Can You Love a Narcissist?

Dear Christian Counselor,

 

I’ve read a few blogs and been told by a counselor to cut off the narcissist in my life because it’s too difficult to maintain a relationship with someone who thinks about themself all the time. I admit I’ve been hurt in the past, but I’m not sure I’m ready to take such a big step. What do you think about black-and-white advice like this?

 

Wondering How to Love a Narcissist

 


Dear Wondering,

 

I’d need a lot more information to give you my best advice, but, in general, I think it’s unwise to make black-and-white rules about a whole category of people based on a subjective diagnosis. It would be rather like saying you should never pet large dogs. While that decision might keep you safe, it would also limit your life in a way which might not be necessary and might not be God’s best for you.

 

We all start life as narcissists. We all come into this world seeing ourselves as the center of it, possessing little or no empathy for others, manipulating those around us and believing in our own hyperbolic specialness. Most of us are able to grow past that stage, but for reasons no one understands, a few people never do. Yet even for adults diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, there is a continuum; all personality disorders are variable and subjective in their diagnosis, presentation and degree. Most narcissists are not serial killers, though an extreme few are. Some are quite good at their jobs. Some maintain marriages and families and friendships. A few even manage to improve over time.

 

For the reasons stated above, I don’t think you can lump all narcissists and their loved-ones together and make blanket statements about how to deal with them. Are we talking about a lover, an employer, a sibling, a friend? We have more responsibility toward some than others. And what of the person asking the question – what are they strong enough to do? What are they being called to do? You might need to separate from a narcissist, either temporarily or permanently, because your heart has been so damaged that you can no longer relate to that person at all, in any helpful way. But that is not always how Jesus dealt with difficult, unsafe people (Judas and even Peter, for example). In many cases there is probably some middle ground between being consumed and ending all contact. The mistake generally comes in believing that love means allowing yourself to be consumed.

 

I am not sure we can say God has the exact same ‘no-contact’ plan for every person who is afraid of large dogs – nor for everyone who knows a narcissist.

Postponing Love

A couple of 14-carat gold wedding rings. Pictu...

Dear Christian Counselor,

 

I’m looking for the most thorough, rigorous Christian premarital counseling book that you’re aware of. I need recommendations for a Christian couple that’s recklessly rushing towards marriage after spending very little time together. They’re determined to hold their wedding asap, but they’re also very open to premarital counseling and any books we recommend to them. I’m looking for a book that challenges naivete and the fairy tale they’ve spun for themselves about the necessity to get married now, without experiencing each other over time.¬† Many thanks!

 

Dana

 


 

Dear Dana,

 

This couple is blessed to have such a caring friend, and they may need your friendship more in the months to come if they are rushing into marriage. Before I address your question, I’d like to address your underlying fear. While there is some evidence to indicate that a longer dating relationship gives marriage a better chance of success, it is far from the only factor. The Bible does not presume that a bride and groom even KNOW one another before they marry. It gives them the same advice as it gives couples in longer dating relationships: to love and respect one another (Col. 3:18-19), not to divorce (Matt. 19:1-6) and to work as a team to build God’s Kingdom (Ps. 45). If both spouses love Jesus and are even more committed to Him than they are to each other, that will give them the strength, wisdom and grace they need to create a loving partnership. Other factors, such as their cultural value systems, family support, income and communication styles are also very important, and those are things that should come out in premarital counseling. But be warned: I have tried to talk people into postponing marriage with very little success. Those in love are thinking¬†not primarily with their heads, but with their hearts filtered through Cupid’s chemicals. Give them all your best advice, but in the end, YOU must trust God for His work in their lives – through a happy marriage or an unhappy one.

 

While I know of no resource which deliberately bursts young love’s balloon, there are some books below that I would recommend, in no particular order. I would also recommend that the couple talk with a pastor or counselor who is trained in premarital work, someone who can speak into their lives with compassion and wisdom. May God guide them – and you, too, as you walk alongside them.

 

Thing I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married by Gary Chapman

(Contains exercises and discussion questions.)

 

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller

(Covers the basics of Christian marriage thoroughly.)

 

Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas (A different, deeper perspective on marriage.)

 

Preparing for Marriage by Boehi, et al.

(Contains worksheets on decision-making and relationship evaluation for engaged couples.)

What Marriage?

20120714-105714.jpgDear Christian Counselor,

What do I do with my marriage? I am tired and hurt and devastated. We have been married three years and have fought this entire time because he is controlling and emotionally and verbally abusive to me. I have since learned he cheated on me before we were married and also recently. I feel lost and not knowing what I am to do at this point. On top of all of this, he is not remorseful for his behavior and choices and says I deserved it.

Lost and Alone in Marriage


Dear Alone in Marriage,

My first reaction is to say to you, “What marriage?” Jesus names adultery as His exception to the prohibition on divorce (see Matt. 19:9, for example) because it breaks the relationship so thoroughly – physically, emotionally and spiritually. So you do have the option of divorce. You did not say whether you or your husband are Christians or have a Christian community, but if you do, it is time to engage those resources. You need a pastor, a counselor and a group of friends supporting you, praying for you and helping you through this time. If you don’t have these things, go get them!

Just because divorce is an option doesn’t mean you have to take it. But if your husband remains unrepentant in the face of confrontation by you, your pastor, Scripture and the Holy Spirit, then I would suggest you enforce a separation, even if you remain in the same house. Use the time to do your own counseling, especially in terms of your identity and decision-making, investigate your legal and financial options, and pray, pray, pray. For something this important, you want to know you followed God rather than culture or even your own ideas. In the end, you will either have to build something totally new with your husband or pursue life on your own, because what you have is not what I would call a marriage.


Related Material:

Questions About Forgiveness
An Unrepentant Spouse