A Therapist’s Guide to Living with a Narcissist – Chapter 6

Another session….and a few more “identifiers” of the narcissistic personality, an in-depth look at sex and a few suggestions to practice.

Bob referred to speaking to his “best friend” on the phone recently.  Sally began thinking about this, Bob’s best friend and his friends in general. On one of their first dates, Sally accompanied Bob to his best friend’s wedding, as a guest….not a groomsman, usher; just as a guest. Later, Sally noticed Bob spends little, if any time, with his friends. If they go out with friends, it is usually Sally’s. If they socialize with people who know Bob, it is his work associates.  He has never introduced them in person to Sally. It is Bob’s use of his “best” friend that is of interest to me here.  His reference to this best friend makes him look important. In reality, he looks like he has no friends. This is common with the narcissist.

On another occasion, Sally and Bob were out to dinner and Bob was ordering in a heavy British accent.  Bob lived in South Africa for a few years as a child as a function of his father’s work and while there, obviously, Bob was exposed to British accents. On this particular occasion, it occurred to Sally that sometimes his accent is thick, on other occasions, with no accent at all. In fact, Sally further concluded he tends to speak with an accent only when they are out, in public, when around others. Again, this is not an indication of a narcissist but it is easy to see the “notice me” aspect of this tendency and in this personality.

Later in the session, Sally commented, “I didn’t push it because I didn’t want to argue about it.” I pointed this out to her and inquired about how she comments on Bob’s behavior; is she accusatory or relatively neutral in her questions or comments? The narcissistic personality is easily defensive if they feel they are being questioned or threatened. I encouraged her to ask her question or make her comment as simply or non-provocatively as possible and then if he gets defensive, try not to respond to his accusations and remain focused on your point.

Sex….a sensitive topic in most relationships. Sally shared they have sex rarely; only 4-5 times in the last year. Initially, they had sex frequently but after a brief break-up, despite his stated interest in it, he rarely initiates. She has brought up the topic many times; these conversations typically ending in tears and anger. She feels defeated and depressed as a result of how infrequently they have sex.  She assumes she is the problem (In her prior relationship, they too rarely had sex.). She says she will suggest the possibility and he agrees but then later doesn’t follow-through.  She is able to go without sex but prefers not.  She’d like to have a child and given her age, she hears the “clock ticking”. She is afraid she’ll be “too old” for a relationship/to have a child if she waits much longer and if she breaks up with Bob, she will just have to start over again, finding and then building the relationship to the point of having a child.

A couple things for her to consider:

Her assuming the problem to her is a mistake. She, in fact, may be part the problem but she is a long way from having ALL information to make such a conclusion (Ideally, they would both be in therapy or at least discussing their sex life openly before a conclusion would be made.).

How she brings up the topic for discussion is critical.  As we know, narcissists are VERY concerned about their appearance and consequently, quickly defensive. Further, one’s sexual functioning is VERY personal. Most people often feel very vulnerable talking about, much less being sexual, so Sally talking about their sex life with Bob is very tricky.  The topic MUST be brought up gently and as non-emotionally as possible. Further, how Sally reacts to his comments is critical also. If he gets defensive (which he probably will get) and she reacts or if she reacts defensively with accusations from her, the discussion could go south easily.

SHE will need to bring up the topic (as opposed to waiting for him to bring it up).  If he is narcissistic and if what she has said about their past conversations about sex is true he would feel far too vulnerable and consequently be far too defensive to bring the topic up for discussion. She will have to start the conversation. Further, I’d suggest she preface her comments when beginning the conversation. For example, “I know in the past when we have discussed sex, it has lead to arguments. I don’t want to argue with you again but I want to talk about our sex life. Can we agree to not argue and yet discuss what is going on between us?” Another example, “Honey, I want to talk about our sex life but I don’t want to argue.  I promise you I will listen to what you have to say and not over-react.  Can you make the same promise?”

Does Sally want to have sex with Bob? Sally talks so much about wanting him to initiate sex so much so, I wonder if she has lost focus on if she even wants to have sex with him. It is easy, especially in contemptuous relationships, for the focus to become wining fights or getting your way versus working with your partner. So, I’d challenge Sally to ask herself if she even wants to have sex with Bob at this point.

If Sally does (want to have sex with him), then why does she expect him to initiate? Is it ok if she initiates sex?  In our society, the fantasy of the male being the dominant/leader/initiator and the female being the submissive/follower/care-taker is still very strong.

Why doesn’t he initiate? There could be a number of answers to this but consider the following: The act of “making love” requires vulnerability…emotionally and physically.  We get naked with our partner, we look them in the eye during the act, etc. Typically, partners “ask” one another to engage (which again requires vulnerability). Narcissists don’t do vulnerability.

Further, if he promises (to have sex with her) and then doesn’t, why? Is he indirectly punishing her or showing her he is the one in charge? Is he taking care of his sexual needs by masturbation or sex with another?

Finally and most importantly, Sally must be willing and able to tolerate the fact that she does not know the answers to some of these questions about Bob and must not succumb to her emotions while discussing such. Further, she must accept that all people make decisions while not having all the information and believe in herself/her opinions if she is to ever find her way through these current dilemmas.

This blog entry encompassed two sessions. More to come.