7 Tell-Tale Signs of a Clinically Covert Narcissist Husband (2022)

The Covert Narcissist Husband

Revised on 6/1/21.

What is a Covert Narcissist Husband? In this post, I’ll describe both the 7 traits of a covert narcissist as well as subtypes and how these traits show up in marriage. We’ll talk about why the covert narcissist is so hard to recognize because they appear so “nice” and “humble” and even anxious to please. They care about what other people think of them and they appear so helpful, and yet the Covert Narcissist is just a less happy and more complicated version of the NPD.

Have a narcissistic wife? Go here.

7 Tell-Tale Signs of a Clinically Covert Narcissist Husband (1)

In a previous post, we’ve discussed the problem of narcissistic personality disorders.

It’s a mistake to think that all narcissism is characterized by a larger-than-life expansive grandiosity. This blatant and overt narcissism isn’t the only expression of this personality disorder.

Another form of narcissism is closet narcissism, which is essentially covert in its expression. These men are often shells or what might be called “empty suits” who look to other people to fill their sense of selves. These marriages are often long-term because despite the wives feeling drained and unhappy, they simply can’t articulate what’s wrong.

Closet narcissist husbands are often prickly pears, hyper-sensitive, and perhaps less keenly aware of their need to dominate by manipulating others. Nevertheless, the behavior leaves their spouses feeling off-balanced or inadequate.

All narcissists demonstrate confidence and superior bearing. The extroverted narcissist can often be blatantly in your face about their giftedness. But unlike the open narcissist, the covert narcissist husband is more subtle and indirect in displaying his superiority. He expects people to tell him he’s special, rather than having to toot his own horn.

At Couples Therapy Inc. we work with extraordinarily successful couples. Many of the men we see have concrete reasons to be proud of their achievements and project an air of confidence. But when does feeling good about yourself spill over to covert narcissism?

Sex and the covert narcissist husband

Covert narcissist husbands are emotionally disengaged and passionless toward any perceived demand, including the “demand” to love. Sex can start out steamy. The wife will talk about being “love bombed” by a man she can’t believe is so perfect for her and eager to please. Later making love will end up feeling like a “favor” he’s doing to you and for you.

While initially, the covert narcissist husband will be an ardent lover who is responsive and eager to please, that soon fades once the relationship becomes established. Instead of a partner who is anxious to get away and have private sexual time together, he acts lackluster. You won’t “feel” him in bed. He will become passive, but deeply resentful if you don’t show him your admiration. Wives of covert narcissist husbands often end up feeling “done to” before these same wives gradually withdraw sexually.

(Video) 10 Signs of Vulnerable Narcissistic Abuse | The "Dark Cloud" Theory of Covert Narcissism

He’ll then resent you for your lack of sexual interest, despite showing no real interest himself. Your “disinterest” in “pleasing him sexually” is a constant insult he must endure. He wants you to “get help” for your lack of enthusiasm for being sexual with him but takes no responsibility for playing a role.

7 Tell-Tale Signs of a Clinically Covert Narcissist Husband (2)

7 Essential Traits of a Clinical Covert Narcissist Husband

  1. Passive-aggression. Clinical Covert Narcissist husbands are heavily passive-aggressive. Like the blatant narcissist, they may feign interest in what their wives want. However, they’ll seldom spontaneously show interest in a sincere or sustained way.

They’ll “forget” their wife’s work weekend trip (planned months in advance…) and “accidentally” plan a fishing trip he’s “really been looking forward to.” With a long-suffering tone, he’ll agree to cancel HIS event “as a favor to help her career” and stay with the children, “sacrificing” his fun. Without ever saying so, his wife will simply stop planning weekend trips, especially for pleasure, because she feels his covert misery.

Covert Narcissist husbands conveniently forget spousal requests but make no effort to correct the mistake. Or they’ll complete the job incompetently. When confronted with their behavior, they whine that their wife is being “too picky,” or “OCD” in expecting a competent performance, implying she’s a nag, or he’ll mope as he attempts to “meet her demanding standards.”

