How to co-parent with a narcissist

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD offers suggestions on how to effectively co-parent with a narcissist
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How to co-parent with a narcissist

So sometimes I'd be working with an individual and she'll say or he'll say, "My wife's a complete narcissist," or "My husband's a complete narcissist." First of all, I have to say that narcissist is probably the most over, incorrectly diagnosed word in the common, every day vocabulary. In general, a true narcissist is somebody who only cares about themselves, really can't manage relationships, is very grandiose, is only interested in how relationships basically make them better, completely self-centred. Often when people say, "Oh, that person's a narcissist," it means that they’re somewhat self-centred or very self-centred. In some ways it doesn't matter but if you're calling your spouse a narcissist you're probably not going to get their attention. But if you are married to somebody who's very much that way, you might have to be really assertive. I often find that people aren't assertive enough in their marriages. They don't do enough limit-setting. They don't say, "You can't talk to me that way. You can't treat me that way. If you continue to talk to me that way, I'm going to walk out of the room. If you can't be nicer to me then I'm not sure that we can stay married or we can stay together. The way that you talk to me is a really big turn off to me. The way that you treat me actually makes me feel like I'm a terrible person." So to really put it to your spouse or partner in a way that really gets their attention. Now this is particularly difficult if you’re having to co-parent with them because they may not be very aware. If somebody’s truly a narcissist, then they may not be very aware of the way that they're parenting, so you may have to be continually correcting what they're doing either to the children, which is a very complicated thing, or you may be constantly having to tell them after the fact, not in front of the children, “When you talk to them that way I think it's very hurtful to them or very problematic. I really want you to work on that.” But again, if you’re partner is truly a narcissist they’re going to be very thin-skinned, so you want to do it in a way that they can hear it, that they can probably do it in a way which is much more sensitive.

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD offers suggestions on how to effectively co-parent with a narcissist


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Joshua Coleman, PhD

Author & Psychologist

Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization composed of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. He has lectured at Harvard University and The University of California at Berkeley and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine, the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, PBS, AARP,  America Online Coaches,  and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice appears often in The New York Times, The Times of London, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.

He has served on the clinical faculties of The University of California at San Francisco, The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology, and the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written four books:  When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along (HarperCollins) The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin's Press); The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin's Press); and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony. His books have been translated into Chinese, Croatian, and Korean, and are also available in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. He is formerly a contributing editor to Twins Magazine.

 Dr. Coleman is a sought-after public speaker on topics related to the family. He is also co-editor, along with historian Stephanie Coontz of the yearly online volume, Unconventional Wisdom: News You Can Use, a compendium of noteworthy research on the contemporary family, gender, sexuality, poverty, and work-family issues.  He runs a popular webinar series for estranged parents and a free newsletter for parents, The Coleman Report.

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