The word narcissist is used very liberally these days, especially in the world of divorce.  That is not to say that there are not a lot of narcissists out there because, well they do seem to be everywhere!  However, not everyone who is self-centered or a gaslighter is a narcissist.  So the question is, if you think your partner is a narcissist, what do you do?

What is a narcissist?

First, let’s cover the definition of a narcissist.  A narcissist is someone who has a psychological disorder called narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). NPD is characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, or beauty.  It’s important to note that not everyone who displays some narcissistic traits or behaviors has NPD. For more detailed information, please see the Mayo Clinic’s description on NPD.  The diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder requires a comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional. 

What are some common traits and behaviors of narcissists?

A narcissist typically treats their spouse in a manner that revolves around their own needs, desires, and ego. While it’s important to note that not all individuals with narcissistic tendencies will display the exact same behavior, here are some common patterns in how narcissists may treat their spouses:

  1. Grandiosity & entitlement: Narcissists often have an inflated sense of self-importance and believe they are deserving of special treatment. They may expect their spouse to cater to their needs without question, viewing themselves as superior and entitled to privileges.
  2. Lack of empathy: Narcissists struggle to truly understand or connect with their spouse’s emotions or experiences. They may dismiss or invalidate their partner’s feelings, viewing them as irrelevant or unimportant compared to their own.
  3. Self-centeredness: Narcissists often prioritize their own needs above their spouse’s, showing little empathy or consideration for their partner’s feelings or desires. They may consistently seek attention, admiration, and validation from their spouse while neglecting to reciprocate.
  4. Lack of accountability: Narcissists frequently struggle to take responsibility for their actions or admit fault. They may deflect blame onto their spouse or others, making it challenging to resolve conflicts or address issues within the relationship.
  5. Manipulation & control: Narcissists may use various manipulative tactics to control their spouse and maintain a position of power in the relationship. This can include emotional manipulation, gaslighting (making their partner doubt their own perceptions or sanity), or using guilt and coercion to get what they want.
  6. Arrogance and superiority: Narcissists often display arrogance and a belief in their superiority over others. They may belittle or demean others to bolster their own self-esteem.
  7. Emotional abuse: Narcissists may engage in emotional abuse, which can take various forms such as constant criticism, belittling, or humiliating their spouse. They may also use emotional withdrawal or the silent treatment as a means of punishment or control.

Please note: Not all people who have some of these traits are narcissists. This list is not to be used as a diagnostic tool. Please consult a mental health professional in order to get a proper diagnosis.

What do I do if I suspect my partner has NPD?

It’s important to remember that being married to someone with narcissistic traits can be emotionally challenging and damaging. If you or someone you know is in a relationship with someone with these behaviors, seeking support from a therapist or counselor who specializes in narcissistic abuse as well as a divorce coach can be helpful in understanding the dynamics and exploring possible strategies for coping and/or exiting the relationship safely.  

I have worked with many clients who have been in very challenging, high conflict relationships with people who have NPD.  I have also been in a relationship with someone who was diagnosed as having NPD.  Going through a divorce with someone who has NPD is incredibly difficult and will quite honestly bring you to your knees at times.  Having the support of a knowledgeable divorce coach, a therapist and a good attorney who are all skilled with how to handle someone with NPD, is incredibly important and necessary to help you get through the journey. While it is challenging to go through a divorce with an NPD partner, it is not impossible.  It takes strength and perseverance and once you get to the other side, you will be amazed at how wonderful your next chapter will be!  

For some additional reading, here is a great article by Nicole Arzt, LMFT, on The Top 10 Tips for Divorcing a Narcissist.

For recommendations on books to read, please check out my Top 10 Books on Co Parenting & Divorce. There are two in particular, Divorcing a Narcissist by Tina Swithern and Splitting by Bill Eddy that are very helpful. 

If you or someone you know is married to a partner who has been diagnosed, or you suspect has NPD, I am here to help.  Please reach out for support to: