How do narcissists see marriage?

Written by Angela Atkinson

Narcissists seem to have an unusual perspective about marriage, probably because of their own childhood trauma. They don’t see marriage in the romantic or long-term sense, but rather as a contract: a deal, a trade, and an arrangement between two partners.


What do narcissists think about marriage and why do they get married?

It’s no secret that narcissists, as a rule, have a tendency to be incapable of fulfilling the role of a decent marital partner. And, we can probably agree that people with NPD aren’t going to change overnight – if at all. But this is precisely why they wind up in relationships where their character flaws are not so much manifest as they are magnified.

So why do they even bother getting married if they’re only going to fail miserably in their spousal role? Stick with me, and I’ll fill you in on the psychology of why narcissists get married and what it means for you. But first, let’s define what I mean by “narcissist.”

What is a narcissist?

A narcissist is a person who may have a diagnosed Cluster B personality disorder who demonstrates a grandiose, overblown sense of self-importance and marked lack of compassion and emotional empathy. Narcissists need to feel that they are superior to everyone else.

In other words, narcissists are identifiable by their marked lack of compassion and emotional empathy, which leads to the noticeable inability or unwillingness to recognize or identify with anyone else’s feelings and needs – especially those closest to them, since that’s the only time they actually relax enough to let their “mask slip,” as in revealing their true selves.

Pathological narcissists are manipulative, egotistical, and controlling when it comes to life and sadly, this includes their marriages and families. Still, they’re human, right? So you’d assume that, like the rest of the population, they get married for love, companionship, or to meet some societal expectation. But what’s the truth about narcissists and marriage?

Why do narcissists get married?

Narcissists need other people as much as everyone else does. But narcissists prefer to have relationships that are one-sided, and it’s not so hard to see why – narcissists need to be the center of attention and always seek admiration and adoration from other people.

While narcissists can be cold-hearted and cruel to their partners in their relationships, there is also something alluring about relationships in general. They might not even realize it because it’s subconscious, but they shape their lives to meet the needs of that ideal “special someone,” at least at the beginning of their typical toxic relationship cycle.

Do narcissists intend to hurt you when they marry you?

One of the biggest questions I’ve heard from narcissistic abuse recovery coaching clients is this: did the narcissist marry me just to hurt me? The truth is that while there are some narcissistic sociopaths and psychopaths who might literally get married for the purpose of hurting their spouses in some way, the majority of them might (at some point) genuinely believe they married you because they loved you. Of course, you have to consider the narcissist’s definition of love. That’s why, when you find out that you’ve been dealing with a narcissist, your mind is completely blown; it’s why you are having such a hard time believing that the narcissist has been fooling you into thinking you were the problem this whole time.

The narcissist has gaslighted you into doubting your entire reality. This is both shocking and infuriating once you start to realize what it all means. 

Did the narcissist ever really love you?

You’ve got to consider that while narcissists are known to love…differently than most of us, we know they can experience what might, in the moment, actually feel like genuine feelings of love to them. Narcissists seem to have a painfully misunderstood and misdirected need for love. Like every other human, they crave connection, and they need people in order to feel secure and remain functional. But rather than get security through love, genuine connection, or the narcissist feels they need to claim it, control it, take it for themselves.

What made them become a narcissist?

Trauma, often beginning in childhood, seems to lead people to become narcissistic. Narcissists develop their personality disorders like anyone else – the majority have been deeply affected by the events in their lives. For a small percentage of narcissists, there are “other” kinds of causes for pathological narcissism, but for most, it all started with something traumatic that happened to them during their childhood. Their trauma has just manifested differently than ours.

Consider the narcissist’s definition of love.

They are taught early in life that they’re pathologically and painfully alone in the world. So, love feels like a sense of ownership and control, all focused on the facilitation of their own needs and comforts. From my own observations, they seem to lack the natural urge for full reciprocation in a relationship and feel instead entitled to the approval, admiration, service, and subservience of their closest sources of narcissistic supply. 

Narcissists, underneath it all, are human.

They, like all of us, want to be loved and accepted and to belong somewhere. But deep down, they are well-aware of their flaws, at least on a subconscious level. This leads them to believe that they’re broken, flawed, or otherwise not good enough. Just like you and me, they also often suffered trauma that destroyed the person they might have been – but while you may have become a people-pleasing codependent, the same kinds of trauma might have led to their personality disorder.

If we take a closer look at the lives of these toxic people, we can see that they’ve got some things in common. For one, their role models and parental figures in childhood were often selfish and hurtful. They were either exploited by others or neglected in favor of the other parent. This childhood experience leaves them with deep emotional wounds, which make them feel unloved and unworthy.

