It’s no secret that narcissism can make relationships challenging. You’ve probably heard someone complain about life with a narcissistic husband. They may talk about cheating, self-centeredness, or other behaviors that just make life difficult to manage.
Whether you’re looking for advice for yourself or helping a friend, there are strategies you can use when dealing with a narcissist husband. Here, learn how to live with a narcissist husband and still enjoy life.
Who is a narcissistic husband?
People sometimes use the term narcissist to refer to someone who is selfish and doesn’t think of their partner’s feelings within a relationship.
While this may seem like a casual term that people use to describe someone with narcissistic traits, the reality is that narcissism is actually a diagnosable condition, listed as narcissistic personality disorder in the DSM-5, which is the tool that mental health professionals use when making diagnoses.
Sometimes, someone with narcissistic husband traits may not truly have the disorder and will only show some narcissistic tendencies. On the other hand, some individuals who deal with a husband who puts you down and shows other upsetting behaviors are actually living with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder.
Some symptoms of this disorder are as follows:
Believing oneself to be superior to others
Only wanting to associate with other people who are perceived as highly successful, attractive, or special
Expecting favorable treatment
Taking advantage of others to get own needs or wants met
Being unable to empathize with other people
Wanting constant admiration
Behaving haughtily and arrogantly.
In summary, the answer to the question, “What is a narcissistic husband?” is that a spouse shows some or many of the signs above.
Narcissism can exist as a spectrum, so if you are dealing with a narcissist husband, he may show just a few of the signs above or show enough of these signs to meet the criteria for a diagnosable personality disorder.
While narcissists come across as incredibly arrogant, self-important, and confident, underlying their self-assured exterior is deep insecurity and fragile ego, which often has roots in childhood trauma, abuse, or rejection from parents.
It probably goes unsaid that having a spouse who demands excessive admiration and is willing to take advantage of others can be difficult, so you can expect some negative effects if you learn how to handle a narcissistic husband.
1. Reduced relationship satisfaction
Life with a narcissistic husband isn’t easy, and narcissism can make your relationship less satisfying. Research shows that narcissism is linked to psychological aggression in relationships, which, in turn, reduces relationship satisfaction.
You’re likely to find that psychological tactics like manipulation reduce your happiness within the relationship.
2. High amounts of conflict
Every couple has arguments from time to time, but you’re likely to experience frequent conflict if you have a narcissistic husband. In some cases, you may have arguments on an almost daily basis.
These arguments arise because a narcissist is extremely sensitive to any perceived slights. They will take offense if you fail to give them the attention and admiration they feel they deserve.
3. Social isolation
If you have a narcissistic husband, it is not unusual to feel lonely. This is because narcissists tend to isolate their partners from others. Not only do they want all of their partner’s time and attention, but narcissists also must cut their partners off from others, who may become aware of the abusive relationship and try to persuade the victim to leave the relationship.
4. Deteriorating mental health
Research has shown that women in long-term relationships with narcissistic partners tend to live in fear, and they lose their sense of independence. This can understandably harm mental health.
After being subjected to a relationship in which their feelings are not validated and expected to meet all of their partner’s demands, women married to a narcissistic husband are likely to have poor mental health.
They may even begin to show signs of a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
5. Financial problems
Keep in mind that one of the signs of narcissistic personality disorder is a willingness to exploit others for personal gain. Coupled with the fact that narcissists have difficulty empathizing with other people, they are willing to benefit others financially.
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This means that your narcissistic husband will have no qualms about running up large credit card bills, overspending, or living off of your income. You may find that your credit score lowers, or you end up in deep debt, trying to satisfy his needs.
6. Reduced self-esteem
Another one of the side effects of being married to a narcissist is decreased self-esteem. One recent study with partners and loved ones of narcissists found that put-downs were common.
Study participants described instances of the narcissist telling them they were worthless or calling other people idiots or morons. Over time, these frequent instances of verbal abuse can eat away at the partner’s self-esteem.
How a narcissistic husband treats his wife or partner
So, how does a narcissistic husband treat his spouse? Often, relationships with a narcissist are cyclical. At the start of the relationship, the narcissist will shower their partner with love and affection.
The narcissist may tell their partner that they are soul mates, want to spend all of their time with them, and be incredibly verbally and physically affectionate.