In the face of failed expectations, he’ll provide some half-hearted, self-serving explanation of why he didn’t follow through. His wife feels his resentment, but it remains unspoken. He exhibits no active joy in her company or desire to celebrate her or their love.

2. He’s “nice” and “helpful.” This helpfulness demonstrates that he is being a “good spouse.”The wives of covert narcissist husbands may feel a withering contempt wrapped up in a superficial long-suffering or “helpful” demeanor. He learned this strategy early in childhood, often from a harsh and abusive or guilt-inducing parent.

For the average person, doing one’s share is an organic acceptance of adult living. In contrast, his “helpfulness,” is designed to boost his fragile sense of self. It is also a weapon he uses to defend himself and torture his partner.

He can “help” while ending up causing her more work. He may complete promised tasks 80% of the time, but the last 20% will be unpredictable. And if you mention it when he doesn’t do it, he’ll resent you and point out how critical you are of him.

He can’t do anything to please you.

The fate of the covert narcissist is to keep track of the folly of others to ease the imagined “unfair judgments” leveled at him by those same people. He’ll exhibit contemptuous behavior such as smirking, stifled mocking laughter, or eye-rolling. But that’s reserved for private interactions. In public, he’s a stellar husband and proves it to anyone who’s watching.

3. He’s withholding and resentful. Wives are often confused that their covert husbands can be so helpful and so resentful at the same time. So he won’t ask you to do anything for him but will resent you for not doing it. Asking for help is loading your gun.

(Video) These Are The Signs You're Dating A Narcissist

He substitutes superficial “niceness” in place of genuine honesty and emotional involvement/engagement. He doesn’t tell you what he really thinks (until he does…). He’s too “kind” for that. He’s too “considerate.”

You, on the other hand, are the “mean” one who talks directly about what you want, sets goals, and expresses your disappointment. HE isn’t “allowed” to do that. HE keeps his critical comments about you to himself. He silently takes your “abuse” (i.e.: expressed disappointment) but is hurt by it. He resents that you get to express your wants, while he doesn’t. What he wants, he won’t say. “Why bother? Who cares about me?” It’s infuriating.

When provoked, he’ll spew a litany of withheld resentments, and cruel comments which shock their unsuspecting partners. But moments later, the covert narcissist husband will accuse you of being so hostile he sometimes “just can’t take it” and has to “give it back to you.” You will never realize that expressing valid disappointment is considered abusive by the covert narcissist.

And you, as the wife, end up carrying all the anger he won’t directly express inside of you. You will feel frustrated and upset by the on-again-off-again style of “engage-ignore.” When he wants you, he’s hurt if you are unavailable. If you want him, you’ll pick up from his behavior that this isn’t the best time.

Try and be an “angel” and you’ll fall short. He’s not going to trust that “act.” He knows how “mean” you are and how wary he must be of you. And you are left wondering how you can be nicer to him, so he’ll like you more.

4. Impeccable hyper-sensitivity. Covert Narcissist husbands have an impeccable hyper-sensitivity. They will take offense to criticism real or imagined. They bristle at any suggestion that they have failed in any way, even when they clearly have.

At the extreme end of the narcissistic continuum, these husbands can be extremely emotionally abusive. Wives may feel emotionally abused but are told they are being emotionally abusive. A wife’s reasonable demands for love, attention, engagement, and sex can be relabeled as cloying, never satisfied, demanding, and overbearing. Your covert narcissistic husband claims that he has been wronged by you if you dare complain about him. And he’ll remind you of all he has done, and how little you’ve appreciated it.

