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Are You Married to a Covert Narcissist?
Are You Married to a Covert Narcissist?

Covert narcissistic abuse is difficult to identify and even harder to escape - learn from Claire's journey and take steps to get yourself to safety.

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Are You Married to a Covert Narcissist?

Are you married to a covert narcissistic abuser? Covert narcissistic abuse can be nearly impossible to detect because covert abusers use manipulative tactics to keep a “clean slate image”. 

Claire, a member of the BTR.ORG community, endured covert narcissistic abuse for twenty-five years before finally being able to put a name to it – and when she did, she was able to move toward safety. Read the full transcript below and tune in to the free Betrayal Trauma Recovery Podcast to hear her story. 

Covert Narcissists Use Passive-Aggressive Techniques to Control Victims

“[The abuser] would never say, ‘you shouldn’t go to activities, you should hang out with me.’ It was rare for him to say things that would look abusive. But like if I’m reading a book around him, he’s not okay with that. But instead of saying, you shouldn’t read books around me, you’re making me feel lonely or things that would be more easily recognizable, he just would interrupt me to start talking to me.”

Claire, Member of the BTR.ORG Community

Covert narcissistic abusers are generally seen by others as extremely nice, passive, and congenial men. This is because covert abusers rarely, if ever, say or do overtly abusive things. Instead, they control victims by:

  • Pouting
  • Sulking
  • Emotional blackmail (“If you don’t have sex with me, I’ll have to use porn; If you don’t stay home from this trip, I’ll get depressed and have to ignore you”)
  • Using “flying monkeys” (Having in-laws, friends, clergy, and others tell the victim what she “should” do in order to please the abuser)
  • Getting their feelings hurt, in order to make the victim walk on eggshells
  • Using scripture or other texts 
  • Gaslighting/blame-shifting/word-twisting
  • Systematically breaking down the victim’s self-esteem so that the victim seeks their approval, then intermittently giving the victim approval and validation

Covert Narcissists Use Covert Sexual Abuse

Many women in our community have experienced covert sexual abuse.

Claire describes it this way:

“If we hadn’t had sex for 48 hours, then he would start criticizing me and just like pouting and frowning and just being kind of toxic until we would have sex.”

Claire, Member of the BTR.ORG Community

Covert abusers often justify marital rape by saying things like:

  • “I didn’t hold her down, so it wasn’t rape.”
  • “She eventually said yes, so it wasn’t rape.”
  • “She initiated it, so it wasn’t abuse.”
  • “She didn’t try to fight me off, so it wasn’t rape.”
  • “All marriages require negotiation when it comes to sex. Ours is no different.”
  • “She set the standard for me having to push for sex… it’s just how it is with us. It’s not abuse.”
  • “She didn’t say no, so it wasn’t rape.”
  • “I didn’t know she didn’t want it, even though she [was crying, said no, laid there frozen, said it hurt, asked me to stop, etc].”

Bottom line: covert sexual abusers are despicable human beings.

Having sex with someone who does not want to have sex with you and has not given their enthusiastic consent is rape. 

If you have experienced covert sexual abuse, you are a victim of rape. Please seek support. 

If You’re Married to a Covert Narc, We’re Here for You

Our BTR.ORG Group Sessions meet daily in every time zone – please attend a session today. Victims of covert abuse find validation and community as they share their experiences and process their trauma with other victims and our expert coaches. We love you, we believe you. 

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:00):
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. Welcome, Claire.

Claire (02:59):
Hi, nice to talk to you Anne.

Anne (03:01):
Claire and I are from the same faith background, so not necessarily a trigger warning, but we’ll be talking about how these issues have affected us in our faith and also some particular programs specific to our faith. But it will relate because a lot of you have been through programs that are similar to this, either faith-based or secular programs or maybe 12 step programs. So I think that you’ll relate, but if you’re like, eh, I’m not into this, then meet us in the next episode. But I just wanted to let you know that, that we’ll be talking about that from a faith perspective. As always, all faiths, all paradigms are welcome here and I’m always looking for women who share their story. So if you’re interested in sharing your story regardless of your faith background, please email podcast@btr.org  because I would love to talk to you as well. So let’s start with Claire. So Claire, tell me your story. Did you recognize your husband’s abusive behaviors at first?

Identifying Sexual Coercion in Marriage

Claire (03:57):
So not at all. <Laugh>, we just had our 25th anniversary and it’s only been started seeing things with someone else’s help in March. So it’s been, you know, a quarter of a century. My abuse is, is mainly sexual coercion and covert emotional abuse. And he wants to look like the good guy. And so it is really difficult to see. And so I had put in a lot of effort, this is the whole like love, serve, forgive thing, like our whole marriage, you know, <laugh> trying to be a good person and learn how to communicate. And I had been listening to some podcasts about sex and how it should be for both people and just learning a lot. And then so because of that we started fighting more <laugh>. So that had only been like the past two years. So I was really frustrated with that because I felt like it’s a true principle that marriage is, and sex is supposed to be for both people, but it still wasn’t working for us and I could not see why. So I, someone had offered to be a sponsor on one of those sites and so I was talking to her a lot and she has a husband who’s abusive and when I was telling her some things that were going on, she was like, that is abuse <laugh>. So, and I’m like, no, he’s just following me around and unlocking doors. 

Anne (05:14):
Did his sexual coercion involve using porn and giving you the impression that he was not, that he was faithful and that he was sort of a Christian man?

“I Think He Felt Entitled To Sex” 

Claire (05:26):
So this is actually my main frustration with our church’s addiction recovery program is that he did tell me about the porn use one year into marriage. And so he was sincere about trying to work on it. Like he didn’t act like he wanted to be doing that. And there were long periods of time he wouldn’t be doing that. But at the same time, I think he also felt entitled to sex. And so if he wouldn’t get it, I think that’s when he would be indulging. And I’m not sure if it’s possible he was using it as manipulation sometimes that like it was my fault and not, he would never, he never says anything, he never would say that,

Anne (06:01):
But maybe like he has those, those like opinions. It’s interesting cuz some, some of them have these, like this is their core belief, right? That I’m entitled to this. I’m also entitled to my wife’s physical labor, right? She should be doing all the housework. I’m entitled to her deferring to me on major decisions, you know, things like that. But a lot of them know this is not okay. So they would never say it out loud. They just find a way to manipulate around it. And the words that come out of their mouth are, oh yeah, of course we’re equal partners, of course I care about you. But the actions and the way they operate in the relationship are not congruent with those words.

“It Just Took a Little Bit of Information For Me to See the Pattern”

Claire (06:44):
Yeah. So I went into the marriage thinking it was gonna be equal with the kids and everything like that and not knowing anything about sex and what’s normal and kind of blindsided. So this person said, this is abuse to me. And I was like, no. And totally didn’t believe her. And I was like, he’s just kind of like needy. And then I listened to one of the podcasts you told me about and that was on emotional abuse. And I was just completely blown away. This is the part that I feel is super important because it just took a little bit of information for me to see the pattern. Like all I needed to know was that abuse is a pattern of control based on entitlement. And he’s a very like fierce guy, like considerate and fierce guy. He was like, emotional abuse isn’t this like whole separate category, it’s just a tool that belongs with everything else.

(07:34):
It’s part of, of domestic abuse. And the whole thing with like abusers typically looking like they’re charming and they’re the ones that look good and they’re the ones that show up for service projects and they deserve preferential treatment and all that. And that the one that’s being abused is more likely to look crazy. And I’m like, Hey, that’s me <laugh>. And yeah, so that kind of blew me outta the water, but it still is like anyone seeing my husband, he’s like very good natured and jolly. He did not wanna be anything like his dad. So he’s like, if you’re angry, you’re a bad person. And, but it’s like if you pick up the entitlement stick, if you decide that you’re entitled to things, then you end up picking up the abuse stick is what it feels like. And so he feels like, yeah, he’s entitled to sex pretty much as much as he wants and he’s also entitled to my presence.

👉🏽 THIS IS COVERT ABUSE 👈🏽

(08:23):
So that’s the part that’s probably a little bit different than most people. Like, it’s kind of like I’m this sex toy on a shelf kind of a thing. <Laugh>, he idolizes me, but I’m not a person so I can’t have bad feelings against him. I can’t put space between us if I want to go to activities when he’s not working, he’ll pout and stuff like that. But he would never say, you shouldn’t go to activities, you should hang out with me. It was rare for him to say things that would look abusive or rare. You could figure it out. But like if I’m reading a book around him, he’s not okay with that. But instead of saying, you shouldn’t read books around me, you’re making me feel lonely or things that would be more easily recognizable, he just would interrupt me <laugh> to start talking to me. 

Anne (09:06):
Well or even just being honest about it. I mean there’s abuse, right? There’s emotional abuse, which is like not letting you have any other interests, making you focus all of your time on him, you know, coercive control. Yeah. And then there’s also like, hey, you’re reading a lot and that’s fine, it’s just that I really like spending time with you and I wanna talk to you. 

Claire (09:27):
Yeah. But that would be like owning responsibility, right? And that would be acting like I have a choice. Like I have the ability to choose. 

Anne (09:35):
Exactly.

Abusive Entitlement & Control Explained

Claire (09:36):
Interrupting someone when they’re reading a book, that’s not a big deal. But the the big deal is the you shouldn’t be doing that. The trying to control – 

Anne (09:43):
I’m entitled to your attention, rather than I know you’re reading this book, but I would really like your attention. 

Claire (09:50):
Yeah, yeah. But that’s, that’s being equals, right? But, and the sexual coercion looked like if we hadn’t had sex for 48 hours, then he would start criticizing me and just like pouting and frowning and just being kind of toxic until we would have sex. So, and I had read The Act of Marriage and also like all the church stuff that was like, focus on yourself – 

Anne (10:15):
When you say all the church stuff, what she’s referring to on as focus on yourself is their program for wives of porn addicts. So basically, don’t confront him per se about what he’s doing. Just focus on being the best person that you can be kind of a thing, right? 

“I Couldn’t See or Understand What Was Going On” 

Claire (10:33):
Well, I mean, in the first year I didn’t know that he was addicted to porn, but I mean like anything in any of the church materials, any marriage books, like I was reading all this different stuff because we were fighting initially and then, and you know, the whole love, serve, forgive, like focus on, it’s always focus on yourself, you know, don’t be critical. And, and I don’t think that’s just our church and I just, that’s something I’m really angry about <laugh> too, because I was so sincere and this 19 year old trying really hard to have a good marriage and I couldn’t see or understand what was going on. And nowhere in all the things that I read, there was nothing about like, hey, love, serve and forgive. But if you see these red flags, like if you’re bringing up concerns and the person doesn’t listen or you know, sincerely take it seriously or try to make changes or if you have someone who’s lying to you or there was nothing in the materials that said anything like that. And I think that’s a huge deal. Like especially if you’re saying that you care about celestial marriage or heavenly, you know, marriage that’s supposed to last forever, then why wouldn’t you focus on like, what would that look like? Like let’s just hold onto it with like, you know, the white knuckling it versus like, let’s actually try to have a relationship that’s heavenly. So that seems insincere to me. 

Clergy, Faith Communities, and Abusive Marriages

Anne (11:49):
Talk a lot about what would a heavenly marriage or an eternal marriage or in our faith a celestial marriage look like. But guess what they never talk about? I don’t think any religion does. I’ve just thought of this. So this is like an epiphany for me. Are you guys ready for this? Here we go. That no one ever talks about what would a hell marriage look like – right? No one’s like this type of marriage is a marriage made in hell and you would be in hell if you lived in it and you do not want this type of marriage. They never talk about that, which is interesting. And that is abuse. But what they do say is abuse is bad. We don’t tolerate abuse,

Claire (12:24):
But they never say, and I went and read the most recent handbooks and stuff, they don’t even mention, they’ll say abusers tend to be people that you know, and they list all, you know, they list parents, sibling, uncle, they don’t list spouse. Even the patterns of abuse, it’s more like child molester predator grooming. It doesn’t, it’s not the same pattern as domestic abuse. And I’m like, if you’re really against abuse, then you should be educating what the patterns look like because I just needed a little bit of information.

