What to Do if You’re Married to a Narcissist

You may have noticed it’s been a while between the last post in the Narcissist Series and this one. It’s because this is so hard for me to write and also, not everyone will agree with me. This subject has caused a good deal of pain and dissension in the church, so I don’t enter this discussion lightly. Nor do I claim to have the authoritative answer. I don’t. I’m using my experience dealing with narcissists, my experience counseling people in narcissistic relationships, many hours of reading and researching authorities on the subject (counselors, pastors, etc.), seeking the Lord and trying to put all that together to write these posts.

As an aside, there are a few random facts to note:

  1. It is quite unbelievable how many narcissists are running around. They are everywhere–under your nose, sitting beside you in church, running your local school board–everywhere.
  2. I want to make a clear distinction between narcissistic abuse being addressed in these posts and other jerkish behaviors. (I may have already made this distinction but it can’t be overemphasized.) I’m not talking here about just someone who struggles with pride (ahem…we all do). Or someone who has a rough-around-the-edges personality. There are many difficulties in marriage that are successfully repaired with proper counseling and help. And there are annoying behaviors that can be overlooked with grace and patience. The narcissist is a specific type of person, which is why I feel it’s so important to use the term to help differentiate.

So the question: What to do if you’re married to a narcissist? (If you are in a different relationship with a narcissist–not marriage, there are different answers/approaches, none of them easy. Each one has it’s own, difficult road.)

Bad News About Narcissists-3 Options

First, the really awful news about this is narcissist rarely (that’s being generous) change. I’ve read countless articles by psychologists and counselors in all types of environments and hands-down, they agree with this statement.

As I mentioned in the last post, a person claiming to be a Christian but committing consistent, emotional abuse is, in fact, not a Christian by definition, regardless of his claims. One must display the fruit of Christianity (repentant over sin at the very least) to be a Christian. So if you think you are married to a narcissist, you must face the reality that you are dealing with an unrepentant sinner, but worse, doesn’t see his sin, and therefore doesn’t see his need for a Savior.

Because of the very nature of this trait, that they can’t see their wrong, so they rarely see their need for change.

At this point, I wish there was something I could say to soften this harsh blow. I don’t have anything. I don’t understand it and I wish I did. It seems like they could be reasoned with or that they could understand rational explanations. But they can’t.

IMPORTANT (Update): A common problem is that a woman is not believed (by family or church) when she tells others about her abuser. (And be warned: it is also very common for the abuser to play the victim. I’ve seen it done and done very well. In this case the wife was the narcissist and convinced others her husband was the abuser.) I think often, in the spirit of respect and submission she doesn’t share with anyone about her husband’s behavior because she wants to honor his reputation. Then when everything hits the fan and she speaks up, others find it unbelievable. She may even have bragged about what a great husband and father he is on social media (a tactic of reverse-psychology, maybe?)

My suggestion is to share with someone, even several others, and do not keep the abuse hidden. At least if you decide to leave, there will be a “trail” of efforts you made to preserve your marriage and your support group will not be so hard to convince.

1st. Divorce

There are really only 2 options, a possible, difficult third. The first is to get a divorce. Some churches and Christian counselors believe that divorce is only acceptable for a Christian if there is infidelity in marriage. They cite Scriptures like “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16) to strengthen their counsel. This verse is grossly misunderstood when used to pressure a woman to stay in an abusive relationship (it actually is explaining the opposite of what it is sometimes used for).

How do I know? Because the verse is written specifically to men who were abandoning their wives, which in that culture, meant almost certain destitution for them. God was angry because husbands were mistreating and being unfaithful to their wives and leaving them without protection. It goes on to say that the man “who hates and divorces his wife does violence to the one he should protect.”

The whole passage is about God’s anger toward men who treat their wives unlovingly and do not protect them. He was seeking justice for these oppressed women. How could God say in the same breath, “But if you leave your abusive husband that’s not OK.”

That’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to God’s thought toward those who are being oppressed or hurt by those in authority. Do some research about how God feels about the mistreatment of the weak, poor, needy, oppressed, abused.

Another verse that allows for biblical separation but is often misunderstood is 1 Corinthians 7:15. Here is a snippet of explanation about it but if you want to read the entire article, click here.

“When applying 1 Corinthians 7:15, the key question is not “Who walked out?” but “Who caused the separation?” Would it be sensible to say that David was the sinful rebellious one when he left Saul’s court? No, he left because of Saul’s abuse. David left, but Saul was the cause of his leaving. If we translate the word chorizo as “separate” we see this more clearly: if the unbeliever separates, let him separate. The unbeliever is doing the separating; the believer is commanded to let it be done. This tells the believing spouse (and the church) to allow the marriage to be over, because the unbeliever has destroyed the covenant. It permits the victim of abuse to take out a legal divorce. Let there be chorizo = let there be separation = let there be legal divorce, because the word chorizo means both separation and divorce.”

