Los Angeles Chapter  California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT

LA-CAMFT Member Article

07/31/2022 6:00 PM | Mike Johnsen (Administrator)

Steven Unruh,

Surviving a Narcissistic Marriage:
3 Key Actions to Take

Surviving a narcissistic marriage can be challenging. Living day after day with someone who has a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) creates an environment in which you find yourself constantly overwhelmed and confused. Eventually, you begin to distrust yourself, questioning your own reality, wondering if, in fact, you are the problem, the narcissist.  

A narcissist has a way of presenting their distorted reality to others in such a convincing manner that one begins to believe their spouse’s projections and lies. You become swept up in their reality. A narcissist is wholly convinced of their own reality. They have begun what Scott Peck MD calls “The People of the Lie.”  

What is a Narcissist?  

The most basic definition of a narcissist is someone who lacks empathy and the capacity for self-insight. What does this look like?  

Example of narcissistic behavior patterns:  

  • Showing little concern for the feelings of others. They might ignore you when you tell them something bothers you. 
  • Controlling or manipulative behavior. This is sometimes done through tactics like gaslighting. 
  • Extremely sensitive to criticism. Any criticism is often seen as a personal attack. 
  • A lack of responsibility for their behaviors. They tend to blame others instead. 

So, why do people with narcissism behave in this way? It is because they lack an observing ego. An observing ego allows us to see how people respond to us. If we have an observing ego, we can recognize how we impact those around us. We can change our behavior when responding to that impact because we can recognize the feelings others are having towards us, allowing us to respond appropriately.  

How to Deal with a Narcissist

People with NPD typically don’t see their behavior as the problem. Everyone else is the problem. They will use gaslighting and other forms of emotional abuse and manipulation to convince themselves—and you of this. 

  • Indifference 
  • Boundaries 
  • Consequences 

Mark came in for counseling. His wife Janice was not interested in counseling. However, Mark was at his wit’s end. Therefore, he came by himself. The problem is that Janice never apologized when things seemed clear that she had made a mistake. Also, she often became belligerent and verbally abusive almost every day. Mark was also frustrated that she never took responsibility for her actions. Instead, she blamed everything on Mark. Her lack of communication and lack of intimacy was all his fault in her mind. 


Living with a narcissist is unpredictable. You’re never sure which mood you will encounter. Although inside, you might feel outraged and upset. It’s still imperative to maintain your composure. That is because people with NPD crave attention. As a result, if you respond with outrage, this will only likely escalate things as they are more likely to continue the behavior or even escalate it to get a response.  

When dealing with a narcissist, you must stay calm and simply repeat your position. For example, if they threaten you with “I’m going to take the children away from you. I’m going to tell your whole family all about you….” Simply respond with indifference, such as “I guess that’s what you’ll do” or “ that is your decision,” and leave it at that.  


It may seem impossible to set boundaries with someone with NPD, but this is one of the most effective ways of dealing with a narcissistic person. Here are some examples of boundaries to set:  

  • Don’t argue about your boundaries. Your boundaries are your own. They are your right to have. 
  • Don’t explain yourself. You don’t have to justify your boundaries to anyone else. 
  • Don’t tolerate verbal abuse or threats. If your partner or spouse becomes verbally abusive or threatening, leave the room or home. 
  • Act if the behavior escalates. If your partner starts threatening to harm you or the children physically, call the police. Also, call the police if your spouse threatens to self-harm.


If you establish boundaries and your spouse violates them, you must be prepared to confront manipulative, unhealthy behavior and follow through with consequences. Establishing consequences isn’t about your partner or spouse. It’s about you. It’s about asserting your needs for a healthy relationship.  

So, in the case of Mark and Janice above, Mark needs to set a clear boundary when her behavior violates his rights or engages in bullying, manipulation, and other types of toxic behavior.  

For example, at a recent family reunion for Janice’s side of the family, Janice became sarcastic towards Mark. When he asked her to stop, she started calling him names. Mark responded by leaving the reunion. Of course, this enraged Janice as she was embarrassed because Mark had left. It created a narcissistic wound for Janice, which happens when someone with NPD feels like they are being attacked—even though, in reality, they are not.  

After this incident, Janice began to understand that there would be consequences when she violated Mark’s boundaries. It was the beginning of a change for the couple, with Janice understanding what Mark would not tolerate. Establishing consequences may include exiting the relationship if it continues to be unhealthy.

Final Thoughts 

Although being married to a narcissist can be extraordinarily difficult, things can get better—but only if both partners are willing to make it work.

Therapy is a must when it comes to a relationship like this. It won’t cure your partner’s narcissism, but counseling can help you develop healthier ways of communicating and relating. The above action points have been known to be successful and can help.

Steven Unruh is a Divorce Mediator and LMFT. He completes the entire divorce process along with all the documentation. He files in 13 different courthouse throughout Southern California. Website: stevenunruh.com.

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