“This Is Abuse – How Are You Going to NOT Tolerate This?” 

Anne (12:53):
Yeah. The other is we don’t tolerate abuse. I believe that, that they believe it. Right? Like I, I don’t think they want people to be abused is what I’m trying to say. Like I, I genuinely think they’re like, we know abuse exists, we want it to stop. We don’t want people to be abused. The question is how do you not tolerate it? Yeah. So that’s what I’ve started asking, like report the abuse, say, Hey, this is the abuse, to your pastor or your bishop or whoever, and then say, this is abuse, how are you going to not tolerate this? Just follow it up with that question. How are you going to not tolerate it? And I did that with my own super well-meaning leadership and I, they believe me and they are like on my side. And the problem is they don’t know what to do and it’s like, what do they do?

(13:41):
Right? Like they don’t have the legal ability to be like, oh, okay, well the kids should stop seeing him or something, you know, like that has to go through the courts and the courts aren’t recognizing it either. And so although they might release them from their calling or something of that nature, they also cannot stop someone from being abusive. So the thing, the only thing they could do is help a victim get to safety. Like if she has boundaries that somehow they could help enforce, maybe help with house payment or with groceries or something. Right? But like in terms of how they’re not gonna tolerate abuse. That’s the question. And I, I don’t know the answer either. If someone came to me today and said, how would you do it? I would be like, well maybe just release them from their callings, you know? I don’t know, it’s hard.

Knowledge is Power – Clergy MUST Learn to Identify Domestic Abuse 

Claire (14:29):
I feel like knowledge is power and so why don’t you empower women to get out of it themselves by actually teaching absolutely what it would look like. And it doesn’t have to be on you. Like let, I mean help them when they ask you, but why don’t you at least say this is what it looks like. This is what abuse looks like. And and I’m sure they’ve seen like the what worst of the predators. Right. And so they know, they know how horrible it can be. And so why wouldn’t you put that like, you know, here’s, here’s love. So forgive. But you know, if you’re seeing these type of patterns, that’s a huge problem.

Anne (15:02):
Right? Just read Why Does He Do That?How is that hard? You know, you just came up with it. Yeah. I’m like, I don’t know what they would do. And you just came up with it. They would tell women, I’m not sure, I don’t know if you’re being abused, but here’s a helpful book. Why don’t you read it and you tell me.

Empower Women to Become Educated About Abuse

Claire (15:18):
Yeah, that would be a great thing. Or anything, anything. It’s a pattern of control coming out of entitlement or you know, any pattern of dehumanizing or not listening to you or even there’s the boundaries in dating book and they have lists of red flags and yellow flags that you look for when you’re dating. But I’m like, why do you stop looking for that when you’re dating? Like why wouldn’t you say, hey, if you have someone who’s consistently lying or dehumanizing you or one of the things was apologizes without changing, like if you’re seeing that, then that’s a red, that’s a red flag. 

Anne (15:51):
Including in marriage.

Claire (15:54):
Yes.

Trauma Mama Husband Drama

Anne (15:54):
That’s a really interesting thing. The, the dating principles, they’re like, Hey look for this stuff in dating and then it’s like but once you’re married, like just forgive and serve. The same principles that you use for dating should also apply when you’re married. How hard is this? I’m gonna take a break here for just a second to talk about my book Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which also has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book Trauma Mama Husband Drama is a picture book for adults. So it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it. It’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations as well as infographics at the back. When you go to our books page and click on any of those books, it just takes you directly to Amazon and you can throw those books in your cart after you have purchased the book. Please remember to circle back around Amazon and write a verified purchase review along with a five star rating that helps isolated women find us. It bumps trauma mama husband drama up in the Amazon algorithm. And even if women don’t purchase the book, it helps them find this podcast which is free to everyone.