The wives are left asking themselves: “Was I ungrateful? I thought I complimented him…a lot actually…”

Their most obvious narcissistic traits are to be witheringly dismissive but in a way that’s hard to put your finger on. Even attempting to identify the expression will be met with complete denial. Or he will skulk off into sullen silence and withdrawal which could go on for days or even weeks. They tend not to comment on how upset they are, preferring to be perfectly self-contained and aloof. Don’t ask the covert narcissist how you’ve offended him. He expects you to not only know but to see how obvious your transgressions are. When he feels any imagined attack, he attacks back.

5. Don’t look for outward supreme self-possession. The smugness/superiority is hidden. Blatant in-your-face narcissist husbands are obvious. You can see them coming. They crave attention and demand approval. Covert Narcissist husbands may be sly and much harder to spot. They keenly observe, evaluate, and often silently render abrupt and sometimes merciless judgment. They ruminate about how they aren’t adequately “appreciated.” They have an air of being “absent” or demonstrate overt bored disdain. But when asked directly: “Is something wrong?” they’ll deny it.

(Video) Covert Narcissists Always Do This One Predictable Thing

6. Utter and complete self-absorption. It’s sometimes easy to confuse the Covert Narcissist husband with a garden variety introvert. Here is the essential difference:

Introverts may be quiet, but they are fully capable of bestowing attention and paying careful attention. They can love freely and ask good questions.

A covert narcissist husband, in contrast, is a reliably poor listener. They pay far more attention to their own relentlessly evaluative inner dialogue. They make a quick real-time assessment of a person or situation. When it captures their attention, they can be delightful company. When it doesn’t, it is clear that they deem it dull, stupid, or beneath them.

7. Vitamin E deficit All clinical narcissists have a lack of empathy for others. And a sense of entitlement. Even when their wives complain about the negative impact of their husband’s behaviors, their Covert Narcissist husbands somehow manage to shift the discussion back to their own needs or accomplishments. Or get rageful.

Their wives’ unhappiness is a personal injury to them, an intolerable judgment that they hostilely reject. The sentiment seems to be: “You can’t be unhappy with me. That offends me and hurts my feelings!”

If you feel like it’s challenging to talk about your own feelings without the conversation turning around to him, you’re witnessing the empathy deficit. And if you are expected to simply “know” what he’s thinking, feeling, or needing, you’re experiencing the mind-reading that is linked to his feelings of deep entitlement.

If he withholds vital information from you, it is because he “knows” how you’ll react and doesn’t want to “hear it.” His internal ruminations trump whatever real-world thoughts or feelings you may actually have. He doesn’t have to ask you, he already knows.

Covert Narcissist fathering

Not only with you, but even with his children, he seldom makes genuine eye contact. He engages in narcissistic parenting, claiming the children just don’t “like him” as much as they like you. His statement justifies his parental withdrawal in preference for hobbies or more solidary pursuits.

Even the dog hates him.

When he is disengaged (not that they were particularly engaged in the first place) his empty presence is felt by the entire family. Children are acutely aware of this “on-again/off-again” parental switch. Like intermittent reinforcement, kids will hungrily try to hold their father’s attention. Sometimes they’ll get his attention if they find a subject that interests him. If not, they find that Dad simply won’t ask them any questions, he’ll act annoyed, or will walk away absentmindedly in the middle of their sentence.

(Video) 10 Red Flags of the Male Covert Narcissist

7 Tell-Tale Signs of a Clinically Covert Narcissist Husband (3)

Clinical and Sub-Clinical Types

Are all displays of narcissism bad? Not according to research. If narcissism is on a continuum, those in the more “normal” range of behavior can bring desirable traits to the relationship, while being capable of keeping in check their own needs and desires in favor of their partners. They have a healthy sense of self.

In contrast, clinical covert narcissists have fragile self-esteem. They project confidence but are terrified of the vulnerability and painful self-doubt they feel inside. This is one of the central overt features of the covert narcissist. The overt narcissist actually has often undeserved confidence, but they’ve learned to ignore any evidence to the contrary.

