Narcissists are well known for their inability to maintain long-term relationships very successfully. Part of the problem lies in their inability to feel or express empathy and deep emotions like love. Doing so makes them feel vulnerable which is not something they can tolerate. But is it even possible to have a successful marriage with a narcissist? The answer might surprise you.
It doesn’t happen often, but it is possible to have a long-term relationship with a narcissist. Whether or not you would describe the marriage as successful is another story. Under certain circumstances, it is possible to have a successful marriage with a narcissist, but this is truly the exception.
Navigating a relationship with a narcissist is tricky. They are manipulative, selfish, and have their own reality. Their inability to express their emotions and their fear of intimacy often leave their partner feeling unloved. But let’s explore those rare occasions when you might have a successful marriage with a narcissist.
Can Your Marriage to a Narcissist be Successful?
Most marriages involving narcissists are not ultimately successful. It is, however, important to distinguish between people who are narcissistic, meaning self-absorbed and perhaps insensitive versus someone who is a pathological narcissist.
Many people can be selfish and insensitive without truly being a pathological narcissist. Though they may be high on the scale of narcissism, they are not pathological which typically means they often have some very caring behaviors.
With someone like that, a marriage can be very successful. With a pathological narcissist – someone who has been diagnosed or meets the criteria to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) – it’s a different story. These are people who have very little capacity for empathy or caring behaviors.
It’s not that they don’t have emotions, it’s that they don’t experience them or express them as healthy people do. They fear being exposed as worthless and that fear drives many of their behaviors. They can’t allow others to see them as weak or inferior.
For that reason, they can be very abusive, and that simply doesn’t often result in a successful marriage. As psychologist, author, and narcissism expert Elinor Greenberg states, “ I do not believe that it is possible to have what most people would call a normal marriage with a Narcissist, let alone one without abuse and self-serving lies. The relationships that survive do so mainly because the non-narcissistic mate has high self-esteem, a good reason for staying, is able to maintain boundaries, and is adaptable and easy-going.”
For a marriage to a narcissist to be successful, therefore, it means the partner of the narcissist will have to be a healthy individual with strong boundaries and an adaptable nature. They must often sacrifice many of their own desires to please the narcissist and make the marriage successful.
Can You Get a Narcissist to Change?
It’s a mistake to go into any relationship thinking that you will make the other person change. It happens frequently, however, because people think that if they just love the other person enough, they will overcome their demons and change.
While that works well in the movies, it’s not something that happens in real life, at least not very often. Yet, many people continue to think they can make someone change.
It is particularly difficult to get a narcissist to change. Part of the reason for that is that for a narcissist to admit they have done something wrong or need help, they must admit they are less than perfect. They have built up a false self-image since childhood on the idea that they are superior human beings.
They have portrayed an image of perfection and admitting even the slightest flaw jeopardizes that image. Unlike the image they project, the narcissist is filled with shame and self-loathing, but it could cause them to have a mental breakdown to admit that.
This is part of why they fear intimacy so much. They just don’t want someone to get close enough to see what they believe is a horrible truth about themselves. That’s why they keep even their closest relatives at arm’s length.
Because they can’t admit there is anything wrong with them, they won’t seek the professional help they need. They also are not motivated to change. They have convinced themselves there is nothing wrong with them. If there’s a problem in the marriage, it’s you, not them.
Can Couples Therapy Help a Marriage Involving a Narcissist?
Most narcissists are resistant to therapy for many of the same reasons mentioned above. They believe there is nothing wrong with them because they have to believe that to maintain the illusion of perfection.
You won’t usually get a narcissist to agree to couples therapy, but if you do, be prepared to have all the blame for anything wrong in the relationship to be laid at your feet. Narcissists can be pretty good at putting on a nice, normal mask for the therapist too, so that complicates the matter.
Narcissists can say all the right things in a therapy session, but they don’t act on those sentiments in the relationship. What’s more, narcissists are expert gaslighters and can easily make it seem as though you are the one who causes all the problems.
In fact, they can be so good at their game that you might even believe it yourself unless your self-esteem is bullet-proof. This is why couples therapy in those couples where narcissism is a factor often fails.
The reality is that unless a narcissist is truly willing to look inward at their own self-esteem issues, therapy is unlikely to help them change. They have to be committed to working on themselves, and when they are, you won’t likely see many changes for a long time. Even then, they will probably be small changes at best.
How Can You Make Your Marriage Successful Despite the Narcissist?
To make your marriage successful in spite of the narcissism, you are going to have to prioritize your self-care and your interests. You will also have to strictly enforce your boundaries.
This means that you must insist on having the time you need for yourself and doing what you need to do to pursue your dreams. You also will have to accept that you won’t get the kind of loving attention and support that you would get from a healthy partner.
You’ll have to look to other people in your support network for the kind of support and encouragement that most people get from a spouse. Narcissists simply aren’t capable of giving you that kind of emotional support.
You’ll also have to be vigilant for any boundary violations, and you’ll have to live with the narcissist’s unpredictable nature and attempts to manipulate and control you. Strong, consistently enforced boundaries are key to preventing that kind of emotional abuse.
It takes an exceptionally kind, loving, and committed person to make a marriage to a narcissist work. It will mean many sacrifices on your part, more so than what the narcissist will do for you.
What Should You Do if You Decide to Divorce the Narcissist?
If you decide you can’t take it anymore and would prefer to divorce your narcissistic spouse, there are several things you’ll want to do first. Get your finances in order, and if possible separate your money from theirs.
You’ll also want to make a plan for who will leave the house you’re sharing, and if that’s you, determine where you will go. Once you have planned for that, you will also want to determine how you might divide any material possessions, including the house if you own it together.
If you have children, the situation is further complicated. You’ll need to think about issues of custody and prepare for a battle there. If you have any evidence that could help an argument of yours in court, you should take steps to get it together and safeguard it.
You should also consult a lawyer and ask them what you need to do to legally prepare for what is to come. It’s vital to follow your lawyer’s advice. It’s usually to your advantage to go through the court system since that minimizes the narcissist’s ability to control the situation.
Above all, prepare yourself for a fight. Once a narcissist sees you as the enemy, they will proceed to do everything they can to completely destroy you.
Most marriages involving narcissists are doomed to failure. In some very limited circumstances, however, marriage to a narcissist can be successful. It depends, however, on the personality of the partner. To make marriage to a narcissist successful, it is the narcissist’s spouse who must be willing to give more than they receive.
If you’re going to attempt to make your marriage to a narcissist successful, you’re going to need all the help you can get. This article offers more valuable information on how you can live with a narcissist and be happy.
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