By the time you read this article you may already be in deep. You may have already committed or perhaps been married to a narcissistic man. It happens to a lot of women.
Deidre, a spry 28 year-old woman, came to see me recently for counseling, begging for information about what to do about a man she had been dating for two years. She complained that her boyfriend, Steven, “was narcissistic.”
I asked what she meant by the term, since it has been used and misused a great deal in recent years.
“He’s a narcissist,” she nearly shouted at me. “He is the nicest guy you could ever meet,” she continued. “He swept me off my feet at first. I thought it was too good to be true, and now I’m afraid I might be right.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“He was so wonderful at first. He seemed to care. He listened to me. But, I didn’t realize some of his negative traits until I was already in love with him. I’ve come to wonder if he really loves me, or if I’m some object to him. He’s happy when things go his way. He is so confident and accuses me of making too big of a deal about the things that bother me. He confuses me. Now I’m not sure what to do.”
“Well,” I said. “If he truly is narcissistic, the very traits that made you fall in love with him may be the same traits that drive you crazy.”
“Yes,” Deidre said emphatically. “That’s true. His confidence becomes arrogance. His self-assuredness makes me feel insignificant at times. His determination becomes being so strong-willed that he argues with me over any little thing and cannot take a bit of criticism.”
“Tell me more about how he handles criticism,” I said curiously. “This is one of most tell-tale signs of narcissistic traits.”
“Oh, it’s terrible,” she said. “He has temper tantrums and turns things around on me. He says that I misunderstood him and blames me for not listening more carefully for what he meant. It’s always my fault. He never says ‘I’m sorry,’ or if he does, it lacks sincerity.”
“One of the key traits of a narcissistic man is that his ego will be bruised easily,” I said. “He will expect special treatment and then not give that same special treatment to you. You will forever feel like you are getting the short end of the deal.”
“That is exactly how I feel,” she lamented. “But, I love him. I don’t really want to end the relationship. He has so many good qualities. What can I do if I feel like I want to save the relationship?”
“A critical question to ask yourself, as we explore the possibilities,” I continued, “is whether he really loves you! Also, how much is he willing to give to you? How much energy is he willing to expend to save the relationship? How hard is he willing to work to empathize with you and consider your needs?”
Deidre shook her head, indicating that she felt confused. As we continued to discuss her feelings and the nature of her relationship, we discussed several critical issues she would need to consider.
First, she needed to step back and be honest with herself about the relationship. She agreed to take some time away from Steven to reconsider the relationship. She needed to consider whether she was in love with a real person, or whether she was in love with an image or false sense of a person. Was she enamored with his charisma, or in love with his true character traits?
I shared with Deidre the following Scripture: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12: 3)
Second, she needed to determine if he was truly in love with her. She needed to step back to consider whether he really loved her and valued her traits, or whether he cared more about her being an extension of himself. True narcissistic men want to be with someone who will idolize them, not confront them or cause them any distress. They will take much and give little.
Third, assuming she wanted to make it work, she would need to determine if he was willing to work on the relationship as much as she did. The relationship would likely not work if she was the only one working at it. Would he be willing to come to counseling? If so, would he be willing to receive critical feedback and make changes? Would he show that he valued her and empathized with her pain?
Fourth, if he was willing to come to couples counseling, would he be willing to change? It is one thing to come to counseling, and something else to submit to a change process. This requires true humility. Was he willing to receive help offered in the counseling process? Narcissistic men are often rigid and unwilling to truly change. They are often welded to their point of view, considering others as inferior to themselves.
Fifth, she needs to trust that time will tell. If he submits to the counseling process, time will reveal whether he is committed to the change process. She doesn’t need to remain confused, as long as she is completely honest with herself, gains support and makes wise decisions. She will know if he is really willing to change.
Finally, she needed to be prayerful about this relationship. God offers wisdom to those who seek it and would certainly give it to her. Furthermore, she could pray for God to touch his heart and discern whether he was willing to pray together about changes needing to be made in themselves and their relationship.