A persistent need for admiration and regular manipulation efforts are possible signs your wife is living with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
Narcissism itself isn’t a disorder. It occurs on a spectrum like many other personality traits. On one end is acceptable self-love that helps motivate and maintain self-esteem.
On the other end of the spectrum is narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a mental health condition featuring patterns of self-love that disregard others’ well-being.
The term “narcissist” typically refers to people living with NPD or those on the NPD end of the spectrum.
Despite how abusive behaviors of narcissism can be, people living with NPD can be outwardly charming and winsome. They often secure relationships — even marriages. But over time the patterns of NPD are revealed.
1. ‘What about me’ focus
One of the core features of NPD is a lack of empathy, the ability to relate to how other people are feeling and thinking.
Kayode explains in a marriage, this can come across as a lack of care from your wife and a constant focus on how circumstances affect her, rather than both of you.
“Overall it may seem as [your wife] does not care,” she says. “This may look like a communication style that adverts back to the wife and a ‘what about me’ attitude when you do try to vocalize your feelings and concerns.”
2. Children as status symbols
If you and your wife have children, you may notice their achievements become synonymous with your wife’s achievements.
Riding on the coattails of your children’s success is a way for a wife living with NPD to claim admiration and validation for being a “successful” mother.
3. Using appearance for validation
Kayode indicates wives living with NPD still have the same over-inflated sense of self seen in men living with NPD, but it typically presents as excessive focus on their physical appearance rather than boastfulness.
This doesn’t necessarily mean your wife is dressed to the nine’s all the time for attention. There are more subtle ways spouses can gain attention from their appearance.
“[In a marriage] this can manifest as being overly preoccupied with social media and receiving positive likes and comments from others,” Kayode says.
4. Playing the victim
Playing the victim is a trait of covert narcissism that uses exaggerated harm to gain praise, comfort, and attention.
If your wife plays the victim, minor inconveniences are made out to be major setbacks that require profuse apologizing or sympathizing before she can move forward.
5. Guilt trips and silent treatments
Another tenant of covert narcissism is passive-aggressive behavior instead of blatant aggression. In a marriage, this can look like guilt-tripping and silent treatments, especially when there’s something for your wife to gain if you give in.
6. Not having your back
Dr. Amelia Kelley, a trauma-informed therapist from Cary, North Carolina, indicates a wife living with NPD isn’t afraid to exploit others for personal gain, including her husband.
She says this can emerge as issues with aligning with their partner if it risks their persona.
In other words, if you have an unpopular opinion, your wife will likely side with the most influential person in the group rather than support you. She may even make remarks at your expense to further separate from an opinion she thinks reflects poorly on her.
7. Moral jealousy
Jealousy of others and the sense that others are jealous of you is a core symptom of narcissism.
Lisa Lawless, a clinical psychotherapist from Bend, Oregon, points out that a wife living with NPD might not only be jealous, but she might try to justify her jealousy through good intentions.
“Those with NPD are often controlling and easily jealous; however, in women, this will usually be presented in a way that seems to take a moral high ground rather than in the form of anger,” she explains.
When it isn’t narcissistic personality disorder
The above examples of possible NPD behaviors aren’t exclusive to NPD.
It’s possible for someone to guilt-trip often, for example, but not be living with a personality disorder. Many other mental health conditions and life experiences can contribute to maladaptive relationship behaviors.
NPD is diagnosed by the presence of multiple patterns of narcissistic behavior that persist over long periods of time.
NPD can affect anyone. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) indicates men are more likely to experience NPD compared to women.
Despite the gender disparity, wives can still live with NPD, and how the condition’s symptoms emerge may look differently than they would in a husband.
“Symptoms of NPD present differently in women due to biological factors as well as social norms,” explains Dr. Nashira Kayode, a licensed psychotherapist in Jurupa Valley, California.
“Women present with more passive-aggressive and manipulative behaviors. This is different from men with NPD who are more likely to use physical aggression and intimidation tactics to get their needs met,” Kayode adds.
Many people living with NPD don’t realize they’re experiencing a mental health disorder. This lack of insight can make maintaining a relationship, especially a marriage, extremely challenging.
Kayode, Kelley, and Lawless recommend the following strategies to help cope when your wife lives with NPD:
- learn as much as you can about NPD to help recognize the signs and depersonalize the behaviors
- define what your personal boundaries and non-negotiables in the relationship are
- prioritize self-care and stress reduction techniques
- do not give in to manipulation tactics
- establish your personal support network of family and friends
- seek guidance from a mental health professional
Above all, keeping your expectations realistic about boundaries can help.
Kayode indicates setting boundaries is extremely important, but cautions that your wife may lack the capacity to understand your emotions and feelings.
Once you recognize that, it allows you to work on setting guidelines for specific behaviors rather than creating boundaries that might be unrealistic.
“For example,” she says, “if your wife is always upset when you spend time with your friends and calls you constantly, setting the parameter that you will only answer her calls two times sets the expectation and puts a boundary into place.”
You may not be able to control how many times she calls, Kayode adds, but you can control whether or not you answer.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition featuring traits of excessive self-love accompanied by a disregard for the welfare of feelings of others.
NPD can exist in a marriage, despite how challenging the condition makes maintaining interpersonal relationships.
Signs your wife may be living with NPD include patterns of behavior like guilt-tripping, craving appearance-based attention, using your children as status symbols, and victim-playing.