Are You Bogged Down in a Covert Narcissist Marriage?

Revised 5/2/21

The Covert Narcissist Marriage is not like other narcissistic marital dynamics. Clinicians don’t tend to see the flamboyant attention-seeking, charisma, or the natural and easy charm of the typical narcissist.

However, as I mentioned in an earlier post, not all narcissists are openly expansive and hungry for dominance or adulation.

The Covert Narcissist, (sometimes described as the closet, vulnerable, or hypersensitive narcissist) is a particularly toxic, introverted, (some erroneously would say camouflaged) form of narcissism.

Although it is more subtle and doesn’t seek the limelight, Covert Narcissism is particularly toxic because of its preoccupation with being either critical or being criticized.

The Covert Narcissist doesn’t telegraph their superiority. They are more reserved and aloof, and deeply insecure.

Because attempting to connect with others is so inherently difficult, the covert narcissist marriage is characterized by a variety of defensive mechanisms designed to keep people away. Their social circle may be narrow and predicated on mutual interests. These social activities may also aid them in enacting their secret sense of self-importance.

As you can imagine, a Covert Narcissist Marriage is often a lonely place for their partners.

The Covert Narcissist Marriage Dynamic

Covert Narcissists tend to be quiet, and self-contained, often bestowing minimal attention on their spouses.

Empathy is not an active feature of a Covert Narcissist Marriage. The Covert Narcissist Marriage dynamic will not allow room for a dialogue about their partner’s thoughts and feelings. Even when their spouses make bids for attention, and complain about their loneliness, the Covert Narcissist will always turn the conversation back to their exclusive singular focus…themselves.

Another salient aspect of the Covert Narcissist Marriage is a heaping dollop of passive aggression. Their spouse may plead for consideration, while the Covert Narcissist will offer vague promises and annoyed reassurances. But they rarely follow through.

The one issue that defines a Covert Narcissist Marriage is in the way the notion of criticism is handled by the Covertly Narcissistic spouse.

Covert Narcissists are extremely critical, but paradoxically, they cannot abide criticism themselves.

This is couples therapy quicksand for the generalist therapist.

The notions of a “softened start-up,” followed by a feeling state, and a proposed solution, with an invitation to a fair and open dialogue, may fail in a spectacular fashion.

In the face of any perceived criticism, Covert Narcissists will either become smug, or belligerent.

Then they skulk off into a sullen and moody withdrawal. It’s not unusual for a spouse, particularly in the early months of a Covert Narcissist Marriage, to be utterly perplexed by their spouse’s abrupt tendency to withdraw whenever a behavioral change is carefully and courteously requested.

The Covert Narcissist Marriage and the Perplexing Problem of Perfectionism

The Covert Narcissist holds themselves aloof from the riffraff. They are God’s special creatures. They have a toxic mixture of extreme entitlement and nosebleed lofty expectations of their spouses, children, and others as well.

Researcher Logan Nealis, the lead author of a recent study on Narcissists, offers an example of the pursuit of perfection:

“A narcissistic perfectionist parent demands perfect performance from his daughter on the hockey rink, but not necessarily from anyone else out there. They’re getting a sense of vitality or self-esteem through the perfect performance of other people, and they bask in that glow vicariously.”

Logan’s research had an interesting design. For this research, students were asked to keep 28-day diaries.

The results revealed that narcissistic perfectionists were socially toxic. Dr. Simon Sherry, who also worked on the study, reported on the findings:

“Our most consistent finding across the two studies is that narcissistic perfectionism is associated with social negativity in the form of anger, derogation, conflict and hostility…When you look at what appears to be happening between the ears of a narcissistic perfectionist, you see they’re thinking really negative, hostile, critical things about other people”

The Covert Narcissist expends a vast amount of emotional energy propping up a high degree of self-worth:

Essentially conveying ‘”I’m perfectly awesome, and you’re not. Therefore, you’re defective, and a poor reflection on me.”

The study’s authors analyzed the biographies of famous narcissistic perfectionists, include former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs:

“According to one biography, [Jobs] expected perfection from others in an entitled, demanding, and hyper-critical manner. Employees reported going from ‘hero to zero’ in Jobs’ estimation after even minor mistakes; employees also noted Jobs routinely derogated them in front of co-workers.”

Along with these overt characteristics, Jobs certainly had what many professional psychologists believe to be at the root of all Narcissistic Personality Disorders, including Covert Narcissism, a fundamentally insecure sense of self.

The Pride-Shame Split…the Terror of Not Being Good Enough

We know that people with NPD have a “pride-shame” split. At their emotional core, these people are deeply wounded.

They are terrified that they are not good enough. They fear they are fundamentally unlovable.

Consequently, particularly in the light of failed expectations, they work overtime to foster an image of superiority upon the world, (and in their Covert Narcissist Marriage) with a relentless effort to compensate for their unspoken, underlying insecurities.

For the Covert Narcissist, this tendency to project a superior demeanor emerges under perceived stress. They tend not to lead with it. This is the essential difference between the Covert and Overt Narcissist.

Logan Nealis commented on the socially toxic behavior of the Covert Narcissist:

“If you have elevated expectations of someone, that may well be a positive thing—if it’s paired with a warm, nurturing interpersonal style. But grand expectations paired with feelings of grandiosity and entitlement to the perfect performance of others creates a much more negative combination.”

Dr. Sherry, one of the study’s co-author, weighed in with a similar assessment:

“We may be characterizing a problem of our times. It may very well be that we live in an age of entitlement where grandiose demands are often made in everyday life. Narcissistic perfectionists have a need for other people to satisfy their unreasonable expectations… And if you don’t, they get angry.

Making them more aware of the impact [their actions] ultimately have on others might—(keyword, “might”)—spark change.”

Criticism May Make a Covert Narcissist Aggressive

Spouses who possess healthy self-esteem will respond well to a softened start-up. They are not particularly triggered by a marital complaint.

But Covert Narcissists are deeply invested in their brittle self-image. They cannot abide criticism in any way, shape, or form.

The Covert Narcissist feels Entitled, Exploits, and Lacks Empathy

Any spousal complaints will usually result in a curt response that is both aggressive and dismissive.

In this study on criticism and narcissistic aggression, psychologists measured the self-esteem, narcissism, and aggressive behavior of 540 undergraduate students. They found that the students with more pronounced narcissistic traits tended to verbally lash out more often when facing criticism.

The study’s authors write:

“Narcissists mainly want to punish or defeat someone who has threatened their highly favorable views of themselves. People who are preoccupied with validating a grandiose self-image apparently find criticism highly upsetting and lash out against the source of it.”

People with a healthy degree of self-esteem do not become more aggressive towards others when criticized.

Covert Narcissists, however, find the threat to their ego too great a risk to leave unchallenged. The Covert Narcissist Marriage is one of constant deflection and dismissiveness.

The seeds of narcissism tend to be sown at a young age, said Professor Brad J. Bushman, the study’s first author:

“…if kids begin to develop unrealistically optimistic opinions of themselves and those beliefs are constantly rejected by others, their feelings of self-love could make these kids potentially dangerous to those around them.”

covert narcissist marriage

If provoking the narcissist sounds dangerous, then another method of identifying the narcissist is simply to ask them. Professor Bushman, speaking about a previous study, explained:

“People who are willing to admit they are more narcissistic than others probably actually are more narcissistic. People who are narcissists are almost proud of the fact. You can ask them directly because they don’t see narcissism as a negative quality — they believe they are superior to other people and are fine with saying that publicly.”

Covert Narcissists can be frank and direct about their superior self-image and exacting standards. They’re just not as flamboyantly open about it as conventional narcissists.

They project and pursue perfection desperately to keep their demons at bay. They suffer from an unusually brittle and fragile sense of self and sometimes are unable to hide it.

The Covert Narcissist Marriage is a criticism spiraling ever outward.

Spouses have an impossible task requesting behavioral changes, in the Covert Narcissist Marriage. They often seek individual or couple therapy to help them more effectively engage with their rigid, perfectionistic spouse.

Are there 3 Kinds of Covert Narcissism?

Psychiatrist Dr. Addul Saad in Sydney Australia describes 3 kinds of covert narcissism:

  • The lowest level is the Hypersensitive Introvert. This level is deemed the least pathological. They have a core need to be accepted and recognized. They are negativistic, sensitive to criticism, withdrawing to lick their wounds. Most Covert Narcissist marriages function at this level.  When activated, they oscillate between self-loathing and anger toward others who have thwarted their greatness. For the Hypersensitive Introvert, job one is giving up or at least curbing the tendency toward harboring a victim mentality.
  • If they fail to do that, they may become an Envious Scapegoater. Shifting from feeling inadequate, to wanting to get even. Now they blame others for their victimhood and unfulfilled promise. These are the long-suffering outcasts marinated in envy and hostility. Unlike the Hypersensitive Introvert, the Scapegoater finds a blameworthy scapegoat (spouse, child..etc.) the key idea is that they are proximal and willing to endure the spite and malice of the scapegoater. The scapegoater is now highly skilled at displacing their aggression.
  • As envy builds, so do self-defeating behaviors. personal responsibility is not worth the cost of surrendering victimhood. Because the Covert Narcissists demean, malign, and frustrate others, some Covert Narcissists become Punitive Avengers. This is a dangerous admixture of narcissism and psychopathy.
  • Punitive Avengers are delusional …exacting revenge, and punishing perceived enemies. A bad outcome such as a job loss, or relationship breakup could result in a violent psychic break.

