Signs Your Spouse Might be a Narcissist

Do you feel like you’re walking on eggshells and constantly defending yourself in your marriage? Do you feel controlled and diminished on a daily basis? Do you sometimes question what you’re feeling and even question your own sanity? 

Is it possible that your spouse may be a narcissist?

While we see narcissistic traits played out in the media every day, most of us don’t consider that one may be living in our midst. 

What are the signs of narcissistic behavior, does your spouse exhibit them, and what can you do to protect yourself from their emotional abuse? 

Could my spouse be a narcissist?

Even though the term “narcissist” has crept into our common vocabulary, an official diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, is still relatively uncommon. The DSM-5 sets out criteria for a clinical diagnosis of NPD, but you don’t need a diagnosis to know that life with your spouse feels “off.” Your spouse may be a narcissist or, at the very least, manipulative and controlling in a narcissistic way. 

Signs of narcissism in a marriage

In a healthy marriage, your spouse should be the one person you trust beyond measure. And yet, you may feel unsure what to believe when they tell you something. When you question something they say, your spouse may accuse you of overthinking or being neurotic. You may feel like you’re constantly (yet subtly) being put down or painted into a corner, and the only way to get out is to give in. 

What behaviors exist in a marriage with a narcissist? There are some red flags that spouses with narcissistic behaviors often display. 

Lack of empathy

They have no empathy for your feelings and make fun of you when you’re upset. In fact, they have difficulty empathizing with anyone and can be downright cold toward others who are suffering.


Your spouse feels superior to everyone, including you and your kids. Everyone else is lacking in some way. Your spouse’s needs and opinions are more important than yours, and when you dare to voice yours, you’re diminished and made to feel stupid. They criticize your job, your parenting, your housekeeping, and your spending. 


They don’t like your friends, your family, or your hobbies and interests, and they denigrate any attention you give other people or interests. If you spend time on things other than your spouse and their needs, they do things to turn your attention back on them. For example, they might attempt to make you jealous or concerned about their whereabouts. Consequently, you feel increasingly isolated from the people and things you love. 


Because of their feelings of vast superiority and grandiosity, they have a magnificent sense of entitlement, believing they deserve eternal validation and the best of everything. They also feel entitled to make everyone around them feel small and insignificant.

Manipulation and gaslighting

They turn reality on you. If you are upset about something, your spouse questions whether your perspective and feelings are based on reality. If it concerns them, they were “just joking” or “never said that.” You are accused of overthinking, over-feeling, and even being a bit “crazy” for thinking and feeling the way you do. 

Read: What is Gaslighting? How to Recognize This Bad Behavior in Your Relationship

Why does my spouse act this way?

When you got married, you thought you had struck gold. You found someone who adored you and was attentive and giving. Life was good, and you felt confident that nothing could shake your relationship. 

But the shake-up came, and it came from within. Behind closed doors, their adulation turned into undermining your opinions and choices. Compliments turned into contradictions. Your spouse was the epitome of grace in public, but away from watchful eyes, they derided everything you said or did. You came to realize that their initial behavior had been a facade. 

True narcissism as a complex mental disorder hasn’t been well-studied. While nobody knows for sure what causes it, experts surmise that it can be caused by genetics, environment, parenting, or a confluence of these factors.

Learn to differentiate between an overt narcissist and a covert narcissist here.

Can narcissism be passed down genetically? Some studies have suggested that some traits of narcissism seem to be inherited. While no specific “narcissism gene” has been identified, it’s widely accepted that NPD can be passed down through families. 

Which brings up the matter of nature vs. nurture. Growing up in a household with physical and emotional dysfunction, over-protectiveness, or narcissistic parenting can also set the stage for kids to develop the disorder. For some, narcissistic traits can develop as a defense mechanism to growing up with family shame and feelings of inadequacy. Others grow up being told they are special and shielded from any accountability for their actions or wrongdoing. 

The childhood environment can also factor into someone developing narcissistic behaviors. A child who has grown up with trauma, is economically or socially disadvantaged, or has been repeatedly bullied by others can develop a defense of superiority as a consequence of being treated “less than” or belittled and criticized throughout their lives.

Helping yourself and your children

If you’re married to a narcissistic spouse, it can feel unnerving, confusing, and downright isolating. While you may understand why your spouse is the way they are, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s affected your relationship and your and your children’s well-being. 

Can you successfully be married to and co-parent with someone with narcissistic traits? That depends. If your spouse recognizes that their behavior is harming your relationship and kids, there are many types of therapy that can be helpful. But this means that your spouse has enough self-understanding and commitment to your relationship to want to fix what’s wrong. 

In the meantime, take care of your own needs. Develop strong boundaries. Trust your instincts, and know that what you’re feeling is real. You are not crazy; you have been the victim of narcissistic abuse. You are valuable and strong. If your spouse can’t recognize that, you deserve freedom from their emotional abuse. 

In reality, many marriages with narcissistic spouses end up in divorce court. Divorcing a narcissistic spouse can come with its own challenges. They thrive on conflict, and their feelings of superiority and entitlement can result in unnecessary custody and financial battles. During a divorce, a narcissistic spouse’s unflappable and superior facade can crack and go into full-on manipulation tactics. Be prepared with concise documentation, a calm approach, and a lot of research. 

At Hello Divorce, we understand that some of our readers are ready to move on from an abusive relationship. We are here to help you through the process with divorce plans, services like divorce coaching and mediation, and informative resources. If you are married to a narcissist, you deserve a better life. Let us help. Schedule a free 15-minute phone call for more information.  

Think you have a narcissistic husband or wife? Here’s an interesting read: Narcissist Traits: Male vs. Female