As the relationship progresses and the partner becomes comfortable, the narcissistic husband is likely to change his tune. He will engage in a process called “devaluing.”
There may be an argument, or the spouse does something, albeit minor, to let the narcissist down, and they no longer see her as their perfect partner. As this occurs, they will begin to treat the partner poorly.
If you’re living with a narcissistic husband, you can expect that he will treat you poorly, to the point of being emotionally or psychologically abusive. After outbursts of rage or episodes of verbal abuse, he may return to briefly showering you with attention and affection as he did in the initial stages. Still, the relationship will become a rollercoaster of ups and downs.
Based upon research with loved ones of people with narcissism, you can expect some of the following treatment if you’re trying to figure out how to live with a narcissist husband:
Being attacked if you try to offer any advice or constructive criticism to your husband
Setting your husband off into a fit of rage with little warning
Being made to feel as if you need to “walk on eggshells” to avoid upsetting your husband
Being subjected to episodes of rage, during which your husband may scream and yell, break objects, or physically strike you
Your husband criticizes you for failing to live up to his high standards (appearance, housekeeping abilities, etc.)
Vindictive behavior from your husband if you cross him, disagree with him, or fail to meet his demands
15 signs of a narcissistic husband
Now that you’ve learned the answer to “What is a narcissistic husband?” you may be interested in some of the signs that you are living with a narcissist.
Consider the 15 narcissistic husband signs below, which may just confirm your suspicions that your spouse is narcissistic.
1. Little to no empathy
Narcissists are so fixated on their own needs and feelings that they often do not empathize with others. This means that when you’re married to a narcissistic husband, he will often disregard your feelings. He may insult you, inconvenience you, or engage in selfish behavior, with no concern for how it negatively affects you.
Given the fact that narcissists struggle to demonstrate empathy for other people, they also tend to lack remorse. They will show no signs of guilt when they hurt you, and they are unlikely to apologize.
In the narcissist’s world, you are deserving of any hurtful or abusive treatment they send your way.
3. Blaming others
Because of their fragile self-esteem, narcissistic husbands are unlikely to admit any wrongdoing. If they do, they’ll probably blame you for your poor behavior.
For instance, if your narcissistic husband has an affair, he will likely blame you and say that you drove him to do it because of some flaw that you possess.
4. Extreme overreaction to criticism
No one likes to hear that they’ve done something wrong or somehow failed to meet expectations, but narcissists cannot handle any sort of negative feedback.
If you make even the slightest suggestion that your narcissistic husband does something differently, he will become enraged. He may begin verbally insulting you or go so far as to break objects in the house if you offer any sort of constructive criticism.
5. Frequent bragging
People who score high in narcissism expect special treatment, and they want to be recognized as superior for their accomplishments, even if they have not truly earned such recognition.
Narcissists are also likely to brag about their achievements to get the recognition they feel they deserve. If your husband brags about his accomplishments and sometimes goes so far as to exaggerate his superiority, he is showing signs of a narcissistic husband.
In addition to bragging, narcissists tend to talk about themselves. Your husband may dominate conversations, give you minimal opportunity to talk or shift the topic of conversation back to himself if you attempt to discuss something else.
You may even notice that when the two of you sit down to dinner together, he spends the entire time talking about his day and doesn’t bother to ask how yours went.
7. Fixation on outward appearances
Narcissists want the best of everything, so they will put a great deal of time and effort into their physical appearance. This means spending hours at the gym, purchasing costly colognes and cosmetic products, and insisting on having the most expensive clothing.
Since your husband puts so much effort into his appearance and only wants to associate with other people he deems to be special, he will likely expect you to look your best at all times as well. He may insist that you go on diets, require you to get your hair done, or even suggest that you get plastic surgery to maintain your outward beauty.
Narcissists want to be the center of attention, so they can easily become jealous of those who steal the limelight. A narcissistic husband may appear jealous of people who are successful, which results in him putting others down or undermining their achievements.
He may even be jealous of you, and if you accomplish something significant, he will tell you that he’s “not impressed” or that it’s “not a big deal.”
When a narcissistic spouse wants to get his way, he will have no trouble turning on the charm to sway you. He may be overly friendly or shower you with compliments when he wants something.