Final Thoughts About the Covert Narcissist Marriage

Let’s not be too hard on the garden-variety Covert Narcissist.

On the hypersensitive, lower end of the spectrum, they are capable of some degree of empathy and can respond well to couples therapy, and learn to become even more empathetic and emotionally responsive.

The Covert Narcissist is compensating for a deep wound that never healed.

But they can be challenging to love, and even harder to live with.

They need an opportunity to appreciate the impact their behavior has on their families. Narcissism occurs on a continuum, and the milder forms are treatable. Envious Scapegoaters require deeper individual work, and Punitive Avengers are probably beyond the reach of psychotherapy.

Science-based couples therapy is the best way to confront a mild case, but a great many Covert Narcissists will not respond in couples therapy due to a lack of motivation and an inability to confront themselves in any meaningful way.

But Hopeful Spouse counseling with a trained science-based couples therapist can help you unpack these experiences, keep your sanity, and work toward establishing more firm, healthy boundaries…whether you stay married to your Covert Narcissist or not.

Do You Need Hopeful Spouse Counseling to Recover from Covert Narcissism?

Ready for a change in your relationship?

It starts with a no-obligation 15 minute phone call with our client services team.

Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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  1. I have read this article Multiple times and every time I am met with the same "Ah-Ha Moment" … but I haven't left yet and I'm not 100% Why. I married a man with 2 children. Their 'egg donor' (as They call her) is the Poster Child for OVERT Narcissism with Bipolar tendencies. I know that this man that I married has had a front row seat to HOW a Narcissist thinks, feels and operates. We have been together for a little over 10 years. I knew 6 months after I married him that I was in some SERIOUS trouble. I left him before I married him and things were INCREDIBLY worse 6 months After I married him. It was as though his attitude was "She's married to me now. I can do what I want." And – He did. I have ALWAYS said that I was a Good Idea for him and his children. I had a good job, I made decent money, I was a Strong/Confident woman that CONTINUALLY stood up to this Tyrant Ex-Wife because he could not (would NOT) set boundaries for her … so I did. I had no children – just dogs. I came from a good, affluent family. I was A Good Idea/Catch. He was always making me his 3rd (a lot of times, his 4th priority). His kids ALWAYS came before me. His friends and his (ex) Father-in-Law's resources were HIS Priority, His lifeline, His Pride & Joy. He insisted that I 'become part of the family' with his ex-wife's family (they had nothing to do with her either – except her father). I learned QUICKLY how to maintain and grow even tougher skin. He and his daughter have always been Incredibly Tight. There were (and are) times that their behavior would creep me out. But, today, I am convinced that SHE is his spouse. He turns to her (she's now 21 yrs old) every time he has some news, they gossip together like school girls (he and his mother do this OFTEN, as well …), they share the same personality/humor/likes-dislikes, etc. His daughter is the LOVE of his life. I am the cook, the maid, the banker, the parent (when kids were home and for him a lot of times too) and the 'sex' giver (and THAT is all I was/am really here for for him …). His attitude towards me in that area is – she's my wife. I can do what I want to her … Until I said No. And called him out on his actions (he was usually drunk).

    My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and passed 2 years later. I was having some EXTREMELY difficult times at work. My boss had just left for another job. I was being saddled with a boss that had NO idea what the program was that she was about to take over. She just KNEW that she had ideas of how SHE wanted it to operate and I was COMPLETELY WRONG in all the empathetic ways that I was doing business. She was put in place before she was actually offered a FINAL job offer so she had a front row seat to my business. She had been tainted by other individuals in the organization about me … I tend to attract jealous females (I DO my job. I make connections. I STRIVE to maintain good integrity, good work ethic and take care of people … apparently, that is Frowned upon by other females … Another story for another time.) My sister passed and I was headlong into funeral arrangements with my family AND having to take care of business because she was not certified to do any of the business. I am the oldest in my family so I have been looked to as the Strong, Confident, Take Care of Things person. The week that we were preparing for the funeral, taking care of family, trying to grieve on my own – He was ABSOLUTELY HORRENDOUS to me. My parents and I said goodbye to my sister over the phone because we were not allowed to be in the hospital due to COVID restrictions. We hung up the phone with her (she was barely coherent but she heard us – tears were running down her cheeks as we talked to her) and I COMPLETELY LOST it – I Sobbed and Sobbed and Sobbed in the arms of my parents. She was my little sister. I have always been able to protect her and take care of her and God was calling her home …. I would Never see her again. I would never be able to call her and tell her about something funny that just happened or that I did. I would never laugh with her again …. My Forever Friend was being called to Heaven. On our way home, I was slammed with how incredibly uncomfortable he and his daughter were because I was standing in the kitchen, sobbing with my parents and all they could do was just sit there … I was dumbfounded. He wanted me to reach out to him for comfort and instead I was reaching for my parents. The next morning, he was on the phone to all of his friends and was relaying his concern because he wasn't sure how HE was going to be able to make it through this difficult week. The entire week, he was HORRIBLE. He would be the consoling husband in front of the family – until we got in the car to go home and his entire demeanor changed and he was this monster spewing venom at me. The day of the funeral, he was EXTREMELY HORRIBLE until we got to the church and then, he was this "Amazing" husband who is "here for his wife" … he tried to hold my hand as we were being brought into the auditorium for the funeral and was visibly irritated because I wouldn't hold his hand. I got up to give a tribute to my sister and, as I'm waiting to go onto the stage, he sends a message to my watch about somebody showing up to the funeral and how dare he! … After the funeral, there were extreme amounts of people who wanted to talk to me and he "waited 'patiently' … " until HE was done. He loaded up the car and scurried me out the door. He had to go bird hunting, after all, and all of his friends were waiting …. It didn't matter that he wasn't there for me at that time – I wanted him to go. I NEEDED him to go.

    When I returned from my grieving period, holidays, etc. I was met with a formal investigation – she had filed a formal complaint against me for "falsifying timecards" (that she perceived … or had "Heard" that I was doing this …). I came out of the investigation with flying colors but the air at the office is TOXIC, at best. I deal with a boss who has ZERO emotional intelligence; does not know how to run this office or manage people. I come home EMOTIONALLY drained and physically tired – only to be met by this Covert Narcissist who is upset that I won't just come home, drop into bed and fulfill his every desire.

    I KNOW I need to leave. I KNOW I am going to leave. I just don't have the energy to do much of anything at this point. I have applied for multiple new jobs – away from this town – and have devised a plan for leaving. It is just slow going, at this time. I am numb. He has worn me down. He thinks that our issues stem back to my job but our issues STARTED at home and my job is just the "icing on top" …. He also has ZERO Emotional Intelligence. I have learned that once I started setting boundaries for him that his true colors started to show – he wants his wife back … the one that would go along with EVERYTHING that He wanted, needed, etc. etc. etc. but – it was not good for me, it was not something I wanted to do or go or be. I have realized that he is not the kind of person that I want to be associated with. If something doesn't suit him, he wants nothing to do with it or is not a good person to that person. I aspire to be soo much more. I envision a life of WHO I want to be and strive to be … I can see it. It is within my fingertip reach …. I just need some help. I need some advice/guidance.

    1. A blog answer wouldn’t respect the detailed description you have given here. I would contact a psychotherapist with experience in working with personality disorders. They will be able to be of help. Dr.K

  2. I am in quite a dilemma. A 40+ year marriage and I have been run down until I have serious health issues. My wife is, or was, the love of my life which I have had to modify in order to survive. I am unable to converse in a normal conversation with my wife and everything is "my" fault. She really only speaks with me when she is after information or wants something. I have had to lock up my business and personal files, I determined she was going through my records. I feel she has taken pictures of all of my machinery and assets. I am a member of some family assets that she has been trying to determine how they are titled. I have discovered that she lies, manipulates and is always conniving. She has many times Gaslighted me including throwing me under the bus with our children. I have found out she has criticized and disparaged me to our children, and others for a very long time which has resulted in a poor relationship with our children. I have determined that she has had decades long affairs and to this day meets men for sex or "friends with benefits". I have seen the aftermath of her unprotected sex more than once. She has sent signals to guys to hook up in by presence. I have a very good memory and recall behavior and experiences of the past which leads me to believe that she has been a cheater since I met her. I am a fairly bright guy but it took me a very long time to work through her behavior. Her father was a cheater, and some of her family have behavior issues including paroniod schizophrenia. She refuses to admit her adultly or a personally disorder, but the HUGE dark elephant still lurks in the corner. She tells me I am crazy and there is something wrong with me! I have had to research and learn more than I ever wanted to know about personally disorders in particular covert Narcissist Personally Disorder. My wife gets worse with age. I have seen evil in her and at times i am intimidated and frightened by her even though she is less than half my size. I don't understand how I must still have feelings for her. I have been unable to find a therapist that has much knowledge in personally disorders. We have been to couple therapy with horrible results. I really need to see a Phd or MD here in my area, in person, to help me through this hell. I have been unable find someone, even with input from my health insurer. This is just the introduction to a very stressful marriage. Could you guide me to someone local to me?

