The BTR.ORG Podcast - Betrayal Trauma Recovery

The BTR.ORG Podcast - Betrayal Trauma Recovery

Are You Married to a Covert Narcissist?

February 28, 2023

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

Are you married to a covert narcissistic abuser?

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 BTR.ORG 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

Have You Experienced 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. 

BTR.ORG is 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 contact my assistant Kari ( cause 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.

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.