Marriage counseling is another weapon a narcissist can use against you.

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If you’re still with your narcissist, you may be tempted to insist they attend marriage or family counseling with you. It’s a common error to believe and hope the counselor or family therapist can help the narcissist understand your point of view and, seeing the light, stop their abuse of you or the children.

This is a mistake. Don’t do it. Don’t drag a narcissist to a marriage counselor or family therapist. I have my own horror story about this, and I’ve heard many similar stories to mine.

My ex, “Michael” (not his real name) and I had not been getting along for some time. I won’t go into the details in this article, because I’ve documented his abuse elsewhere in this blog. Whenever a malignant narcissist (in his case, full-blown ASPD!) pairs up with a Borderline or a low spectrum covert narcissist (I believe I am both), the Borderline or covert N is almost always going to be in the supplicating, codependent, people-pleasing victim role. They will be gaslighted, projected onto, triangulated against, given the silent treatment, insulted, used, taken advantage of, stolen from, lied to, and possibly physically abused as well. A Borderline will rage and lose their composure under such treatment, while a covert N will try to “fight back” using more underhanded means such as passive aggression or the silent treatment. If you’re not disordered, staying around someone who’s doing those things to you long enough, you can actually become a narcissist yourself, or at least pick up a lot of narcissistic traits as well as severe PTSD.

Enraged by Michael’s constant insults, disrespect, and gaslighting using the children as flying monkeys, I’d react by giving him the silent treatment or make sarcastic remarks. Neither of these weak weapons made a dent in the impenetrable armor of this professional malignant narcissist, and the abuse just escalated. As a BPD, another thing I’d do was rage. I’d hold in my anger for days, and finally explode into a mighty dish-smashing, profanity spewing temper tantrum. Of course it was then that Michael told everyone–including our young children–that I was an insane c__t and bitch who should be locked up and the key thrown away.

Sure, we were both disordered, but in that relationship I was definitely the victim. I remember a couple of friends even told me on meeting him that they got “bad vibes” and thought there was something “evil” about him and to be very careful.

At one point I suggested we see a marriage counselor. At first Michael resisted, but he finally relented when a friend of his told him he should go just to get me to STFU. So he agreed to go, on the condition that HE got to pick the therapist we’d be seeing. The therapist he chose was a woman and she did seem very nice. I actually felt comfortable with her, which surprised me.

One of the issues we’d been having was the volume at which Michael played his music. He listened to music I did not enjoy–mostly death metal, thrash, and riot girl punk/metal (this was in the late 1990s). Now I’m an eclectic and open minded music lover, but those particular genres acted like assault weapons on my ears. He also liked to blast this noise late at night when the kids and I were trying to sleep. But whenever I asked him to turn the music down, he’d tell me to shut up and deliberately increase the volume.

So this was one of the topics that came up in marriage counseling. I was the one who brought it up. Michael always seemed calm and reasonable on the surface (he had a lot of charm back in those days which he never showed me when we were alone together) while I always seemed stressed, on edge, a raw nerve about to snap like a violin string (this was in fact the case–his manipulations and cruelty to both me and the kids were systematically driving me insane). After I told the therapist about how loud he played his music whenever we were trying to sleep and refused to turn it down when asked, Michael turned on the charm, smiling and in a very reasonable and calm tone of voice explaining to her that I was a “control freak” and hated music in general. He told her I never let him play anything, even during the day, which was a lie.

The therapist turned to me and told me I needed to stop trying to control my husband and allow him to pursue his interests. I looked over at Michael, wearing his most smug, self-satisfied grin. I wanted to walk over and smack him hard upside the head. I started to shake with rage. I couldn’t hide my frustration and anger the way he could. It took everything I had not to throw something at him or throttle him. I looked down at my clenched fists and my knuckles were so white their bones seemed to have popped through my skin.

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Back in those days, my BPD symptoms were in full force, and so to the therapist, I probably did seem a little crazy. Michael, in contrast, had the composure of an attorney (I always used to tell him he should have been a lawyer because he always won every argument).

Other things came up too. But it always came back to the same thing–that I was trying to control HIM and he was just a reasonable man confused by my emotional instability and craziness. Michael had that therapist wrapped around his little finger. Once I tried to explain to her the way he acted in our sessions was not the way he acted at home, that he wasn’t showing her his cruel, callous and disrespectful nature. Of course he called me a liar, telling the therapist I had “mental issues.” Once again I got scolded by the therapist for trying to control him and making up stories to make him seem worse than he was. She asked me if I had delusions often.