For example, if he wants to get you to agree to a big purchase, like a new car or a fancy piece of furniture for the house, he may be overly helpful and complimentary for a few days.
He may even promise that he’s going to get a promotion at work or take on some overtime to compensate for a big purchase, but fail to follow through on the promise after you’ve agreed to give him what he wants.
Even close, committed relationships like marriage require healthy boundaries, but if you’ve been dealing with a narcissist, you’ll notice that there are no boundaries. You will feel as if you have no privacy, and you may even begin to feel that your time is not your own.
Your husband won’t care about your need to have space to pursue your own interests, and he may even begin to interfere with your work or friendships, because he is so demanding of your time.
4. He’s easily offended
A narcissist expects much of your time and attention and wants you to shower him with affection and praise. If you fail to give him the attention he feels he needs, a narcissistic husband will become offended and will likely punish you in return.
Even if you’re busy taking care of important duties, such as caring for your children, cleaning the house, or working, if your partner feels you haven’t given him enough attention, he may sulk, have a temper tantrum, or give you the silent treatment.
5. Manipulative behavior
To maintain control over their spouses and get what they want from them, narcissists often have to engage in manipulative behavior. This may involve telling you that you are crazy and to blame for all problems in the relationship or convincing you that you are too sensitive.
Regardless of the exact tactic used, if you’re trying to figure out how to survive a narcissistic husband, you’ve probably been manipulated to believe that you are the problem in the relationship.
6. Lack of emotional intimacy
Narcissists lack emotional warmth and intimacy, even in romantic relationships, because they view relationships as very transactional. At its core, your relationship with a narcissistic husband is about what you can provide for him.
The relationship is likely to feel very surface level because it’s just a business transaction for him. The narcissistic husband gets an attractive spouse, a satisfying sex life, and someone to provide for his needs (food, a place to live, financial security), and he isn’t interested in anything deeper than this.
Gaslighting is a common behavior among people with narcissistic traits. It involves denying your version of reality to get you to question your own judgment. For instance, your narcissistic husband may deny saying or doing something incredibly offensive, even when he did, in fact, do or say that thing.
Over time, this causes you to question if perhaps your memory is failing, and you come to believe that you’re the one to blame for issues in the relationship.
8. A sense of entitlement
Rounding out the list of narcissistic husband traits is a strong sense of entitlement. A narcissistic husband feels that he’s entitled to his every desire. Does he want to go to a specific restaurant, even if it’s your birthday and you don’t very much care for that restaurant? He feels entitled to choose where you eat.
He will also feel that you should respond to his every whim or demand, whether it’s a request that you bring him lunch at work in the middle of your busy workday or a demand that you rearrange the furniture precisely the way he wants it.
The narcissistic husband feels entitled to have everything his way, and he doesn’t much care what you think.
Can my narcissistic husband change?
If you’re trying to figure out how to deal with a narcissistic husband, you probably wonder if his behavior will ever change. After all, if you’re subjected to fits of rage, constant putdowns, and an expectation that you will meet his every need while denying your own needs, you’re probably fed up and wondering if you’ll have to live like this forever.
The truth is that it is difficult for individuals with a narcissistic personality disorder to change their behavior. Personality disorders represent behavior patterns, and it can be difficult to unlearn these patterns.
That being said, if your husband has true desire and motivation to change, and he is willing to work through childhood issues in therapy, he may be able to change some of his behaviors so they do not have as much of a negative effect on your relationship.
10 ways on how to deal with a narcissistic husband
Given the difficulty of being married to a narcissist, you probably want strategies for coping. Below, find ten coping mechanisms for living with a narcissistic husband.
1. Don’t take the behavior personally
It is easy to let the narcissist’s behavior negatively affect you, but don’t take it personally. There isn’t anything wrong with you. A narcissistic person will treat any spouse or partner the way they have treated you, regardless of how great that person is.
Remember that the narcissist’s behavior is because of their own mental and emotional health problems, and at the end of the day, it has nothing to do with you.
2. Learn to set boundaries
If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, it’s critical that you set healthy boundaries because behavior that you allow will continue. For example, if your husband tends to interrupt you at work or throw temper tantrums when you’re giving your attention to the children, you need to set boundaries around this behavior.