Prioritize Safety Over Marriage

Claire (17:14):
So I feel like the fixation Chris Moles says that’s, we’ve made marriage an idol and, and Leslie Vernick says, God doesn’t value the sanctity of marriage more than the women or the people who are in it. I think the focus on we’re just gonna preserve the marriage as an institution instead of focus on helping people have marriages that are healthy. And if that was really your focus, then wouldn’t you teach about red flags and abuse patterns more specifically?

Anne (17:43):
This is James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” That’s interesting. That polluted by the world part because that’s also believing and being manipulated by abusers. Here’s the new living translation, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” So meaning like actually saying the truth, the truth is this man is abusive and these, this woman needs help and she’s gonna need help in the form of physical, maybe food or housing. 

Claire (18:25):
We talk about helping the defenseless and if you are in an abusive marriage and you can’t see it, I mean that’s where I was at for more than two decades and that’s a very vulnerable place to be in.

Anne (18:38):
Yeah. Being abused and not knowing you’re being abused.

Marriage Advice Does NOT Help Abused Women

Claire (18:40):
Yeah. Let’s educate about that. And I was sincerely, you know, reading all these communication things and marriage books.

Anne (18:48):
Yeah, I did the same thing for seven years. I did pornography addiction recovery where I like screaming and yelling metaphorically and raising my hands and being like, help, help. I need help! And going to all these therapists and all these clergy people and, and no one tells me until the very end when he’s like, this is abuse. The one guy seven years later who then wouldn’t see me after that, he wouldn’t be my therapist after that, but geez. But like that one time, like nobody else for that seven years says abuse. Yeah. They don’t talk about emotional abuse. They don’t, you know, nothing. It’s pretty crazy.

Claire (19:22):
That’s why I feel so frustrated.

Anne (19:24):
<Laugh>. Yeah.

Lying to Your Wife, Takes Away Her Consent & Voice

Claire (19:25):
Especially when we knew like that he had a pornography problem from after the first year. And so, and that’s what I love that the Omar Minwalla model that, that I found from you guys was the whole compulsive entitled sexuality and the lying. And that’s one of the huge things where you guys have rocked my world was the whole, if you are lying <laugh>, if you’re lying about porn, besides it just, if you’re lying in general, you’re not safe. But if you’re lying about porn, then it’s abuse because you’re not allowing her consent. And I read this quote yesterday, lying is about controlling someone else’s reality, hoping that what they don’t know won’t hurt you. And what it means to tell the truth is it’s to give someone else her freedom, to allow her to have a reaction, even if it leads to negative consequences for you to give her the voice that lying takes away.

Anne (20:09):
There’s a church talk, it’s one of my favorites by one of our apostles who has now passed away, but he tells this story about how he loved football and he had the football and he was just like two inches away from the end zone and the whole pile was on top of him and he could push the football a little bit more and no one would ever know. And I don’t know what happened in that game if they won or not, but one of the things he said was, do the right thing and tell the truth and let the consequences happen. If you tell the truth and just accept the consequences of that, like you will be more blessed than you try to control the narrative or control the situation. You’ll also continue to have the opportunity to repent and change if you live in reality because you can’t alter God’s reality. He knows what it is. Essentially. Lying is also trying to what? Alter it for God. Like that’s not gonna work. So anyway, I’ve always thought that like tell the truth and let the consequence and just accept what the consequence of the truth is even if it’s not good for you.

Claire (21:15):
Yeah. But I think that’s with the emotional immaturity going along with abuse that you can’t handle someone else thinking that you’re bad or seeing something bad that you’ve done. So then you lie to yourself and lie to other people about your intentions or what you’ve done and so you can kind of keep hiding, hiding from yourself cause you can’t handle the not being validated I guess.

