The Invisible Chains: Breaking Free from a Covert Narcissist Husband

Living with a covert narcissist husband is like being in invisible chains. You may not see the shackles, but you can feel their weight. It’s a life of constant manipulation, gaslighting, and emotional abuse that leaves you questioning your sanity.

A covert narcissist husband is a master of disguise.

He hides behind a mask of charm and charisma, presenting himself as the perfect spouse to the outside world.

But behind closed doors, he reveals his true nature – a manipulative and self-absorbed individual who uses others to fulfill his own needs.

Signs That Your Husband is a Covert Narcissist

Recognizing a covert narcissist husband is the first step towards safeguarding your sanity.

Unlike overt narcissists who are openly self-centered and crave constant attention, a covert narcissist husband is more subtle.

However, there are some signs that might indicate your husband is a covert narcissist.

1. He Plays the Victim

A prevalent and insidious trait of a covert narcissist husband is the perpetual portrayal of themselves as the victim.

Regardless of the circumstances, whether it’s a disagreement about household chores or a more serious marital issue, they have an uncanny ability to twist the narrative and position themselves at the center of hardship.

This constant victim-playing isn’t just about garnering sympathy. It serves a dual purpose.

covert narcissist husband playing the victim

Firstly, by depicting themselves as the wronged party, they can deflect blame and avoid accountability for their actions.

This can range from minor transgressions to significant betrayals of trust. By shifting the focus away from their behaviors, they effectively escape the repercussions their actions might otherwise invite.

Secondly, this tactic is a potent tool for manipulation. A covert narcissist husband can exploit your empathy and compassion, using your desire to help or comfort them as a means to control you.

Over time, this can create an emotionally imbalanced relationship, where your needs and feelings are sidelined in favor of their self-created dramas.

Moreover, by constantly assuming the role of the victim, a covert narcissist husband indirectly asserts that you’re the perpetrator.

This can lead to feelings of guilt and confusion, making you question your actions and decisions. It’s a method of gaslighting that can severely impact your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Understanding this behavior is crucial in dealing with a covert narcissist husband. It’s essential to remember that everyone has difficulties and challenges, but consistently playing the victim, especially when it’s used as a means of manipulation, is not healthy or normal behavior.

narcissistic husband manipulating his wife's emotions

2. He Manipulates Your Emotions

A covert narcissist husband is not just proficient, but an expert, in the art of emotional manipulation. This isn’t a random occurrence. It’s a carefully orchestrated strategy designed to control and dominate your emotions and actions.

Guilt Tripping

One common tactic employed by a covert narcissist husband is guilt-tripping. By making you feel guilty for your choices or actions, whether justified or not, they can influence your behavior to suit their needs.

This might range from making you feel guilty about spending time with friends or pursuing a hobby, to more significant matters such as making career or financial decisions.

The end goal is always the same – to exert control over your actions by manipulating your emotions.


Gaslighting is another powerful tool in the covert narcissist husband’s arsenal.

By denying or twisting reality, they can make you question your memory, perception, or sanity. For example, they may deny saying something hurtful or insist that an event didn’t happen the way you remember it.

Over time, this can lead to a disorienting sense of self-doubt and confusion, making you increasingly reliant on them for ‘reality checks’.

covert narcissist husband

Passive-Aggresive Behavior

Passive-aggressive behavior is also commonly used by a covert narcissist husband.

This might manifest as backhanded compliments, sulking when they don’t get their way, or giving you the silent treatment as a form of punishment.

Such tactics are designed to express their displeasure without direct confrontation, leaving you in a constant state of uncertainty about their feelings and your relationship.

These manipulative behaviors can leave you feeling emotionally drained, confused, guilty, and doubting your own thoughts and feelings.

It’s crucial to recognize these tactics for what they are – strategies designed to control and manipulate. Understanding this can be a significant step towards regaining control over your own emotions and breaking free from a covert narcissist husband’s influence.

narcissistic husband

3. He’s Overly Sensitive to Criticism

A covert narcissist husband exhibits an extreme sensitivity to criticism that goes beyond the usual defensiveness most people might feel.

The Narcissistic Injury

This hypersensitivity is often referred to as ‘narcissistic injury‘, a term coined by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, referring to an intense overreaction to criticism or perceived slights.

No matter how gently you approach the subject or how constructive your feedback might be, a covert narcissist husband will often interpret it as a personal attack.