The covert narcissist, in contrast, lives with this painful awareness of being a “faker” and this awareness makes him both reactive and thin-skinned. His belief in his deep worthlessness results in a reactive need for constant reassurance, even admiration, from others. But it must be done cleverly and without being too obvious. If it’s pointed out to him that it’s normal to want to be recognized, he’ll deny it is anything HE personally craves. He’ll try to hide his desperate desires, but when the praise doesn’t come spontaneously his resentment will increase. He’ll covet it. Nurse it.

How they act that out is also more covert than their overt counterparts.

He’s a “Nice Guy.” He just doesn’t like YOU.

What is often confusing to wives is that on the surface, this man seems like an all-around “nice guy.” He’s well-liked and outgoing in public. Everyone says so. Those ‘out of the know’ think you are the luckiest woman alive to be married to him. But they don’t live with him. They don’t feel what you feel: that he just doesn’t actually like you but won’t say so.

He considers your actions a clear demonstration that he’s made a mistake in marrying you.

You’ve let him down terribly by “criticizing” him and not appreciating his specialness. And yet, this is never said in words. But it’s a “mistake” you’ll feel acutely. You’ll know that he truly prefers to spend time doing other things rather than living with, engaging with, loving you.

But he won’t leave. Or if he leaves, he won’t be the one to initiate divorce.

He will never be the first to divorce because he’s much too nice for that. He’ll drive you to do it, and often after 20-30 or more years married. These marriages are often long-term, and when they end in divorce, all the casual acquaintances will dispair.

“They were such a nice couple. He is such a nice guy. She left him. Terrible that she’d leave such a nice guy.”

(Video) 5 Reasons Covert Narcissists Are Missed or Misdiagnosed

Do You Need Hopeful Spouse Counseling to Recover from Covert Narcissism?

FAQs

How do you know if your husband is a covert narcissist? ›

Covert narcissists have narcissistic personality disorder, but they hide many of the typical signs and symptoms of a grandiose (or overt) narcissist. They may appear to be shy and modest, but inside they are chronically envious of others, can't handle criticism, and lack empathy for others.

How does a covert narcissist act in marriage? ›

Covert Narcissists tend to be quiet, and self-contained, often bestowing minimal attention on their spouses. Empathy is not an active feature of a Covert Narcissist Marriage. The Covert Narcissist Marriage dynamic will not allow room for a dialogue about their partner's thoughts and feelings.

What happens to the spouse of a covert narcissist? ›

He will become passive, but deeply resentful if you don't show him your admiration. Wives of covert narcissist husbands often end up feeling “done to” before these same wives gradually withdraw sexually. He'll then resent you for your lack of sexual interest, despite showing no real interest himself.

What are the 5 signs of a stealth narcissist? ›

But there is also the covert narcissist, who is not so easy to decipher.
...
5 Signs of Covert Narcissism
  • False Humility. ...
  • Lack of Empathy. ...
  • Immature Responses. ...
  • Simplification of Others' Needs. ...
  • Unable to Listen.
5 days ago

What does a relationship with a covert narcissist look like? ›

A relationship with a covert narcissist is one-sided. “The understanding is that you're there to take care of them and their needs,” says Brill. If you're in a relationship with a covert narcissist, you might feel like you're constantly answering to them and your needs are never being met.

How a narcissist treats his wife? ›

Narcissistic partners act as if they are always right, that they know better and that their partner is wrong or incompetent. This often leaves the other person in the relationship either angry and trying to defend themselves or identifying with this negative self-image and feeling badly about themselves.

What is a covert narcissist attracted to? ›

Covert behaviors, however, are those that are more subtle and a bit less obvious to others. A covert narcissist is someone who craves admiration and importance and who lacks empathy toward others, but may act in a different way than an overt narcissist.

Can a covert narcissist love his wife? ›

Can a narcissist feel love? Yes, they can, but because they don't like feeling vulnerable, they self-sabotage to protect themselves.

