You may have noticed it’s been a while between the last post in the Narcissist Series and this one. It’s because this is so hard for me to write and also, not everyone will agree with me. This subject has caused a good deal of pain and dissension in the church, so I don’t enter this discussion lightly. Nor do I claim to have the authoritative answer. I don’t. I’m using my experience dealing with narcissists, my experience counseling people in narcissistic relationships, many hours of reading and researching authorities on the subject (counselors, pastors, etc.), seeking the Lord and trying to put all that together to write these posts.
As an aside, there are a few random facts to note:
- It is quite unbelievable how many narcissists are running around. They are everywhere–under your nose, sitting beside you in church, running your local school board–everywhere.
- I want to make a clear distinction between narcissistic abuse being addressed in these posts and other jerkish behaviors. (I may have already made this distinction but it can’t be overemphasized.) I’m not talking here about just someone who struggles with pride (ahem…we all do). Or someone who has a rough-around-the-edges personality. There are many difficulties in marriage that are successfully repaired with proper counseling and help. And there are annoying behaviors that can be overlooked with grace and patience. The narcissist is a specific type of person, which is why I feel it’s so important to use the term to help differentiate.
So the question: What to do if you’re married to a narcissist? (If you are in a different relationship with a narcissist–not marriage, there are different answers/approaches, none of them easy. Each one has it’s own, difficult road.)
Bad News About Narcissists-3 Options
First, the really awful news about this is narcissist rarely (that’s being generous) change. I’ve read countless articles by psychologists and counselors in all types of environments and hands-down, they agree with this statement.
As I mentioned in the last post, a person claiming to be a Christian but committing consistent, emotional abuse is, in fact, not a Christian by definition, regardless of his claims. One must display the fruit of Christianity (repentant over sin at the very least) to be a Christian. So if you think you are married to a narcissist, you must face the reality that you are dealing with an unrepentant sinner, but worse, doesn’t see his sin, and therefore doesn’t see his need for a Savior.
Because of the very nature of this trait, that they can’t see their wrong, so they rarely see their need for change.
At this point, I wish there was something I could say to soften this harsh blow. I don’t have anything. I don’t understand it and I wish I did. It seems like they could be reasoned with or that they could understand rational explanations. But they can’t.
IMPORTANT (Update): A common problem is that a woman is not believed (by family or church) when she tells others about her abuser. (And be warned: it is also very common for the abuser to play the victim. I’ve seen it done and done very well. In this case the wife was the narcissist and convinced others her husband was the abuser.) I think often, in the spirit of respect and submission she doesn’t share with anyone about her husband’s behavior because she wants to honor his reputation. Then when everything hits the fan and she speaks up, others find it unbelievable. She may even have bragged about what a great husband and father he is on social media (a tactic of reverse-psychology, maybe?)
My suggestion is to share with someone, even several others, and do not keep the abuse hidden. At least if you decide to leave, there will be a “trail” of efforts you made to preserve your marriage and your support group will not be so hard to convince.
There are really only 2 options, a possible, difficult third. The first is to get a divorce. Some churches and Christian counselors believe that divorce is only acceptable for a Christian if there is infidelity in marriage. They cite Scriptures like “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16) to strengthen their counsel. This verse is grossly misunderstood when used to pressure a woman to stay in an abusive relationship (it actually is explaining the opposite of what it is sometimes used for).
How do I know? Because the verse is written specifically to men who were abandoning their wives, which in that culture, meant almost certain destitution for them. God was angry because husbands were mistreating and being unfaithful to their wives and leaving them without protection. It goes on to say that the man “who hates and divorces his wife does violence to the one he should protect.”
The whole passage is about God’s anger toward men who treat their wives unlovingly and do not protect them. He was seeking justice for these oppressed women. How could God say in the same breath, “But if you leave your abusive husband that’s not OK.”
That’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to God’s thought toward those who are being oppressed or hurt by those in authority. Do some research about how God feels about the mistreatment of the weak, poor, needy, oppressed, abused.