This could be about anything from a harmless comment about their habits to a serious discussion about their behavior.

narcissistic rage

Narcissistic Rage

Their reaction to criticism is typically disproportionate and intense. They may respond with anger, becoming hostile and aggressive, which can be alarming and unsettling.

This serves to shut down any form of critique and discourages you from raising issues in the future.

Alternatively, they could react defensively, launching into a tirade about their intentions, their efforts, or how misunderstood they are.

This isn’t about understanding your perspective or resolving the issue. It’s about protecting their self-image and diverting the conversation away from their flaws or mistakes.

covert narcissist husband


A covert narcissist husband may also resort to personal attacks or blame-shifting.

Instead of addressing the issue at hand, they deflect by pointing out your flaws or blaming you for the problem.

This tactic not only helps them avoid taking responsibility for their actions but also puts you on the defensive, shifting the spotlight away from them.

Recognizing this pattern of hypersensitivity to criticism can provide valuable insight into the manipulative dynamics of a relationship with a covert narcissist husband.

Understanding this can help you navigate discussions more effectively and maintain your emotional wellbeing amidst their reactions.

covert narcissist husband

4. He Belittles You Subtly

A covert narcissist husband often employs a subtle and insidious form of belittlement that can be challenging to pinpoint.

They will make comments that might not be overtly insulting or demeaning comments, but which subtly undermine your self-worth and confidence over time.

Nasty ‘Jokes’

Often, this subtle belittlement is masked under the guise of humor or ‘just joking’. It could be a passive-aggressive comment delivered with a laugh, a backhanded compliment, or a dismissive remark about your abilities, achievements, or interests.

These seemingly innocuous comments might seem like harmless teasing on the surface, but their cumulative effect can be profoundly damaging.

These ‘jokes’ serve multiple purposes for a covert narcissist husband.

emotional abuse

Firstly, by undermining your self-confidence, they can make you more dependent on them for validation.

Over time, as your confidence erodes, you may start seeking their approval or affirmation more, giving them further control over your emotions and self-esteem.

Secondly, by belittling you subtly, they can maintain plausible deniability.

If you express hurt or discomfort, they can easily dismiss it as you being ‘too sensitive’ or ‘unable to take a joke’.

This not only allows them to avoid accountability for their actions but also adds another layer of emotional manipulation, making you question your reactions and feelings.

Finally, this form of belittlement can isolate you socially.

If these ‘jokes’ happen in public or social settings, they can embarrass you and discourage you from socializing or sharing your experiences with others, further increasing your dependency on the narcissist.

Recognizing and understanding this pattern of subtle belittlement can be a significant step towards reclaiming your self-confidence and setting boundaries in your relationship with a covert narcissist husband.

5. He Lacks Empathy

A profound lack of empathy is a hallmark characteristic of a covert narcissist husband. This will manifest as a consistent and pervasive disregard for your feelings and experiences.

A covert narcissist husband is uninterested or dismissive of your emotions.

Whether you’re sharing your day’s events, expressing joy over an accomplishment, or conveying distress over a challenging situation, his reaction (or lack thereof) can be startling.

You might find that he swiftly changes the topic, minimizes your feelings, or just seems generally disengaged.

covert narcissist husband lack of empathy

This lack of empathy often extends to a disregard for your emotional needs.

A covert narcissist husband will ignore your need for support, comfort, or understanding, focusing instead on his own needs and desires.

He may neglect to provide emotional support during difficult times or fail to share in your happiness during positive moments.

What makes this lack of empathy particularly concerning is how it enables manipulation and control.

Since a covert narcissist husband doesn’t genuinely connect with your feelings, he can manipulate, belittle, or dismiss you without feeling guilt or remorse.

This emotional disconnect allows him to prioritize his needs and interests over yours, without the normal constraints of empathy and consideration.

covert narcissist husband

6. He’s Self-Obsessed

A pervasive sense of self-obsession is another telling trait of a covert narcissist husband. They are totally focused on their own needs, desires, and interests to the detriment of yours.

A covert narcissist husband prioritizes his needs above all else.

Whether it’s deciding on weekend plans, choosing a movie to watch, or making significant life decisions, you may notice that his preferences and desires consistently take precedence.

This could be subtly justified as him having a ‘stronger preference’ or ‘knowing better’, but the underlying dynamic remains one of unequal consideration and respect.


Additionally, a covert narcissist husband typically craves constant attention and admiration.

