A person who demonstrates narcissistic personality traits can be difficult to help through marriage counseling or couples therapy, though it is not impossible. But entering marriage counseling is only the beginning of healing for those dealing with a narcissist.
What is narcissism?
The narcissist needs to always look good to others and sees the world, and themselves, in black and white: they appear perfect and wonderful in their outward demeanor to cover up a deep feeling of insignificance and lack of self-worth. Unfortunately, this attitude overflows to their relationships: their spouse can do no wrong, or, once “the honeymoon is over,” can do nothing right.
Because the narcissist cannot bear to admit they have done anything wrong (since to do so would be to admit they are worthless), they will do anything to avoid this. They will not take responsibility for any problems in the relationship and will blame their partner for everything. Because they are completely self-centered, they have little or no empathy and cannot recognize – or seem to not care – how they make others feel. Of course, according to them, everything is your fault.
Can couples therapy help?
A counselor or therapist who is not experienced in recognizing narcissistic behavior may be fooled by the narcissist’s charm. The partner of a narcissist is usually quite distraught, with damaged self-esteem and frazzled emotions. The partner’s desperate attempt to make the counselor understand while the narcissist looks hurt but calm can fool the counselor into blaming the victim.
But a good counselor or therapist will not be fooled. If you have gone with your partner to a therapist who was unable to see through the narcissist’s mask, do some research and find one who is experienced in working with narcissists. That counselor can help you find ways to make inroads with your narcissistic spouse.
Since narcissists like to look good to others, they are often willing to show that they can learn quickly. They also like to blame other people or situations for their behavior. An experienced therapist may be able to help a narcissist understand the roots of their personality issues—perhaps situations in childhood damaged their self-esteem so that they developed these traits as a self-defense mechanism. If the narcissist can recognize this, it may be a sign that they are ready to begin changing some behaviors. This will take time as the defense against the belief that they are worthless developed over a life time and is deeply rooted.
If you have been able to find a good counselor or therapist who can help the narcissist in your life look at underlying causes and admit there might be some need for change, the next step really should be individual therapy for each of you. Your narcissistic partner needs serious therapy to overcome a lifetime of negative feelings and traits. And you need very different counseling to help you heal from the damage your narcissistic partner has caused and encourage you to find healthy ways to validate who you are and what you do.