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The Narcissist Pastor in Marriage

In the last series, we explored the behaviors of a narcissist in an intimate relationship case study. Which raises this question: How does the narcissist pastor behave in intimate relationships, and in particular, marriage? 

This series will explore one or two aspects in each edition.

The narcissist pastor is an explosive bundle of contradictions. He (or she) has a fairly clear picture in his head of how he should behave, but the picture itself is warped by his attachment to the sacred, which he equates as power and which comes out as domination. This is particularly striking in their marriages.

For example, in a situation I worked with in Indiana, the pastor did all the talking, while his wife sat next to him but said nothing. He answered every question, even those I directed to her. She was obviously afraid of him and more or less cowered throughout the encounter. She said not one word in the four hours I was with them, not even when I asked her a question during a break. In another case, the pastor was a shy/covert narcissist, and expected his wife to defend him against every criticism. This allowed him to take the victim role, which is powerful in itself. One time when he was directly confronted by church members, she yelled at them, “You can’t tell him what to do – this is HIS church!”

Since the narcissist never takes responsibility for anything going wrong and believes that he can treat people badly, the spouse is left to do the repairs and cleanup. A quote: “I spent more than 20 years cleaning up his every mess and apologizing for him. He didn’t give a damn about what most others thought, but I couldn’t say that. Being the ‘good pastor’s wife’ that I was, I had to explain that he was under a lot of pressure, was tired, behind schedule, or whatever would get him off the hook.”

They tend to be rigid and expect instant compliance to rules – many of which are secret and tend to change without notice! This is a form of domination as it keeps the spouse constantly wary and guessing about what he wants or needs. If his rules are violated she will face a scathing attack designed to humiliate and establish stronger control over her. One pastor’s ex-wife told me that she was “constantly walking on eggshells, never knowing what would set him off. His claim was that he was a Man of God! and I was damaging his relationship with God by irritating him. Can you believe it? I did, but no more.” 

The domineering extends to his children, who quickly learn to obey without question to avoid his anger. The family is not a democracy, but a mini-theocracy as God is always on his side. The problem then is that the children mature under a tyrannical parent and either become like him, experience emotional problems, or both. This tends to play out for boys in their teen years under what many call “preacher’s kid syndrome,” which is a form of rebellion to compensate against the expectations for them of being perfect children – which is a reflection on their perfect parent! Girls tend to conform to expectations longer, but when rebellion comes it is sudden and forceful.

Next time: Sex!

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