He expects you to always be available to listen to his achievements, praise his accomplishments, and bolster his self-esteem.

This self-obsession leaves little room for your needs, feelings, or experiences.

Your emotional needs are overlooked, your accomplishments downplayed, or your problems dismissed. Over time, this can lead to feelings of being invisible, unimportant, or unloved in the relationship.

covert narcissist husband

Dealing with a Covert Narcissist Husband: Practical Tips and Strategies

Navigating a relationship with a covert narcissist husband can be emotionally taxing and mentally draining.

However, understanding their behavior and learning effective strategies can help you manage the situation better. Here are some practical tips:

1. Educate Yourself

Acquiring a comprehensive understanding of narcissism, particularly its covert form, can serve as a potent tool in dealing with a narcissistic spouse.

This understanding equips you with the ability to make sense of their behavior, identify patterns and devise effective coping strategies.

Dive into Books and Research

The rise in interest about narcissism has led to an abundance of resources that delve into the subject.

There are numerous blogs (such as this one!) and books that can provide valuable insights into narcissistic personality disorder and how to navigate relationships affected by it.

These valuable resources offer expert perspectives, practical advice, and therapeutic strategies that can empower you in dealing with a covert narcissist husband.

How reading can improve your mental health

Consult Professionals

Consulting with mental health professionals such as psychologists or therapists can also be immensely helpful.

These professionals can provide a personalized understanding of your situation, equip you with coping mechanisms, and guide you towards healthier interactions.

Remember, every situation is unique, so personalized advice can be incredibly beneficial.


Understand Their Behavior

As you educate yourself, you’ll start to understand why certain behaviors occur. For instance, a covert narcissist’s lack of empathy is not a reflection of your worth, but rather their own emotional limitation.

This understanding can help you detach your self-esteem from their behavior and reactions.

2. Set Boundaries

Creating and maintaining clear boundaries is a crucial aspect of dealing with a covert narcissist husband.

These boundaries serve as guidelines for acceptable behavior, protect your self-worth, and help foster a healthier environment.


Identify Your Limits

The first step in setting boundaries is identifying what you are and aren’t comfortable with. This could involve behaviors you will or will not tolerate, the amount of time you spend together, or how conflicts should be managed.

Reflect on instances where you felt disrespected, dismissed, or uncomfortable, and use these insights to establish your limits.

For example, if your husband frequently interrupts you during conversations, you might decide that this is a behavior you won’t tolerate.

Express Your Boundaries Clearly

Once you’ve identified your boundaries, communicate them clearly and assertively to your husband.

Be direct about what you find unacceptable and how you expect to be treated.

This can be challenging, especially if you’re used to acquiescing to their demands or avoiding conflict, but it’s essential for protecting your wellbeing.

For instance, if your husband tends to belittle you under the guise of ‘jokes’, you can say something like, “I find these comments hurtful, not humorous. I would appreciate it if you stop making them.”

setting boundaries with your narcissistic mother

Enforce Consistently

Setting boundaries alone isn’t enough. They must be consistently enforced to be effective.

If a boundary is crossed, address it immediately and reiterate your expectations.

If necessary, consider implementing consequences for repeated boundary violations.

Remember, enforcing boundaries might lead to resistance or backlash from the narcissist. However, standing firm in your boundaries is crucial for maintaining your self-respect and emotional health.

Seek Support

If you find it challenging to set or enforce boundaries, consider seeking support from a therapist or support group. They can provide strategies, encouragement, and reinforcement as you navigate this difficult process.

Remember, setting boundaries is not about controlling the other person’s behavior. It’s about defining what you will accept in your relationships to protect your wellbeing. It’s an act of self-care and self-respect, and a critical step towards healthier interactions.

setting boundaries

3. Practice Self-Care

In relationships with covert narcissists, it’s common for your needs and feelings to be sidelined.

This underscores the importance of self-care. It’s not a luxury, but a necessity.

Self-care can serve as an anchor, helping you maintain your sense of self and emotional wellbeing amid the challenges of living with a narcissistic spouse.

Physical Wellbeing

Physical activity is a powerful stress reliever.

Regular exercise, whether it’s running, yoga, or simply taking a walk, can help reduce anxiety, improve mood, and boost self-esteem.

Additionally, ensure you’re eating well-balanced meals and getting adequate sleep—both critical for maintaining physical health and emotional resilience.

healthy food to boost dopamine

Mental Health Practices

Mental health practices like meditation, mindfulness, or therapy can play a significant role in managing stress and cultivating inner peace.

