Ask Us: Intervention for a Narcissist

Q:

My husband has narcissistic personality traits and has been told by a pastor that he is actually on the disorder side of the spectrum. I am working with multiple elders and my adult children to set up an intervention. We have been married 32+ years and he is poised to walk away rather than have a family meeting to talk things through. Things have gotten exponentially worse the last 6 months because he started totally secluding himself.

We are both Christians who don’t believe in divorce, but I realize I have to take a stand for change because he has always been staunchly against outside help, saying if I would be the wife I should be, we would have no problems! What are some angles we can use to get him to an intervention?

A:

Because it sounds like he has historically been opposed to counsel or help, you may not be able to “get him” to an intervention. In this case, you will have to “bring” the intervention to him. Your plan will probably have to be launched as a surprise, rather than an agreed-upon meeting.

Totally secluding oneself is akin to divorce. It is abandonment and neglect of the relationship. There is little left when the only difference in your relationship is a judge’s signature on the certificate of marriage vs. the certificate of divorce. In other words, it is a divorce of the relationship of the marriage without the divorce of the institution of the marriage.

If it is true that he does not believe in divorce, this could be the first point to bring up to express the gravity of the situation and hopefully get his attention. Because you are right, taking a stand is the only way to bring change to the status quo.

Purpose of an Intervention

The purpose of an intervention is to provide an unmistakable confrontation of destructive behavior in a context in which the person responsible cannot avoid seeing the results of their behavior.

In your case, it would be to paint a very clear picture that a relationship is more important to you than the institution of marriage. You are no longer willing to simply be married in name only, and you require that specific behavioral dynamics change so connection can happen. The element of surprise will make it difficult to ignore, deflect, deny, and excuse.

An intervention is intentional and strategic. That means there must be thoughtful planning and a commitment to see the process through. You will need to have a clear definition of what it is you can no longer tolerate, and identify the ways you will no longer enable the destructive patterns, including what boundaries you’ll employ to stay grounded, sane, and safe.

It is important to be lay out the options you’ve decided on based upon the response to the intervention, including a safety plan in case things go awry. The goal will be to invite him into a change process that will result in a better relationship. It helps immensely to have Godly counsel, a skilled facilitator, and people in your corner to help you see your way through, too.

Practical Steps to an Intervention

Here are the practical steps to an intervention:

·       Prepare by reflecting on, and writing out, what it’s been like to be married to your spouse. Look at what you’ve lost and how you’ve been changed along the way. Who have you become? What part of you needs to be recovered?

·       Identify what specific behaviors you will no longer tolerate and the changes you want. For example, isolation and refusing to have collaborative conversations will not create a connected relationship. In this case, the change you’d request is that the two of you agree on the rules of engagement needed to enable meaningful conversations that end in healthy resolutions.

·       Identify and implement boundaries that will keep you grounded, able to think clearly, and stay congruent with who you want to be. Also identify the consequences that will occur when those boundaries are crossed, and be ready to carry them out. For example, if he always acts out during car rides because he knows you’re a captive audience, drive separate cars even if you are going to the same destination.

·       Consult with Godly, wise counsel and a qualified facilitator in order to identify the level of intervention needed, and to make an appropriate plan. In other words, will this be a simple confrontation, or will it require a separation plan, a full team of people who regularly stay involved to provide accountability and mentoring, and potential legal action of some sort?

·       Carry out the intervention. When you’ve done the background work above, decide on a time to confront him. Make sure you have a witness present, and present him with your concerns, your requests for change, and the options you’re prepared to follow through on. Invite your spouse to join you in coming up with a collaborative solution.

·       Require that your spouse be involved in follow-up deep counseling to change his or her destructive behavior.

If you present this crossroad to your spouse, you’ll also need to be ready for whatever comes of it. While our goal is to bring about a breakthrough which ends his or her overwhelming behavior, there is a chance that hard-heartedness may still get in the way. Present your case and wait to see what comes of it.

It may not end the way you hope, but at least you’ll know who your spouse really is where the rubber meets the road. No more guessing, no more carrying the weight of trying to make him or her change. Whichever way your spouse chooses to go, you still get to begin your healing journey based upon a foundation of truth.

We have counselors on staff who specialize in intervention planning and would love to help you. We offer an Intervention Planning Intensive to work through the practical steps of the intervention. Contact our Client Care Team to learn more.

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