What God hates more than even divorce, is abuse. Mistreatment of others, especially by those in authority over people they are meant to protect. I feel confident saying that it is biblically acceptable to seek a divorce from an abusive spouse, once all measures have been taken to bring them to repentance.

Even in simple passages in Proverbs addressing the “fool,” or the “mocker”  (biblical terms for narcissist) we often read passages such as, “Drive out the mocker and out goes strife. Quarrels and insults are ended.”

Furthermore, God Himself divorced His unfaithful bride. (Jeremiah 3:8)

It is very important that if you consider divorcing your spouse that you have a plan–a back-up support system and safety plan in place. Narcissists can be dangerous, especially when their power and control unravels. Hopefully your church would be that safe place, but if not, find one that is, or confide in family and friends who can help you.

2nd. Learning to live with it.

This option is difficult but not impossible. I know women living with abusive husbands and have been for many years. Leaving is very hard. Sometimes it feels impossible. Without a strong support group, especially, turning your life upside down, finding yourself financially responsible and in every other way responsible, feels overwhelming. Some people never get to the breaking point where they are willing to give up these necessities/comforts.

If you choose to stay it is imperative that you educate yourself with how the mind of your spouse works. You can pray and hope and believe, and I don’t discredit that spirit of faith. But as I mentioned before, the difficulty with this specific type of person is that they don’t see a need for change, therefore change rarely happens. They believe they are right and everyone else is in need of correction. They thrive in feeling power and control.

A “good wife” tries to be kinder, more reasonable, more agreeable more, more, more. And it’s never enough. It never will be. To live in this situation and survive, I think it’s wise to study “how to live with a narcissist” which involves learning how to set hard boundaries, coming to the harsh reality that you will not receive from your spouse what you want (love, affection, real companionship, empathy) and finding your ultimate peace and joy in the Lord. He must be enough.

It’s a tragic death of a dream, if you will, and the sooner you come to term with that, the better. You must find joy in other things, not your marriage.

This is a terribly painful road and you will need friends and family who understand and can support and encourage you.

The 3rd option.

Separation. This would be for the person who cannot believe that the Bible allows for divorce–an infinite separation (which will likely end up with your spouse divorcing you ). I’m throwing this out there because, as I said, I don’t have all the answers. I believe with all my heart that God would far rather see his beloved free from an abusive spouse than to maintain a sanction of ceremony for appearance sake. That’s not the way I see him operating in Scripture.

Conclusion

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of seeking out the counsel of someone who understands this type of abuse. If not, you may end up in counseling where you abuser manipulates and turns you into the perpetrator. Be clear and concise when describing your situation to others. Even though you may be confused, it is important to paint a picture of what is happening in your home.

Often the wife has been taught to protect her husband’s reputation under the guise of submission. We are never called to hide a person’s abuse. Ever. This is not a case of looking over his weaknesses. This is calling out an oppressor. (If, in fact, he fits the description I’ve described in these post–consistent, manipulative behavior that seeks to bring pain, shame and blame, refusing to own the hurt, etc.). Bring it to light and it loses its power.

I pray you will find some help and encouragement from these posts. I would love to hear your thoughts.

__________________________________________________________________

11 Responses to “What to Do if You’re Married to a Narcissist”

  1. Amy says:

    Kelly,
    Thank you for speaking truth and bringing this subject into the light. I spent 13 years in a marriage with a narcissist. Five years ago, my husband’s abuse escalated out of control and he became violent. At that point, I told him that he could no longer live in the house with me and my children. His response was to go to a pastor at our church and tell him that I was the abuser and unfortunately the pastor believed him. He also cut off all financial support and stopped making house payments so our home went into foreclosure. I was terrified and several times I even considered going back to him but God provided for our every need during this time. God provided us with a townhouse (all maintenance provided) and we never went without food. I tried several months of separation but the abuse and threats continued. I finally reached a breaking point and filed for divorce. It was the best decision I ever made for myself and my kids. During the divorce, my husband was so out of control that the judge only allowed him limited supervised visits with the kids and no overnight visits. This arrangement was made permanent when the divorce was final. The judge’s heart was truly in the hand’s of God. The past 5 years have been some of the most difficult years of my life but God is good and he has provided for us every step of the way. I went back to college and graduated last fall. I now have a healthcare job that I love. I am able to work 2 nights a week and support myself and my kids. This allows me to continue with homeschooling my kids. My church also recognized that my husband was the abuser and we now have an amazing support system within the church. I want to share my story to help and encourage other women in the same situation. Leaving an abuser can be scary but I cannot imagine choosing option 2 listed above and staying in a marriage with a narcissist. That is not what God intended for a marriage relationship. My faith and trust in God has never been stronger. He has used this situation to draw me closer to Him.