Meditation, for instance, can help you stay grounded in the present moment, reducing anxiety and promoting a sense of calm.

Therapy can provide a safe space to express your feelings, explore coping strategies, and seek guidance.

If therapy isn’t accessible, journaling can also be a helpful tool for processing emotions and gaining insights into your experiences.

Social Connections

Maintaining social connections with friends and family can provide emotional support and a much-needed respite from the narcissistic environment.

These relationships can remind you that you are valued and loved, reinforcing your self-worth.


Pursue Interests and Passions

Nurturing your interests and passions can affirm your identity outside of the relationship with your narcissist spouse.

Whether it’s painting, reading, hiking, or volunteering, these activities can bring joy, fulfillment, and a sense of accomplishment.

For example, if you love painting but your husband dismisses it as ‘a waste of time’, continue to pursue it anyway.

Your passions and interests are valid and valuable, regardless of his opinion. They are part of who you are and deserve to be nurtured.

And as we keep saying, time and time again, self-care is not selfish – it’s essential.

By taking care of yourself, you’re asserting your worth and reclaiming your power in the face of narcissistic behavior.


4. Seek Support

Coping with a covert narcissist husband is an isolating experience, but it’s essential to remember that you’re not alone.

There are numerous resources available that can provide emotional support, practical advice, and a sense of community.

Connect with Trusted Friends and Family

Reach out to trusted friends and family members who understand your situation and offer emotional support.

Sharing your experiences and feelings with them can provide a crucial outlet for your emotions and help reduce feelings of isolation.

They can also offer valuable perspectives, encouragement, and reassurance.

Join a Support Group

Support groups, both online and offline, can be a lifeline when dealing with a covert narcissist partner. These groups consist of people who have had similar experiences and can offer insights, advice, and empathy.

support group

Therapy or Counselling

Therapy or counselling can be incredibly beneficial when dealing with a covert narcissist husband.

A mental health professional can provide personalized strategies to handle the challenges you’re facing, tools to manage stress, and guidance to help rebuild your self-esteem.

They can also assist in processing your experiences and emotions in a safe and supportive environment.

Seeking support is not a sign of weakness. It’s a courageous step towards healing and reclaiming your life.

5. Maintain Your Independence

Covert narcissists often employ manipulation tactics to foster dependency, aiming to control validation or decision-making processes.

Maintaining your independence is a powerful antidote to such behavior.

By asserting your autonomy, you not only safeguard your self-esteem but also create a healthier dynamic in your relationship.

decision making

Make Decisions Independently

Covert narcissists often try to dominate decision-making processes, which can undermine your confidence and autonomy.

Resist this by asserting your right to participate in decisions, especially those directly impacting you.

For example, if your husband insists on making all the financial decisions, assertively express your desire to be involved.

You could say something like, “As these decisions impact both of us, I believe it’s important that we make them together.”

This statement not only asserts your independence but also reinforces the concept of mutual respect and partnership in decision-making.

financial independence

Foster Financial Independence

If possible, strive for financial independence. Having control over your finances can provide a sense of security and freedom.

It can also equip you with resources needed should you decide to leave the relationship in the future.

Maintaining your independence is about preserving your individuality, autonomy, and self-worth in the face of narcissistic behavior. It’s a critical step towards reclaiming your power and establishing healthier relational dynamics.

6. Consider Professional Intervention

In certain situations, professional intervention may be the most effective course of action.

This could involve couples or family therapy with a mental health professional.

However, it’s important to approach this option realistically, as it comes with its own set of challenges and considerations.

couples therapy with a covert narcissist husband

Couples Therapy

Couples therapy can provide a neutral space for both parties to express their feelings and concerns. A therapist can facilitate productive discussions, help identify unhealthy patterns, and suggest strategies for improvement.

However, be prepared for potential resistance or denial from your covert narcissist husband.

Narcissists struggle to acknowledge their behavior or see a need for change. They can also manipulate the therapy process, presenting themselves as the victim or blaming you or others for their actions.

Individual Therapy for the Narcissist

In some cases, individual therapy for the narcissist might be more beneficial than couples therapy. A skilled therapist can work with the narcissist to explore underlying issues, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and promote self-awareness and empathy.

However, this process requires the narcissist to recognize their behavior and be genuinely committed to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, given the nature of narcissism.

