One of the most common questions that people have when they are unsure whether or not they are in a narcissistic marriage is, “What happens to a person who is married to a narcissist?”

As a general rule, individuals who marry a narcissist get manipulated, abused, used as a source of narcissistic supply, isolated from friends, family, and resources, and they get used as an emotional repository by the narcissist.

This article is going to guide you through exactly what happens to a person who is married to a narcissist. Also, in a short video (see below) Dr Brooke White shares some really important information that will help you understand why people stay in narcissistic relationship for so long despite the abuse that they are experiencing.

Dr. Brooke White Shares Important Information About the Reason Narcissistic Relationships Last For So Long

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They Are Manipulated by the Narcissist

The word “manipulate” means to control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly or unscrupulously.

For example, a narcissist could try to manipulate someone by moving very quickly in a romantic relationship.

They may overwhelm the person that they are trying to manipulate with loving gestures to lower their guard or make them feel indebted.

A narcissist love bombing someone.

The spouses of narcissists are manipulated on a daily basis.

For this article we conducted a survey among 300 survivors of narcissistic abuse who were married to a narcissist and found that the most common manipulation tactics they encountered were the following:

Gaslighting

Gaslighting is when someone does or says something that doubts or denies another person’s reality.

A simple example of this would be someone telling you that you feel fine or that you are being dramatic even though you are clearly feeling unwell.

A narcissist gaslighting someone.

Narcissists use gaslighting to get others to question their own sanity, memories, and/or perception of reality.

Suggested Reading:

If you’re interested, you can read our article What Does Gaslighting Do to the Victim? to learn more about the impact that gaslighting has on your mental health.

Projection

Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when someone unconsciously takes parts of their identity that they find unacceptable and places them onto someone else.

For example, a man feeling insecure about his masculinity mocking other men for “acting like women” instead of addressing his own insecurities.

Everyone uses projection from time to time but narcissists use projection on a regular basis because they have low emotional intelligence.

Suggested Reading:

Our articleWhy Do Narcissists Use Projection? there is a ton of helpful information about projection that you may find helpful.

Triangulation

Triangulation occurs when someone turns a one-on-one situation (i.e. a conversation) into a two-on-one situation by involving a third party.

A simple example of this could be someone calling a friend in the middle of the argument that they are having with you to get that friend to support them even though they have no business weighing in on the argument.

A narcissist triangulating someone.

Narcissists use triangulation to create a power imbalance so they can dominate others.

Suggested Reading:

Our article 15 Phrases That Narcissists Use to Manipulate Others Through Triangulationhas a ton of information that will help you grasp a better understanding of triangulation.

Fast Talking (AKA Word Salad)

Fast talking is when someone purposely overwhelms you with a rapid-fire series of questions, accusations, and/or assertions without giving you a chance to respond or even process everything that they are saying.

For example, “How dare you question me? I’ve given you everything you have. Do you think you could have survived without my help? I’ve accomplished more in the last week than you have in a year. Who would you be without me? You think your friends would lift a finger if you really needed it?

A narcissist will use fast talking to prevent the person that they are abusing from expressing themselves.

Shifting the Burden of Proof

Shifting the Burden of Proof is when someone makes a claim and then requires you to refute it with proof.

A simple example of this could be a comment along the lines of, “I’m right. What I say stands until YOU can prove otherwise.”

A woman trying to communicate with a narcissist.
A narcissist shifting the burden of proof onto a woman he is manipulating.

A narcissist will shift the burden of proof to silence their spouse and prevent them from expressing themselves.

They Are Abused by the Narcissist

Being abused means being treated with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly.

There are 4 types of abuse that the spouses of narcissists experience.

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse, also known as emotional abuse, are non-physical behaviors that a narcissist will use to control, isolate, and/or frighten their spouse such as gaslighting, stonewalling, intimidation, etc.

It is common for narcissists to try to manipulate their spouse into developing a psychological dependency on them by using psychological abuse to break down their spouse’s self-esteem and self-worth.

A woman who is sad.

Psychological abuse is incredibly difficult to spot because it is often spread throughout the everyday interactions that narcissists have with their spouse.

Financial Abuse

Sadly, financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases.1

It is one of the most common tactics that narcissists use to gain power and control over their spouses.

There are three types of financial abuse that narcissists use on their spouses.

The first type is economic exploitation.

Economic exploitation occurs when a narcissist intentionally destroys the financial resources and/or credit of the person that they are abusing.

Five signs of economic exploitation.

The second type is employment sabotage.

Employment sabotage is when a narcissist uses abuse and/or manipulation to get the person that they are abusing to quit their job or to prevent them from finding a job.

5 Signs of Employment Sabotage

5 Signs of employment sabotage.

The third type is called controlling the finances.

Controlling the finances is when a narcissist uses abuse and/or manipulation to control the financial stability of the person that they are abusing.

Five signs of controlling the finances.

