How Does A Covert Narcissist Act In Marriage?

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Most grandiose are easy to spot. They are the ones bragging to everyone about how great they are and demanding your attention. Covert narcissists are quite different, however, and they can be very difficult to spot. They have the same grandiose ideas and need for their narcissistic supply of adoration, but they use much more subtle methods to get it. If you’re married to one of these narcissists, you’ll want to know the insidious techniques they will use to manipulate you and your children. 

Covert narcissists are adept at using guilt to manipulate their spouses, and they know how to gaslight you so you’ll feel like you’re going insane. They will also use triangulation to play you against other family members. Though more subtle, they can be equally abusive as grandiose narcissists. 

To know if you’re up against a covert narcissistic spouse, let’s explore the various ways they will manipulate you to get their narcissistic supply. It’s also important to better understand the differences between the two main types of narcissism. 

How is Covert Narcissism Different from Grandiose Narcissism?

Covert or vulnerable narcissists are typically more introverted than grandiose narcissists. They don’t seek the limelight in the same way that grandiose or overt narcissists do. Instead of bragging about their accomplishments, they tend to downplay them. 

Covert narcissists still have the same grandiose ideas about themselves as overt narcissists and they desire acknowledgment of those ideas. They want people to see how great they are and compliment them for it, but they don’t want to have to brag openly about those accomplishments. 

They will often devote all their time to doing good deeds while at the same time neglecting the needs of their own family members. In their minds, this shows the world what a good person they are and they will be acknowledged for that eventually. If asked, they will downplay their contribution or even say something self-deprecating. 

When they do something like that, their hope is that you will contradict them and talk up what they did to everyone around. If you don’t do that, they may engage in ever more manipulative tactics to get the narcissistic supply they so desperately need. 

What are the Differences in Manipulation Tactics with Covert Narcissists?

There are a number of tactics the covert narcissist uses and most are less obvious than the manipulation tactics of the grandiose narcissist. The covert narcissist likes to employ passive-aggressive techniques like back-handed compliments to point out how they are better by comparison or to get recognition. 

They will also use subtle tactics of blaming and shaming those around them. A covert narcissistic mother might say, for example, “I’ve given up everything to make sure you could succeed and this is how you repay me?” 

Covert narcissists are also masters using the tactic of triangulation to play family members against one another. They will say one thing to your children and another to you. This can be a very disruptive and confusing situation that has incredibly damaging effects on family dynamics. 

How Can I Know if My Spouse is a Covert Narcissist?

How Can I Know if My Spouse is a Covert Narcissist

As a spouse, the covert narcissist employs several tactics to control their loved ones and get the narcissistic supply they need. They frequently make themselves out to be the victim in any confrontation. They use gaslighting to get you to question if you really did say what they claim you did. 

You will often come out of any argument feeling confused about whether you are a bad spouse or not. You will also frequently be punished with the silent treatment in which your spouse may ignore you for days. They are also good at pointing out that you are not important to them and they can easily live without you.

Any apparent emotional availability you experience with a covert narcissist is usually done to shame you and manipulate you into doing something for your narcissistic spouse. They do something that seems generous and loving, but it is because they want something from you or they do it to show how wonderful they are in comparison to what you do for them. 

In that case, they are likely to point out to other family members just how much they do for you and how little you give in return. They also have little regard for your needs, interests, or time. They may frequently be late for a date or other event you’ve planned, and they may not respond to texts or answer the phone when you call. These are not so subtle ways they let you know that you are irrelevant. 

Finally, they are often smug and condescending even while showing how humble they are, particularly in comparison to you or other loved ones. Patterns of this kind of behavior strongly suggest your spouse is a covert narcissist.

What Should I Do to Protect My Children from Narcissistic Abuse?

If you’re married to a covert narcissist, they will definitely manipulate your children. They will attempt to control them in the same way they do you, because like you, they see their children as mere extensions of themselves. 

This kind of insidious emotional abuse can leave lifetime scars that can hamper your children’s ability to live their lives to the fullest. Protecting them from this abuse is a delicate undertaking. You want them to understand what’s happening so they won’t buy into the abuse, but you also may not want to completely destroy their relationship with their other parent. 

Probably the best thing you can do is help them engage in frequent self-care techniques and teach them how to establish and maintain strong, healthy personal boundaries. Make sure they know they have the right to do that even with a parent and make it clear that loving parents will respect those boundaries. 

Should I Leave My Covert Narcissistic Spouse?

Should I Leave My Covert Narcissistic Spouse

Whether or not to leave your covert narcissistic spouse is a decision that only you can make, but you should be aware that they are unlikely to change. Certain types of therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, can help a narcissist to change and reduce their narcissistic techniques, but before that can happen, they have to admit they have a problem. 

Narcissists in general are unlikely to do that, but even if they do, they will have to commit to long-term therapy to explore the roots of their personality disorder and change their behaviors. Some narcissists do seek help, but most do not, and so, you have to think it’s more likely your spouse will be among the latter. 

If you don’t want to leave them, you must take the appropriate steps to protect yourself from their abuse. You need strong boundaries and consistent self-care practices to feel emotionally fulfilled. You’ll have to realize that they won’t be able to give you the support that healthy partners normally do. 

Final Thoughts

Covert narcissists in a marriage are extremely manipulative and emotionally abusive. They are more difficult to spot than grandiose narcissists, but their motives are the same, and they are not able to support you in the way a healthy partner can. 

It’s extremely important if you believe you’re married to a covert narcissist, you’ll need to take the appropriate steps to protect yourself and any children you share with them. If not, the abuse will continue and can leave long-lasting scars. 

It’s vital to also understand how the covert narcissistic spouse might change over time, and this post will give you more insight into the types of covert narcissists and how age affects them.


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Narcissistic abuse takes a terrible toll on your life. I’m Patricia, and my mother is a narcissist, so I know what you’re going through. These blog posts will help you understand narcissism better and give you tips for dealing with the narcissists in your life. Healing starts here!

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