How to tell if your mate is a narcissist

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We all behave differently in the heat of marital conflict. We say and do things we wouldn’t in other situations. You even might be tempted to diagnose your mate’s mental health status. How do you know where to draw the line?

If you’ve been struggling in your relationship for a long time, you might be wondering if your mate has a psychiatric disorder. Perhaps you suspect narcissism or borderline personality disorder.

Both of these diagnoses are listed in the DSM as Axis 2, Cluster B disorders that involve difficulty regulating emotions and behavior. Antisocial and histrionic disorders are also in Cluster B, but less often quoted by partners who suspect their mate has a mental disorder.

If you followed the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial, you may have seen Dr. Shannon Curry’s testimony. Her evaluation supported two Cluster B diagnoses for Amber: Borderline Personality Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder.

Yes, Johnny and Amber are both actors, but their negative cycle was readily apparent. According to the evidence presented, Amber would attack, blame, and criticize Johnny. He would avoid her as long as he could, then lash out or walk out. Neither of his strategies helped. He reported that he stayed in the relationship because he didn’t know what else to do. In fact, he believed staying was the right thing to do.

Yes, he had problems with alcohol and drugs.
So they both had seriously challenging issues.

As a clinical psychologist, I diagnosed and worked with all the Cluster B disorders. So I know firsthand what that looks like. Yes, I worked with couples who, like Johnny and Amber, were coping with multiple individual issues.

Consequently, working on their relationship had to remain on the back burner until they could achieve a degree of individual emotional stability. That usually meant individual therapy for one or both partners.

So what about your marriage?

  • Are you living with daily drama and manipulation?
  • Do you wonder if your mate has a mental illness?

If so, you have probably described your mate to your friends who have concurred with your assessment. You also may have done an online search to confirm your suspicions.

However, it’s much more complicated than a simple checklist of your experience of your mate in the heat of conflict. That’s why only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose a psychiatric disorder.

Contrary to what you may have heard or believe, most men and women are reasonably healthy. Even the ones who are having a hard time in a romantic relationship.

In every marriage, each partner needs someone who is available and responsive to their emotional needs. However, so much gets lost in translation between a man and a woman. They have different biology and different life experiences, and they have learned to cope with challenges differently. All that leads to a different world view, a different belief about how a healthy human being should think, feel, and behave.

As a result, they misunderstand the cues.
They get frustrated and feel alone.

They just don’t know how to communicate with the opposite sex. So their efforts to connect tend to trigger resistance instead of a response. And those resistances can get quite intense in the heat of conflict. And when we’re desperate, we are all capable of being dramatic and manipulative. That does not necessarily mean we are all mentally or emotionally ill.

If you are being attacked, blamed, or criticized, you get defensive. That’s normal. The more desperate one becomes, the more dramatic are their attempts to connect – or disconnect.

So what’s the test here?
When do you know your mate has a clinical disorder?

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I understand, value, and embrace our gender differences?
  2. Am I responding well to my mate’s bid for my attention?
  3. What efforts have I make to help break the cycle?

The fact that you or your mate get emotional when you’re misunderstood is insufficient for a clinical diagnosis. However, if you feel like you’ve done all you can to make the relationship work, and that you have learned to respond without running away, or becoming dramatic or manipulative yourself, you may want to seek the help of a qualified mental health professional for further evaluation. If your mate hesitates, you can still get help for yourself.

If you’d like to learn about the impact of gender differences in your marriage, check out the free Quick Start Guides for Men and for Women.

And remember, I’m here to help.