Suggested Reading:

Our article The Three Types of Financial Abuse That Abusers Use to Control Others has a lot of information that will help you better understand financial abuse.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is when someone deliberately hurts your body or takes away your control of your body. 

Generally speaking, physical abuse is often thought of as hitting, slapping, kicking, etc. 

But physical abuse can occur even if the abuser isn’t using their body or a weapon to hurt you (see below).

  • Tying, locking you up, or restraining you in any way.
  • Giving you medicine or drugs to stop you from moving or thinking clearly.
  • Giving you medicine, drugs or food to make you unwell.
  • Forcing you to drink alcohol or take drugs.
  • Stopping you from taking medicine you need to feel well.
  • Leaving you naked or exposed when caring for you.
  • Destroying or moving equipment you may need, such as a wheelchair.

Physical abuse is never justifiable.

If you are being physically abused, please click here for resources that you can use to reach out for help.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse refers to any action that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually they don’t want to do.

Sexual abuse can also refer to behavior that impacts a person’s ability to control sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs.

Examples of sexual assault and abuse.

While research suggests there’s a link between sexual narcissism and sexual aggression2, experts have not found evidence to suggest that narcissism alone makes sexual aggression more likely.

However, for this article we conducted a survey among 100 survivors of narcissistic abuse (only those who have been married to a narcissist) and found that 74 out of 100 of the participants experienced sexual abuse from their narcissistic spouse.

The Narcissist Uses Them as Sources of Narcissistic Supply

Narcissistic supply is the validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control that narcissists get from their surrounding environment.

Some of the most common forms of narcissistic supply that the spouses of narcissists are forced to provide are sex, money, praise, time, and admiration.

In addition to this, the spouses of narcissists are also expected to allow the narcissist to maintain power and control over them at all times.

If a narcissist feels like their spouse isn’t providing them with enough narcissistic supply, they will discard them for a new source of supply, manipulate them into becoming a source of supply, and/or punish them to create their own supply.

Suggested Reading:

Our article What Is Narcissistic Supply and Why Do They Need It So Badly? will help you grasp a better understanding of what exactly narcissistic supply is.

The Narcissist Isolates Them From Friends, Family, and Resources

Generally speaking, isolation in a narcissistic marriage is when a narcissist prevents their spouse from having outside relationships or support systems.

It can also manifest in the form of the narcissist isolating their spouse from outside information or financial resources. 

The reason that narcissists isolate their spouses is because they feel entitled to maintaining power and control of them at all times.

A narcissist being abusive.

To some degree, narcissists know that they wouldn’t be able to maintain power and control if they were to allow their spouse to have outside relationships, support systems, information, or financial resources.

So, they isolate their spouses as quickly as possible by attacking their ability to be independent (e.g. financial abuse), criticizing their loved ones(e.g. gaslighting), and/or they victimize themselves when their spouse spends time with their loved ones (e.g. guilt-tripping).

They Get Used as Emotional Repositories by the Narcissist

A repository is a location, either real or virtual, where data is stored.

In narcissistic marriages, the spouses of narcissists are used as repositories and the data that is being stored is the narcissist’s painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

The reason that this happens is because deep down narcissists struggle with feelings of being unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, insecure, worthless, and weak.

A narcissist with many painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

They are incapable of managing these thoughts, feelings, and emotions on their own because they have low emotional intelligence.

Having low emotional intelligence means that a person has difficulty recognizing and understanding their emotions and those of others.

Because of this, this person tends to have poor emotional regulation.

In a desperate attempt to protect their emotional stability, narcissists use projection to transfer their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions over to their spouse.

A teacher talking about projection.

The parts of a narcissist’s identity that they find unacceptable are their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

To project them onto their spouse, all narcissists have to do is abuse and manipulate their spouse.

This is because this allows them to figuratively point their finger at their spouse and think to themselves, “I’m not the one who is unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, insecure, worthless, and weak, they are.”

A narcissist projecting his shame onto others.

As you can imagine, being a repository for a narcissist’s painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions has significant ramifications on one’s mental health.

Over time, it is common for the spouse to adopt the narcissist’s painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions as their own, and subsequently, develop low self-esteem, lose trust in themselves, and stop loving themselves.

Suggested Listen:

Here’s the interview we had with Brenda Stephens, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, about the shame that narcissists struggle with on a daily basis. This information will help you grasp a better understanding of the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions narcissists have.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Being married to a narcissist is traumatizing.

It is very common for the spouses of narcissists to be manipulated, abused, used as a source of narcissistic supply, isolated from friends, family, and resources, and get used as an emotional repository by the narcissist.

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References:

Emotional and Psychological Abuse

[1] Measuring the Effects of Domestic Violence on Women’s Financial Well- Being

[2] Widman, Laura, and James K McNulty. “Sexual narcissism and the perpetration of sexual aggression.” Archives of sexual behavior vol. 39,4 (2010): 926-39.