The Perils of Having a Narcissistic Wife
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 Hopeless Bind of the Narcissistic Wife
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:
- She can get depressed and slide into shame.
- Or she can devalue others by seeing herself as better, special, wiser. Or even more grandiloquently, she can tell herself and you that SHE is a magnificent creature, unique, gifted, and tragically misunderstood by all the fools she has to suffer…especially you.
As couples therapist Terry Real points out, grandiosity becomes the go-to strategy because it feels soooo much better than the alternative.
What the Narcissistic Wife Lacks
- The Narcissistic Wife lacks what we therapists call Whole Object Relations. Most marital problems can be traced back to family-of-origin issues, and the Narcissistic Wife is no exception. In healthy or Whole Object Relations, we take the good and the not so good in our intimate relationships. if you grew up feeling loved and accepted by your parents just as you are, faults and all, you’re not likely to become a Narcissistic Wife in adulthood.
- The Narcissistic Wife, because of her attendant grandiosity, also lacks empathy. One of the great pains of having a Narcissistic Wife is that she will constantly step on your feelings. Sometimes it will be intentional, and sometimes you will just be collateral damage as she seeks to prop up her fragile self-esteem.
6 Ways to Spot a Narcissistic Wife
- The Narcissistic Wife Craves Drama.
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, always, to be the center of gravity in an ongoing conflict. For the Narcissistic Wife, conflict is her emotional comfort food.
- She is Uncompromising and Unyielding.
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.
- Her Rage is Epic.
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.
- Her Capacity to Care for Others Stops at the First Crack in Her Fragile Self-Image.
Because of her empathy deficit, over time, her intimate relationships become increasingly shallow and sparse as the reflecting pond she glided so effortlessly on… dries up over time.
- She May Resort to Compulsive Spending or Serial Infidelities in Her Scramble to Compensate.
When she is found out in her financial or sexual infidelities, the Narcissistic Wife is impossible to confront in couples therapy…especially while her marriage and other intimate relationships are collapsing around her.
- She Lies and Gaslights You over Issues Both Large and Small
Gaslighting Narcissism is the ultimate control strategy. To “gaslight” someone is to cause them to lose confidence in their own perceptions. Gaslighting is intentionally making someone doubt their experience or perception of reality.
Couples Therapy Probably Won’t Help
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 has yet to meet 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?
6 Ways to Engage Your Narcissistic Wife
You’ll need these 6 best practices…because dealing with your Narcissistic Wife in couples therapy is a risky, unpredictable, and typically unsuccessful option for 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. She will too…if you give her some helpful feedback.
Hopeful Spouse Counseling might be the exact therapeutic support that you will need to keep yourself on track. One of the pitfalls of having a Narcissistic Wife is the temptation to respond to her with passive aggression. This may be a hard habit to break, and you’ll need support to keep your side of the street tidy.
- 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. Always Keep Your Hands on the Wheel. Expect to have your boundaries perpetually tested. Look for support in your family system. Find leverage points.
- Grey Rock Method. What does the Grey Rock Method mean? Grey rocking is a powerful technique for dealing with a narcissistic ex-wife. As I mentioned earlier, your narcissistic ex thrives on drama. Be as emotionally dull and disconnected as a grey rock. The more boring and dull you appear, the less likely you’ll be subject to her efforts toward manipulation and control.
The Importance of the Gray Rock Method
- Gray Rock Method is best used in situations where contact is unavoidable, such as co-parenting after divorce. Keep your conversation dull and non-confrontational….and never disclose that grey-rocking is your strategy. If she discovers that you’re trying to deliberately make yourself appear boring, she will probably ratchet-up her efforts to get a rise out of you.
- Narcissists thrive on conflict, chaos, and confrontation. If she confronts you, maintain a detached stance. Mumble. Use grunts like I dunno, eh?, uh-huh, and hmmmmm. Avoid eye contact as much as possible.
- Avoid direct answers. If an answer is unavoidable, keep it brief, unbiased, and feeling-free. Your emotions can be probed for vulnerability, so avoid displaying them to her. As much as possible, don’t volunteer any information about what you care about. Because gray rocks don’t talk, they’re not a source of narcissistic supply.
- Notice what happens next. Direct your focus to something else other than your narcissistic wife. Expect hostile words designed to pierce your disconnection. Remain distracted, disengaged, and disconnected…but watchful and vigilant.
- Be brief and boring. Regular conversations about co-parenting are obviously, unavoidable. Keep your conversations as brief and impersonal as possible. Email and texting provide more control for you. Stick strictly with the topic at hand. If you’re discussing a co-parenting schedule, for example, try to confine your limit your conversation to pick-up and drop-off times.
- Dress down..look like the loser she believes you to be. Understand that she believes you’re doomed without her. Look disheveled and poorly groomed. Think strategically…and look unappealing.
- Gray Rock Method comes from the power of understanding exactly who, and what you’re dealing with. Be uninterested…and uninteresting. Expect her to rage…bait you…and escalate. She wants you to display emotion. Be prepared. She will attempt to trigger you. Don’t take the bait.
A friend of mine made a smart move during his divorce from his narcissistic wife. Although the lawyers had worked out a settlement, he asked a friend of his to endorse a check to his soon-to-be ex-wife as a “loan” to him to cover the upfront cash she was expecting from the settlement agreement.
He knew that if he came up with the money promptly, she would drag out the settlement. He knew that she would be delighted that he had to ask his bestie for a loan…so he let her believe that.
Learn More about Gray Rock Method
I love therapists who probe deeply into important topics.
Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Santa Monica and Sherman Oaks, CA. She’s also a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, where she was named Outstanding Professor in 2012 and was a visiting professor at the University of Johannesburg.
Dr. Ramani was also the national recipient of the American Association of University Women Emerging Scholar Award.
Her work is direct, honest, and she doesn’t mince words. Dr. Ramani has put together an outstanding youtube channel on dealing with narcissists and other personality disorders.
Here is her impressive video on the grey rock technique:
Gray Rocking Invites Your Narcissistic Wife to Seek Drama Elsewhere
Once you’re divorced, your narcissistic wife is someone else’s problem. Outside of unavoidable conversations about your kids, she should be treated like a stranger.
However, there’s a downside to Gray Rock Method. if you’re not careful, it could sap vitality out of other relationships. Remember that gray-rocking is an act, a stance, a way of being grounded in self-protection.
Other relationships in your life deserve more from you. Don’t let your gray-rocking expand into other relationships that might be occasionally conflictual, but reliably safe.
How do I know if my Gray-Rocking is over the top?
- People you care about tell you that they’re concerned about how disconnected and disengaged you seem.
- You abbreviate conversation about issues that matter to you with people you trust.
- You feel increasingly uncomfortable in your gray-rocking efforts.
- You feel as if you’re losing your identity or self-awareness. If you struggle with implementing Gray Rock Method, see a therapist who can help you establish healthier boundaries.
A Narcissistic Wife may eventually see the wisdom in learning how to calm down when you set firm and non-negotiable limits, and enter therapy for her Narcissistic Personality Disorder…but it’s not likely.
However, while couples therapy is NOT the first place to seek help, Hopeful Spouse Counseling just might be.