You might have a conversation in which you explain to your husband that you cannot take phone calls or engage in fights via text message when you’re in work meetings or tending to the children. If he tries to cross these boundaries, remind him that you discussed this issue previously.
3. Have a conversation about how his behaviors affect you
Be sure to approach the topic gently and try to soften the blow by saying that you understand his intention probably isn’t to be hurtful. Still, he’s showing some behaviors that hurt the relationship.
Be sure to use ‘I’ statements so he doesn’t feel as attacked. For example, you might say something along the lines of, “I feel like my opinions don’t matter when I’m never able to pick what we eat for dinner,” or, “I feel inferior when you make negative statements about my intelligence.”
4. Try to show him what’s in it for him if he makes changes
Change is difficult for anyone, and it can be excruciating for narcissists, who tend to have a hard time admitting that they have any flaws. To make it easier for him to change, suggest to your narcissistic husband that if he changes his behavior, the relationship is likely to improve for both of you.
For instance, you might tell him that if he makes an effort to stop criticizing you so often and consider your feelings, you’re likely to be happier and more willing to do nice things for him, such as cooking his favorite meal, seeing that movie he wants to see, or putting extra effort into looking nice for him.
5. Don’t give him power over your emotions
One reason that a narcissistic spouse can manipulate you and have such a profound impact on your emotions and wellbeing is that you have given him the power to do so. Don’t give him the power to ruin your day with a snide remark or an act of selfishness.
Remind yourself that his behavior has nothing to do with you. You cannot control it, but you can control how you react and choose to go about your day with a positive mindset.
6. Pick your battles
It can be challenging to ignore negative behavior from your spouse, such as name-calling or intentional disrespect. Still, if you respond negatively every time your narcissistic husband acts this way, you’re likely to get caught in a cycle of frequent arguments.
Instead of sweating the small stuff, pick your battles and save your reactions for big issues, like abusive behavior or clear boundary violations. Over time, your partner may change his tune when he sees that minor insults don’t get to you anymore.
Your partner may enjoy putting you down to make himself feel better, but don’t let this get to you.
Get in the habit of giving yourself positive affirmations, such as, “I am a great mother,” or, “I have been very successful in my career,” so that negative comments from the narcissist do not run through your head.
8. Engage in self-care
When you take care of yourself physically and emotionally, you’ll find that the narcissist’s negative behavior isn’t as damaging. Find pockets of time where you can do something you love, such as watching a favorite show or relaxing with a warm bath.
Make a habit out of following a nutritious diet and setting aside time for regular exercise, even if it’s just a walk or jog around the block while your husband is at work or busy with something else.
Keep in contact with people who are supportive of you, even if you’re only able to do so with the occasional phone call or coffee date.
Having people in your corner reminds you that you are worthy of healthy, supportive relationships. This can help you to heal from some of the damage caused by a narcissistic husband.
10. Insist that your partner go to counseling
It is often nearly impossible for a narcissist to make any changes to their behavior without professional intervention, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy for you to convince your husband to get help.
Going to counseling means admitting that there is something wrong, and it will probably require your partner to accept some accountability for negative behavior, which is difficult for a narcissist.
Even if he resists, you may have to insist that your husband seek counseling if he wants the relationship to continue. It may be helpful if you frame counseling as something you are doing together so that you can both work to improve the relationship, so the entire blame doesn’t fall upon him.
Learning how to live with a narcissistic husband means coming to terms with upsetting behavior, such as frequent put-downs, arrogance, lack of empathy, and manipulation.
You can use strategies to make life easier, such as practicing self-care, setting healthy boundaries, and reminding yourself that you aren’t to blame for any of these narcissistic husband traits.
Ultimately, your partner will likely need to seek counseling to make any lasting changes to his behavior. If your relationship is suffering due to narcissism, and other strategies have not worked, you might have to insist that your partner goes to counseling with you. You may even go so far as to give him an ultimatum.
Remember, no one should have to tolerate abuse at the end of the day. If dealing with a narcissistic husband is taking a toll on your physical or mental health, or if violent behaviors threaten your safety, it may be time to devise an exit plan and seek support to help you safely walk away from the relationship.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.