Another verse that allows for biblical separation but is often misunderstood is 1 Corinthians 7:15. Here is a snippet of explanation about it but if you want to read the entire article, click here.
“When applying 1 Corinthians 7:15, the key question is not “Who walked out?” but “Who caused the separation?” Would it be sensible to say that David was the sinful rebellious one when he left Saul’s court? No, he left because of Saul’s abuse. David left, but Saul was the cause of his leaving. If we translate the word chorizo as “separate” we see this more clearly: if the unbeliever separates, let him separate. The unbeliever is doing the separating; the believer is commanded to let it be done. This tells the believing spouse (and the church) to allow the marriage to be over, because the unbeliever has destroyed the covenant. It permits the victim of abuse to take out a legal divorce. Let there be chorizo = let there be separation = let there be legal divorce, because the word chorizo means both separation and divorce.”
What God hates more than even divorce, is abuse. Mistreatment of others, especially by those in authority over people they are meant to protect. I feel confident saying that it is biblically acceptable to seek a divorce from an abusive spouse, once all measures have been taken to bring them to repentance.
Even in simple passages in Proverbs addressing the “fool,” or the “mocker” (biblical terms for narcissist) we often read passages such as, “Drive out the mocker and out goes strife. Quarrels and insults are ended.”
Furthermore, God Himself divorced His unfaithful bride. (Jeremiah 3:8)
It is very important that if you consider divorcing your spouse that you have a plan–a back-up support system and safety plan in place. Narcissists can be dangerous, especially when their power and control unravels. Hopefully your church would be that safe place, but if not, find one that is, or confide in family and friends who can help you.
2nd. Learning to live with it.
This option is difficult but not impossible. I know women living with abusive husbands and have been for many years. Leaving is very hard. Sometimes it feels impossible. Without a strong support group, especially, turning your life upside down, finding yourself financially responsible and in every other way responsible, feels overwhelming. Some people never get to the breaking point where they are willing to give up these necessities/comforts.
If you choose to stay it is imperative that you educate yourself with how the mind of your spouse works. You can pray and hope and believe, and I don’t discredit that spirit of faith. But as I mentioned before, the difficulty with this specific type of person is that they don’t see a need for change, therefore change rarely happens. They believe they are right and everyone else is in need of correction. They thrive in feeling power and control.
A “good wife” tries to be kinder, more reasonable, more agreeable more, more, more. And it’s never enough. It never will be. To live in this situation and survive, I think it’s wise to study “how to live with a narcissist” which involves learning how to set hard boundaries, coming to the harsh reality that you will not receive from your spouse what you want (love, affection, real companionship, empathy) and finding your ultimate peace and joy in the Lord. He must be enough.
It’s a tragic death of a dream, if you will, and the sooner you come to term with that, the better. You must find joy in other things, not your marriage.
This is a terribly painful road and you will need friends and family who understand and can support and encourage you.
The 3rd option.
Separation. This would be for the person who cannot believe that the Bible allows for divorce–an infinite separation (which will likely end up with your spouse divorcing you ). I’m throwing this out there because, as I said, I don’t have all the answers. I believe with all my heart that God would far rather see his beloved free from an abusive spouse than to maintain a sanction of ceremony for appearance sake. That’s not the way I see him operating in Scripture.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of seeking out the counsel of someone who understands this type of abuse. If not, you may end up in counseling where you abuser manipulates and turns you into the perpetrator. Be clear and concise when describing your situation to others. Even though you may be confused, it is important to paint a picture of what is happening in your home.
Often the wife has been taught to protect her husband’s reputation under the guise of submission. We are never called to hide a person’s abuse. Ever. This is not a case of looking over his weaknesses. This is calling out an oppressor. (If, in fact, he fits the description I’ve described in these post–consistent, manipulative behavior that seeks to bring pain, shame and blame, refusing to own the hurt, etc.). Bring it to light and it loses its power.
I pray you will find some help and encouragement from these posts. I would love to hear your thoughts.