What goes on in the mind of a covert narcissist? ›

People with covert narcissism often feel envy of others who have things that they feel they are entitled to themselves. They may not outwardly express their envy but may show bitterness or resentment towards others. Similarly, they believe that other people envy them because of the belief that they are special.

How do you outsmart a covert narcissist? ›

How to Outsmart a Narcissist
  1. Separate yourself to cut off their narcissistic supply.
  2. Take time to heal.
  3. Take responsibility for your part in a conflict.
  4. React with empathy and respect.
  5. Act unresponsive around them.
  6. Disengage from their conversations.
  7. Set and enforce clear boundaries.

How do covert narcissists abuse their partners? ›

The Covert Narcissist's Abusive Behaviors

These self-serving tactics can include gaslighting and distorting reality; manipulations to get what they want; showing contempt and giving the silent treatment; dominating and controlling their partner; and belittling and humiliating verbally and emotionally.

What is narcissistic collapse? ›

Narcissistic collapse happens when a person with narcissistic personality disorder experiences a failure, humiliation, or other blow to their secretly fragile self-esteem. Depending on the type of narcissist, collapse may look different and happen more frequently.

How do you test if someone is a covert narcissist? ›

How to spot the signs of a covert narcissist
  1. Superficial charm.
  2. Attention-seeking.
  3. Lack of reliability.
  4. Manipulation.
  5. The propensity to break peoples' boundaries.
  6. Inflated sense of self-importance and self-centered.
  7. An exaggerated sense of self.
9 Sept 2021

Do covert narcissists get worse with age? ›

Unlike fine wine or cheese, narcissists don't get better with age. They don't mellow, become wise, or develop late-onset self-awareness. Their personalities intensify, and without their ability to control others, they become bitter, defensive, and bossy.

How does a covert narcissist apologize? ›

In narcissists' efforts to avoid blame, they often combine several fake apologies at once, such as, “I am sorry if I said anything to offend you, but I have strong opinions. Maybe you're too sensitive,” or, “I guess I should tell you I am sorry. But you know I would never deliberately hurt you.

Does a covert narcissist know what they are doing? ›

Whether or not narcissists know what they're doing is a common question. The answer is “yes” and “not really.” Narcissists are always seeking attention and validation called “narcissistic supply” to prop up their low self-worth. All their interactions are about getting supply in the moment or down the line.

How do I live with peacefully with a narcissistic husband? ›

Top 8 tips for surviving and dealing with a narcissistic husband
  1. Be safe! ...
  2. Take time to focus on meeting your own emotional needs. ...
  3. Remind yourself frequently that you are still uniquely smart and lovable. ...
  4. Make good use of your resources. ...
  5. Accept that you cannot change your narcissistic husband. ...
  6. Don't take it personally.
3 Mar 2015

Are you dealing with a narcissist Here are the telltale signs? ›

9 Signs of a Narcissist Personality Disorder.

It often feels like you're fishing for compliments. A “chip on your shoulder.” You feel entitled, like other people owe you something. A tendency to manipulate or exploit other people for your own gain. Lack of remorse when you've hurt another person's feelings.

Who do narcissists marry? ›

A narcissist marries someone who would be a good source of long term narcissistic supply for them. They find a potential partner in someone who is weaker, less intelligent or underconfident.

What is a covert narcissist attracted to? ›

Covert behaviors, however, are those that are more subtle and a bit less obvious to others. A covert narcissist is someone who craves admiration and importance and who lacks empathy toward others, but may act in a different way than an overt narcissist.

What do covert narcissists say? ›

Because covert narcissists believe their experiences are more important or more difficult than other people's, "they'll often call you all the time to talk about how hard life is for them, how much they suffer," Fox says. They tend to do this with a complete disregard for your side of the conversation or your time.

What does a covert narcissist do? ›

Covert narcissists are often highly sensitive and may have low self-esteem, which may lead them to seek frequent validation from others. Those with covert narcissism also tend to be highly sensitive to criticism and may be more likely to internalize it due to their fragile sense of self.