Therapy for Yourself

Regardless of whether your spouse agrees to therapy, consider seeking therapy for yourself.

A therapist can provide you with personalized strategies and tools to cope with the challenges you’re facing.

They can also help rebuild your self-esteem, assert your boundaries, and guide you through the process of healing.

The fact is that while it’s possible for a narcissist to change their behavior with professional help, the change depends largely on their willingness to acknowledge their narcissism and commit to the process of change.

Your wellbeing should not hinge on their willingness to change, but rather on your ability to take care of yourself and maintain your emotional health.

therapy to overcome childhood trauma

7. Plan for the Future

If your husband’s narcissistic behavior persistently affects your wellbeing, despite your best efforts to manage and cope, it might be time to consider more serious steps.

These could involve seeking legal advice, planning for separation, or even contemplating divorce.

While these measures are difficult and emotionally taxing, in some situations, they might be the most beneficial choices for your mental and emotional health.


Seek Legal Advice

Engaging a family lawyer is instrumental if you’re considering separation or divorce.

They can guide you through the process, protect your interests, and help you navigate the complexities of dealing with a narcissist in legal proceedings.

Legal professionals will enable you to disengage from your covert narcissist husband as much as possible during this process. They will do this by handling the majority of the interactions, allowing you to step back from the front line.

Plan for Separation

If you’re thinking about leaving your narcissistic husband, it’s crucial to plan carefully.

One recommended strategy is to make your moves quietly without alerting the narcissist about your intentions. This approach can help prevent potential manipulation or retaliation.

Before leaving, gather all necessary documents, such as social security cards, birth certificates, financial records, and property deeds. Also, consider reaching out to a local domestic violence agency or hotline for guidance and resources.

Consider Divorce

Divorcing a covert narcissist husband can be particularly challenging due to their tendency towards combativeness and sense of entitlement. However, with the right legal counsel and support network, it’s possible to navigate this process successfully.

Remember, everyone going through a separation should seek mental health support from a counselor or psychologist.

Separation is never easy, especially when it involves a narcissist, but with proper support and resources, you can move towards a healthier future.

divorcing a narcissist

Final Thoughts on Dealing With a Covert Narcissist Husband

Dealing with a covert narcissist husband is undoubtedly challenging. The manipulation, gaslighting, and emotional rollercoaster inevitably take a toll on your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Maintaining your independence, setting firm boundaries, practicing self-care, and seeking professional intervention are all crucial steps in safeguarding your wellbeing.

It’s also essential to have a strong support network around you – friends, family, or support groups who understand what you’re going through can provide much-needed emotional support.

In some cases, it may even be necessary to consider more drastic steps like separation or divorce. While these decisions are tough and emotionally charged, they may be necessary for your long-term mental and emotional health.

It is very important that you always remind yourself of your inherent worth.

Narcissistic behavior is a reflection of the narcissist’s insecurities and struggles, not a reflection of your value. You are deserving of respect, kindness, and a healthy, fulfilling relationship.

Be patient with yourself as you navigate this challenging journey, and don’t hesitate to seek help when you need it.

Frequently Asked Questions about Narcissism

Frequently Asked Questions About Dealing With A Covert Narcissist Husband

What is a covert narcissist?

A covert narcissist is a type of narcissist who hides their self-centered traits behind a façade of humility, vulnerability, and sensitivity. Unlike overt narcissists, they are not outwardly arrogant or domineering. Instead, they may portray themselves as misunderstood or victimized.

How do I know if my husband is a covert narcissist?

Signs of covert narcissism can include passive-aggressive behavior, hypersensitivity to criticism, a tendency to play the victim, and a lack of empathy for others. They may also manipulate others subtly through guilt or pity.

How can I cope with a covert narcissist husband?

Strategies for coping include maintaining your independence, setting firm boundaries, practicing self-care, seeking professional intervention, and having a strong support network.

Should I leave my covert narcissist husband?

The decision to leave a narcissistic spouse is personal and depends on your specific circumstances. If your wellbeing is persistently affected despite your efforts, then you might need to consider taking more serious steps like seeking legal advice, planning for separation, or even contemplating divorce.

What should I expect when divorcing a covert narcissist?

Divorcing a narcissist can be particularly challenging due to their tendency towards combativeness and sense of entitlement. You should expect resistance, manipulative tactics, and potential attempts to make the process difficult. However, with the right legal counsel and support network, it’s possible to navigate this process successfully.

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