    • Amy,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is encouraging and I’m so thankful the Lord directed your steps the way He did. Bless you.

    • Kelly D. says:

      This is such a powerful story! It gives me hope.
      The main reason I don’t leave, is because I’m scared to.
      My husband has successfully isolated me from all of my family and friends and I am mainly financially dependent on him. Also, our house is owned by his family, so I would be homeless.
      I am so glad that you had the courage to leave!

      • Amy says:

        Kelly D.,
        Finances was the main reason that it took me so long to leave my marriage. I had many nights of sitting in our soon to be foreclosed house just sobbing because I did not know what to do. God provided everything we needed. If you have faith and it is truly God’s will for you to leave the marriage, He will provide everything you need.

        I took my troubles to the Lord; I cried out to Him and He answered my prayer. (Psalm 120:1)

        He will feed His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arms holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. (Isaiah 40:11)

        I praise God for what He has promised. I trust in God so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:4)

        Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal rock. (Isaiah 26:4)

  2. Brenda says:

    My husband is not only a covert narcissist but comes from a family that is over-run with narcissists. The thing is, not all of us are ‘abused’. He is what he is and I do not take it for one minute- he gets called out by me very frequently. It’s very difficult to live out a biblical model of marriage under these circumstances but we have persevered for 25 years. The Lord has not given me permission to divorce him over this. If I could recommend one thing to unmarried women it would be to never ignore those red flags while you’re dating. Covert narcissists are very hard to spot unless you become very close to them, so KNOW your potential mate inside and out before you tie the knot. Watch them closely when they have a bad day. How do they handle rejection? Do they constantly blame everyone but themselves? Narcissists are usually charming people but as the Bible says, charm is deceptive.

    • I’m sorry, Brenda. That is very good advice. And you’re so right; they can be very difficult to spot.

    • Amy says:

      Brenda,
      You are so right about paying attention to the red flags before marriage. Everything that I knew about my husband before we got married was a lie. He pushed so hard for us to get married quickly and now I know why. He was struggling to keep up with his lies during the engagement and knew after marriage he would not have to do that anymore. He completely changed the moment after we were married. When he proposed to me, I was very clear that I did not believe in divorce. He used that against me during our entire marriage. If I did not do or say exactly what he wanted, he would threaten me with divorce to make me comply. The first time that he did this was on our honeymoon.

  3. Kelly D. says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Kelly.
    I have been married to a narcissist for 17 years now and will continue to remain married to him for as long as I can.
    Every so often, I have to have “time-out” at extended family and friends houses, just a few days where I can recoup, gather my strength again, and come home able to withstand it for a bit longer.
    Twice, we have separated temporarily and this does seem to work, for a time.
    Eventually, I will probably leave him, but for now, I want to carry on living with him for as long as I can. Option 2 is definitely difficult, but I think it can be done.
    This post is so encouraging.
    Thank you.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Beautifully done, Kelly. So important, thank you so much!

  5. J says:

    On whether to leave or stay in an abusive marriage, Leslie Vernick says (paraphrased) in her book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage:

    “If you stay, stay well. If you leave, leave well.”

    That first part is so important. If you can withstand your abuser’s tactics, then staying is an option. If not, and the emotional destruction continues to chip away at your wellness and ability to function in the sphere in which God has placed you, you are not bound. An abusive, unrepentant spouse has already broken asunder the marriage covenant.

    The wellness of the whole family should be considered, too. What impact is the spousal abuse having on any children at home? Is the abused spouse healthy enough to properly care for her (or his) children, or is coping with the abusive marital relationship sucking all the abused spouse’s energy? An abused spouse needs to stay well not only for her own sake, but also for the sake of the children or other vulnerable individuals she serves in her life.

    Heart-wrenching questions, with difficult answers.

  6. A Pastors X Wife says:

    Bravo!!!!!!
    Hands down this is the best explanation of Narcissist Abuse I have ever read.
    THANK YOU!

    Mindy Smith

Leave a Reply

Dissenting comments are welcome only in the spirit of "iron sharpening iron"; hateful or angry responses will be removed at my discretion. You may add your gravatar (image) at Gravatar

WordPress Themes