How do you outsmart a covert narcissist? ›

How to Outsmart a Narcissist
  1. Separate yourself to cut off their narcissistic supply.
  2. Take time to heal.
  3. Take responsibility for your part in a conflict.
  4. React with empathy and respect.
  5. Act unresponsive around them.
  6. Disengage from their conversations.
  7. Set and enforce clear boundaries.

How does a covert narcissist Gaslight? ›

The covert narcissist will sympathize with their scapegoat's sensitivity and hurt feelings in order to appear caring while targeting the victim with negative attention. This is a passive-aggressive strategy to gaslighting.

How do you identify a covert narcissist? ›

Signs of a covert narcissist
  1. High sensitivity to criticism. NPD typically involves insecurity and an easily damaged sense of self-esteem. ...
  2. Passive aggression. ...
  3. A tendency to put themselves down. ...
  4. A shy or withdrawn nature. ...
  5. Grandiose fantasies. ...
  6. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and emptiness. ...
  7. A tendency to hold grudges. ...
  8. Envy.

How do covert narcissists abuse their partners? ›

The Covert Narcissist's Abusive Behaviors

These self-serving tactics can include gaslighting and distorting reality; manipulations to get what they want; showing contempt and giving the silent treatment; dominating and controlling their partner; and belittling and humiliating verbally and emotionally.

What are a narcissists favorite sayings? ›

"You're a bad person." "Nobody else will ever love you." "I'm the best you'll ever have." "Have fun being alone for the rest of your life."

Are covert narcissists obsessive? ›

When the covert narcissist identifies you as a potential partner, they idealize you and romanticize a potential relationship. This may be an obsession. They think about you when they wake up, before going to bed, and almost continuously throughout the day.

Do covert narcissists get worse with age? ›

Unlike fine wine or cheese, narcissists don't get better with age. They don't mellow, become wise, or develop late-onset self-awareness. Their personalities intensify, and without their ability to control others, they become bitter, defensive, and bossy.

Is Covert narcissism a mental illness? ›

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), NPD is a long-term mental health condition that presents with symptoms such as: a constant need for admiration. an unrealistic sense of self-importance. a lack of empathy.

What happens when you ignore a covert narcissist? ›

If you ignore a narcissist and deny them their source, they may become enraged and try even harder for your attention – especially in ways that can be toxic or abusive. Ignoring a narcissist will enrage them because of their fragile egos. They'll feel humiliated and lash out against you to protect themselves.

What infuriates a narcissist? ›

Simply put, anything that jeopardizes their basic needs for superiority can quickly irritate them. If you want to know how to infuriate a narcissist, you can look no further than giving them nothing. But you can also stand up for yourself, set boundaries, and refuse their gaslighting strategies.

How do you make a narcissistic panic? ›

Make a Narcissist Panic by Ignoring Them

As the victim of a narcissist, they thrive on our attention, both positive and negative. The best thing you can do to scare them is totally withdraw your focus. Ignore them, cut them out, act like you don't care about them, and don't think about them at all.

What is gray rocking method? ›

What is the grey rock method? Grey rocking is a technique used to divert a toxic person's behavior by acting as unresponsive as possible when you're interacting with them. For example, using the grey rock method involves deliberate actions like avoiding eye contact or not showing emotions during a conversation.

Videos

1. How To SPOT A Narcissist When DATING! (Watch Out For This)| Ramani Durvasula & Lewis Howes
(Lewis Howes)
2. Signs of Covert Vulnerable Fragile Narcissist
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3. Top 10 Traits of a Covert Narcissist Female 🚺 (CovertNarcissism)
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4. Is my Husband a Narcissist (Here's How To Tell)
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5. 10 Red Flags of the Female Covert Narcissist
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6. RELATIONSHIP NARCISSIST | Signs Of Narcissistic Behavior In A Relationship & How To Stop It
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