Narcissism is a set of behaviors in which a person is excessively self-absorbed, selfish, egotistic, or vain. A narcissistic spouse is a person who exhibits these characteristics in a marriage, and either a man or a woman in such a relationship can exhibit narcissistic behavior. The signs of a narcissistic spouse can vary significantly and are not always overtly obvious. A person who lacks empathy, for example, may have a problem with narcissism, though this lack of empathy may not be displayed overtly and may therefore be difficult to recognize.
Another characteristic of a narcissistic spouse is the inability to lend validity to the emotions, thoughts, or ideas of others. The narcissist must always be right, and the narcissistic spouse must always get his or her way. If things do not go according to that person's plans — which are very often unrealistic — he or she will blame others and rarely, if ever, accept blame for the way events turn out. Narcissists tend to be exceptionally sensitive to criticism, so much to the point that they may become paranoid and attack others for criticism that was not actually leveled. The sense that everyone is out to "get" the narcissistic spouse is a common one.
Narcissists do not generally value depth, love, and commitment in a relationship, so it may be impossible to actually foster a loving and caring relationship with a narcissistic spouse. That person is also very unlikely to admit that there is a problem, or if he or she does acknowledge a problem, the blame will rest on the other partner. Such distance may be the result of severe insecurities on the part of the narcissistic spouse, though that person may have little or no recognition of the fact that such an insecurity even exists. The narcissist is even less likely to seek help; ideas about how to address a problem will usually get dismissed out of hand as outlandish and in no way helpful.
Attention is of high value to narcissists, and they will seek it out often, very likely at the expense of others. Creating a problem in order to come up with a solution, dominating conversations, demeaning his or her spouse to make himself or herself look better, and otherwise taking part in behaviors that draw attention to the narcissist are common characteristics. While the narcissist will not often be able to take criticism well, he or she will usually have no problem criticizing others, often harshly.