The question many people who are married to a narcissist have is “Can I fix this marriage? Is there some way that I can turn the abuse, manipulation, and sadness into love, honesty, and happiness?” Sadly, the answer is no. We rarely speak in absolutes but fixing a marriage with a narcissist is just so unlikely that the only logical answer is no.

Fixing a marriage with a narcissist is unlikely because they’re incapable of being receptive to your constructive criticism, they won’t engage in meaningful interactions that move your marriage forward, they don’t respect you, they can’t take responsibility for their behavior, and they are incapable of emotional closeness.

This article is going to help you grasp a comprehensive understanding of the reason that you can’t fix a marriage with a narcissist. Below is a short clip from our interview with Karina Ramdath, a Registered Social Worker and Therapist, where she shares really important advice about going to couples therapy with a narcissist.

Karina Ramdath, a Registered Social Worker and Therapist, Shares Really Important Advice About Going to Couples Therapy With a Narcissist

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You Can’t Fix a Marriage With a Narcissist Because Narcissists Are Incapable of Having Healthy Relationships

Before you can truly understand the reason that you can’t fix a marriage with a narcissist, you have to understand a narcissist’s incapability for healthy relationships. Generally speaking, relationships are supposed to be about commitment, companionship, emotional closeness, growth, and trust.

Our article What Do Narcissists Want In a Relationship? has a lot of helpful information about this, but for a narcissist, relationships are all about getting as much narcissistic supply as possible. They couldn’t care less about the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs of their partner.

This is because narcissists have an extremely corrupted perception emotional closeness that is believed to originate from an abusive/unhealthy childhood upbringing with emotionally neglectful primary caregivers. The following section is really important information that explains why you can’t fix a marriage with a narcissist so pay close attention!

Narcissists Are Incapable of Healthy Relationships Because They Have a Corrupted Perception of Emotional Closeness

Many mental health professionals believe that narcissism originates from an abusive/unhealthy childhood upbringing with emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers. 

Before you go any further, it is important to note that this belief has a very broad spectrum of possibilities.

The term “abusive/unhealthy childhood upbringing” could range anywhere from primary caregivers who are physically abusive (e.g. slapping, punching, spanking, etc.) to primary caregivers with unhealthy forms of emotional availability, responsiveness, and consistency such as too much pampering, being overprotective, lack of boundaries, and so on.

We often make the mistake of associating the terms “unhealthy” and “abusive” with physical abuse, and more evident forms of psychological abuse (i.e. invalidation, devaluation, humiliation, etc.) but there are many narcissists who never experienced those forms of abuse.

Moving on, the corrupted perception of emotional closeness that narcissists have stems from the emotional neglect that their primary caregivers subjected them to.

When a primary caregiver is emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent with a child, it means that they aren’t a healthy mirror (i.e. ​​a primary caregiver’s accurate reflection of a child’s expressed thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs).

A simple example of healthy parental mirroring would be a primary caregiver who validates the pain that their child feels from falling down instead of calling the child a wimp and telling him/her to stop crying.

Having an unhealthy parental mirror prevents children from getting the support that they need to develop a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development. It also forces them to figure out both their internal and external environment on their own. 

In addition to this, the emotional neglect that comes with an abusive/unhealthy childhood upbringing with emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers causes children to develop many painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions about themselves (see below).

An insecure child

This is where a narcissist’s perception of emotional closeness starts to get severely corrupted. You see, every time they expressed their thoughts, feelings, emotions, or needs, they were met with emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers.

What this did was it taught the narcissist that their true identity wasn’t good enough to be validated, admired, or reassured. It taught them that their true thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs made them unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, and weak.

All of these painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions caused the narcissist to develop a deeply rooted hatred for themselves, but here’s the problem, their unhealthy cognitive development left them so emotionally incompetent that they can’t manage their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions through healthy forms of regulation.

A child thinking "You are so disgusting. Who could ever love you? You are weak, pathetic, inadequate, unwanted, and worthless! I hate you! You're going to be like this forever."

Instead of allowing themselves to crumble under the pressure of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions, narcissists mirrored society to create a falsified identity (i.e. a public persona) that accumulate the support that their emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers could not give them. 

The term “mirroring” refers to a narcissist’s ability to absorb information about someone’s or a group of people’s (society) identity and use that information to create a falsified identity that allowed them to appear “perfect” to others. Our articles Why Do Narcissists Use Mirroring?andHow Do Narcissists Use Mirroring? have a lot of helpful information about this.

On paper, this approach to getting the support that they need to construct a positive self-perception seems like it would work.  However, for narcissists, all it did was make them more emotionally unstable as they are not able to be their true authentic selves; only a version of themselves that they believe others will admire.

 A simple example of this would be a narcissist using the support that they get from their external environment for being the most popular boy/girl in their school to construct a sense of self and build up their self-esteem.

