You would think that narcissists would not be able to stay married for very long because of their inability to relate in healthy ways. But surprisingly, some narcissists stay married for several decades. So, with these opposing views in mind, how many times does a narcissist marry?
As a general rule, a narcissist marries as many times as it takes to keep narcissistic supply in a constant state. This absolutely depends on how long and how much the narcissist’s spouse is willing to stay with the narcissist. Often they don’t realize their spouse is a narcissist. So they stay with the narcissist thinking that eventually things will improve. But upon realizing their marriage will never be healthy, spouses will often decide to call it quits.
Sometimes this happens very soon after the wedding, but often it can be 20, 30, 40, years or more when the spouse decides they can no longer tolerate the narcissist. It largely depends on the emotional health of the spouse as to how long they stay married. And as soon as a narcissist finds themselves single again (or even before), they will be on the hunt for a new source of supply (i.e., spouse).
So, with that answer, let’s take a deeper look at all of the contributing factors.
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Why Does a Narcissist Marry?
A narcissist marries someone because they need someone who will give them nearly unlimited supply. A spouse is most often the person that will be there for them no matter what. But at some point, most people married to a narcissist start to realize something is terribly wrong. And once they start that journey, they don’t usually stay around for very long. This is because generally speaking, narcissists refuse to heal or turn from their abuse. And the marriage most likely ends in divorce.
Then the whole process begins again because the narcissist cannot live without that constant source of supply. And they usually can’t get a larger narcissistic supply from any other source because the marriage relationship is the most intimate of all relationships.
There are even more reasons a narcissist will marry and keep on marrying in order to always have a spouse, despite being unable to maintain close relationships. They will marry for the sake of status, especially after a divorce. They see divorce as a failure to keep their supply under their thumb. So the more quickly they can marry the next person, the less people will “see them” as a failure.
That status also includes having someone on their arm. It isn’t just that they don’t want people to see them as a failure. It is that they want to show the world who they were able to “snag.” In their earlier years, narcissists will pursue people who are good looking, smart, and successful. The more they can surround themselves with successful people, the more they can posture themselves as successful. And that especially includes whoever they marry.
What Makes a Narcissist Stay Married for Many Years?
When two people get married, they pledge “til death do us part.” And the thought of separation or divorce doesn’t exist. Most couples think they can get through just about anything. And that the other partner will always work with them toward a wonderful life together. Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case.
When someone marries a narcissist, it can take years to realize things are really wrong. They may see red flags from the beginning. But they may excuse them or minimize them. Until things get so increasingly bad that they can no longer wait for things to get better or for the spouse to finally return the love.
Many spouses stay with the narcissist years after beginning to work through the issues, thinking that eventually things will improve. But when they don’t, the spouse is forced with two very difficult choices: stay married to the narcissist, knowing they will never have a normal and fulfilling relationship, or walk away from the marriage after they have spent upwards of 30 years or more investing in it.
These two choices feel intolerable. To stay means that they are resigning themselves to never have a normal loving relationship. On the other hand, if they leave the marriage, they can be leaving decades of a life built. The thought of starting over in later years (40’s, 50’s, or even later) can be terrifying. Often women of narcissistic husbands are unable to just walk away. They have no recent job experience because they stayed home with the kids. They have no money or credit if their narcissistic husband controlled them financially.
Add the fact that if someone leaves a narcissist, especially after many years of marriage, the narcissist will make their life hell. They will turn their friends and sometimes even family against them, often with kind words of “concern.” All of this can literally paralyze a partner into staying with their narcissist spouse indefinitely.
The final reason someone may stay married to a narcissist for so long is that they have codependency issues or are empaths. Codependency is when someone enables someone else to treat them poorly because of the benefit they perceive for staying in the relationship. Narcissists are notorious for treating others badly and then doing incredibly nice things to lure them back into the relationship. And empaths can stay with a narcissist for an extremely long time because they feel bad for the pain that the narcissists feels and masks.
What Happens When the Narcissist Can’t Hold on to a Spouse for Very Long?
Probably a more common scenario than the one above is that the narcissist doesn’t stay married for very long. When the narcissist marries someone who is emotionally healthy (yes, this does actually happen because the narcissist can put on a really good act until he gets married), they will not spend a lot of time under the oppression of the narcissist. They will walk away and never look back. And they will be so much better for it!
