4 Signs Of Narcissistic Personality Disorder To Look For In Your Marriage

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated January 12, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

People often don't realize when they marry someone with narcissistic personality disorder, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. And because those experiencing narcissistic personality disorder may behave in ways that hurt others (or themselves), recognizing the signs may help both parties improve their well-being. 

This guide explores what narcissistic personality disorder is and four common signs to look for in your marriage. We've also highlighted things like online therapy that may help you improve your relationship or mental well-being if this is the case.

What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Being Married To A Partner With NPD Can Be Difficult

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) affects an estimated 5% of the population in the United States. While "narcissism" is often used to describe someone who is vain or self-involved, the clinical definition is more complex. According to the American Psychological Association, NPD is associated with:

  • An ongoing pattern of grandiose self-importance 

  • An exaggerated sense of talent or achievements

  • A desire for, or fantasies of, unlimited sex, power, intelligence, or beauty

  • An exhibitionistic need for admiration and attention

  • Either cool indifference or feelings of rage, humiliation, or emptiness when confronted with criticism, indifference, or defeat

  • Feeling entitled to special favors, taking advantage of others, and inability to empathize with the emotions of others

A person living with NPD may behave, think, or feel in ways that are harmful to themselves or those around them. Signs often don't appear until late teens or early adulthood. In addition, there's no guarantee that a person will receive a diagnosis or be aware of how NPD impacts their personality and interactions with others.

Understanding NPD In Your Marriage

Marriage often marks the beginning of a new chapter in each person's life, and you'll usually learn new things about their habits and personality with time. If your partner has signs of a narcissistic personality, however, this adjustment process can be more complicated, as NPD is linked to behaviors that may interfere with romantic relationships. 

4 Signs Of NPD To Look For In Your Marriage

The personality traits accompanying narcissistic personality disorder might make maintaining healthy relationships difficult. And it can be easy to find yourself in a relationship with someone experiencing NPD. For example, people with narcissistic personalities can often get others to trust them or believe in their exaggerated sense of importance or success. 

If you believe that your spouse may be experiencing NPD, it could be time to examine your relationship and potentially discuss the matter with them. You might notice some of the following signs in a narcissistic marriage.

1. A Need For Complete Control

People with narcissistic personalities might seek complete control in their relationships. This might look like your spouse trying to manipulate your life or gain power over you in obvious ways. Or, it might include subtle manipulative behaviors like gaslighting, blaming, or using sweet gestures or words to guide a situation. A partner experiencing NPD may also attempt to gain control using guilt. 

2. Competition With Children

Usually, couples place their child first when they become parents, but someone with a narcissistic personality may not follow this pattern. Instead, a partner with NPD might compete with their child to be the center of attention while the other parent attempts to mediate. Narcissists may also try to control their children or influence the child's thoughts to mirror their own.

3. One-Sided Credit

A partner experiencing NPD may take credit for things you (or both of you) worked to achieve. The partner with NPD might struggle to acknowledge their spouse's achievements and not realize they're taking one-sided credit. As a result, they may start an argument or debate if their credit is questioned, as they might feel their spouse is trying to be better than them.

4. Extreme Jealousy

A partner with NPD might experience extreme jealousy because they desire to be the center of attention. In addition, they may have secret feelings of insecurity that fuel a need for excessive admiration and attention. 

If the partner experiencing NPD believes their spouse is giving love and attention to someone else, it has the potential to trigger intense feelings of jealousy. They might also become jealous if they feel someone is better or more intelligent than they are. This jealousy may lead to arguments between a partner experiencing NPD and their spouse. 

Identifying Potential Narcissistic Abuse

Abuse does not happen in all narcissistic marriages, and NPD does not present the same in every person. It's possible to maintain a healthy marriage with a partner experiencing NPD. However, those married to someone diagnosed with NPD sometimes experience narcissistic abuse.

This might take the form of verbal abuse. For example, their partner might use verbal abuse to control and intimidate them. Things that fall under the umbrella of verbal abuse can include: 

  • Belittling and bullying (alone or in front of others)

  • Unfounded accusations

  • Placing blame for things that their partner cannot control 

An abusive partner experiencing NPD might act charming to outsiders and behave like a completely different person when you're behind closed doors. In other cases, an abusive partner with NPD might try to control money, food, or affection from their children and use these things to control their spouse's behavior via emotional blackmail. In extreme cases, physical aggression may occur, including throwing things, destroying property, and physically striking their spouse. 

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Text "START" to 88788. You can also use an online chat feature.

How To Move Forward

Relationship and individual therapy may offer effective ways to move forward in a marriage with a partner experiencing NPD. A trained professional can help identify any issues and provide suggestions to resolve them. In addition, regardless of whether your spouse agrees to couples counseling, you can seek individual counseling for additional help processing your emotions and experiences in your marriage.

There are many different ways to connect with therapists, and online counseling is just as effective as face-to-face sessions. Online sessions can also make scheduling time with your therapist easier, and you might feel more comfortable discussing your emotions at home. You can also opt for online couples counseling, which is effective for many relationships

Being Married To A Partner With NPD Can Be Difficult

Takeaway

Depending on each partner, being married to a person experiencing NPD can mean many different things. Still, these signs may help you identify if you're in a narcissistic marriage so that you can work to improve your relationship and mental well-being. 

Online Therapy With BetterHelp And Counselor Reviews

If you'd like to talk about your experiences with a licensed therapist, BetterHelp can match you with an online professional based on your needs and preferences. You can communicate with your counselor on your time and schedule appointments via phone, in-app messaging, or video. 

The counselors at BetterHelp have helped thousands of people work through their relationship issues. Below are reviews of counselors from those in similar situations.

“He is very clear in what he says, he openly calls things by their name and gives real help. He listens, and he gives advice and reassurance where needed. It often is difficult to deal with a narcissistic person and to have a therapist that openly acknowledges narcissistic patterns is a great help. I appreciate his openness very much.”

“I love working w/ Nicole. She's super empathetic and insightful - she already helped me in just two weeks - I want to continue working with her. I feel just talking to her has helped my marriage tremendously.”

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