Therapists are only supposed to engage in self-disclosure if it serves the treatment plan for the client. I see no reason to have a different standard for this blog.
Not that I was the less toxic of the two of us. Not by a long shot.
We married young, and I was only 19 when our son was born. It was a turbulent 23 years that I ‘d rather not revisit… thank you very much.
However, this morning one of our readers wrote me to point out that up until now I had successfully avoided any mention of the Narcissistic Wife, and she specifically asked me to correct that injustice.
I’ve discussed narcissism at length in many previous posts. But I have too often written about the topic as if having a narcissistic personality was part and parcel of possessing a penis (just flexing my capacity for alliteration)…but I digress.
The Narcissistic Wife is perpetually seeking to prop up her self-esteem. Some thought-leaders see narcissism as a perpetual crisis of relational insecurity. This may surprise you because the Narcissistic Wife appears to be supremely self-confident.
But as the swan glides serenely across the surface of the pond, no one sees the furious paddling which occurs underneath.
The problem is that for the Narcissistic Wife, this furious paddling is the essential purpose of their lives. It’s even more important than her kids, and it’s certainly more important than you.
When the Narcissistic Wife experiences a crisis in her self esteem, her toolbox only contains two mindsets:
As couples therapist Terry Real points out, grandiosity becomes the go-to strategy because it feels soooo much better than the alternative.
You have trauma from all her drama. She will seek out pre-existing drama, and insert herself into it. If she fails to find drama she will manufacture it. She will seek at all times to be the center of gravity in an ongoing conflict. For the Narcissistic Wife, conflict is her emotional comfort food.
It’s her way or the highway. The Narcissistic Wife also has no capacity for reflection or self-evaluation. The words “I was wrong,” or I’m sorry” will never fall from her lips.
You will learn to never challenge her, or thwart her in her machinations. She will train you to not set limits, or dare to discuss an alternate point of view.
Because of her empathy deficit, over time, her intimate relationships become increasingly shallow and fewer as the reflecting pond she glided so effortlessly on… dries up over time.
Narcissistic Wives often fare poorly in couples therapy, because by then… it’s often too late.
Forensic psychologist William B. Nash, Ph.D., is in private practice in Essex Junction, Vermont. Dr. Nash reports that he is yet to meet a client a client with “pure” Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In his observation, clients may display both narcissistic and borderline characteristics, what he calls “crossover” traits.
He has also found that treating this type of disorder is extremely difficult, a truly “Herculean task.”
Couples Therapy is not appropriate for extremely narcissistic wives.
Individual therapy is your first, best option. The paradox is since you’re the obvious problem...what’s the point of her entering therapy?
You’ll need these 5 best practices because dealing with your Narcissistic Wife in couples therapy is a risky, unpredictable and typically unsuccessful option you.
She comes by her behavior honestly, as we all do. Because of acute family-of-origin deficits, some spouses need to develop over time in a relationship with a partner. Maybe she will too…if you give her some helpful feedback.
Hopeful Spouse Counseling might be the exact kind of therapeutic support that you will need to keep yourself on track.
Face the Truth. You have a Narcissistic Wife. She has an empathy deficit, and soothing her brittle sense of self is, at least for now, more important than being in a loving, intimate relationship with you.
Establish Firm Boundaries. You’ll have to go eyeball to eyeball with her. She will rage. You will model emotional regulation. She will sputter and fume all over the place. You will be clear and direct. Her behavior must change. Period.
Interrupt Her Patterns and Challenge Her Perceptions. She won’t change unless you do. You’ll have to risk being firm in your boundaries and set clear expectations about what you want and need instead.
Confront Her with Clarity, Courage, and Consistency. Be clear about what you expect. Be direct about the behaviors you will no longer tolerate. Encourage her to go into individual counseling. There are effective counseling protocols such as DBT that may help her with her emotional regulation issues.
Expect Resistance. You’ll be driving in a driving windstorm of fierce resistance. Keep Your Hands on the Wheel at all Times. Expect to have your boundaries perpetually tested. Look for support in your family system. Find leverage points.
A Narcissistic Wife may eventually see the wisdom in learning how to calm down when you set firm and non-negotiable limits. However, couples therapy is NOT the first place to seek help.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.