How do narcissists see marriage?

Based on what we know so far about narcissists and marriage, consider the following.

1. A source of narcissistic supply.

The narcissist sees marriage as a too; they treat their partners as subjects… objects, really…and they seem to intrinsically believe that these partners are not significant beyond their utility to serve narcissistic needs. In other words, whether they realize it or not, marriage for most narcissists holds one main goal: to obtain and secure an always-available source of narcissistic supply.

Think about it. Malignant narcissism, or pathological narcissism, involves a group of personality traits including grandiosity, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration. They can develop a pattern of exploiting other people in order to get what they want. When you are looking for a partner with whom they will live the rest of your life might find some narcissists that seem initially appealing.

2. An extension of self.

A narcissist does not see their partner as a separate person, rather an extension of themselves. There is a point at which it becomes unhealthy – and that’s the point at which narcissists operate. Even if they seem to love their partners, they expect them to act as extensions, not really separate people.

3. An in-house ego booster.

The idea of seeing a therapist or even a doctor might seem foreign or off-putting to a narcissist who finds the idea of sharing secrets with another person for advice to be tricky. Though it can be a challenge to recognize, most narcissists struggle with low self-esteem and a poor sense of identity. Being in a marriage makes them feel valuable when they allow others to see them as valuable by loving them.

4. An emotional garbage dumpster for their self-loathing.

While they desperately cling to the idea that no one is quite like them, and like they’re the original, only, best, or true (fill in the blank with their grandiose fantasies) around, narcissists secretly live in the deep sludge that is self-loathing. In other words, they secretly hate who they are at the very core. So they spend a lot of time building up this false self-image that on some level, they even actually believe.

5. A built-in source of false image support.

The narcissist develops an image based on their false self, or the mask they wear to hide their perceived inadequacies from most people in their lives. This image must remain infallible to everyone outside of a select few when it comes to survival for a narcissist. So they need someone who will always be on their team and support their false self-image, while also being an emotional garbage dumpster to turn your life upside down.

6. Validation on tap.

Since they cannot self-validate, narcissists require constant validation to feel better about themselves. Relationships allow them to feel special and important. Having a properly-conditioned partner in place, they have found a way to get validation whenever they need it.

Do all narcissists get married? 

No, not all narcissists get married. Not every narcissist desires or searches out relationships at all. Like all sentient humans, while they do seem to have a playbook, narcissists are still relatively unique individual people with specific lives. So, whether they even want to be in a relationship always depends on the nature of the narcissist. Some are solitary, some are attracted to power. To be fair, most are both, at least in their own individual ways.

Why do married narcissists cheat on their partners?

Narcissists are avoidants by nature, preferring to take their distance from others, rather than getting close to them. That also means that they have problems with intimacy, that is being close physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually to another person. Narcissists have a unique ability to take just about any situation and find a way to benefit from it. One of these situations is an affair.

One of the most disproportionately high personality disorders to find itself involved in extramarital affairs is narcissism. While statistics vary, it’s often said that between 20-33% of individuals who are involved in affairs are narcissists. That’s not to say that one-fifth of all people who cheat are narcissists (we wouldn’t want to make generalizations like that!), but it does seem to indicate that if you’ve got a narcissist in your midst, there’s a chance they could be cheating on you.

People with severe personality disorders often find themselves in relationship after relationship, cheating whenever something threatens their self-image, and fear of abandonment. Narcissists cheat because they feel entitled to do so and they can’t handle someone calling them out on that behavior.

Though many marriages are based on codependency, you should never feel like you need to act like someone’s mother or father.

Yes, narcissists DO get married, but…

Some people think that narcissists don’t get married at all. I guess that in some ways, this can be considered true; but in reality, narcissists don’t get married for the same reasons as everyone else.   They won’t marry for the same reasons everyone else gets married. Narcissists see marriage differently than most people. To start with, they don’t really know what marriage is supposed to be.

For example, maybe they didn’t have the privilege of growing up in a family where the parents stayed married to each other. Or their parents stayed married, but they didn’t see their parents demonstrating selfless love for each other, for themselves, and others. So when they get married at some point in life, it has little or no meaning to them. They certainly might become obsessed with their marriage; but only because it gives them something that gives them narcissistic supply. Something that makes them feel powerful and important, or if this isn’t possible – needed.

Are you married to a narcissist? Take this toxic relationship self-assessment to find out and get insight into your emotions.

Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today

Online help is readily available for survivors of narcissistic abuse. Here are some options to begin healing from narcissistic abuse right away.

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  • Angela Atkinson

    Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves. Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at QueenBeeing.com and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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