One of the most common reasons people find themselves married to a narcissist for years without knowing it is because narcissists are really good at disguising their abusive tendencies as love.
Narcissists subject their spouses to extraordinarily high levels of invalidation, devaluation, humiliation, dehumanization, and minimization. They do not care about the thoughts, feelings, emotions, or needs of their spouses because they don’t view them as equals.
This article is going to guide you through some of the different manipulation tactics that narcissists use on their spouses so you can grasp a better understanding of the way narcissists typically treat their spouses.
They Deny, Reject, and Dismiss Their Spouses’ Feelings
Invalidation is the process of denying, rejecting or dismissing someone’s feelings.
When someone invalidates another person, they are essentially telling that person that their subjective emotional experience is inaccurate, insignificant, and/or unacceptable.
It is very common for narcissists to subject their spouses to high levels of invalidation on a regular basis. One of the most common ways that they do this is through gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic that abusive/toxic people use to get others to question their own sanity, memories, and/or perception of reality.
For example, imagine that you are confronting the narcissist in your life because they hurt your feelings, “Are you not going to apologize to me? What you said really hurt my feelings.”
And the narcissist replied with, “Oh my gosh. What is it this time? I tell you, you have to be one of the most sensitive people that I have ever met. I wasn’t even being mean!”
This would be considered gaslighting. With that being said, it is important to remember that gaslighting is much more than lies and deceptive wording.
What makes gaslighting, gaslighting, is the environment that you are in. You see, there are typically dozens of manipulation tactics that narcissists use while they are gaslighting you (image below):
All of the manipulation tactics that narcissists use, including gaslighting, work together to get you to question your own sanity, memories, and perception of reality.
Gaslighting is one of the biggest reasons that being in a narcissistic marriage is one of the most invalidating experiences someone could go through.
They Treat Their Spouses as if They Aren’t Important
It is very common for narcissists to devalue their spouses on a daily basis. This means that they treat them as if they aren’t important.
The reason for this is something called projection.
Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when someone takes a part of themselves that they find unacceptable and places them onto someone else.
For example, a married woman who is attracted to a male coworker, accusing him of flirting with her instead of acknowledging her attraction for him.
The parts of themselves that narcissists find unacceptable are their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
You see, deep down narcissists feel unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, and weak. But they don’t have the emotional skills that are needed to manage them properly.
Instead, they often project these painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions onto others because it allows them to figuratively think to themselves, “I’m not the unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, and weak one, they are.”
Narcissists struggle with their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions on a daily basis. They use narcissistic supply to keep them suppressed the best they can but it doesn’t always work.
It is for this reason narcissists use their spouses, and the other people that they abuse, as repositories for their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Treating their spouses as if they aren’t important is one of the most common ways that narcissists maintain emotional stability and remain in power and control.
They Degrade Their Spouses on a Regular Basis
A narcissist’s willingness to degrade their spouses causes a lot of psychological, and sometimes physical, damage.
A Quote from One of Our Community Members
“My ex would degrade me all the time. He would humiliate me in public, spit on me whenever he decided that I was doing something wrong, I even woke up one night to him peeing on my blankets. He made me feel less than human for eight years. – Jaya
Part of the reason that narcissists degrade their spouses is because it allows them to use the already mentioned projection to manage their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions
But another side of their degrading treatment of their spouses is that narcissists love to feel superior.
Their grandiose sense of self-importance, specialness, and uniqueness is to blame for their willingness to do anything to prove their superiority over others.
It is very common for the spouses of narcissists to spend the entire marriage being manipulated into believing that they are less than human.
One of the most common manipulation tactics that narcissists use to do this is narcissistic rage.
Narcissistic rage is an unpredictable, explosive, and unjustifiable response that narcissists often have when they experience a narcissistic injury. It can manifest in the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, and/or neglect.
When a narcissist goes into a rage, their sole objective is to assert dominance over you by any means necessary, including degradation.
They Go Out of Their Way to Minimize Their Spouses
It is very common for narcissists to minimize their spouses. Minimization means to reduce to the smallest possible amount or degree; represent or estimate at less than the true value or importance.
When minimizing, narcissists won’t deny that a specific event occurred, but they will question their spouses emotional experience or reaction during the event.
For example, imagine that you were at a dinner party with your narcissistic spouse and they made a joke at your expense to make everyone laugh.
When you got home, you confronted them about it, “Hey I told you that stuff in confidence. Please don’t use it against me to make others laugh.”
They responded, “Oh relax! It was just a joke! You were laughing at it too. Don’t make such a big deal out of such small things.”
This is minimization. The narcissist is questioning your emotional experience and reaction during the joke at the dinner party.
A Quote from One of Our Community Members
I think that being minimized every day of my life was the most damaging part of being married to a malignant narcissist. Two years into our marriage I got offered my dream job but ended up not taking it because my narc ex minimized it for days. He made me feel stupid for thinking that I could achieve something on my own. – Sally
They Deprive Their Spouses of Positive Human Qualities
When someone dehumanizes someone, it means that they deprive them of positive human qualities.
For example, imagine that you have been married to a narcissist for nearly a decade and one of the ways that you cope with the abuse is by drinking.
There’s no shame in it, developing a maladaptive coping strategy to manage narcissistic abuse is very common and with the right guidance you will be able to change that behavior.
But narcissists can use your drinking to dehumanize you by calling you an alcoholic, “You are nothing more than an alcoholic. Gosh you make me sick!!”
When someone reduces a human being to a single characteristic (i.e. alcoholic, schizophrenic, addict, junky, etc.) it is called dehumanization.
A narcissist will often dehumanize you when you are at your lowest. One of the most common ways a narcissist will push you to your lowest is by financially abusing you.
There are three types of financial abuse that narcissists use.
1. Employment sabotage is when a narcissist uses emotional and/or physical abuse to manipulate you into quitting your jobs or to prevent you from finding a job.
For example, the narcissist pressures you into quitting your job or gets you fired by sabotaging your work responsibilities.
2. Economic exploitation is when a narcissist intentionally destroys your financial resources or credit.
An example of this could be a narcissist maxing out your credit cards and refusing to make the payments on it.
3. Controlling the finances is when a narcissist uses emotional and/or physical abuse and/or manipulation to gain power and control over the financial stability of the relationship.
A common example of this is a narcissist giving you an allowance and demanding that you keep a detailed account of all the money that you spend.
Financial abuse is by far one of the most common reasons spouses of narcissists can’t escape the marriage.
A Quote from One of Our Community Members
“My ex talked me into sinking my savings into crypto and I lost it all. I became financially dependent on him and he portrayed me as a gold digger to all of his friends and family. For two years that is all I was, a gold digger. I stopped being able to take care of myself because I was too afraid to ask for money.” – Samantha
Our article “Narcissism & Money: A Deeper Look Into Financial Abuse“ will give you a much better understanding of the way that narcissists use money to control others.
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
Being in a narcissistic marriage is traumatizing. Narcissists subject their spouses to unfathomable levels of invalidation, devaluation, degradation, humiliation, minimization, and dehumanization.
About the Author
Hey, I’m Elijah.
I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years.
I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.
Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.
Brown, Nina W. Coping with Infuriating, Mean, Critical People: The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern: The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern. ABC-CLIO, 2006.
Jonason, Peter K., and David P. Schmitt. “What have you done for me lately? Friendship-selection in the shadow of the Dark Triad traits.” Evolutionary Psychology 10.3 (2012): 147470491201000303.