If you’ve been in a romantic relationship (or marriage) with a narcissist, then you’re undoubtedly very familiar with the huge amount of damage they can cause. They’re particularly virulent when paired with empaths, as they develop a really unhealthy codependency, but even an average relationship with a narc can result in a whole load of self-esteem issues, depression, anxiety, and worse.
Some people – namely those who have convinced themselves that they love their narcissist partner and want to try to make things work with them – think that attending couples counseling together will improve the situation.
They believe that if they can convince the narc in their life to seek therapy with them, then they’ll magically become the perfect partner they have so much potential to become.
No, it’s not going to happen, and you can end up feeling far worse after a therapy session or five than you did before you even attempted it. Here’s why.
It’s A Game To Them
In case you haven’t noticed yet, narcissists are charming beasts and masters of manipulation. If they’ve agreed to go to therapy with you, it’s because it amuses them to do so.
They’re toying with you like a cat toys with a mouse, allowing it to run free before pouncing on it, then repeating that for a while: it gives the mouse (you) hope that things are going to get better before crushing said hopes again. With their claws.
Remember how they charmed you at the beginning of your relationship? How hard you fell for their behavior? Well, therapists are people too, and they can’t always see through a narcissist’s machinations.
Everything you bring up will be turned against you as the narc in your life attempts to show this therapist how horrible you are. No matter what you say or how you desperately attempt to have your experiences and feelings validated, the narc will turn it around so they’re the victim, and you need to be medicated to stop acting so “crazy,” or you’ll give up trying and go back to your life, maintaining the status quo.
Either way, they win.
Gaslighting With The Therapist’s Help
One common thing that happens when a narc is dragged to couples therapy is (as was hinted at above) that they end up getting the therapist on their side, and they team up against you.
You’ll try desperately to make the therapist understand your perspective and explain what your partner is like at home, and said partner will look sad and hurt, and pour their heart out about how cruel and unfair you are to them, and how you make up stories to hurt them, and try to get attention or pity for your delusions.
Imagine how the scenario will look to your therapist: there you are, disheveled and manic and possibly close to hysterics, praying that someone might finally listen to you and believe you about all the abuse you’ve been subjected to, and your narc partner just looks sad and disheartened.
You may very well have PTSD and may lose your sh*t during the sessions because you are literally at the end of your rope, but rather than making you seem more sincere and in need of help, that desperate behavior will paint you as the unstable perpetrator in this unhealthy partnership.
Worse than not being believed by a person whom you’ve opened up to is being reproached by them, especially when you’re the one who has been suffering at the hands of a manipulative abuser. This can cause even greater long term damage, while your narc counterpart just smirks because you’re so weak and pathetic that you can’t even do therapy right.
Being Truly Honest May Be Dangerous
If your narcissist partner has been very verbally, emotionally, and/or physically abusive to you at home, it’s more than likely that you’ve kept pretty quiet about it out of fear.
Being in therapy with your partner might make you feel like you have a safe space to open up about such abuses because you have someone there who will believe you and protect you… but unless you and your partner are living apart, you’re going to have to go back home with them after the counseling session, and there may be hell to pay.
Keep in mind that narcissists despise being painted as “bad;” their entire existence revolves around being appreciated and admired, so if you come clean about their horrible behaviors and the therapist sides with you instead of them, you will undoubtedly bear the brunt of their incendiary fury as soon as your front door closes behind you.
Their rage can escalate more than you might imagine, and instead of just throwing insults your way, you may end up being on the receiving end of physical violence (or threats thereof). Even narc partners who haven’t been abusive in the past can be triggered into being more aggressive and violent if they feel that you have overstepped the mark and dared to make others believe awful things about them.
Nothing Will Change
One technique that a narcissist will use if they acquiesce to getting therapy is to pretend to be supportive and take the therapist’s advice. They may show “real” remorse, make up some stories about their crappy childhood to garner sympathy from both you and the therapist, and seem as though they’re really dedicated to making things better between you.
Again, this has the effect of lulling you into a false sense of security. They might step up and change for the better (for a little while), giving you the impression that they sincerely want to change; to be the partner you deserve; to be a better person both for you, and for themselves…
Why is that? Because they cannot change who they are any more than you can.
You can’t magically transform into the chameleon-like perfect partner who will shift and shimmer to become their ideal mate every time their whims change, and they cannot become a reliable, trustworthy partner who actually loves you.
With a narcissist, you exist for their benefit, at their convenience, and they will try to manipulate you in all directions in order to get what they want. This includes playing the therapy game if it makes you more pliant in the long run.
Therapy is invaluable. It really, really is. None of us are issue-free, and if you’ve survived a long-term partnership that has left you damaged and disheartened, then it would be in your best interests to find a good, solid therapist whom you can trust.
Over time, they can help you rebuild your self-esteem and personal strength reserves, and work towards a life that you deserve.
The key here is for you to seek this therapy alone.
You need to make yourself the priority, and focus on your own health and happiness. Most of us have been programmed to consider that as selfish, but really it’s a matter of self-preservation and self-care. Find a therapist who has experience with people who have PTSD from narcissistic abuse, and commit to allowing them to help you sort out your life.
When it comes to a romantic relationship with a narcissist, there’s really only one action you can take that will guarantee your future wellbeing: run away, and throw grenades over your shoulders so they can’t follow you.