Marrying a Narcissist Could Be Full of Challenges

Jenni Jacobsen

It's no secret that TikTok has brought attention to the issue of narcissistic abuse, with numerous creators disclosing their experiences with dating a narcissist, and eventually moving on and finding happiness. The common theme seems to be that most former significant others of narcissists recommend leaving the relationship, but what about people who end up sticking around with a narcissist and getting married?

There are several common signs you're living with a narcissist, which can make it difficult to cope. Despite the challenges of living with a narcissistic partner, some people may manage to find happiness, or they determine that the benefits of remaining in the relationship outweigh the difficulty of loving a narcissist.

If you're in a committed relationship with a narcissist and you're attempting to determine whether you should stay or leave, you may wonder what life is like when you marry a narcissist. While not every situation is the same, research does give an indication of what you might expect.
Narcissism comes with challenges that can interfere with marital bliss.Joshua Tan

Day-to-Day Life With a Narcissistic Spouse

The raw, first-hand experiences of individuals who have married a narcissist provide insightful information about what to expect from this type of marriage. To elucidate the realities of marrying a narcissist, researchers writing for a 2020 publication of the academic journal Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation interviewed 436 people, the majority of whom were current or former romantic partners of narcissistic individuals, about their experiences within the relationship.

The following themes emerged from the interviews:

  • Narcissistic partners demonstrate a high degree of grandiosity, which means they view themselves as being superior to others.
  • On the other hand, it was common for narcissists to display vulnerability, meaning that they may be weak and insecure beneath their grandiose outward appearance.
  • A partner with narcissism requires constant attention and will seek praise for all of their accomplishments or good deeds.
  • Narcissists feel entitled to whatever they want, such as their spouse's income, and they may feel as if they do not have to follow the same rules their spouse has to follow.
  • Individuals who score high on narcissism tend to take advantage of others to get their own needs met.
  • A narcissist may fabricate stories to make themselves appear more successful or accomplished than they really are.
  • Narcissistic partners have difficulty with empathy, meaning they may not be able to consider the needs of their spouse or children.
  • An individual who scores high in narcissism will tend to view themselves as being superior to others and will lash out at those who refuse to recognize them as superior.
  • Narcissists tend to only experience high self-esteem when the attention is on them, and when they are feeling bad, they can be cruel and insulting, by calling other people names like worthless or moronic.
  • A narcissistic spouse can come across as emotionally cold and incapable of being intimate with their partner.
  • Narcissistic partners are extremely sensitive to criticism and may react with rage, and even physical violence, if they are questioned.

Given the findings above, it is reasonable to conclude that a marriage with a narcissist can be emotionally draining. Over time, insults and fits of rage can take their toll, and a partner may feel as if they can never do anything right. The spouse of a narcissist may put so much time and effort into pleasing the narcissist that they have to sacrifice their own needs. For instance, the majority of the spouse's income may go toward expensive gifts for the narcissist, while the spouse rarely has extra money for themselves.

So what is marriage satisfaction like with a narcissistic spouse?

Narcissism comes with traits that can make a marriage difficult, and research has shown just how narcissism affects a marriage. A 2016 study conducted within the Department of Psychology at the University of Georgia found that when a wife demonstrated a high degree of narcissism, there were declines in marriage quality and increases in marital problems over the first four years of marriage.

Another study, published in Marriage & Family Review, found that both men and women who were high in narcissism were likely to be psychologically aggressive, which reduced relationship satisfaction. This confirms that the challenging behaviors displayed by narcissistic individuals can, indeed, damage a marriage.

Another factor that can crop up in a marriage to a narcissist is the issue of infidelity, as narcissism is also linked to sexual issues. For example, narcissism can translate into a phenomenon called sexual narcissism, which can lead to issues like sexual entitlement and exploitation and the narcissist believing that they have a superior degree of sexual skill.

Individuals who score high on sexual narcissism may believe that they deserve sex whenever they want it, and they may even admit that they are capable of convincing their partner to have sex, even when the partner isn't in the mood. A 2014 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that this facet of narcissism was linked to infidelity in marriage.

What this means is that a marriage with a narcissist can be psychologically challenging, and you may be at risk of your spouse cheating on you.

Maybe It's Not All Bad Though

While most people, both social scientists and those with first hand experience with narcissism, would likely agree that marriage with a narcissist is challenging and even psychologically damaging, the story may not be entirely bad. After all, there must be something that attracts people to narcissists in the first place.

The 2020 study in Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation did find that participants tended to describe narcissists as being likeable and charming. Other positive traits associated with narcissists include intelligence, good sense of humor, strong social skills, and a drive toward success.

Another factor to consider is that the study above found that it was not uncommon for narcissists to have a history of traumatic experiences, such as childhood sexual abuse. It may therefore be helpful to view your narcissistic partner as someone in dire need of healing, rather than as an abusive monster.

Ultimately, the success of a marriage with a narcissist depends upon the severity of the narcissism, the ability of the partner to cope with the challenges of narcissism in order to enjoy the high points of the relationship, and perhaps whether the narcissistic spouse is willing to seek therapy to change their harmful behaviors.

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Jenni Jacobsen is an Assistant Professor in a social sciences department at a small liberal arts college in central Ohio, and she has been producing content on relationships, mental health, addiction, and general health and wellness for over 10 years. Most of her content is on healthy relationships, relationship improvement, communication, resolving conflict in relationships, and the impact of mental illness and attachment styles on relationship satisfaction.

Ashland, OH

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