Updated: Aug 21
Understanding the difference between someone who has narcissistic personality traits and narcissistic personality disorder – a clinical diagnosis – is important. If your partner does have a narcissistic personality disorder, here’s what you should consider before embarking on couples therapy.
Narcissism occurs on a spectrum.
Most people have at least a few narcissistic traits.
People who have a lot of narcissistic traits can be toxic.
The term “narcissist” refers to someone who has a clinical diagnosis of “narcissistic personality disorder” or pathological narcissism.
Many survivors of narcissistic abuse think that attending couples therapy may save their relationship, but couples therapy is usually very unhelpful if one partner is a narcissist or has a high level of narcissistic traits.
If you suspect you’re being abused, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit their website – please be aware computer usage can be monitored; be safe.
You’ve probably heard the term “narcissist” thrown around a lot online in reference to someone who seems overly confident. While there is such a thing as having a healthy amount of narcissism, people who score high on narcissistic traits don’t usually have healthy personalities. Their narcissism can even lead to a specific type of abuse known as narcissistic abuse.
How do I know if my partner is a narcissist?
Narcissism occurs on a spectrum. It’s most commonly measured using a tool called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) and possible scores range from 0 to 40. The average score is typically in the low or mid-teens. You can have narcissistic traits while still having a healthy personality – but you can also have an unhealthy personality that does damage to your relationships without being a pathological narcissist.
It’s important to know that not everyone with narcissistic personality traits has pathological narcissism since pathological narcissism is rare. People meet the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder when their narcissism affects their ability to function. A narcissist will usually struggle with dysfunctional interpersonal relationships – romantically, with peers, at work, and with family – because of their lack of empathy. They may also be attention-seeking and intolerant of disagreements or being questioned because of their belief that they are superior to everyone around them.
Traits of a narcissist
Most narcissists exhibit similar traits. Keep in mind that your partner doesn’t have to have all of these traits to have narcissistic personality disorder.
Here are some traits that signal you may be dealing with a narcissist:
A sense of superiority
A constant need for attention/validation
High level of perfectionism
Need for control
Never takes accountability
Lack of empathy
Poor or no boundaries
Views everything as a potential threat/attack on them
Driven by their emotions, and seeks external sources of validation
Inability to think abstractly/with nuance or hold space for multiple perspectives.
Fear of rejection and struggling to be vulnerable or trust others because of it.
High levels of anxiety
Often project their behaviors onto others – there’s a saying that you know a narcissist is cheating because they’ll be accusing you of it.
If your partner has these traits, while it seems like couples therapy may help you understand each other better, it’s actually unlikely to be helpful.
Living with a narcissistic spouse can be emotionally taxing and challenging. Narcissists are known for their lack of empa
thy, constant need for admiration, and manipulative behavior. If you are in a marriage with a narcissistic partner, it is essential to find ways to cope and protect your emotional well-being.
The following are practical tips and strategies for dealing with a narcissistic spouse in a marriage:
Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries and communicate them to your spouse. This can include boundaries around communication, personal space, and behavior. Consistently enforcing these boundaries is critical to protecting your emotional well-being.
Focus on your needs: In a narcissistic relationship, the focus is often on the needs of the narcissist. It is essential to prioritize your needs and take care of yourself. This can include engaging in activities you enjoy, spending time with friends and family, and practicing mindfulness or meditation.
Seek support: Surround yourself with supportive friends and family who can offer emotional support and guidance. Consider joining a support group for individuals in similar situations.
Avoid engaging in power struggles: Narcissists thrive on power struggles and conflict. Avoid engaging in arguments or debates with your spouse, as it will only escalate the situation. Stay calm and communicate your needs clearly.
Practice assertiveness: Assertiveness is essential in dealing with a narcissistic spouse. Practice expressing your opinions and needs in a clear and direct manner, without being aggressive or confrontational.
Engage in individual therapy: Individual therapy can be a helpful tool for coping with a narcissistic spouse. A therapist can provide you with support, guidance, and strategies for protecting your emotional well-being in the relationship.
Remember, coping with a narcissistic spouse is a challenging and ongoing process. Be patient with yourself and take things one day at a time. By focusing on your needs, setting boundaries, and seeking support, you can protect your emotional well-being and find ways to survive and thrive in the relationship.
Couples therapy with a narcissist
At the beginning of a relationship, narcissists usually present as amazing partners. They might engage in love bombing, where they shower you with compliments, affection, attention, and gifts. By the time you’re thinking about therapy, it’s likely you’re desperate for help and seeking intervention because the relationship – and you – are in crisis.
A relationship with a narcissist is emotionally exhausting and can take a toll on your mental health. You may feel unappreciated thanks to their devaluing campaign, question your own reality and perceptions because of their gaslighting, and have fights that never seem to have a resolution because a narcissist can never hold space for any perspective but their own. Because narcissists are generally incredibly charming and skilled at impression management, they can even win an unsuspecting therapist over and use therapy as a way to further devalue and control their partner.
Couples therapy requires a give and take from both partners. Both parties need to openly examine how their behaviors impact the other person. A narcissist is incapable of doing this without taking a huge hit to their already fragile self-esteem. When narcissists attend couples therapy, it usually becomes weaponized. Only skilled therapists are usually able to navigate the delicate process of therapy and the relational dynamics of such relationships.
Questions to ask when looking for a therapist
Attending therapy for your own healing process – because yes, dealing with a narcissist can wreak havoc on your life – is highly recommended. However, it’s important to find a therapist who is skilled in what you need, as not all therapists may specialize in treating survivors of narcissistic abuse. Here are some questions to ask.
How familiar are you with narcissistic abuse?
Have you treated survivors of emotional abuse?
Do you have experience working with people who have complex PTSD (c-PTSD) due to abusive relationships?
It’s important to have a therapist who understands what you’ve been through or are going through. Don’t be shy about interviewing potential therapists and moving on if they don’t seem like a good fit.
Get support from a qualified therapist in the South Florida area
Seeking out therapy can help you in many ways – and you don’t need your partner to be on board to do it. Individual therapy can help you learn to set boundaries again, rebuild your self-image, and challenge any negative or harmful ideas you may have built about yourself due to your partner’s narcissistic tendencies or abuse. Couples therapy should only be attempted when your partner has received individual therapy to address their personality disorder and has been deemed safe to proceed in couples therapy.
It’s important to know that this is not work you can do for your partner, and they must engage in this process of their own sincere volition in order for it to be helpful. Seeking help and working through these issues is important for your healing as an individual; therapy can also help you decide if this relationship and its dynamics are something you want to continue committing to. Having support from a highly-trained therapist who can hold space and guide you through this process is vital.
The team at Love Discovery is ready to welcome you with open arms. If you’re ready to get started in therapy to help facilitate healing within yourself and your interpersonal relationships, make an appointment with any of our therapists today. Feeling hesitant about how we can help? Call 305-605-5683 to speak to one of our wellness coordinators.