This article is about being with a woman who exhibits narcissistic behavior. Your relationship with a narcissist might be casual or you may be in a narcissistic marriage. We will talk about what it's like.
Do you know the signs of a narcissistic personality?
Do you remember the love bombing and idealization? Those heady early days? She mirrored you, so you thought you had so much in common. Your friends, family, and others close to you may have been skeptical about her while you were head over heels in love. Their concerns were well-grounded. She later picked fights with those you loved the most and tried to get between you. Even your own mother!
The DSM-5 reports that up to 75% of those diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are men. Mental health professionals can miss the way women present these traits. However, some recent thinking suggests this is because narcissistic females display their narcissism in distinctly different ways from their male counterparts.
Men typically resemble stereotypically masculine features, like physical expressions of aggression, an excessive need for power, and an authoritarian character. Consider these the features of a grandiose or malignant narcissist. Like grandiose narcissists, these women are exhibitionistic, entitled, and have inflated self-esteem but are more likely to hide it.
Narcissistic wife traits
We tend to think of Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) in The Devil Wears Prada: a vain, powerful, ruthless, and uncaring woman. However, a more common presentation is less grandiose and has a more covert variety. She might be:
- the long-suffering mother,
- the disappointed wife who "could have been a star,"
- the passive-aggressive boss who spreads vicious rumors about those she's jealous of
- the sexy mistress simply lacks empathy or "common decency."
Both male and female narcissists are the same in measures of:
- interpersonally exploitative,
- considering themselves "special and unique" and
- being envious
...however, they show it in different ways.
She may present as shy and hypersensitive on the outside. Once you get closer, she may be full of shame and low self-esteem on the inside.Then she will hate you for having shown you her "weakness."
While the male narcissist exhibits narcissistic features such as being pushy, vain or a power grabber. The female narcissist presents in a more classically feminine way and uses her sexuality, beauty, or charm to exploit. It is her world and you get to live in it.
The vulnerable or covert narcissist
In contrast to the flashy power grabs, most women with narcissistic traits are vulnerable or covert narcissists. These traits have been associated with:
- non-suicidal self-injury,
- suicide attempts, and
- avoidant and dependent personality disorders.
They may look more like or have a borderline personality disorder. You are likely to see a lot of passive-aggressive exploitation.
The key features of a female narcissistic spouse
1. Interpersonally exploitative
In healthy relationships, there is a give-and-take of demands. However, if you have a narcissistic partner, you may be struck by how easily your wife makes unreasonable demands on you but is hypersensitive should you make any counter-demands. She is reactive to perceived coercive behavior while coercing and manipulating YOU.
2. She wants to control you.
It's not in your head. Living with a narcissistic wife is all about control. She will lie without hesitation. She will gaslight you to maintain control.
She will make you doubt your own reality, perceptions, or beliefs.
Like most covert varieties, she will use specific tactics like bullying, emotional disengagement (giving you the "silent treatment"), or pleading pitifully. This is all manipulative and is psychologically and emotionally abusive.
3. She distances herself from intimacy.
We aren't talking about sex here, although she may withhold sex until she gets what she wants from you. We are talking about her willingness to let you into her inner world. Her veiled grandiosity and sense of entitlement prevent her from showing you her weakness.
She will disengage and ice you out, and it doesn't seem to impact her.
4. She's sexually exploitative.
The more exploitative and entitled she is, the more serious and aggressive her sexual cohesion will be. She will aggressively sexually coerce you and ridicule your masculinity or other valued traits if you don't cooperate with her. Sex is power, and she uses it to manipulate and control.
Sexual coercion is unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, tricked, threatened, or forced in a non-physical way. Coercion can make you think you owe her sex; no one ever "owes" anyone else sex.
She's your affair partner.
You may not be married to a narcissist. She may be your girlfriend or secret lover.
She's confident, perhaps beautiful, and very sexual...and she uses her sexuality in toxic ways. Initially, you might love her aggressive, sexual, and emotional nature. She tells you that she needs you in ways only you can fulfill. She's demanding and enchanting...at least for now.
She's a bit arrogant, too, but she has you believe she's entitled to it because she's so 'special and unique.' At least that's what she tells you.
Walk lightly here. Get involved, physically or emotionally, and she will destroy you. Of course your marriage, but perhaps also your reputation and career if you ever try to leave or disappoint her.
