A modified version of this post was originally published on Techealthiest.
Narcissists are known for being highly skilled at sabotaging their partner's attempts at open, loving communication, which can cause devastating distance and chronic conflict between partners.
It's wildly frustrating for most significant others of narcissists to feel valued and to get their emotional needs met in the relationship.
Please note that if you're not sure about whether you or your partner show signs of narcissism, please take a look at my last post on narcissism in which I identified 9 Signs You're in a Relationship with a Raging Narcissist.
The game plan: The goal is to combine two powerful messages into one potent relationship intervention.
Why is a savvy intervention needed when you're in a relationship with a narcissist?
Because the significant others of narcissists often complain that the narcissist has super-effective tactics for shutting down any difference of opinion. They report feeling afraid of the narcissist's anger. They learn to feel like it's not worth it to challenge the narcissist because of how dirty the narcissist fights.
Most problems get flipped so that the partner of the narcissist is convinced that he or she is the one with the problem.
I'm going to share a two-pronged approach for getting your message through to a person with narcissistic tendencies.
Please note that I'm simplifying the strategy here. Over the next three weeks, I will elaborate and reinforce what I am suggesting so you can look forward to a broader explanation of my approach.
So here it is:
Message #1: "Your reality is not my reality," or put another way, "There are two realities in every relationship."
First, strive to get the message across that there are two rights in every relationship. That's right, you're right AND he or she is right. Not one of you. Both of you.
There are two realities married to or dating each other -- yours and your partner's. He or she is not the only one who is right. You are just as right. It's that simple.
The narcissist might respond with "yes, you're crazy and I'm not," or "that's stupid/ridiculous/or some other criticism."
You will be triggering the narcissist's defenses here, but don't back down. Find a few different ways to convey that there is a difference in EVERY relationship between both partners' realities.
Keep reinforcing the notion that he or she does not dictate your reality, which brings me to my next point...
Message #2: "You can't tell me how to feel."
Whether or not your narcissistic partner insults you or dismisses your first message, follow up with the second message.
Convey to your narcissistic husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend how their actions make you feel. Don't try to argue about reality because, as I said above, you have two different realities.
Instead, stick with feelings. For example, if a husband brings the attention back to himself (a common self-referential move on the part of the narcissist) after his wife shares that she experiences him as neglecting her needs over the past few weeks, the wife needs to talk about how it makes her feel.
The goal is to create a cause and an effect. For example, "Your neglect of my sexual needs makes me feel unsexy. It makes me feel sad, unloved and lonely."
Feelings tend to be hard for the narcissist to fight. It punctures their defenses.
The narcissist might invalidate or minimize your feelings. This is where "you can't tell me how to feel" becomes helpful.
Again, reinforce this message by combining it with the first message in a short monologue, which would sound something like:
"Remember, there are two realities, two rights in this relationship. You can't tell me I have no right to feel this way. These are my feelings. So when you ignored my needs at the party and you were only interested in being the life of the party, I felt sad and unloved. You might not have realized it or experienced it this way, but this was MY experience. Try to see the world through my eyes here. You'll get a glimpse of how your actions effected me."
You can bolster your point by gently requesting that your partner repeat back to you what he or she heard you say. Make sure your experience gets validated. This "mirroring" technique, a standard couples therapy intervention, often works well to increase empathy and active listening.
You can even add a bit about how you are invested in his or her needs:
"I know you like the attention at these kind of events and I'm all for helping you to get that. I love to see you happy, but you can't forget my needs, which are just as important."
The ultimate goal here is to get your narcissistic partner to do the following:
a. Empathize with how you feel by acknowledging that your reality is both separate AND valid.
b. Understand the causal connection between his or her actions and their effect on you.
By the way, this strategy also works in business relationships and friendships, not just in romantic relationships.
It's also a good strategy for getting your narcissistic parent, sibling or older child to hear you.
I must say that when narcissism is present in an extreme form (aka malignant narcissism), this or any intervention is not likely to change much, in which case you should do everything you can to strong-arm your partner into couples therapy.
Let me know how it goes. Feel free to share your opinions, stories, etc.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Techealthiest is an exciting blog dedicated to teaching the technology of health and happiness. Learn innovative tips and strategies for improving your relationship, including the impact of your digital world on love and marriage.
Dr. Greg Kushnick is a Manhattan psychologist in private practice. He has worked successfully with couples who were grappling with the negative effects of narcissism in one or both partners.