    1. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy request. I would suggest seeking a psychologist with experience working in personality disorders. You can ask him or her when you call. That’s my best advice. -Dr.K

  3. I'm suffering terribly with what I think is the final of this card after 24 years and I just feel so much cognitive dissonance and fear and abandonment I need someone to talk to you things are very different this time he went very public with this one this Supply and I don't think she's new she's a retread. Things are very very weird and he's very very weird he's with her he says his life is so much better he's getting sex and everything from her yet he still wants to coerce me to have sex with him. I want nothing to do with him in that way. He kicked me out of the house and I moved to Arizona two years ago and he's very psychotic but a lot of things he has a psychotic process about me. I'm a therapist

  4. This article was a HUGE eye-opener! My husband who is also my pastor shows all the signs of being a covert narcissist. I didn't know what I was dealing with but now I do!

  5. Wow! Been with my husband 25 years. There has been something off for years!!! I could not figure it out! I also tried to figure out why do I stay? Why do I keep going through things with him? One because of the kids and our home! But I just could not figure it out! My family, friends, and my college age daughters (who now see what I go through and suspect more) always say I have always been a kind and loving wife! I have read so many things about narcissism and even levels of psychopath behavior but he never quite fit in to that level of abuse! Then I found this convert thing. I still don’t feel he is quite like that but his abuse of money, always turns everything around on me, says I am the problem, I am too sensitive…..I am just mentally tired now. Just waiting for my girls to be done with college and “best odds happy” and leave the nest. Just not sure what I will do when my kids are ok and out on there own…….

  6. My husband and I have been married for 32 years. We are in major crisis. I believe him to have many personality traits that closely align with what i have read on covert or passive narcissism. He has succeeded in wearing me down. Things have been challenging but over the last 2-3 years quite bad and the last 6 mos has us in mediation and preparing for divorce. It has been gut wrenching for me, which is the reason I am reaching out before completely resigning myself to divorce. Another reason for reaching out, besides feeling like im grasping for straws, is that within my husband is a gentle caring man. He does not see his indirect communication, his anxiety, his acting without considering my feelings and lies, multiple lies. He just doesn't see those lines clearly and continues to tell me that if i could just "use a soft start" with him things would be better. He goes on to tell me that he just isn't used to criticism (because he thinks he's pretty perfect) since he didnt receive much criticism growing up (from his divorced extremely dysfunctional mother). I am truly at a crossroads in my 58 year old life and am having a hard time gathering the energy to fight this anymore.

  7. Hi I think I'm in a relationship with a narrsistist but I'm not really sure I just know it seems he only cares about himself and he's always picking fights to leave and I wonder if he's cheating he always pretends to sleep when he's here and if he ever has to spend any money on me or his son it's a problem .. can you help me by helping build my self esteem to fight back please

  8. I’m one yr widow. Of covert narcissitic husband of 30 plus years .. when he got sic my. Eyes were opened of the yrs of emoti9nal financial. Lies ect. I’m still haunted by all he did tome and no one who knew him would believe me every9ne thought he was a saint.
    I did it to myself as not take care of myself without a husband. I lost eryth8bg when I married. Him now i old and a wasted life. His family were horrible tome too

  9. This is the best and most accurate articulate I’ve read of a covert narc. My covert narc marriarage if three plus decades finally ended when he finally died. We did not end well as I was on to him. Thankfully to him and his family and kids being closser.
    He and they tryed to rob me of everything before he did but thankfully. They could not. I can5 believe I’m free. And still recovering and remembering more and more of when he did and stood from me with all his flackery and lies.
    I’m still try8ng to get my self true and life back

  10. My marriage is like this how can I make it better and keep my family together and help my covert narcissist wife

    1. I have a brother that’s in his mid-50s and has been married to a covert narcissist as well for over 30 years. Everyone around him sees his wife for who she is, but the only thing he’s ever admitted to was that she’s “different”.

      We are now estranged and got to that point because he’s “supporting his wife”. I’m so sorry for your situation, but feel you’re on your way. As you gain more knowledge, you’ll grow in your desire to be an example to your kids as to what a healthy marriage is supposed to look like, and by doing so, create a dynamic that might help your wife understand you also have boundaries.

  11. This was a great read I spent 11 years with narcissist the first red flag was when she gave me the silent treatment while deployed … and I just kept “hoping” things would get better…

  12. I believe my husband is a covert narcissist. We have 3 children, one is severly disabled. I have told him I don't love him and want to leave but he is refusing to give up. Is there any hope?

    1. I’m confused, Carly. He refuses to give up what exactly? If you want to leave, you leave. It takes two to stay married and one to divorce. So I’m uncertain where hope comes in…Dr. K

  13. I'm wondering if the man I've been married to for 40 years is a covert narcissist. He may have inherited traits from his father who was a grandiose narcissist. Many years ago a psychologist suggested that he could have BPD, but he seems more like a narcissist.

    He's arrogant, acts like he knows everything about everything.

    I don't think he has cheated, but he was addicted to porn and kept that secret from me for many years. He had what could be called "emotional affairs" at work.

    I have a lot of health problems, and he seems short on empathy for me. He never asks how I'm doing, never cares whether I get medical treatment or my prescriptions. When I had to have major surgery, he launched into a vicious attack on me on the morning that we were getting ready for me to go to the hospital. Often, he sees my health problems as some kind of competition.

    He also seems short on empathy for his family members, seems to have little to no caring for his elderly mother who lives alone after her husband died.

    We used to be close. I used to feel like I could tell him anything, but now, even during times of grief after the loss of a loved one, it seems like he's not listening, and he gets up and does something in the room–like suddenly decides to clean out a drawer.

    In the past, he has made fun of my body–my weight and my private parts, which was very hurtful. He told me shortly after we got married that his previous girlfriend was much prettier than me. Every once in a while, he'll make passive-aggressive digs.

    It seems like he's always angry and resentful–unforgiving. Sometimes he'll bring something trivial up that happened years ago to attack me with. He told me recently that he'd never get me kitchen gadgets as gifts as I went off on him for doing so years ago. I can't even remember that, and I would never be anything but thankful for a gift.

    During arguments, he gives me the silent treatment or he turns everything around and attacks me. We get nowhere. When I told him recently that I think we need counseling, he attacked me verbally and left for two days, refusing to answer his phone.

    He has a jealous streak. He won't let me go to church as he's afraid that I will "meet someone" there. When a friend of ours died, he accused me of being in love with this person simply because I grieved. It was so ridiculous! Even though he's jealous, he used to like me to dress up and show myself off in public as if I was a trophy.

    And finally, I was shocked when I heard his telephone conversation with a nutritionist a few days ago about his weight and high cholesterol. He constantly bragged about himself–how he used to have an 18 inch neck, was a champion swimmer, and more. And she was just trying to get information about his current diet and exercise regimen. I had a sense that he felt ashamed about having to discuss these issues with her.

  14. I was married to a covert narcissist for 39 years. I believe he displayed his gaslighting in 2000 but I did not know what that term meant until 2020.
    When I found myself realizing that he would make horrible mistakes but never admit anything, he was willing to let the mistake go on forever so he did not have to face it. That struck me as a red flag and it should you too.

    Then after I tried to forgive and move forward I was being gaslighted constantly on things I would prove to him but was always told I did not know what I was talking about. This was never seen by my daughters and his public personna was a perfect spouse in every way. No one knew what I was going through and after the divorce last year my daughters do not speak to me or let me see my grandchildren. They are blaming me solely for the divorce. DO NOT EVER allow someone to do this to you and never let the gaslighting go as if it will get better. I realize now that I was living an illusion. I wanted him to be the person I thought he was. If I would have known what gaslighting was I could have figured all of this out sooner. As it was, it destroyed me and gave me PTSD. I doubt I will ever trust another person. it is the most EVIL thing I have ever had to deal with.

    I pray that God will show my daughters that it was not me! But I have not seen any change. They never saw anything and left me trying to explain. Of course the more I explained the more they blamed me.

  15. I spent years married to a Covert Narcissist, Punitive Avenger. When I finally did work of the courage to leave this horribly abusive situation she wasted no time in turning me into the devil himself, even five years after the divorce was finalized she still goes out of her way to aggressively destroy any attempts to try to have a relationship with our children. I have had to make peace that I will probably never have a relationship with them. My only advise to any one who thinks they are married to one of these people…RUN…and the sooner the better. They are beyond help and the damage they will do to your soul isn't worth the effort of staying.

