I’ve been doing a lot of reading and believe I’m married to a Narcissist. He’s a very powerful man, demands things go his way, dismisses my thoughts and feelings, and displays no empathy for me. Everything I read says there’s no hope – Narcissists never change. Please help me understand what I can do.
First of all, slow down. While the Internet provides us with instant information, we must be wise about what we read and believe. Moreover, there is quite likely more hope than you might believe.
That said, your brief description of your husband certainly suggests he has narcissistic tendencies and possibly worse – a significant disorder. However, too many people are far too quick to gather a little bit of information and form an opinion on that information. Diagnosing Narcissistic Personality Disorder is serious business and should be done only within a professional evaluation.
Many powerful men have narcissistic traits; that is significantly different than having Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). NPD is marked by the following: a sense of grandiosity and of being special; a sense of entitlement; a lack of empathy; a tendency to exploit others; and a tendency to require admiration.
Again, Narcissism is typically measured in terms of a continuum. You can have some of these traits, many of them, or perhaps even some of them to a certain extent and others more extensively. Be careful with labels and quick diagnoses.
What cannot be denied is that you are in emotional distress. Because your husband demands his way and dismisses your thoughts and feelings, no doubt you feel small and insignificant. I suspect you feel voiceless and have grown resentful of his power. Something needs to change. What you can do to intervene in this destructive process within your marriage?
Share your feelings with your husband. Notice I said share feelings, not judgments. It obviously wouldn’t be helpful to say to him, “I’ve been reading up on things and believe you have Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” Undoubtedly he’d become defensive and you would have created an even bigger problem. Rather, share how you feel devalued when he refuses to listen to your viewpoint, or insignificant when he makes a decision for you both.
Encourage him to validate your viewpoint. Holding fast to your perspective (not stubbornly, but clearly), ask him to affirm how you see things. Don’t expect instant changes, but share your perceptions repeatedly with him. If and when he attempts to talk over you, ask him gently to listen to your perspective.
Acknowledge and validate his viewpoint. Tell your husband you understand his feelings and what he prefers, assuring him you know where he’s coming from. Take your time to ensure he understands that you “get him.” Don’t try to talk him out of his opinon.
Ask if you can collaborate on the issue. Offer possible solutions that incorporate his preference as well as your preference. Again, refuse to engage in any kind of argument. Practice Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building the other up according to their needs.”
Notice when you slip unwittingly into codependent traits. You cannot afford to slip into bickering, defensive patterns, withdrawing, or silence. You must hold firm to healthy ways of interacting. It takes two to tango – don’t participate in those destructive patterns.
Gently insist on intensive marriage counseling. Narcissistic traits won’t just disappear. You need the expertise of a skilled counselor to help your husband see his self-centered, grandiose perspective. He’ll need to practice empathy training, active listening, and validation, and incorporate these into your relationship. Narcissism in marriage creates “crazymaking.” However, a skilled counselor can help your spouse identify these self-defeating traits and guide you both in overcoming them with healthy communication and conflict-resolution skills.