“I Thought He Was Just ‘Hangry'” 

Anne (21:37):
So while you’re reading these communication books and while you’re, you know, doing like whatever else, what reasons did you give for his behavior? Just that he needed sex, like stuff like that? Or what did you think at the time? 

Claire (21:49):
So I thought that he was just like hangry, like when you’re fasting – I thought, I mean I thought he was being a little bit bratty, but I didn’t, I didn’t think it was control coming out of entitlement. I just thought it was like him being hangry. And I also thought that it was my job to not have sex with him when he is being a jerk. But it was my job just to kind of like manage him sexually even though I wouldn’t have said that. I mean it’s both of our jobs to be kind to each other, but then I need to be available as long as he’s not being a jerk is kind of what I thought. And so I would try to have sex with him before he would be a jerk <laugh>.

Anne (22:26):
So like if I have sex with him at this like right now –

Claire (22:30):
Then 48 to 72 hours. Not kidding, <laugh> – 

Anne (22:34):
Then things will be better for me.

The Moment Claire Realizes The Truth

Claire (22:36):
Yep. Yes. Wow. Or at least we won’t fight and I can avoid the drama and all that cause he’s gonna get hangry and then he is gonna get grouchy and I just didn’t see until August actually that it was a choice. Cause his therapist, we had him do a sex fast and he was still being manipulative and pushing me to do things even when he was doing a sex fast and he wasn’t hangry and all that. And at the same time I was reading the Lund Bancroft book and I was like, holy crap, <laugh>.

Anne (23:07):
Yeah.

Claire (23:08):
And he, and he also owned too. I can see that I’m manipulating you because I’m, I say cause he was trying to get me to do like heavy making out and stuff and he said, I say that I’m doing this cause I want to make you happy, but when you’re saying that you don’t wanna do it, then I’m still pushing you to do it. So obviously I’m, so he actually owned it, but then I was like, I, I think we’re done <laugh>, we’re actually in in-house separation and he’s in classes, we’re in separate therapy. So he is working on being honest and he’s being really humble and handling a lot of criticism, but I think the honesty part is really, really difficult.

Anne (23:43):
Honesty is a skill that they haven’t really learned how to do.

BTR.ORG Is Here For You

Claire (23:45):
And that’s one of the things I find fascinating about that Omar Minwalla model, because it’s the whole secret, was it called secret sexual basement? It’s  where since you’re kind of living over this, you feel like things aren’t safe, so you kind of turn off, you’re like, well, but I must be illogical or something there. Or it’s just the decades of emotional abuse. Like I’ve kind of operated kind of like a robot. Like instead of how do I feel about things, I’m like, whats the right thing? What’s the wrong thing? Oh, I’m not too busy and I like sex actually. So, but it, it’s an out of a caretaking mode instead of like, is this what I really choose? I wasn’t treating myself like a person either.

Anne (24:22):
<Laugh>. Exactly. Even if you really feel like you’re choosing it, would you choose that if you knew the truth? Yeah. For example. Right. So there are moments where I felt like I was really choosing that thing. I really wanted to have sex and then later I find out, wait, had I known he had used porn the day before and lied to my face even though he was grooming me. And so I thought he was very loving. I would not have wanted to have sex if I would’ve had all the information that I needed to give consent. Claire and I are going to pause the conversation here. Join us next week to continue our conversation. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it.  And until next week, stay safe out there.

2 Comments

  1. Miriam

    Thank you both for being brave and sharing all this.

    I’m confused about the difference between sexual coercion and rape. I think both can be equally damaging in different ways, but when does one cross into another?

    Reply
    • Anne

      Hi! Sexual coercion is the overall abusive behavior. Under the umbrella of sexual coercion, rape is penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim. All rape is sexual coercion.

      But not all sexual coercion is rape. For example, if someone lies to you and you feel safe due to their manipulation to engage in sexual touching that doesn’t involve penetration, that’s sexual coercion, but not rape. Most of the instances of sexual coercion we talk about on this podcast are rape.

      Reply

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