  16. My jaw just dropped reading this article. Thanks for publishing this. Wow- All these years, especially the last few I've been assuming it was all me- that I was narcissist, and I was doing my thing on her. the typical fight would be me feeling a lack of intimacy / sex. 10 years ago, we went to couples therapy. Which we learned each others love languages- hers is acts of service, and mine is physical touch. After learning this she felt that I only did things for her so I could have sex. "You should do things for me without wanting something. And I shouldn't ask you- you should just know what I want. And its annoying that you point out what you've done". Yea, damned if I do, damned if I don't. The past 6 months I've been hyper critical of myself- and decided to do things for her without expecting sex or anything in return. Making the bed every day, making her coffee every day (I don't drink coffee) and doing little things around the house. I wouldn't even point it out. I would get verbal "Thanks. I appreciate it" which I was cool with. The tipping point was a couple weeks ago- I got sick and she got pissed "your a grown man take care of yourself". When I recovered she needed a piece of equipment for her business , which I drove 5 hours to go get it. "Thanks" then she would spend hours on her phone, on Facebook, Instagram, tic-toc then when I would head to bed she would start working on her business with that equipment. This would go til 3-4am in the morning and just a few hours before she had to work- shocker she got sick. Note, I stopped asking or rubbing her back, hugging her, i.e. "hinting" for sex / intimacy years ago as that would usually trigger her and I would be on my own for a few more days. According to her it has to be natural. I was so frustrated I shut down and stopped talking to her. this is the typical fight pattern- i'm not proud of how I dealt with this- as talking though it and going for a win-win would be just a continuous fight. This time I just couldn't sleep in the same bed- needed some space to cool down. After a couple days I got a monster text message stating how cruel I am and she doesn't deserve to be treated this way. Along with "I don't know what I did this time" with that text having a play by play of her getting sick, me being sick, her having to work late- which this seemed so bizarre and confusing as she had this big play by play stories about not being intimate with me but she was a victim. Since this is the typical fight but her "I don't know why your treating me so bad – I don't know what I did" was suck a distortion of reality and insulting to me I started researching key words. toxic came up, narcissist , then covert narcissist. I replied to the text if we could talk, but got nothing. I apologized for how I made her feel- it was immature and I shouldn't take my frustration out on her- and using some feedback agreed with her "your right you don't deserve to be treated this way, again I'm sorry for hurting your feelings" wow. her text response was beyond hateful. it was even more odd- accused me of staying hateful things not understanding everything she's going though. I was surprised she took the apologies as hateful. with articles like this I was able to figure out she doesn't want to resolve this on-going issue- she just wanted to fight and generate drama- make sure I knew she was the victim and I need to meet her half way – I become selfish and hateful when I don't get exactly what I want. I'm wrapping my head around this – its great to have an idea of whats going on , and its not all me- She's been with me for 15 years and I feel like I conditioned her- it was my fault that she reacts to me… then I get mad and react to her. So many years of being confused on what I did to make her mad. And when I would voice my feelings ka-boom! monster fight and prolonged time for intimacy and sex. It seems like I fell right into the manipulation and control and didn't even know it… plus thought it was my fault. Oh, yes, Shes open about how passive aggressive she is and in public I get the "your so lucky to have her she so sweet and helpful" when I wanted to point out if she's getting her way and myself and kids are meeting her expectations- if not she can make things every toxic at home. She is always shopping and buying things we don't need. Our garage has so many bags of stuff shes bought and never took out of the target bag. We've got a few kids all but 1 is in college and shes a junior in high school. I'm so fearful to confront her that we need to change this. I need to come up with a way to talk about boundaries too. Wow- I needed to vent this. Thanks. I'm no picnic either- I've got my own issues . i'm sure I do have a form of narcissism , I do have ADHD (which when she gets annoyed at me she will ask if I've taken my meds yet today) and I do love her no matter what.

    1. My name is Mark, I read your story and it all most made me throw up because my situation id exactly the same, with no children. I have 3 from a previous marriage. She a borderline sex addict and early in our relationship we barely left the bedroom for 4 months. This continued for a year or so and then the arguments started over me wanting too much to away with friends, my interests, even spending too much time when speaking to my mom on the phone. She rarely wanted me out of her sight and used location to see where I was when I could go anywhere. If I stopped at a convenient store she would text and say I thought you were going to the hardware store ( for example) why are doing there? When I do chores or stay home a lot she’ll say do you want a blow job,?
      Or sex. I would have taken it in a second a couple years prior but I got into a depression over the feeling of being imprisoned and it started affecting my sex drive so I had to start E.D. Medication because not being able to perform was making my depression even worse. We’ve been together almost 6 years and married for almost 2 years in October.
      We get along for 4 or 5 days and hardly to talk or fight for 3 or 4. She hates to be wrong and never admits it when she knows she is. I say I’m sorry to her when I shouldn’t be the one apologizing. She exaggerates her degree of experience with her previous jobs office assistant at a doctors office. Her degee was in medical coding but she tells me things to make me think she was a R.N. about her responsibilities there. Tells me the same grandiose stories over and over. She only worked for years after getting her degree. She’s disabled for M.S. but in remission. She constantly accuses me of things I have done, blames me for things, or says Im a narcissist when we have fights. I quit drinking alcohol because she felt like I verbally abused her when I did. I just said the things I was afraid to say while sober. I stopped smoking cigarettes over 2 years ago but she’s accusing of smoking again and believes nicotine is causing me to be an asshole, in her words. I haven’t had a puff since I quit but she’s sure I have.
      I moved out 6 months ago because she had a fit of rage on a level I hadn’t seen before and kicked my out of our house. I was gone for 37 days when she texted me photos of our scale at home showing 95 pounds, normally 112 to 115 which made her look like a skeleton. She begged me to come back and promised she would change. She did for 2 weeks and slowly started back to her old ways and even worse this time.
      I left again 5 days ago and I’m disabled as well from a car accident so it’s a difficult situation trying to restart my life with just my clothes, tools, car, with my disability money I receive I can make it but it’s tough because I do love her,
      I may be over for good this time.

  17. I am married to a covert for 45 years I am 62 years old. for 45 years he had affairs an belittle me called me names even once when I just got out of the theater with a 5 hour brain surgery he attacked me for what I said still under anesthesia. He took my authority away to get into our t-mobile bill, I an not get into his bank accounts he blocked me from every thing even his phone and laptop opened with his thumb print or his eyes. No Iam done they can not change I've tried many years now. My msge for woman with a covert narc husband. Start running and never look back

  18. I think covert narcissism hurts the worse. My husband is every bit of what defines this type of passive aggression. We tried counseling. He gives up and says he doesn't need it.

    I have some form of PTSD from my own childhood. I do appear to have some form of narcissism, myself. I never see him smile or be happy. He is very critical, controlling, immature, and argumentative. He lies, tells half truths, gets even, pretends to be a Christian, lousy with money ( always in debt) chronic sarcasm. He is 72 years old. Yesterday in a parking lot, he rammed into my cart. So when he got in front of me, I rammed him in the back end. Maybe he should think next time he tries to get even for some imagined hurt. I love him but very much dislike him. I am a Christian myself and I just feel that he is full of demons.

  19. I am in a relationship but not married. I am 19 weeks pregnant. I feel like my partner could be a covert narcissist but I also don’t want to self diagnose. A lot of what I read in the article fits. From the start he used the trauma of losing his dad in childhood as a scapegoat to never talk about his bad behaviour. I eventually caught on and stopped feeding that behaviour. As a result he felt unloved never feels good enough. Hates criticism. Recently he woke me up jacking off at 3am I asked him if he was watching porn. He insisted no he wasn’t but me being irritated he woke me up had vibes of disbelief. I later checked his Gmail activity where he never started watching porn until after that question and now it has become a major problem. He does it all the time. Doesn’t think there is any problem with it. I really don’t want this child to grow up in a broken home. Sometimes I feel like he is capable of empathy but he has a hard time accepting it. I may also have some perfection narcissistic trait having been raised with a narcissistic father always demanding perfection from me. However I am big on empathy. I believe my narcissistic tendencies are just learn behaviours. I want to help my boyfriend and myself and save this family we have started. We are low income I have insurance he does not. Any advice?

    1. Check the phonebook for local public mental health clinics in your area and seek out a counselor. They are subsidized to provide low-cost or free services.

  20. I’ve been married to my husband for 3 years. We just had a beautiful baby girl in October, born by c section, so obviously I was in excruciating pain for the first couple days! Well the very first night after the birth, he was sleeping soundly on the couch just a few feet away from the hospital bed that I was stuck in, (still couldn’t walk yet) and I was struggling to care for our baby due to the pain. I tried waking him up and he didn’t budge.. he’s an extremely light sleeper, always has been, UNTIL THAT NIGHT! When I realized I was on my own I started balling.. he supposedly didn’t hear that either.. We ended up staying at the hospital for 5 days total. I barely slept the entire time while he was maintaining a normal routine, getting a full night’s sleep every night. When he was awake he ignored me for the majority of the day unless a doctor or nurse was in the room.. I asked him numerous times if something was wrong, if he was OK etc. He ignored that question every single time.. it continued for the first 2 weeks of my baby’s life. I was so exhausted all the time and never received the support that he promised through the whole pregnancy!! I finally just straight up pointed out to him one morning, when baby was almost 3 weeks old, that he’d never changed her diaper before, only fed her a couple times, and almost never held her, and that I was struggling to heal because of the ROUND THE CLOCK care that I was doing all on my own. I never got to lay down long enough for my body to actually rest. Longest stretch of sleep was 3 hours and I only got it because I literally blacked out on the couch! Anyway, he finally decided to step up after I pointed out to him that I needed his help. But first he had to react by yelling at me, of course!
    Fast forward to last night, I randomly asked him about that period of silence and indifference in the first 2 weeks of the baby’s life.. He finally told me what happened..