Finally, sick of the two of them ganging up on me and blaming me for everything wrong in our marriage, I walked out in the middle of a session, which only convinced that therapist I wasn’t “serious about counseling” and should seek psychotherapy for myself (this is what Michael told me later).

I’ve heard this sort of thing happening to so many victims of narcissistic abuse. They go to marriage or family counseling, thinking it might help, and instead, the therapist gets turned into a flying monkey siding with the abuser and joining in the gaslighting and projection against the abused.

Malignant narcissists and psychopaths like Michael are good at convincing people they are perfectly sane and they will lie very convincingly. The real victim, probably suffering from PTSD and high stress levels, is more likely to “lose it” or act out, making it seem as if they are the one causing the problems with the relationship.

Based on this experience and those I’ve heard from others, I don’t recommend marriage counseling if your spouse or partner is a narcissist. But if you do decide to try it, make sure YOU choose the therapist, and pick one who has a background in Cluster B personality disorders and has a working knowledge of the way narcissists operate.

Even better, if it’s at all possible, lose the narc who’s making your life such a hell.

For more on this subject, please read my article, Narcs Who Use Therapy to Gaslight Their Victims.

For another blatant example of the type of gaslighting my ex liked to use against me (and get his way at the same time), see my article How My ASPD Control Freak Ex Used a Dog to Gaslight Me

9 thoughts on “Marriage counseling is another weapon a narcissist can use against you.

  1. I remember many, many years ago hearing a woman who worked at a battered women’s shelter talk about this. She said the man who beats his wife strikes most people who don’t know better as just a nice normal guy, because he has already taken out all his anger and frustration and rage on his wife in private, so in public he seems perfectly calm and reasonable. Meanwhile, the battered wife seems like the crazy one, because the beatings have caused her to lose her grip on her sanity. The speaker said she’d seen many cases where after a divorce, the abusive father ended up with custody of the kids, because to the judge the father seemed calm and reasonable and sane, while the mother who’d endured so much abuse seemed crazy.

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    • Yes, this is exactly what happens. The victim is being slowly driven insane by the abuse, meanwhile the abuser has gotten rid of their stress at home by using his wife (sorry about the “his wife”–a woman can abuse her husband too) and seems perfectly sane. If he’s a narcissist or ASPD, he can put on a good act for others too and seem very convincing, besides gaslighting his wife and telling everyone she has mental problems.

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      • This business of getting all the anger and rage out of your system is something I have thought a lot about, more so as I am rapidly approaching the age my mother was when she died. I’ve thought a LOT about the fact that my father lived so much longer than my mother, which on the face of it makes no sense. My father never took care of his health, he ate horrible junk food all the time, he never exercised, and he was grossly, hugely overweight for nearly all his adult life — while my mother was always careful about her diet and health, kept her weight under control, exercised, etc. My dad did all the things (well, most of them) that you aren’t supposed to do if you want to live a long time, yet he lived to be 86. My mother did the opposite, and she died at 66. I can’t help wondering if the difference is that they had totally opposite ways of dealing with negative emotions. My dad had a vicious temper and a short fuse, and he expressed his anger very freely and vocally and loudly on a regular basis. He had no qualms about yelling and screaming at his wife or at us kids, often over the most trivial of provocations, sometimes over imagined ones. He would insult us and berate us and threaten us with all manner of bodily harm (although he seldom laid a hand on any of us). My mother, on the other hand, rarely raised her voice, even when she was upset; she always made an effort to control herself and not fly off the handle. I can’t say that she never lost her temper (she had five incredibly annoying kids, after all), but it was pretty darn rare.

        Now that they have both been dead for years, I find myself wondering if the reason my mother died so much younger than my dad is that she almost never expressed her anger and frustration, but just kept bottling it up… while my dad just cut loose and let it all out of his system, apparently never noticing or caring how much damage he did in the process.

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        • That’s interesting your dad lived longer in spite of living a much less healthy lifestyle. I think stress level has a lot to do with longevity and can even override physical precautions like diet, exercise, etc. It’s a fact that high stress is associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and even chronic illness like cancer. The body produces more cortisol when it’s stressed and this is not a good substance to have floating around your system. It’s a fight or flight chemical but becomes poison when it’s there all the time. Your mom seemed laid back but was probably very stressed and holding everything in all the time. Was your father abusive to her? It sounds like she didn’t have a release for her own stress and anger. Your dad sounded stressed too (or he wouldn’t have raged all the time), but at least he was getting rid of it, so it might have caused him to live longer.
          66 is a very young age to die.

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