To sum up everything that has been stated in this section so far, narcissists developed a corrupted perception of emotional closeness because their emotionally neglectful primary caregivers taught them that their true thoughts, feelings, and emotions made them weak, unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, and worthless.

This belief was reinforced when they changed their identity by mirroring society to get the support that they needed to develop a positive self perception. In other words, their ability to mirror society and get the support that their primary caregivers couldn’t give them was another unhealthy aspect of their life that taught them their true self isn’t good enough.

Ok, now that you have a solid understanding of where a narcissist’s corrupted perception of emotional closeness comes from, let’s take a closer look at how it prevents them from maintaining healthy relationship and why it prevents you from being able to fix a marriage with a narcissist.

The Dynamics of a Healthy Relationship Trigger Many of the Painful Thoughts, Feelings, and Emotions That Narcissists Have

The “support” that narcissists receive from their external environment is known as narcissistic supply.

Narcissistic supply is the validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control that narcissists get from their surrounding environment. Narcissists use this supply to construct an identity that they believe others (society) will admire. They also use this new identity to suppress all of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Do you remember in the previous section we mentioned that narcissists are too emotionally incompetent to use healthy forms of regulation (i.e. journaling, therapy, exercise, etc.) to manage their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions? Well, the false identity that narcissists construct out of narcissistic supply becomes their primary form emotional regulation.

 This approach to regulating their painful thoughts feelings, and emotions was never going to work because of how superficial, materialistic, one-dimensional, vulnerable, insecure and weak narcissists are.

All it does is condemned them to a lifetime of a mindless pursuit of narcissistic supply so that they can support their superficial, trivial, and materialistic lifestyle and keep their painful emotions and self-loathing attitude suppressed.

This need for narcissistic supply trumps everything else that life has to offer. They need as much of it as possible in order to protect their emotional stability from their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The largest amounts of narcissistic supply that narcissists can get are the people they have power and control over.

When they have full control over the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of another person, they feel emotionally stable. But this feeling never lasts because having full control over the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of another person destroys the person that they are abusing.

To be fair, an argument could be made that if you were willing to give up your thoughts, feelings, and emotions to save your marriage with the narcissist, it could work.

But the reason why that (the image above) is highly unlikely is because one of the ways that narcissists manage their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions is by projecting them onto others.

In our article Why Do Narcissists Use Projection? you can learn a lot more about this defense mechanism but the point that we are trying to make here is that narcissists need to destroy other people to feel good about themselves.

When they see that they have successfully destroyed you, they are able to figuratively point their finger at you and think to themselves, “I am not the weak, unlovable, unwanted, worthless, and inadequate one, they are.” They are so fragile, vulnerable, and insecure that seeing other people happy or doing well reminds them of how much they hate themselves.

In our articles Are Narcissists Scared of Commitment? and Do Narcissists Enjoy Intimacy? we speak about this thoroughly but the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that go into a healthy relationship terrify a narcissist because they serve as a constant reminder of how weak, unlovable, unwanted, worthless, and inadequate they feel inside.

This is why you can’t fix a marriage with a narcissist. They only see you as a source of narcissistic supply that they are entitled to having full power and control over.

If they were to attempt to mimic a healthy relationship by being receptive to your constructive criticism, engaging in meaningful interactions that move your marriage forward, respecting you, taking responsibility for their behavior, etc., it would trigger all of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

You Can’t Fix a Marriage With a Narcissist Because Narcissist’s Don’t View Their Behavior as Abusive

If nothing else, the biggest issue that you are going to come across when attempting to fix a marriage with a narcissist is their inability to take responsibility for their own behavior.

There are many reasons for this such as their lack of self-awareness, emotional immaturity, sense of specialness, and arrogance, but what we are going to focus on is the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they have suppressed within themselves.

There’s a lot of information about this in our article What Causes Narcissistic Injuries?but narcissist have many painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they work hard to suppress with narcissistic supply. When something triggers those painful thoughts, feelings and emotions, it causes a narcissistic injury and it compromises their emotional stability.

As a general rule, any situation where the narcissist is the recipient of blame or negativity could cause a narcissistic injury. If a narcissist were to attempt to fix their marriage, they would have to accept criticism, negativity, and blame. This would trigger a narcissistic injury and compromise their emotional stability. It is for this reason that fixing a marriage with a narcissist is highly unlikely.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

You can’t fix a marriage with a narcissist. They need to be in full control of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, they are incapable of maintaining healthy relationships, and they find comfort in mentally and physically destroying others. That isn’t a marriage, that is ownership and abuse.

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Haslam, Carrie, and V. Tamara Montrose. “Should have known better: The impact of mating experience and the desire for marriage upon attraction to the narcissistic personality.” Personality and Individual Differences 82 (2015): 188-192.

Lavner, Justin A., et al. “Narcissism and newlywed marriage: Partner characteristics and marital trajectories.” Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment 7.2 (2016): 169.