    We got into an argument 2 days before my scheduled c section because I asked him to explain certain behaviors and incidents that have been making me worry that he’s hiding something.. After witnessing the birth of our daughter he was debating on whether or not he wanted to take the baby and leave, because I had “accused him of cheating.” I never threw any accusations. Only asked for explanations!

    I was shocked. I cried harder than I have in years and when I got up this morning I cried some more. Have been crying on and off all day long. When I was balling last night he looked, sounded, and acted almost giddy as he “consoled me.” He was enjoying the pain he had inflicted on me. He thinks I’m upset because I feel ugly.. I haven’t even told him that it’s his total lack of empathy towards me when I was in so much pain after the c section, and the fact that his first fatherly thought was to use this baby to hurt me as revenge for an argument that was started when I asked a question he didn’t want to answer..

    He matches the traits in this article almost perfectly, but he does try to change his actions to make me happy when I point out things that hurt my feelings, or behaviors that are inconsiderate to me. But he’s completely incapable of any empathy whatsoever. He just doesn’t understand, and I’ve been terrified of being totally open about what he can do to make me feel better because that always ends with him yelling at me and reminding me of every dumb mistake I’ve made in our whole relationship.. but if I barely mention something he’s done to hurt me he wants to leave me and take the baby!

    How can I help us to communicate better?? Is there a way to approach discussions about the relationship without him feeling criticized and lashing out?? I desperately want to do whatever I can to keep what happiness is left in our marriage!! We can’t afford marriage counseling, and I don’t think it’d help anyway due to his inability to self reflect, so I want us to come together and work on this!!

    1. Leave. Your husband is abusive. You don’t need a counsellor to validate what you have already articulated: Trust your instincts. Every inch of his conduct towards you, at your most vulnerable and weakened state, is a deal-breaker.

  21. I’m young and I’ve only been in a committed relationship for about 2 years. I was blessed with a man who knows how to communicate. For the longest I thought I was the best person to be in a relationship with. What I’ve learned: I’m an absolute monster. My partner is constantly trying to talk to me and explain how he’s feeling, unloved, lonely, hurt, etc. I don’t feel an empathy towards any of that. I get angry and I shut down. He’ll tell me “ I’m not trying to be mean and I’m not trying to blame you for anything I’m just saying right now I need a little more love and you’re angry at me for it”. I take it as criticism and I shut down and don’t respond. I’ve always been like this and it’s only to the people I’m close with. My best friend and my parents. Anyone else won’t see it. I look like an angel. And the thing is.. I know I’m doing these things and it sounds stupid but I don’t know how to change it. I have an issue with telling my partner he should leave because I’m abusive and I know I won’t change then I’ll end up telling him I will be better because I can see he’s hurt. Everything has gotten worse though we have so many good days but as soon as he wants to express his emotions I lose it and I hate him for it because I feel guilty, even though he never brings up my past mistakes like me getting physical, or my infidelity, or my abusive words and my constant belittling him. I always know that’s why his depression is there and I feel guilty and it makes me angry. I guess I’ve finally found a name for “how I act” if that’s how I’m supposed to put it. I don’t know. I’m a young female and I’m genuinely afraid that I will always be like this. Is it because I don’t want to change or is it because I can’t. I know what I do is wrong and I can apologize for it it’s just that I feel very little empathy for how I make my partner feel. I think the only reason I’m making any progress is because I don’t want my words to affect our relationship in the future not because I know what I say and do will hurt him it’s because I know he will never leave me and I don’t want to feel bad about my previous mistakes .

    1. Tell him of your commitment to be different and invite him to challenge your defensiveness. At least he’ll feel like you are both on the same team…

    2. I commend you for acknowledging that you have these tendancies..Its remarkable really..I should imagine you are quite capable of changing how you react..The hardest part for a Narc seems to be the notion that they too are fallible…I can empathize with your husband..I too,endure days where after 30 years of marriage I feel like im completely on my own and not part of something bigger..I share my feelings ,recognize my part in whatever disagreement we are challenged with and Im attacking her..Which is outright lunacy,I’ve even gone so far as now,I start these discussions with a disclaimer,urging her to hear that im not laying blame at her feet entirely…My biggest problem is she is an angel and lets our teenage daughters assume Im the problem..not once has she ever said”kids,your dad and I are at odds with each other ,but he loves you and me and we are both working to be better “I get the silent treatment often for simple inquiries…I have never raised my voice to the woman,nor any aggresive nature at time for that stuff I saw plenty of it as a kid….Keep at it,youve taken the grandest step in even doing research..I commend you for that…be well,and best of luck.

  22. WOW is all I can say. I left my husband in September because he is an alcoholic and I’m also seeing that he is a Covert Narcissist. Reading the replies I see a little of my story in each of their stories.
    We married when I was 16 and a good marriage until in the 2000’s. My father-in-law past in 1999 and my husband went from drinking socially to drinking every weekend and from there it has only gotten worse. He has blamed me for everything that has ever gone wrong in our marriage and even in a blaming me for his Dad’s death. He was home drinking and I was with our children at a hayride and cookout. He had been drinking and drove to where I was to get me to take him to the nursing home where is Dad was, the family was called in. We got there 5 minutes after his Dad passed and to this day he blames me for him not being there.
    Since I left in September he has accused me of cheating, stealing ( because I haven’t worked in a few years because I’m disabled), lying, and anything else he can blame me for. He’s drinks because he is lonely but doesn’t speak to me when I’m there. He refuses to believe he is an alcoholic even though he drinks a gallon of whiskey a week. I know deep down I should divorce him and just need the confidence to do it.
    Prayers and positive thoughts for those dealing with this.

  23. You all….I’m a covert narcissist. I never knew. I always wondered why relationships were hard and never worked out; why others who have falling outs could reconcile but that never happened with any of my relationships. What do I do?! I don’t have money for a therapist and I guess in true narcissistic fashion, it’s very embarrassing to be labeled such a horrible horrible thing and sit on a couch and say that. It’s like having murderer written on your permanent record. I’m devastated that this is me but I feel relieved I finally know! I want to change!

    1. Lookup a local mental health clinic. They have sliding scales and can help. Good for you for noticing how little you are motivated to reveal this in person to another person. That’s a wonderful insight. Good for you!

  24. I have just read all the comments below and I feel so very sorry for what people are going through in their marriages.
    I was lucky, by comparison. I was in a two year affair with a person who exhibited a lot of covert narcissistic/borderline traits that are so well described in this article. He used me without any remorse, doing over and over again several things he knew for sure that would have hurt me: triangulation, manipulation, silent treatment, jealousy, lies, threatening to leave me if I got tired and asked him to change his behaviour, all interspersed with love bombing, devaluate and discard cycles, victim mentality, perfectionism, depression, feelings of inadequacy towards me, self-sabotage, destructive mistakes…
    I didn’t know about covert narcissists but after the last humiliation I got rid of him and the thought suddenly hit me. All my suspicions that I could not put a name to, had a name at last: covert narcissism. It was devastating.
    It was clean break, a little over a year ago and I haven’t had any contact since. I am so much better but there are days it still hurts and I don’t know when this wound will really heal. Other times my mind disassociates and it feels that such a things could not have happened to me, that surely that was not my life. I am on antidepressants and I don’t know when I will be able to stop. My trust in people is over and for months I had suicidal thoughts and no self esteem. The trauma was absolutely real.
    I can only imagine what it means to go through this for decades and feel unable to end a marriage.
    I wish you all the best in keeping strong and finding happiness away from the people who hurt you.

  25. thank you for this article and the comments below. Married 28 years to Covert Narcissist. Every conflict over the years ended in silent treatment. No matter what i did we would never be able to 'repair' following disagreements or differences. too crazy and too much to share. "I can't talk to you because we are so different. That is unhealthy." My biggest issue- what makes it so hard to help therapists understand this. my wife presents as a sweet angel, 'little girl' almost, vulnerable and defenseless, which activates the therapists' protect mode, and they align with her 100%. It is astounding. At home she is cold and withdrawn. in public she is sweet and outgoing. Her whole life- hundreds of acquaintances but no deep friendships. She adored and doted on by her father. the joke in the family is that he would do anything for her. She grew up with crazy indirect talk in her family. When I try to share openly and directly, she shuts down, and secretly calls her support to tell them how angry and aggressive I am! oh, everything is a criticism! Even when I preface what I say. But then the flying monkeys tell me, "you must be criticizing her." oh man! I am the codependent who needs to regain my life on my own…but we're 28 years and 7 kids into this. youngest in 8th grade. Im not going to tear the family apart. But the loneliness, craziness, and flying monkeys who just swallow her narrative hook, line, and sinker are very very painful. All normal rules of relationships go out the window as her support group just, almost jedi like, repeat her talking points…and when I gently try to ask clarifying questions- "can you give me an example of what I said or did that was angry" – its like i violated some rule…no answer. NUTS.

