How Would You Counsel Someone Married to a Narcissist?

How Do You Wisely Love Someone Who is Sinful?

Marriage is difficult for most couples. What happens when one of the spouses displays traits of narcissism? Dr. David Powlison, counselor and faculty member at Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), addresses both the general and specific concerns people face when struggling to love a narcissist.

David Powlison has been doing biblical counseling for over 30 years and has written numerous articles on counseling and on the relationship between faith and psychology. His books include Speaking Truth in Love, Seeing with New Eyes, Power Encounters, and The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context. 

David said the question he read out loud essentially asks, “How do you wisely love someone who is sinful?” Narcissism is extreme self-centeredness and one of the best metaphors for sin. 

Do you know someone who displays traits of narcissism? If so, what is that person like?
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David said a good starting point for understanding narcissism is to first identify ways we ourselves are more narcissistic than we realize. In what ways are you self-centered?
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David said the theme of the entire Bible is how God loves sinful people. Throughout Scripture, God is tough, clear, and merciful to people who are self-centered. So as we seek to love people who display traits of narcissism, a good starting point is to ask, "What is tough, clear, and merciful?” 

Do you or someone you know have a tendency to lean too heavily into one of those three words when interacting with someone who is narcissistic? If so, which one? Why do you think you are prone to lean in that direction? What effects have you seen in leaning that direction?
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What are some general "tough, clear, and merciful" things that already come to your mind for loving sinners?
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David said for him to be able to provide specific counseling to someone in a relationship with a narcissist, he would need to know the severity of narcissist’s self-centeredness:

  • What is the narcissist doing?  
  • Is the person who sought counseling in danger? 
  • Is there physical violence?
  • What is the narcissist's rage like?
The answers to these questions would help David know how to counsel the person in need and guide their response. They might help you too if you’re looking for ways to help someone who struggles with a narcissist.  

If you know a narcissist, which of these questions can you already answer? How would the information help in addressing that specific relationship?
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The final step David would consider in counseling someone in a relationship with a narcissist would be to get to know the client better with regards to the narcissist and his or her situation. Here are some questions he’d consider:

  • How is the client doing? Is he or she discouraged?
  • Does the client fight the narcissist back?
  • Does the client provoke the narcissist? (Though they are not responsible for the narcissist's behavior, do they ever do anything to spark it?)
  • How does the client understand his or her situation?
  • Are they seeking refuge in God and their friends?  

If you or someone you know is struggling to love a narcissist, how would you answer some or all of those questions?
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Knowing the questions David has for someone in a relationship with a narcissist, do you feel like you should talk to someone about a narcissist in your life? If so, take some time to research a counselor and contact that might be a good fit for you.
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Narcissism is a delusion because it places the narcissist at the center of the universe, not God. Though their sin runs deep and is complicated, it is still important that Christians love them well. The best way to love a narcissist is to be tough, clear, and merciful to them in the same way God is tough, clear, and merciful to all of sinful humanity. As you consider loving a narcissist or helping someone love a narcissist, keep those three words in your mind and in balance.

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