The narcissist also just may not play their cards right. One of the difficulties of narcissism is trying to get enough supply without having to invest too much into the relationship. If they have to hoover their spouse back too much, the narcissistic supply they get from them isn’t really worth it. If they don’t keep that balance and try to demand too much supply without enough love-bombing, then they can easily drive away their partner. It is a constant game of tug-of-war.
Another reason narcissists may find themselves divorced is because their partner discovers that the narcissist is wearing a mask and get a glimpse of what is under it. When this happens, the narcissist tends to spiral out of control, which puts the final nail in the coffin. The narcissist’s partner is out–for good.
When the narcissist’s marriage ends soon after it starts, it increases the shame that they feel. They have to get rid of that shame. So they look for another person that can show the world they are okay. If they can find someone who is willing to marry them, even right after they are divorced, then in their eyes, it shows the world that they are fine and their former spouse was the problem. Except that what it shows the world is that when the narcissist moves from one person to the next in succession, they are not being healthy in their relationships.
In my case, my ex met his latest girlfriend while he was supposed to be getting counseling to come back home to his family. Within a week or two of them meeting, he filed for divorce. And six days after we received our divorce papers, they were married. While there were a few people who supported his behavior, the vast majority of people saw what was happening, also because they saw the narcissistic mask slip while we were still married. It ended up costing him his marriage, most of his kids, his neighbors, his church, and more. But he’s basking in the newness of his current life, blissfully unaware that they will all find out eventually too.
If you are feeling like you are married to a narcissist, you can click here to take this test to get a better idea.
And if you think you are headed down a difficult road, watch this video to help you get started on where your head, heart, and support needs to be:
What Happens With a Narcissist When the Spouse Decides to Leave?
When a spouse decides to leave a narcissist, all hell breaks loose. First, he will do everything he can to keep the spouse. If there is any way he can preserve the marriage, or narcissistic supply, he will do it. It is so much easier to hoover a current lover back in than to find a new lover. And divorce is expensive! By the way, by hoover, I mean just like the vacuum, the narcissist tries to suck his victims back in under his control and manipulation.
When the hoovering doesn’t work out, the anger will set in. And almost no anger is as bad as narcissistic rage. The narcissist will make sure you regret ever thinking you could just walk away. If there are children, they will fight for custody, no matter how little they had to do with them in the past. If there is property or money, they will try to leave their ex with nothing, just to punish them for daring to interfere with their needed supply. And they will turn their ex’s friends and family against them if they can. The worst part of that: as I mentioned above, they will use the kindest words of concern to destroy you. Here are a couple of examples:
- “I love my wife and kids so much. I have always taken good care of them and treated them well. I don’t know why they are doing this to me now.”
- “I don’t know what is wrong with her, but something is really wrong. I will make sure she sees a doctor so she can get better.”
- “I am very worried about her. She just isn’t herself anymore. Would you please pray for us?”
While I have tried to leave the article in gender neutral terms because a narcissist can be male or female, all of the above examples are written with the narcissist as the male. That is because those were the things that my friends and family were told when our failing marriage started to go public. My ex was very interested in projecting his narcissism onto me as the person destroying the marriage. And he wanted everyone to know that I was doing it for no good reason. I was so incredibly fortunate to have a ton of documentation of the abuse as well as counselors, church leaders, and many others that saw what was going on and supported me through it.
And while it was a very long and contentious divorce, I cannot tell you how much better the kids and I are now that we are no longer under his thumb and walking on eggshells.
In summary, a narcissist will marry as many times as it takes to always have a spouse who can give them the amount of narcissistic supply they think they require. They will stay with their current spouse for as long as that spouse meets their needs without much pushback or difficulty. That can be anywhere from a few months to several decades, and in some cases, a lifetime.
Because I spent 35 years with my ex and the divorce was incredibly contentious, I needed a good amount of support. And I was blessed to have the best of support. I also read constantly about narcissism and how to heal and get out safely I read articles online and bought a whole library of books.
One of the most helpful books for me once I knew the divorce was happening was Will I Ever Be Free of You?: How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family by Karyl McBride. It was such a lifesaver for me when my life was being turned upside down and I was starting over in my 50’s. And it really helped me to talk about the right issues with my lawyer so all of my bases were covered. Regardless of where you are, it is a good reference to help you sort things out and start to plan and get ahead of the chaos.
What was your experience with a narcissistic spouse? How long did it take you to figure it out? How long did you stay? What kept you there or allowed you to leave? I would love to hear your story. Feel free to share in the comments below or
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Blessings and hugs,