    1. This is my life. Exactly. I have lost a therapist because my narc was able to manipulate her, the therapist and the therapy and she allowed it by buying into his act. He presents so well! I have never met an adult that is so childish.

      1. I’ve been married to my wife for 5 years and known her for 6 years. I was a mess when we met addicted to meth and pain pills and had no self esteem and she was in my mind the good girl that I couldn’t believe would even talk to a guy like me. She came from a good Christian and wealthy family and had no problem having sex with me but kept me a secret from her family and even would not stop talking to her ex boyfriend from where she used to live telling me they were just friends until I finally told her I couldn’t be a secret or be with a woman that still talks tp her so called ex everyday so only then did she tell her family and supposedly stopped talking to her ex. I married her and it’s been hell . I couldn’t really explain it to anyone because it was so confusing with the blame shifting and omg she cannot take anything that is close to criticism. I got sober 2 years ago and every since I started seeing things alot more clearly and stumbled on to a video about covert narcissists and it blew my mind. What I am really devastated about now is not knowing if she even gets depressed that things are so messed up with us. She says the most horrible things to me and I get mad and say mean things to but nowhere near the things she says. Things that make me question everything about myself and my life. I don’t let her know it but it really has me pretty low. I always end up apologizing if I lose it when she is making up a fight and then playing the victim but she doesn’t, oh no she is justified she says. I do not know what to do and its making me crazy and depressed as hell. She acts like the perfect Christian and always brings God into the fight. I’m a Christian too but I stay so mad and frustrated because she uses sex as a tool to punish that i can’t even pray or stay mad so I don’t. Anyway this is the first time I’ve ever talk about it so sorry for the venting but everyone that truly has to go through this I love ya and feel the pain yall feel.

        1. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Stop your own contribution to the craziness and get help on your own. Having an outside opinion sounds really helpful to you.

    2. I just realized today that im married to a narcissists. Ive been married for 25 years and have two grown daughters who sympathize with me.

  26. Thank you for this insightful assessment of the Covert Narcissist. I think I am the spouse of a person that displays many of the attributes and behavioral traits described in the article. I need help to navigate these challenges…..after 32 yrs of marriage, I’ve lost my way.

    1. Wow, just wow. I have been married for almost 40 years. From early on in our relationship I was told I was the problem and I was a narcissist. I was actually believing that I was the problem. Can you say gaslit? Turns out she she is a covert narcissist, who was raised by a grandiose narcissist. I’ve been on and off antidepressants for the last 25 years feeling inept and incompetent. In 40+ years of a relationship, I have never heard her say “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry.” Im so tired of the passive aggressive digs, and her clinging on and reminding me of the the past mistakes I’ve made, even though I’ve confessed, and apologized for them.

      This all came to an ah-ha moment for me a few weeks ago when my narcissistic boss was let go. I knew he stretched the truth and was narcissistic. After talking to his superiors after he was let go, I found out what a total liar he was. Pretty much anything he said was a lie and the truth was the exact opposite. Now, I’m realizing the same is true with my wife. I’m done with being gaslighted and lied to.

      Not sure where this will go with her. She has given me a ultimatum. I’ve come to the point where I will no longer be bullied or threatened. Previously, I would cave and say I’m sorry to keep the peace. (That is my mistake and codependency). I’m calmly and politely holding firm this time. If we separate or divorce, I will be sad. She seems to care, and just follows the pattern of how she grew up. Maybe there is hope for her. I hope for her sake she can find some peace and forgiveness for the narcissist mom she was raised by. Maybe then she can heal and our marriage can heal.

  27. Problem is you’ll be responding badly to criticism whether you’re the narcissist in the relation or the codependent, the codependent has been primed by early caregivers and narcissistic spouse both, through their constant derision and criticisms, to be hypersensitive and do their utmost to anticipate and avoid the constant criticism and consequently low self-worth, it ois this hypersensitivity that makes them idealise themselves as “empaths”. They will be equally pone to shifting blame. Especially with covert narcissists couplings it can be really tricky telling the codependent and narcissist apart …

  28. I just couldn’t take it anymore, 2 weeks ago I left my covert narc wife after 25 years of marriage. There was constant contempt, angry retorts, belittling, always opposing my position over every little thing, decades of isolating me, repetitive threats of divorce for the last 15 months during covid lockdown. And I was laid off last June, so I was stuck with her 24/7. One morning 2 weeks ago she said “Why don’t you just leave.”… so I did! I’m done with her sullen, brooding, uncaring, selfish, highly critical, emotionally immature crap, I’ve taken it far too long. She’s been gaslighting me for 8 years. She created a fake setup, a circumstance that enabled her to accuse me of doing something that could have hurt her. Except I didn’t do it, she did it to herself, and has been accusing me ever since! I developed depression shortly after that all started, then I had a heart attack. She picked a fight in my hospital room…and ran out! My best friend went after her and asked “what’s the matter?”, she told him “I don’t want to have to take care of an invalid!”. He told me what happened and I confronted her with it, she said “He’s a liar” and “you can’t be friends with him”. A couple years later I got cancer and had to undergo chemo. She wanted me to stay in a hotel after each round so that she “wouldn’t be exposed to anything toxic coming out of me”. Well, we happened to be in couples therapy at the time, and I thought the therapist was going to fall out of her chair when my wife told her that. We spent that session coming up with a plan to have me stay at home in a separate bedroom and I thoroughly cleaned the bathroom each time. Let’s add No Empathy to that earlier list. Fast forward to now, right after I left, she tried to hoover me with emails and texts saying “I Love You, When are you coming back?” I replied, “I’m not” she said “who’s going to cut the grass?” and “that my stuff would be out on the lawn”. I went no contact. The letter from my lawyer should have been delivered yesterday. The marriage was actually pretty good for the first 10 years, and then she slipped into covert narc mode after her grandparents and parents all passed away within just a few years of each other. I have codependent tendencies, and this is very difficult, so I’m going back into therapy this week. it really sucks to be married to a covert narc, they crush your soul and rub out out every shred of happiness in your life. I just hope to move on and I pray there will be better days ahead being single.

  29. Married 30 years. Two grown daughters. I have never heard my husband say, “I’m sorry”. I have heard, “ I’m sorry if what I said or did made you mad”.. Gaslighting?
    He is the pillar of community. Ever on the look out on what or who he can do good deeds for, then announce the deeds at church, saying how appreciative and thankful they were. He is such a “fine man”, so I’m told. I take care of a 400 acre farm. No help from him. He is too busy getting pats on the back for good deeds. I’m tired at 60. I have so many stories but am just fed up.

    1. My exnarc was violent, picked a fight at celebrations, cheated etc. I forgave everytime. Bought into the lie that he had a bad childhood and if i loved him he wld heal. Somehow skipped my attention that in 23 years of loving him – he hadn’t changed one bit!
      However ur comment caught my attention because when I finally did leave it was because I realized in 23 years he had never apologized for anything. Even when he is wrong and I’m determined not to speak to him first he wld be silent for weeks. If i say something first, he is contrite, so I always put it down to insecurity.

      He wld apologize for the big things like being caught cheating or hitting me but nothing else.

      I just realized this is weird. After 23 years together, 17 of those married and 2 kids – wld this guy really watch me walk away jst cause he can’t bring himself to apologize?

      He did.

      I moved out to show him I meant business and he filed for divorce!

      I didn’t even mind. I’d been trying to leave him for years.

      But about 5 years into the divorce and discovering I had had absolutely no idea who the person I married was I still marvel at how it all came about.

      Jst that feeling deep down that, it’s absolutely NOT normal to find it this difficult to apologize when u r wrong.

      I’m still blown away by this.

      If u do decide to leave, do not do it on a whim like
      me – plan that shit to the smallest detail.

      Its almost better to stay at this point. Leaving him will trigger an epic rage that u may not survive.

  30. No hope for narcissists. The spouse will continue to get hurt emotionally and verbally as she waits on the narcissist to change. Moor pounding. It is a waste of time and a dead end and more damage to the spouse’s inner self.

  31. Great article. I have been married to a covert narcissist wife and the amount of beat downs you get is never ending! Nonstop. I’m 57, she tricked me into getting married, I didn’t want kids cause I had already my Daughter, my one and only child. I now I have a 4 year old and 8 year old absolutely beautiful girls. I guess that’s something good she did but she tricked me as well on that. Fertilization . I can’t spell the first word. We had been together 20 years and we also have a business together. I am so tired and just defeated. My children are the only thing keeping me going. I don’t know how to get help, she of course controls all the funds. I work 15 hours 7 days a week cutting glass and mirror for our shop.she makes me. I’ve been doing that for 15 years. She shops on Amazon and I still have the same shirts I had when we got married. We have a picture with puppies in and I have the same shirt on in the picture that I had o the day I looked at the picture. Those puppies passed away a year ago at 15. I know this is a waste of time but it helps to see it written. And also I’m an Empath. Great combo. Kind, loving , caring , affectionate, with no one to give it to me. I just learned all about this mental illness about a year ago. I have been searching for a long time to find out what was going on. But I stayed dillengent and found it. How can I leave her with those two beautiful children? As a Father I could never leave my babies in danger. Who could? I’m so lonely, exhausted and defeated. We dated 5 years and it was amazing. Day 2 of the marriage I knew something was off. But as an Empath I feel and see people’s energy, and hers went from off white ( something wasn’t right) and it has now turned into black, evil, energy that makes me nauseous. I’ve been so sick, on and off. It’s always a Monday , is my first sick day. Thank you so sorry, great Article.

