5 Differences That Keep a Narcissist and a Caring Spouse Together

5 Differences That Keep a Narcissist and a Radically Opposite Caring Spouse Together

When your spouse is highly manipulative, narcissistic, selfish, controlling, and demanding, then you have to be agreeing or accepting of those behaviors in order to be willing to stay in the relationship. Even if you fight with your spouse about their behaviors, if things aren’t changing then you’re putting up with the other person’s actions. If you’re ashamed of his or her conduct but you’re covering it up, pretending it’s not so bad, and even telling your children to accept it, then you’ve become a colluding caretaker. How did you end up enabling and caretaking such a manipulative, self-focused, domineering person?

Combination of factors to create a narcissist/caretaker connection

There has to be a certain combination of factors to create a narcissist/caretaker connection.  As with every close relationship, there needs to be a blending of similarities and differences. There also must be a magnetic attraction between the needs of each person and the fulfilment of those needs by the other person.  

For example, Alicia had two other men she dated in college, both of whom she describes as really nice, caring guys, but a little boring. She ended up with Matt, the guy who was “going places” and had a fantasy of starting his own business. He really swept her off her feet. She really liked his take-charge attitude, but ten years later, she sees him as selfish, controlling and always demanding of her attention.

David fell madly in love with Serena on a trip to Brazil right after college. Serena was stunningly beautiful, well-educated, from an upper-class family, and was thrilled to marry David and move to the United States. They’ve been married twenty-five years, but David is angry and frustrated that he still has to cook all the meals, pay all the bills, and keep everything going while Serena goes to books club, buys more clothes, and talks for hours on the phone with her mother in Brazil.

How did Alicia and David each become involved in a caretaker role with the narcissist in their lives?

There has to be a certain combination of factors to create a narcissist/caretaker connection

Narcissist/Caretaker differences

They say opposites attract.  There certainly are some very clear differences between narcissists and caretakers that pull them together.  It makes sense that when one person lacks certain abilities they would look for someone who has those abilities, in exchange for providing something from their strengths.

1. High empathy vs. low Empathy

It is fairly easy to see why someone with low empathy would be attracted to someone with high empathy. The narcissist sees you as someone who will really understand, be considerate, listen, pay close attention to them and be giving and loving whenever they’re angry, hurting and needy. But why did you find the narcissist’s low empathy appealing?

As a person prone to caretaking, your empathy levels are probably quite high. You may find that you easily make your spouse’s needs more important than your own and may even feel his or her feelings stronger than your own.

2. Control vs. compliance

Narcissists like to be in control, make the decisions, and be seen as the one in charge. Alicia’s husband Matt is like that. He runs his own construction business. He relies on Alicia to do the books, to take care of the house, to raise their three daughters, and handle their eight rental properties. Alicia is the one who really knows the finances, but Matt won’t listen to anything she has to say.  

Alicia is very compliant even when she knows Matt is wrong. She hates any kind of anger or disagreement, so she usually doesn’t say much. She says, “It’s just easier that way, and I don’t want to fight with him. This way I don’t get blamed.”  She admires his ability to make hard decisions, but she wishes he would consider her needs and opinions more.

Narcissists like to be in control, make the decisions, and be seen as the one in charge

3. Giving vs. taking

Caretakers look for opportunities to give, share, cooperate and help out. They get a real boost of good feeling when they are helping others. While narcissists always feel they need more—more attention, more help, more love, more understanding, and more agreement. This works until things get extremely out of balance and you get resentful.  Surprisingly, it only takes the promise by the narcissist to be more considerate, to give you hope and a willingness to keep on giving more.

4. Intensity vs. passivity

Narcissists like to be in charge. It’s more likely that you prefer to give in, let things go, and try to please your spouse. These are good qualities, but they’ll lead you to be dominated and controlled by a manipulative spouse. If you’re in true agreement, then that can work just fine, but when you want different things or have different feelings it too often leads to a fight or to you surrendering, conceding and colluding.

5. Submissive vs. entitled

Narcissists feel entitled to get what they want and have their needs and wants considered before anyone else’s. You’ve probably gotten into a pattern of giving in and taking second place. Giving in seems like the loving and caring thing to do. Caretakers focus more on the good feelings of giving love, while narcissists focus on receiving all that love.  

Narcissists feel entitled to get what they want and have their needs and wants considered before anyone else’s

Wrapping up

Opposites do attract and can add some interesting energy to a relationship. It’s when things become too unbalanced that trouble arises. The more the narcissist demands, the more the caretaker gives, and vice versa. What may have started out on a more equal basis, deteriorates over the years into a very unbalanced, unhealthy relationship.   

Significant differences keep the narcissist and caretaker hooked together, often in a push/pull relationship. You’re on a teeter-totter that just keeps going up and down. You don’t seem able to leave and the narcissist never changes.

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Margalis Fjelstad
Marriage & Family Therapist, LMFT, PhD
Margalis Fjelstad brings insight, compassion and good advice to people who have become caretakers to a borderline or narcissist.  She shares techniques to neutralize crazy-making rules, set limits and boundaries, and stop the pattern of victim, persecutor, and rescuer.

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