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What Is the Effect of Narcissism on Marriage?

By T. Carrier
Updated Feb 22, 2024
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There are many different effects of narcissism on marriage and a lot depends on the individual couple, but some of the biggest include blame issues, resentment, problems with trust, and emotional abuse. When a couple has children serious tensions in parenting can also arise. Things are complicated by the degree of narcissism one spouse shows, and when both spouses tend towards the disorder they the couple often needs to do significant work to maintain a happy balance in their relationship.

Blame Issues and Resentment

Marriage is, ideally, a partnership. If one individual in the relationship is abnormally self-involved, the other can become resentful over time. People who have an exaggerated sense of self-importance often find it very difficult to accept responsibility for faults and shortcomings. They also tend to be very demanding when it comes to attention and praise, often insisting that everyone around them view them in the inflated terms in which they view themselves. This has the potential to aggravate the remaining spouse, who may feel as though his or her needs aren’t being met equally.

The narcissist may also seek to disproportionately shift blame for any wrongdoings or failings to the other. People with this affliction often see themselves as virtually infallible, and as a consequence they often believe that if something has gone wrong it simply must be because of someone else. In a marriage this sort of one-sidedness can be very trying for the spouse who must shoulder the brunt of most blame, whether deserved or not, and often leads to self-esteem issues.

Loss of Trust

One partner's need for constant adoration or praise can also diminish the honesty and trust that is key to maintaining a healthy partnership. The narcissist may begin to seek self-affirmation outside of the marriage, in which case infidelity can become an issue. A husband or wife may also become an enabler, which can erode the couple’s intimacy and leave the non-narcissist feeling as if he or she is “on the outside,” unable to share honest thoughts and feelings.

Personal and Social Life Issues

People who suffer from this affliction often have a difficult time understanding how their actions affect others, and it can be hard for them to think about the long-term effects of their self-involvement. This often leads to money troubles and budget-busting for couples. Such behavior can also carry into the narcissist’s job, creating professional consequences that then facilitate more economic and personal strife. Social relationships forged by the couple could suffer a strong blow as well.

Manipulation and Potential for Abuse

In some cases, the narcissist who lacks empathy and concern for others may become a manipulator. His or her wants and needs overrule the wants and needs of everyone else, including the spouse. This often lays the groundwork for emotional abuse.

Parenting Conflicts

Special issues also arise if the marriage includes children or plans for children. The non-narcissist partner may find himself or herself assuming the bulk of parenting duties and taking almost solo responsibility for setting boundaries, issuing praise, and meting out punishments. In addition, the narcissist’s behavioral patterns may carry over into interactions with the children. Young people are very impressionable, particularly when it comes to the example set by their parents, and their psyches can really be damaged when they feel that they aren’t “good enough” or can’t live up to a parent’s expectations.

How Narcissism is Diagnosed

Not all narcissists have been officially diagnosed, and many people carry elements of the condition without its being defining. Situations of high stress and uncertainty tend to bring it out. The effect of narcissism on marriage can be profound no matter how serious the condition, but is often the most pronounced in cases of a true and debilitating disorder. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is an officially recognized mental illness marked by a lack of empathy, exaggeration of accomplishments, inflated sense of entitlement, and an excessive need for attention and admiration. Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes the disease, but it’s often thought to be a combination of hormonal or brain chemistry imbalance and abusive or lax parenting during formative years.

Treatment Options

A marriage in which one or both spouses display narcissistic tendencies usually requires lot of counseling to stay functional. Most marriage and family psychiatrists recommend that people in these types of relationships commit to regular therapy that is open-ended, which is to say potentially indefinite. Emotional abuse can have a lifelong effect on the afflicted individual, and the resentment and jealousy that so often surface don’t usually go away on their own. When a union is not a balanced and true partnership all parties involved suffer. Marriages usually do best when the narcissistic individual recognizes that a change is needed and takes regular steps to remedy the situation.

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Discussion Comments
By anon993770 — On Dec 14, 2015

I find the loneliness hardest. Not being shown any empathy or understanding and being criticized. If he has a problem then its expected I help fix it but if i have a problem I get no support except being told I am inadequate in some way or the tough love which is a lecture about how hopeless I am. I have resorted to not speaking to him about my business, which is not good in the long term but helps in the short term.

By anon993428 — On Nov 14, 2015

Narcissists can undermine your self-esteem, but may be hard to recognize until you're in a close relationship with them. If you are, learn how to set boundaries and about dealing with a narcissist.

Darlene L.

By anon993379 — On Nov 10, 2015

Narcissists can undermine the self-esteem of their partner, who feels unloved and unimportant, because their feelings and needs get ignored or dismissed. Partners need to raise their self-esteem and learn to be assertive and set boundaries.

Darlene L.

By anon954522 — On Jun 02, 2014

I've been searching for some time now for a word to describe my fiancé. This article has described him so perfectly. For 10 years I have gone through hell over and over with him. I don't wish this on even my worst enemy.

By anon352935 — On Oct 26, 2013

I pray to God that anyone who is in a relationship with someone who is a narcissist finds the help they need to leave the person. You are not alone. People do not understand what it's like to live with these types of people. You are *not* crazy. It's not you. I do believe God sees it all and he will judge that person. Stay strong. Read the bible.

These people are fools and don't care to realize what they are doing is wrong. I feel awful knowing that people have to deal with this in silence. It's hard to describe this situation to other people as the narcissist person seems so wonderful to others. I wish I'd understood the signs more clearly in the beginning of our relationship. He was trying to isolate me from my friends and family. Before you know it you've lost your friends and family and have no support system. It's wrong! You know it. Start documenting everything they say. They are very good at arguing and manipulating communication!

Stay strong. Remember, you are not crazy. It's them. Don't let them change you as a good person. Try talking to someone you trust and will believe you. God bless everyone in this situation. I know how you feel and a lot of other people (in silence) do too.

By anon351216 — On Oct 11, 2013

A load came off my shoulders when I read this, as my friends have also told me- I am not the crazy one. I don't think that I will ever heal from 20 years of abuse from being married to a narcissistic, mental health counselor.

By anon341972 — On Jul 16, 2013

God sees it all. He knows the truth. I know they will lie and say things that happened did not and try to make you feel like you are the crazy one. God knows the truth and will prevail.

By anon328215 — On Apr 02, 2013

I have been married to a narcissist for almost 37 years. I have always wondered what was "wrong" with him. It was a never-ending job to try to please him; everything I did was criticized.

The kids or I would get the blame for all of his problems whether we were present or not. Our kids are 33 and 31 now and he is still trying to control them. I left him six months ago and he is still trying to control and manipulate me also. I learned about narcissism about a month ago. I felt like I was reading the story of our lives.

My husband fits the description of a narcissist to a "T". Since then, I have been reading everything I could to learn more about this mental illness. My next step is divorce.

He is threatening to destroy everything that belongs to me if I don't come back, but I have to get out of this for my own health. I am on a fixed income, but I have to figure out a way to afford an attorney and cut these ties forever. I pray that God will see me through this trying time. He has already gotten me this far, so I have faith He will be with me the rest of the way.

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