He was so attentive when you were dating. The perfect gentleman. He even had your name tattooed to his bicep to prove his love. He loved showing you off and thrived on how his friends thought you were so awesome. You painted word pictures together describing what “happily ever after” looked like for you. He was your white knight and you could actually envision him riding by on his white horse, sweeping you off your feet and riding off into the sunset. Dreamy. Lovely. Exciting.
Then you got married.
Almost immediately, he stopped being interested in what you had to say. It started with little criticisms. Then you began to notice that you started questioning your memory. Because every time you disagreed or argued, he denied that he ever said something offensive or hurtful. More often than not, he’d tell you “that never happened.” He didn’t take responsibility and never apologized, because apparently “you drove him” to do whatever it was you’ve accused him of doing.
Now it seems like he always needs his space, so he goes out with his friends, but calls you selfish when you try to arrange something with the girls. He expects a fuss on his birthday, but forgets yours. If you say anything, he says you don’t appreciate how hard he works and how much he has to do. When you come home after a difficult day at work and start to tell your story, he complains that you always try to bring him down, and it becomes about him.
He flies into a rage when he gets passed over for a promotion or gets a poor review at work. He can’t take feedback and blames others for any missteps. And sometimes it’s so subtle. Maybe he just quietly pouts. He seems nice, but you walk away feeling guilty or blamed or afraid.
You try to explain to him kindly why you’re not happy, and he takes offense and calls you ungrateful. By projecting his anger or negativity on you, he doesn’t have to own up to it. You keep notes so you know you’re not crazy and you continue to expect him to respond differently if you could just think of a better way to explain how you feel.
The problem is that you may be married to a narcissist. He probably developed a deep sense of shame early in his childhood, which causes him to create a fantasy world to cover his insecurity; a world in which he is perfectly competent, better than everyone else, deserving of the best and intolerant of what he sees as insubordination or betrayal. The caveat is, he’s charming and knows how to win people over. So, in the beginning of a relationship, he pulls out all the stops to show you how amazing he is, ultimately because it gratifies him, not because he thinks you’re special. That facade is impossible to maintain and begins to crumble in intimate relationships. Once he has his trophy, he stops trying.
In his mind, it really is all about him. He lacks empathy, so you must stop trying to expect something he cannot give. The important thing for you, as his wife, is to strengthen your own sense of self. Make sure you have a good support network of friends that can help you maintain your equilibrium. Pursue the things that make you happy. Don’t be bullied into leaving your friends and family behind, because you need the friendship and support as well as normal relationships that can help you with your sense of reality. Continue the things in your relationship that are working well. But understand that hearing an admission of failure or fault probably isn’t going to happen. Chances of him changing are extremely slim.
Make sure your kids are heard and validated by you. Insist that they pursue interests that are theirs and not just interests that enable your husband to live vicariously though them, such as becoming the famous baseball star or doctor that he couldn’t become. Don’t accept unjustified criticism or blame. Don’t accept abuse of any kind. If your spouse is addicted to something, don’t make excuses or enable his addiction. Make sure your boundaries are clear and solid. Take care of yourself, by processing stress in healthy ways: exercise, eating well, maintaining healthy friendships and interests. Meditation and mindfulness practices help you develop a strong internal locus of control. Without that, you can easily feel un-grounded and unsure of yourself.
Remember that just because your husband is arrogant, or selfish or is not a good listener, doesn’t make him a narcissist, necessarily. A key component is if you begin to question your reality and feel unstable in his presence. That might be the time to ask for help from a professional.
And remember you have choices. According to expert, Dr. Craig Malkin, “…unhealthy narcissism is an attempt to conceal normal human vulnerability, especially painful feelings of insecurity, sadness, fear, loneliness and shame. If your partner can tolerate sharing and feeling some of these emotions, then there’s still hope. But you can only nudge narcissists out of hiding if you’re willing to share your own feelings of fragility.” (Rethinking Narcissism: the bad—and surprising good—about feeling special.) Whether you stay or go, take care of yourself and your kids, find a good support network, and just breathe. A good therapist can help you work through the options.
You might want to consider checking out this book: Rethinking Narcissism by Dr. Craig Malkin
Find more on the Huffington Post Blog.