Is your spouse a narcissist? Why it’s important to find out

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When we ask clients why they want to get a divorce, “My spouse is a narcissist,” frequently comes up. While everyone accused of being a narcissist won’t be clinically diagnosed as such, narcissism does destroy relationships. If you’re married to someone with narcissistic traits—even if they only have a few— it could have a negative impact on your mental health, not to mention the health and wellbeing of your children.

It is estimated that approximately 0.5 percent of the general population has narcissistic personality disorder. While that percentage may seem low, it doesn’t include the many people with problematic narcissistic traits who don’t meet the threshold of a clinical diagnosis of NPD.

At our Tarrant County family law firm, we regularly counsel clients married to people who have narcissistic traits. We’ve also seen those clients (and their kids) suffer severe mental and emotional distress due to the narcissistic behavior of a spouse.

Get tips on next steps to take and learn how narcissism and personality disorders affect Texas child custody outcomes in this past post.

Does your spouse truly have a narcissistic personality disorder?

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as, “A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.” According to the APA, a person may have NPD if they exhibit five (or more) of the following traits:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Learn more about Cluster B behaviors (including NPD) here.

What if your spouse hasn’t been diagnosed with NPD?

Should you still be concerned? Even if your spouse hasn’t been diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder, you may have a legitimate cause for concern if he or she displays a number of narcissistic traits.

In her book, Will I Ever Be Free of You? How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family, Karyl McBride, Ph.D., includes an extensive checklist of narcissistic traits. She also shares her checklist in a post in Psychology Today: Is Your Partner a Narcissist? 50 Ways to Tell.

Dr. McBride says these narcissistic traits can be “devastating,” and adds, “Remember: Narcissism is a spectrum disorder; someone with a high level or a number of these traits can be a more damaging influence on you and your children. The more traits, the closer to a full-blown personality disorder.”

Should you divorce your narcissistic spouse?

While this may sound strange coming from a law firm that specializes in divorce, we like to help couples and families heal and stay together whenever possible. If your spouse really wants to save your marriage and is willing to put in the work (go to counseling, see a mental health professional, etc.) to change his or her behavior, it may be possible to avoid divorce.

Someone who has a few narcissistic traits (most people have a few)—let’s say, they’re basically a jerk—may see the light and want to get help. That being said, if you’re suffering because of your husband or wife’s narcissism, divorce may be the best option. In fact, some mental health professionals will tell you that someone with a narcissistic personality order will never change. We’d like to believe that isn’t true, however, even if your spouse can change, he or she may not want to.

Seek professional guidance before you decide to divorce

If you live in Tarrant County, the family law attorneys at the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth are here to help. You can schedule a confidential case review with our founder Justin Sisemore by contacting our office at (817) 336-4444. You can also visit our contact page to connect with us online. Justin will take a deep dive into your case, discuss strategic options and recommend a mental health professional if appropriate.

Photo Source: Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery from Pexels