There are many different effects of narcissism on marriage and a lot depends on the individual couple, but some of the biggest include blame issues, resentment, problems with trust, and emotional abuse. When a couple has children serious tensions in parenting can also arise. Things are complicated by the degree of narcissism one spouse shows, and when both spouses tend towards the disorder they the couple often needs to do significant work to maintain a happy balance in their relationship.
Blame Issues and Resentment
Marriage is, ideally, a partnership. If one individual in the relationship is abnormally self-involved, the other can become resentful over time. People who have an exaggerated sense of self-importance often find it very difficult to accept responsibility for faults and shortcomings. They also tend to be very demanding when it comes to attention and praise, often insisting that everyone around them view them in the inflated terms in which they view themselves. This has the potential to aggravate the remaining spouse, who may feel as though his or her needs aren’t being met equally.
The narcissist may also seek to disproportionately shift blame for any wrongdoings or failings to the other. People with this affliction often see themselves as virtually infallible, and as a consequence they often believe that if something has gone wrong it simply must be because of someone else. In a marriage this sort of one-sidedness can be very trying for the spouse who must shoulder the brunt of most blame, whether deserved or not, and often leads to self-esteem issues.
Loss of Trust
One partner's need for constant adoration or praise can also diminish the honesty and trust that is key to maintaining a healthy partnership. The narcissist may begin to seek self-affirmation outside of the marriage, in which case infidelity can become an issue. A husband or wife may also become an enabler, which can erode the couple’s intimacy and leave the non-narcissist feeling as if he or she is “on the outside,” unable to share honest thoughts and feelings.
Personal and Social Life Issues
People who suffer from this affliction often have a difficult time understanding how their actions affect others, and it can be hard for them to think about the long-term effects of their self-involvement. This often leads to money troubles and budget-busting for couples. Such behavior can also carry into the narcissist’s job, creating professional consequences that then facilitate more economic and personal strife. Social relationships forged by the couple could suffer a strong blow as well.
Manipulation and Potential for Abuse
In some cases, the narcissist who lacks empathy and concern for others may become a manipulator. His or her wants and needs overrule the wants and needs of everyone else, including the spouse. This often lays the groundwork for emotional abuse.
Special issues also arise if the marriage includes children or plans for children. The non-narcissist partner may find himself or herself assuming the bulk of parenting duties and taking almost solo responsibility for setting boundaries, issuing praise, and meting out punishments. In addition, the narcissist’s behavioral patterns may carry over into interactions with the children. Young people are very impressionable, particularly when it comes to the example set by their parents, and their psyches can really be damaged when they feel that they aren’t “good enough” or can’t live up to a parent’s expectations.
How Narcissism is Diagnosed
Not all narcissists have been officially diagnosed, and many people carry elements of the condition without its being defining. Situations of high stress and uncertainty tend to bring it out. The effect of narcissism on marriage can be profound no matter how serious the condition, but is often the most pronounced in cases of a true and debilitating disorder. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is an officially recognized mental illness marked by a lack of empathy, exaggeration of accomplishments, inflated sense of entitlement, and an excessive need for attention and admiration. Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes the disease, but it’s often thought to be a combination of hormonal or brain chemistry imbalance and abusive or lax parenting during formative years.
A marriage in which one or both spouses display narcissistic tendencies usually requires lot of counseling to stay functional. Most marriage and family psychiatrists recommend that people in these types of relationships commit to regular therapy that is open-ended, which is to say potentially indefinite. Emotional abuse can have a lifelong effect on the afflicted individual, and the resentment and jealousy that so often surface don’t usually go away on their own. When a union is not a balanced and true partnership all parties involved suffer. Marriages usually do best when the narcissistic individual recognizes that a change is needed and takes regular steps to remedy the situation.