Couples usually come for counseling with a surface presenting problem. It could be an affair, addiction, abuse, anger, parenting concerns, integrity issues, or basic communication problems. We use assessments to identify surface areas of conflict as well as deeper personality issues. The surface issues can be challenging. to be sure, because old habits are hard to change, but the personality issues are by far most difficult and resistant to change.
In marriage counseling, one and sometimes both have narcissistic tendencies or even narcissistic personalities. Marriages where both husband and wife are narcissists usually do not survive. When one person is a narcissistic there is a “dance” or style of relating to each other that works for awhile, but it is not healthy. Both the narcissist and his or her dance partner have predictable moves. Both are emotionally unhealthy individuals and their relationship style is destructive. A narcissist can be either male or female, and can impact any relationship, e.g.friendships, siblings, coworkers, etc. But for my purposes here, I will refer to marriage relationships with narcissist husbands.
The narcissist appears be self confident and capable. His dominance is easily confused with leadership abilities. His self confidence comes from an inflated self concept and a very high opinion of himself. By contrast, his partner typically has a deflated self concept and is overly hard on herself. The partner is compassionate and tolerant but not self confident. She has significant character strengths but is mostly unaware of her capabilities. She typically does not trust her ability to make decisions and tends to be more of a follower. She is insecure and is attracted to the perceived self confidence of the narcissist. She is capable but not confident while he is confident but not capable ……… at lease not to the degree that he thinks he is.
They are both insecure. They are attracted to each other in an unhealthy way to meet their individual neediness. This actually works as long as each continues the dance. But if someone changes the dance steps, things suddenly go south. It could be an affair, an addiction, abuse, or threatened loss of the relationship that causes one or both them to seek marriage counseling.
Sometimes the wife begins to see the real character of the man she thought was her Prince Charming. How he responds to negative questions and concerns about his actions and behavior is pivotal. His fragile self image depends upon her, and everyone in his world, believing the facade he has created. At this point he only has two choices: He can face the reality of his own brokenness and work on his issues, or he can move on to someone else who will be charmed and impressed enough to “dance” with him.
It is nearly impossible for the narcissist to accept responsibility for anything hurtful or destructive that he has done. His cannot tolerate anything negative about himself. He consistently deflects all responsibility and blame onto someone else. He is skilled at defending himself and lying. He is a psychological bully and uses “gaslighting” to cause the other person to doubt their own sanity. (The term is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight,in which a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality.)
The main thing to know about narcissists is that they cannot tolerate anything negative about themselves. They think they are perfect, and they require everyone in their personal world to share that opinion. It is emotionally destructive to be in a close relationship with a narcissist. For someone in such a toxic relationship, it is important to seek counseling and support, and maintain strong and consistent emotional and physical boundaries.
Narcissists are usually quite charming at first. They draw you in emotionally and cause you to feel safe and comfortable. Before you know it, however, you are dancing with a narcissist. Pay close attention to the early warning signs that something just isn't right. Don't dismiss checks in your spirit. Look for honesty, integrity, and follow through on things they have said. Notice how they treat other people. Do not give them the benefit of the doubt. Instead, pay attention to the doubts you experience in every new relationship. May we be wise and understand what the will of the Lord is in all our relationships.
“So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:17 (NASB)