    1. Man. I feel you. I am in a similar boat. Only I am 37 and have 1 child w her.

      My life is a constant balance act. Walking on tip toes trying not to get 6 days of silent treatment for nothing at all.
      My boy is almost 10.
      Old enough to reason with.
      I suppose I just have to point out the shit she starts. But that’s not in me. However she is very good at making me out to be the bad guy.

      This sucks.
      I was once happy. The girl that I fell in love with disappeared a long time ago. (Been together 13 years). I’m still me. But thats not good enough

    2. I’m so sorry you’re going thru this. But sadly, it seems that you are telling my story almost perfectly. I wasn’t forced in to marriage at all though. I just live this life of constant criticism, eye rolls, put downs etc. But when I speak up for myself I’m called a narcissist and basically told I do everything wrong and she plays no part in it. Sex is a joke now with her being taken care of very well by me but always tells me that she’s sure that I think she’s not enough for me because I don’t finish. But after everything I have to endure before, foreplay is a major control issue for her, my attempt at completion. Well you probably get it. I pretty sure she loves me but not enough to ever admit her portion of the issue. Sadly, these constant beat downs just make me want to go jump off of a bridge or something similar. I truly feel worthless after 29 years of this. I’m so alone and lost.

  32. My husband, well soon to be ex-husband I guess…. ok some of this fits him. In the beginning when we met it was so wonderful. He was so proud to be with me, so happy. He talked to me every waking moment of the day. He showered me with attention and love. He made me feel special. My husband of 18 years had just had an affair and left a few weeks before I met my present husband, and I was very vulnerable. I was used to being honest about my feelings and my life (and I still am) and so when we were talking I did tell him how I’d feel alone when my ex-husband was sitting in the same room. We dated, and then I became pregnant. I lost the baby and he walked me through the Walmart past the baby aisle and told me “Honey, don’t be so sad I can’t stand to see you this way.” I got angry about that. I was in pain, I had just lost our baby and here he was saying that? Walking me down the baby aisle saying that?! He stopped making love to me, then he became cold and distant. His adopted father died just after I got the DNC, and he withdrew more. I told him how it made me feel, I asked him to please talk to me. He would talk to other women on the internet, but he wasn’t “talking” he was flirting and sharing inappropriate pictures. He left me. I was heartbroken. He told me it was all my fault, that after the DNC which was part of a surgery I had that left me in severe pain for weeks, I was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When I was Hyde I was too needy, I wanted too much of his time, I wanted him to make love to me too much, etc. He started flirting with me and came back, but when he did he was cold and distant much of the time. He left again, this time after calling me names a lot. He told me his leaving was my fault. He came back again… now every time we argued I was a slut or a whore or a bitch. He’d turn everything around on me “Oh I want you to cuddle me, I love you so much” he’d say sarcastically to me. Then we married, and everything evened out and got better for a little while until I found out that he was talking to his ex, trying to get back with her the day AFTER we married. That was my fault too according to him. Every time we argued he’d flip things around on me, making it out like I was the one with the problem, when it was him that was causing the problem. He wouldn’t pay any attention to me, I’d ask to watch a movie or play a game wit him and he’d say not right now. He flat out told me he controlled my sex life and I wasn’t going to have much of one. He continued to “play” with other women telling them he loved them, but when I demanded he choose between me or her he’d block her and keep her blocked and then find another woman to play with. Now we’ve been married just under 4 months. September 2, he was caught telling a woman who was to live with us he wanted to be with her. Then when we argued about it he told me “You wanted this from the beginning.” He’d ask me why I married him, tell me I didn’t love him, this was all my fault. Just the next day on the 3rd, which is kind of still today for me as I write this, he took my kittens knowing I love them. He got mad that I wouldn’t give him some of his stuff because he had never paid anything towards bills and had promised to repay the money that he got from pawning my dead mother’s wedding rings. He told me “You don’t care who you hurt.” Excuse me? He left me for another woman, I was just holding his stuff hostage until he paid what he promised! But I don’t care who I hurt? I had spent the whole day before weeping as he told me he loves me but he’s leaving me to be with her. He told me he doesn’t love her, but he’s going to live with her. He saw my pain the whole day and DID NOT CARE. He screamed at the friend I was talking to on the phone “The woman you’re dating is a slut, the woman you’re dating is a whore, the woman you’re dating is a bitch!” He was screaming “She’s using you man, she told me you were going to — all night long!” The guy I was talking to found it funny, but I did not. He kept trying to beat me down more and more. Him and his girlfriend have been attacking me since he left, he told his friends lies about me and even twisted some of my friends into believing that I was the one doing everything to him and his girlfriend. His attacks, over and over and over… and yet I still love him go figure. I can’t handle this though! I don’t know if he’s narcissistic, my best friend says he is and has from the start, but this article actually seemed to click with my experiences with him. We have been in marriage counseling 2 months, and it does no good. Our therapist gives us “homework” he refuses to do it. If I say anything against him he turns it back on me or he will say something about me that’s not right, but he does it in such a sneaky way that she doesn’t seem to understand what he’s doing.

  33. My soon-to-be-ex husband, a sociopathic narcissist, attended our couple counseling sessions (18 long months of them) like a college freshman auditing a course. He cordially engaged when asked to do so, but at home applied little to nothing of the therapist’s recommendations. What’s worse, he had new terms like “validation” to apply only to himself.

    Therapy exhausted me and left me feeling doubly burdened. Good luck to all of you reading this in proving to your therapist that your spouse is a covert narcissist, which is what you will have to do. It took 18 months for us, at which time the therapist essentially turned the focus on my husband exclusively until it became apparent that he didn’t need to do this. We never got that far. Not even close. My husband cordially agreed. And then at home abused me as never before. He gaslighted, stonewalled and sadistically took pleasure in my anguish.

    Treating a narcissistic spouse in the context of couple therapy is an irresponsible and damaging (to the non-narcissist) protocol. I do not recommend it.

    Narcissists need an intervention-type therapy with involved witnesses because they are not self-inquiring and they are pathological liars. To my knowledge there is no such therapy being done. If you find yourself involved with a narcissist, urge them to seek INDIVIDUAL therapy in which you can sit in. If you go to a couple therapist, ask first off that they evaluate each of you using clinical narcissistic measures. If the therapist won’t do this, find one who will.

    Otherwise, your best alternative option is to leave the relationship. There is no cure for clinical narcissism.

    1. I agree 100%. During the first 10 years of my marriage to a covert narcissist, he was happy to drill me with questions about my individual therapy, then used every bit of information to gaslight me and almost had me questioning my sanity. Then I tried to leave him but wasn’t narc-savvy and therefore got hoovered back in. The couple’s therapy at that time was a textbook example of him telling the therapist “yes, I am aware of needing to make an effort but let’s concentrate again on my wife’s issues”.
      13 years and two kids later, I am divorcing him for good. I tried another couple’s therapy first, with plenty of individual sessions. Between two couple’s sessions I would get a whole week of absolute silent treatment (this was during covid so he was physically in the house 24/7). I nearly lost it. Our therapist told us she couldn’t do couple’s sessions with us as she felt conflicted about what she was hearing during individual sessions. Emotional dissonance for the therapist, imagine that! I hope she’s alright though…
      Definitely not an option with a covert narcissist, nope!

  34. My husband had covert NPD. He has no intention to change and wants me to make all of the changes. I have read a lot about NPD and it’s starling how accurate a description of him it is. What are the conditions of a mild NPD that is amenable to counselling?

      1. My husband, in our couple sessions exhibited these traits: self-observation and repair and apologize… they were lies he enacted in front of the therapist. Apologizing is a simple thing for a narcissist to make appear authentic. Repairing takes time, often and usually more time than any one session grants. One of the abuses I endured in our therapy was being made to feel obligated by the therapist to acknowledge and accept apologies that I knew to be inauthentic. It didn’t matter how I tried to tell our therapist that he’s just paying lip service, the therapist would encourage us to wait and see. Wait and see. In the meantime, I suffered more at home with an even more emboldened narcissist. It was really a disaster.

        1. This! If you notice a kid having trouble or resisiting saying “Thank you” and “I’m sorry”, it’s a red flag and quite likely means they’ve been forced into submission by narcissistic caregivers by means of aggression or påssive/aggressive shaming and guilting, and then humiliated further by having to say they were sorry or thank the caregivers for the lesson. Adults forcing kids to say they’re sorry when they still are convinced they’ve been wronged and not listened to are doing lots of harm.

