Is Marriage Counseling Helpful In A Relationship With A Narcissist?

Typically, when a person in a relationship with a narcissist seeks marriage counseling, they are hoping that the therapist will be able to explain to the narcissist what they are doing wrong and how they are hurting their partner. The goal is to get them to change their behavior. This seems like a reasonable expectation but is unfortunately unlikely.

NPD In Relationships

A person with narcissistic personality disorder both needs continual external validation in order to feel good about themself and is devoid of emotional empathy for other people. Other people’s feelings only matter to them in terms of how they are personally impacted by them.

 Narcissists also lack the concept of object constancy, or the ability to maintain your positive feelings for someone while you are feeling hurt, angry, frustrated, or disappointed with their behavior. They see themselves and everyone else in a dichotomy where they are either unique, perfect, all-powerful, and deserving, or boring useless garbage. 

Once the narcissistic partner notices their mate’s normal human flaws, they attempt to change them by whatever means necessary. They will try everything from criticizing and embarrassing to gaslighting and involving third parties.

It is often improbable that a partner with narcissistic personality disorder will stick with marriage counseling or engage in a useful manner for long.

Why Marriage Counseling Doesn’t Help

For marriage counseling to be effective, both partners must be capable of admitting when their expectations or behavior are irrational or toxic. People with NPD can’t do that. Because of that dichotomy, if they admit any flaw or wrongdoing, they shift from feeling omnipotent to worthless. 

Marriage counseling with a narcissistic partner usually ends in one of four ways.  Terri Clinton Dichiser presents a fifth way to treat this in couples therapy.  If the therapist treats both partners fairly and evenly, the narcissist often can’t handle what they perceive as criticism so they get angry and quit therapy.

If the counselor strategically attempts to bond with the narcissistic partner to keep them in therapy, the other partner typically feels abandoned and defeated.

Sometimes a therapist may not be familiar with all of the ways NPD can present in therapy, and how maddening it is for the partner, and mistakenly see the more emotional person as the cause of the problem.

Occasionally, a skilled therapist may manage to help the couple make some temporary improvements. They negotiate a “contract” with the couple about how they each agree to behave. This tends to work only until the partner with NPD is triggered by something. Things get better for a time, but then the narcissistic partner gradually reverts to the same old patterns. Unfortunately, this is usually the best outcome that can be expected.

The fifth outcome, with a skilled therapist, is addressing the underlying issues including attachment and deep insecurity with the NPD.  When the issues are addressed and treated couples therapy can be productive.  

It is often improbable that a partner with narcissistic personality disorder will stick with marriage counseling or engage in a useful manner for long. Individual counseling for the partner with NPD is so essential.

Take Charge provides both individual counseling and couples therapy in Overland Park, Kansas. For more information, call Take Charge, Inc. at (913) 239-8255. To make an appointment, click here.

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