5. She has breathtaking arrogance.
The most shocking stories I hear as a couples therapist are about narcissistic affair partners. She seems unfettered by the fact that you're married. She'll contact your wife to tell her that "the marriage is over" and "he's in love with me now."
She will boldly "out" herself as your paramour and turn your female friends against you.
6. She is shocking enviousness.
In a delusional love triangle, your narcissistic affair partner may spread vicious rumors using social media. She may claim to be your wife, telling anyone who will listen. She'll call your actual wife a homewrecker who stole you from her loving arms.
She'll consider any signs of loyalty to your actual wife a sign of unfaithfulness. And she will retaliate in any way she can.
7. Her mental health is "just fine."
These personality disorders do not own up to having any stressful problems, no matter how obvious they may appear to you. In dealing with a narcissistic wife, you won't be successful in getting her to admit to having any problems.
But you may see her suffer from anxiety and depression. She will blame others for her circumstance, claiming that these psychiatric symptoms are situational or relational, not inside her.
She'll become depressed and slide into shame. She will act like it is because she is surrounded by fools who don't understand her. These fools can be:
- the boss who didn't promote her,
- the child that is failing at school, or
- the husband who has not fed her neediness.
When depressed, she will become more verbally or even physically abusive. She may also abuse drugs or alcohol, engage in random sexual acts outside the relationship, and keep irregular hours.
8. She sees herself as being special and unique.
The more narcissistic these women are, the more verbally aggressive they are, but they believe it is justified. After all, she will argue, she has to keep the people in her life in line. She is deserving of respect, admiration, and even adoration because she is a special creature. Those who don't see it should be objects of ridicule.
9. She's emotionally unregulated.
Her emotions are quick to come and quick to change. She can fly into a rage at the slightest imagined slight. She can then turn on a dime if you give her what she wants.
She will consider others her inferiors, even her children who dare to challenge her. She will play favorites to those who feed her insatiable ego.
10. She's verbally aggressive.
The higher her level of narcissism, the lower her self-esteem. High levels of narcissism and damaged self-image can bring on more physical violence and verbal aggression.
A single lab study revealed an interesting finding. They learned that women with higher levels of narcissism demonstrated significantly higher levels of hostile and angry communication patterns. These findings replicate other research indicating that women’s, but not men’s, narcissism significantly predicted marital trajectories over time.
11. She playing the victim.
She might adopt a ‘victim stance,’ blaming you for her lot in life. She will expect you to make it right. She will be the 'dedicated mother' who has given up everything for her children. She will be the ruthless shopper who wears the dress and returns it because "it didn't look as good as I expected it to."
She will exploit every legal and social benefit to her advantage without a moment of guilt.
12. She can be violence.
The higher the level of narcissism, the more intimate partner violence she'll engage in over her lifetime, according to one prison study. This is more true for female than male prisoners.
In a sample of female prison inmates, researchers also found NPD to be a predictor of violent crimes, including murder. However, this study measured the more grandiose (vs covert) features of narcissism.
Couples Therapy Won’t Help
Narcissistic wives do poorly in long-term relationships. She doesn't accept that she has problems, so she's unlikely to want to change in any way. However, she might see couples therapy as a way to get someone to pressure YOU to change. And, like all covert narcissists, she will adopt the language of couples therapy to manipulate you more skillfully.
This is why we don't recommend it.
However, here are four factors to consider if you are in this relationship for the long haul:
- Face the Truth. Your spouse is excessively self-centered and lacks the capacity to feel compassion for others. However, the cost of staying with her means taking care of her fragile ego. That will be is more important to her than having a close, caring connection with you.
- Establish Firm Boundaries. You will need to be unemotional when you go face-to-face with her. Expect that she may become very angry when she doesn't get what she thinks she deserves. You must show that you are in control of yourself.
It is important to be able to manage your own feelings while stating your own needs and the behaviors you expect her to change.
- Hold Your Ground. Make expectations clear and express disapproval of unacceptable behaviors. Suggest individual counseling, such as DBT, to help with emotional regulation when depression hits.
- Expect Resistance. Make sure to stay focused on your goals. You will face continuous challenges and have your limits pushed. Rely on your family and professionals for your own help.
Find the right help and learn more appropriate responses to a Narcissistic Wife. It can be difficult to break bad habits. Finding the right kind of therapeutic guidance is necessary to ensure you stay on the right path.