seen, and wanting to matter.
Narcissism Is Diagnosed From Certain Criteria
It wasn’t until 1980 that the DSM (the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders used by psychologists, counselors, and therapists) actually listed narcissistic personality disorder. With this criteria, the following must be present for a diagnosis of NPD, narcissistic personality disorder. A patient would need to have five out of these nine items.
- One: the patient’s idea and importance of self is exaggerated.
- Two: fantasies about beauty, success and power dominate the individual’s thoughts.
- Three: the person thinks they are special and relate only to other special people.
- Four: they need to be admired all the time.
- Five: they believe they are entitled to most things.
- Six: they manipulate and take advantage of others.
- Seven: they lack empathy (the ability to feel and recognize the feelings and needs of others).
- Eight: they envy other people.
- Nine: their behavior appears haughty or arrogant.
There are three things you really need to know in order to understand this criteria.
Is it causing an impairment?
These nine items need to be causing an impairment in a person’s life. Either in their ability to keep a job or keep relationships.
Was it diagnosed by a professional?
The second thing is it has to be diagnosed by a professional. You’re thinking, “My spouse won’t go to a professional.” I understand this, but you can’t diagnose them yourself. You see, you have a bias toward your spouse. You wouldn’t be able to step outside your relationship with your spouse and see them in an unbiased way. And you wouldn’t be able to truly evaluate whether or not they’re a narcissist.
Narcissism Is A Scale
Maybe the most important part of this is that the DSM almost removed narcissistic personality disorder from the DSM in 2013. Why? Because honestly, narcissism is a scale. Even healthy and stable individuals have some of these traits at any time. The other end of the scale is having all of these traits, full blown, all the time. In every situation. Over a long period of time. But NPD is an actual disorder that causes impairment in someone’s life. And it is rare. There are fewer than 200,000 people a year who are diagnosed with this. And it only accounts to 1% of the population.
“There are fewer than 200,000 people a year diagnosed with NPD. It only accounts to 1% of the population.”
With everyone saying they’re married to a narcissist, it’s likely they aren’t actually married to someone who is struggling with narcissism to that kind of scale… because it’s not that common. It’s very rare.
What’s probably happening is your spouse’s personality traits resemble narcissism. (Because that is about 99% of the world!) You may even have traits that resemble it. Everyone at some point in their life will too. Things like…
- Thinking you’re important
- Wanting to be around successful people
- Dreaming about being more successful
- Wanting admiration from others
- Feeling like you’re entitled to something
- Putting their feelings above that of others
- And, the list goes on…
I’m not saying most people are like this all the time. However, if you were to go through that list, I almost guarantee you could think of a couple of times in your life (if not more!) when you have done those things. I know I have! Even the best people with the best intentions at times can do these things. Not paying attention to how the things that they’re doing or saying have an impact on the people around them. And while we don’t want to have those characteristics, those things don’t make me or you or anyone a bad person. It makes us a flawed person. All of us are.
It’s Dangerous To Self-Diagnose Your Spouse As A Narcissist.
Everything Becomes “Your Spouse’s Fault.”
Here are the dangers in diagnosing your spouse as a narcissist. Number one. Now, everything in your relationship becomes your spouse’s fault, “Because he’s a narcissist.”
You Can Be Unable To See Other Issues
Number two. It can make you unwilling to see any other option because you’ve already made up your mind. This is the problem.
You Can Begin To Treat Your Spouse As A Diagnosis; With A Label
Number three. Once you believe that your spouse is sick or struggling with something, then you will treat them as so. This just makes the whole problem worse.
I worked with a man once who believed his wife was a narcissist. Once he saw her as that everything she did was, “Because she was a narcissist.” If she told him about her day without asking about his? Narcissist. If she got angry at something he said that hurt her. It’s because she’s a narcissist. If she tried to manage their finances? She’s controlling and a narcissist. If she said something without thinking of how it would affect him and hurt him? Narcissist. If she made a decision that hurt him and didn’t seem to care? It’s because she’s a narcissist…
It’s Highly Unlikely That Your Spouse Is A Narcissist
I’m going to tell you what I told him, “Your wife is not a narcissist (or at least it’s extremely unlikely).” Now, just because your spouse isn’t a narcissist (in all likelihood) it doesn’t mean there’s not a problem in your relationship.
If these things continue to happen and it impacts your relationship, something needs to be fixed. But choosing to see your spouse as the problem won’t lead you toward actual change in your relationship.
So Why Is Your Spouse Acting A Certain Way?
Could it be that your spouse’s need for approval and admiration right now is stemming from a past hurt? Maybe they don’t feel good enough. Maybe they lost a job, lost a loved one, or they didn’t get that promotion they wanted. Perhaps they lost a dream they had their entire life.
Maybe they’re chasing acceptance right now (just in all of the wrong ways). Or maybe your spouse is on edge because they feel stressed and overwhelmed. Life is crazy, and they’ve hit a mental breaking point.
Maybe your spouse is controlling because of things that have happened in their past. Maybe they feel out of control in every other area of their life and they’re taking it out on your relationship because they feel like it’s the safest place.
I’m not justifying any of these actions. I’m trying to shed light on the reasons why your spouse might be acting a certain way. I’m trying to give you greater empathy toward them. Seeing your spouse as a personality disorder who has no hope and no way out will keep you stuck. Viewing them as a broken person in pain can help you soften so that your relationship can move forward.
“Seeing your spouse as a personality disorder who has no hope (and no way out) will keep you stuck. Seeing them as a broken person in pain can help you soften so that your relationship can move forward.”
If you feel your spouse is being cold and distant, and you aren’t connecting emotionally, something needs to change. If your spouse thinks more of him/herself than you (or your marriage), again, something needs to change. But it won’t change by focusing on the problem. In fact, that’s how narcissism started.
The Greek myth says the Greek God “Narcissist” had become so focused on himself until all he could see was himself. Don’t focus on the problem so long that all you see is the problem. Start finding the solution! It will only change by focusing on finding a solution and having a vision for a better future.
- You and your spouse can start communicating again.
- Learn how to empathize with each other.
- Discover how to move forward into a better and stronger marriage than ever before!
We want to help you do that!! We want to help you move forward so you don’t stay stuck.
If you and your spouse can’t seem to get along, click here to read more about resolving conflict in your marriage!