Key Characteristics of a Narcissistic Spouse

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Key Characteristics of a Narcissistic Spouse

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) in a spouse can exacerbate marital problems and cause a lot of pain. In my series on divorcing a narcissist, I have discussed the general characteristics of NPD and what to do before divorcing a narcissist. This third installment continues the discussion of characteristics of narcissism in spouses. An expert in personality disorders, Dr. Todd Grande, has explored narcissism in marriages, and he identifies ways that husbands and wives show that they have NPD. If you’ve ever wondered whether your spouse has NPD —this blog should answer that question.

1. Perpetual Disappointment

If there is a way to find fault in their spouse, the narcissist will. Both husbands and wives are particularly critical of appearance, but they will put down their spouse for many other reasons, including contributions to the marriage financially or around the house, education level, and parenting. Nothing a narcissist’s spouse does will be good enough, and if they give up trying, they will be accused of being lazy, so it is a no-win situation. The narcissistic spouse will go further, attempting to get friends, family or children to join in the disrespect.

2. Lack of Trust

Whether it is jealousy of the spouse’s relationships outside of the marriage, or a conviction that the spouse will fail at anything they try, the narcissist simply does not trust their spouse. Grande uses the example of a home improvement project. No matter the husband’s skill level, the wife will be skeptical about the husband’s ability to deliver. She may even hire someone to go back and do it “right,” after the project is over. The narcissistic husband will be unable to tolerate his wife’s connection with other men, at work or socially.

3. Wanting a “Better” Spouse

A spouse with narcissism has the classic narcissistic fantasies of success, wealth and power. According to Grande, a wife’s fantasy may be going back in time to marry someone more worthy—someone who is a better provider, a better lover, or even taller. According to Grande, she will demonstrate this with phrases like, “I never should have settled,” or “I should have listened to my family members.” Husbands will never be satisfied with their wives, thinking they deserve something better. This, as Grande puts is “is a recipe for an affair,” and narcissistic husbands frequently feel justified in infidelity.

4. Refusal to Accept Responsibility.

In a familiar example, the couple goes to marriage counseling. Counseling may continue for a while, but when the therapist encourages the narcissist to take responsibility or make some positive changes, their attitude toward the counselor will quickly change. According to Grande, if the therapist were to point out the narcissist’s part in creating the marital problems, or if the therapist does not completely buy into their narrative, you can bet that that therapist will not be working with that couple much longer.

5 Refusing Intimacy

Narcissists recognize the power of intimacy and withhold it as a form of punishment or control. Physical intimacy will be denied or treated like a chore. Emotional intimacy and connection are highly unlikely – often the narcissist will be impatient or resentful of attempts to connect, making their spouse feel like they are asking for too much.

6. Thoughtlessness

When a narcissist makes plans, they only consider themselves. While expecting complete focus and fulfillment from their spouse, the narcissist is indifferent to the needs or wants of others, so may neglect to buy gifts on special days or purchase gifts that show little thought. Ironically, they expect a high level of attention and indulgence from their spouse.

7. Downplaying Accomplishments

Whether it’s a career, household, parenting, or other ways that a spouse may shine, the narcissist refuses any acknowledgment. The narcissist will turn positives into negatives and deny their spouse’s skills because it doesn’t play into the narrative that the spouse is a disappointment. The narcissist may not admit it, but they are envious of their spouse’s successes.

If these characteristics resonate with you about your current relationship and you’re ready to take the next step of contacting a divorce lawyer, know that I have personal experience with divorcing a narcissist. Contact me for a free, no-obligation consultation. I can prepare and guide you through the legal and emotional minefield of divorcing a narcissistic spouse. Alternately, I would be happy to help guide you to an appropriate mental health professional experienced with treating individuals traumatized by their experiences with their narcissistic wives.


About The Author

Lloyd A. Malech
Malech Law is located in downtown Bethesda, Maryland. For more than 25 years, Mr. Malech has provided aggressive and effective representation for his clients in Maryland and the District of Columbia. He has been honored with the Lawyers of Distinction Award Recognizing Excellence in the Area of Divorce and Family Law for the past three consecutive years and has just been recognized as a Family Law Top 10 Attorney for 2021 by “Attorney and Practice Magazine.” Visit or call (202) 441-2107

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