  35. Im in total tears after reading this article.

    the first 20yrs of our marriage, not a single lash out, argument nothing….I was in bliss. About 6yrs ago now, i read somewhere that a relationship of any type of disagreements is a red flag, watch out. I also worried about us both since we both were molested at young ages, but my wife was severe. From 5yrs old to her early teens, he trusted older brother and baby sitter since her father left and divorced her mother about 6yrs old. With this heavt drama filled past, i got really scared. Emotionial and physical abuse for over a decade, being forced to mask her outcries from the horrors she suffered, has only played into her emotional state today. Think of a narcisist, the stack that on top of a Female Leo character, combine that with the abuse, and has proudly mentioned she is “The Queen of Passive Aggressiveness”. More recent has accepted and proudly stated among the neighborhood, “She is like Saddam Husein, the Dictator”. I cringe in horror knowling what she has done to me in the last six years. I beleive she also Projection issues, coupled with all this and a massage lack of Empathy. Example, A key employee in our company came to us and asked for time off, her Dad was dying an needed to go see him in Hawaii where she was from. We all knew that he was ill and didnt have much time. My Wifes response to her was awful, she said,”I cant pay you for that time off”. I shook my head in disbelief and dropped my head and walked out of the room so only my employee could see me. I waved her over as she was visibly shaken about the whole thing. I apologized for my wifes satatement and got her airfair immediately for a free flight round trip. I brought that up to my wife that what she said was awful, her response to me was, “We cant pay her for time off, its that simple. I expressed there was better things to say than that. I couldnt believe what i was finding. Now, today, and in the past 10 days, i went thru payroll and started finding things that wasnt adding up. Mind you, she manages my corporation and she works from home doing it. I have placed her in a cushy job that paid $1750 a week and she paid no bills for the home. None. All by my choice, but then i noticed an odd date on payroll, normaly every 2 weeks, a paycheck, so I added up her checks, last month May of 2020 she payrolled herself to $24,000 that month, I went back to April, $16,000. Come to find, she has cleared $75000 thru May! I was in complete disbelief. so I went thru2019, same thing, she cleared $120k and she was authorized to pay herself $91000 a year. She starts her day around, 10am and ends around 2-4pm and sometimes later. Here i sit with my wife committing fraud against my company, trashing my emotions for the past 6 years agressively. So much so I went and saw a Pshychologist, He said I was suffering from PTSD???? I was like what are you talking about? No way. He expressed that something in the past few years has disrupted my sense of reality. With another visit, we unfolded my wifes treatment vs what she had provided for the first 20 yrs changed. A level of being so cold with intent to emotionally hurt me was unmeasurable. This is just what i have explained her today, its way worse than these topics Im covering here so people get a sense of how bad it can get and how fast what your holding onto, the love of your spouse, fades away with hurtfilled intent and acts like nothing is wrong. It will mqke the sane, absolutely insane. Today, with all this fraud she perpetuated on herself, I want to call the police and have her put in jail for fraud, and my attorneys says its a slam dunk case both civil and criminal. Crazy how this unfolds. I went from the Perfect marriage to living in hell with the devil herself….This article rang truer than any others about this subject. It broke me down, on top of all these new facts. I love her so much and cant think of starting over a 2nd time. Also have a 7yo Son who is stuck to his Mommy which is making things worse in so many ways but she cant see it. Im at wits end and not much left to do but call the authorities and leave her and needless to say, fire her. anyone else go thru something like this?

  36. Thank you for this amazing article.

    I have been married to a man like this for almost 6 years. To say it’s lonely and difficult is an understatement. I have had to suppress any need for intimacy, trust, communication, and connection to get along with him. And without all that, we get along just fine. He goes to work daily and comes home and helps with chores. On paper it looks fine.

    But the second I even get close to discussing our relationship, no matter how gently or non-judgemental.. I will pay the price. He immediately shuts down. Immediately defensive. Immediate denial of even obvious facts. This started pretty much as soon as we got married. At first I believed he was extremely passive aggressive. I worked hard to get him to stop that behavior. But over the years he’s flat out told me “I have no empathy”. Or “I really don’t care if you’re here or not”.. or even “I don’t really care if she’s (his daughter) here or not”.. he is genuinely neutral about us. He says the only thing that keeps him with us is guilt.

    His mother is a narcissist and he was her golden boy. I get along with her fine as I’m very skilled at dealing with narcissists (I was the scapegoat of a narcissistic mother). But she is a very mean woman; constantly criticizing people’s looks, weight, etc. She is also really mean to our daughter, because she likes to eat (the horror!) and because she likes to climb on couches.

    He recognizes his mother was a narc. He recognizes the impact it had on him (he claims he just wants to live alone and not be bothered by me or his pesky toddler because he always had to worry about his mother’s moods as a kid and take care of her).

    Despite the fact that I’m nothing like his mom, and that I’m extremely considerate of him and his feelings/needs… nothing is ever enough.

    He just hates people. But he stays with me because it’s convenient? I don’t know.

    My mind is boggled. How does someone throw away his own family so easily? He just doesn’t care if we’re here or not. Recently an opportunity arose for me to move 900 miles away. I asked him if he wanted to move and he was excited at first. He looked into new jobs. But then it faded a day later. I asked him if he didn’t really want to move and he said no, he just wanted me to move with the baby so that he can just come home every day and play video games without guilt.

    I don’t guilt him ever. He literally plays video games from the moment our daughter goes to bed. He only spends around 45 minutes with her from the time he gets home from work until bed time. I spend all day with her. Yet his measly 45 minutes is too much for him.

    I am planning on taking her and leaving. It’s hard for me because I grew up without a dad and I desperately wanted her to have one.

    But she can probably sense that he doesn’t give two shoots about her.

    I’m so sad. I would have done anything to save this marriage. We don’t even fight, that’s the crazy part. The only way we argue is if I dare to bring up my feelings in any way.

    He acts exactly like my sister does (also a golden child of a narcissistic mother) cannot handle an iota of criticism and will lash out at any suggestion that she’s less than perfect.

    I don’t know if there’s any Hope here

  37. Since marriage counseling is counterproductive with personality disorders (due to their inability to introspect or collaborate), why aren’t marriage counselors competent to identify personality disorders in a spouse? Thanks to the internet, I now know my husband has covert NPD. I was disbelieved by a certified Imago therapist with 25 years of experience and told I was fabricating my husband’s symptoms and I needed to see a psychiatrist and be placed on anti-psychotic medication. I have no history of mental illness. I filed a complaint with her state board. They took it seriously and are investigating her.

  38. Why aren’t marriage counselors trained to recognize covert narcissism? I was on my last attempt after other failed marriage counseling. I was disbelieved and actually accused of being psychotic and fabricating my husband’s defensive deflecting behaviors every time I tried to address feeling lonely in the relationship.

  39. WOW! Mr. Dashnaw, I may have read 500+ articles on this topic over the past 10 years – this is by far the best as far as a match for my experience. Constant critique, deflection, passive-aggressive, dismissive, refusal to discuss, angry response to criticism, indifferent to any type of personal development (stupid me, how do you improve perfection), attempted counseling, etc.. Twenty years of marriage (announced intention to leave 2 weeks prior to 20th anniversary) and 3 fabulous children – did all I could do and think to do – was never good enough – she had to destroy our family because she “wasn’t happy”. Impact on me was devastating in every way – spent last 10 years discovering the dynamics of this condition. Having the “reason” helps some but does not give me back the 30 years – life is a learning experience. Now rebuilding a professional career in late middle age while dedicated to building successful mindset in children; especially 2 daughters. I had invested much effort in son (middle) and he is doing wonderfully; had thought wife was working with the girls – wake up call – when one possess no relationship intelligence, have nothing to pass on! Making progress there as well. Thanks for the forum to “share” a bit. Mr. Dashnaw, if you ever have a need for research material; I’ve got 30 years worth; from first date to date with the judge – from the first to say “I love you”, to the only one to say, “I hate you!” and everything in between. Thanks for your great work!

  40. While reading this article I felt like the author had a secret window into my marriage. It’s so accurate that I am considering forwarding it to friends who are having a hard time understanding why my marriage is so unhappy.

    Thank you for such a thorough explanation of an insidious personality disorder.

  41. Not sure if I’m married to a covert narc. Or not. But the criticism and anger are unbearable. I think I’m going out of my mind trying to rationalize my behavior. I don’t think I’m that horrible a person to warrant this kind of treatment.
    I’m going insane trying to keep up with my emotions.

  42. I just kept gasping and saying, “oh my god.” I have read so many articles on and off for years…. I don’t know if I wasn’t ready to accept it, or frightened… but this all made so much sense to me…

    I must look more into this. My husband is in 3 sessions of therapy and emdr and well… it’s been interesting. He has been 1/10 times I see him okay and others majorly on edge. Tired. Lacking. Not happy. Tired. AND MEAN. This guy can yell at me for 25 minutes sometimes to 6 hours strait… blaming me for everything. I can’t keep up. When I told my friends, nobody believed me. Because he is so happy when wwe are out. Then again, he has ZERO friends from anywhere and no family. As I type this I know that this is why we have been doing so awful.

    Woah. A tragedy in his family set off a series of events and 5 years later he is just horrible to be around. I don’t think we have gone two days in a row with him being kind to me. Probably for months. Maybe even half a year. The truth of writing this is all too staggering. What am I doing? How do I get out? Is there hope? Help.

  43. Very enlightening article. Out of EFT, Gottman Method, Solution focused, and Development model works the best for the Narcissist marriage?

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