Thank you for spending the next few minutes with me to learn about the self-absorbed partner. I think it will make a difference in how you address this common dynamic that plagues many relationships and creates mischief for many therapists.

Click below to watch the video.

You’ll want to make sure and catch the following…

+ 2:38, a confession about my counter-transference
+ 3:45, two examples of self-absorbed partners
+ 5:00, how self-absorbed partners behave
+ 7:25, why self-absorption is a problem for the spouse
+ 10:00, my clinical conclusion about what self-absorbed partners lack

 

 

Click here to read the transcript.

Please comment below. Let me know if you see this behavior in your own sessions. And definitely share one example of self-absorbed behavior you’ve seen recently. We can all learn from each other.

You’ll receive my email with the second video on self-absorbed partners in just a few days.

My best wishes for your continued success, and please look for my email with the second video on self-absorbed partners in just a few days.

 EB_signature-grey

Ellyn Bader

To continue on from here with this series, please click here for parts two, three and four.

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Isobel Terry
6 years ago

I am not working with couples yet I sense listening to you I recognize them within my own long term relationship. I sense both in me the self absorbed and the other. Thank you for your thoughts and I look forward to the next video.

erin salisbury
erin salisbury
3 years ago
Reply to  Isobel Terry

great video

Robin Magdahlen
6 years ago
Reply to  Isobel Terry

Yes, this does make sense. And self absorption is not always obvious. Thinking about it from this perspective I am reconsidering a new couple that I am working with. This past week I asked the couple to consider a difficult time in their relationship and one thing that the wished they had done differently if they could have. One partner had a great deal of difficulty with this, preferring to focus on an event I which the partner was blamed. Even when trying to reframe it or having his partner explain to hi how hurtful it was that he would choose this moment to blame her, he still had a great deal of difficulty and felt vey justified I doing so. I considered this from many angels, but not from the standpoint that this may just well be self absorption. This man originally described himself as compassionate and attuned, but so far I have not seen this. I will watch for more indications of potential self absorption as we continue working together. .

Jane
6 years ago
Reply to  Isobel Terry

Thank your for the description of the self absorbed partner and the consequences on their partner. I have found with my work that the self-absorbed partner expects their partner to do the change and in fact the problem in the relationship is their partners fault. The struggle is finding a way to help the self-absorbed partner change their perceptions and be will to change.

Clare
6 years ago

Thank-you for offering this valuable and important work. It is so painful to be in relationships that don’t work well and particularly when being with a self absorbed partner when you feel unloved and lonely. The ripple effect of how this can help individuals, marriages, families and society is enormous. Wonderful!

R Leigh
6 years ago

Thank you for taking on this important topic and providing tools in future videos / blogs. I appreciate your generosity.
My reflection or opinion is that the effort to help these marriages is part of a societal trend in acknowledging the pain and destruction of divorce and trying to transform marriages that in the 60s, 70s, and 80s all would fairly quickly lead to divorce. I think its important to offer tools to couple clients without an agenda that our preferred outcome is marriage renewal over divorce. I feel that your work is bias-free regarding outcome of the relationship and I respect that position.

Anthony
6 years ago

Thank You for helping me.

Cynthia
6 years ago

Yes! I too have found this particular dynamic difficult to deal with because the self-absorbed partner negates the emotions of the partner that feels alone. I have found that sometimes the absorbed partner comes from an environment of one parent being the long suffering spouse and the other parent some what abusive. They think they are acting so much better than their own parent but subconsciously do not want to be the “suffering” parent. Can’t wait to hear more about what you can share.

Diane
6 years ago

Thank you for insights and hopefully interventions. I see couples, but I am most
interested in the “self-absorbed Partnership” because I am in one, I am the self-
absorbed partner. I call myself “ambivalent” about commitment and therefore, focus
mostly on my own needs in my 6 year relationship (not married). I am inspired to ask him
how he feels about this issue. I look forward to the next video.

al potash, LMFT
6 years ago
Reply to  Diane

Diane You rock !
I really respect your insight and self disclosure. I believe it’s important to examine and feel our own reactions to clients ,the counter transference, to see what comes up for us.
Because of my own foundational codependency, I trigger off the self absorbed partner or individual patient and see them as unreasonable closed off and arrogant. I have to be aware of my annoyance and need to “put the other person straight” A tact that never works. I come to realize that my reaction is what the self observed person has gotten all their life so they are better at defending against or discounting my confrontation much better than I can impact them. I am also looking forward to the next video and will continue to monitor my triggers for a better purpose and outcome. Perhaps i will be less unreasonable, closed off and arrogant in dealing with these folks

Francisco Kaiut
6 years ago

Yes! It makes total sense.

Carolyn Placzek
6 years ago

Thank you for this series. I am in my Master’s Practicum/clinical work now, will start to see couples in two weeks! EFT focused. My father/mother, divorced are both self absorbed, if not extreme narcissists. But my father was just visiting and with his wife exhibited self absorbed behavior and comments in my home towards his wife..her mother recently died, completely ignored her feelings and emotions, talked about how the wife just talked all the time and didn’t let any one finish…never compliments her and praises her..or asks her what SHE Would like to do on the vacation..leaves us for the day of his granddaughters birthday party in the morning while we are all trying to get the party ready so he can get his tires balanced! All about him. Been like that my whole life..I could go on and on..thankfully I don’t live with him..but perfect example of your videa and how it has damaged her for 28 years..

Now at 64 and he is 70 she does not want him moving with her to Florida..he could be a lonely old man..

Thank you!!

Carolyn

Petra Glenesk
6 years ago

Having just divorced from a self-absorbed partner, this video really resonates with me. looking forward to the series. thank you Ellyn! ~ Pétra

Ray
Ray
6 years ago

Very much enjoyed your encapulated views and descriptions of self absorbed partners, their impact on their spouses and their reactions. Yesterday I had a couple in therapy for their third session and the man felt attacked due his partner complained by him not including her in his decisions and then demanding she do something for him which he had decided. He said he had thought of the possible impact on her while reaching the decision and her questioning of him was a sign of her mistrust of him. She of course felt dismissed and not heard. Ray

Kym
Kym
6 years ago

Hi I am a drug and alcohol counsellor of 8 years. I see the self-absorbed client whilst working with Domestic Violence perpetrators. With addicts both appear self absorbed and both lonely and disrespected. Intrigued to see the next video. Most if my clients are ambivalent about change and blame each other. Kym

carol p.
6 years ago

what about self-absorption that may look like martyrdom or blaming the other or both.
described how narcissism is different from self-absorption.

Marilyn
6 years ago

I’m wondering about the possibility of a person who is very self-absorbed showing certain behaviors that appear to be very generous, for example spending large amounts of money on his/her partner. I’m guessing that this is a way to try to convince oneself and others that they are not self-absorbed, while still having the characteristics that you describe in this video.

Vidya
6 years ago

Common issues, prevalent with both men and women, although I see distinctions in expression for each gender. thank you!

Ralph
6 years ago

That completely described my ex wife. I met her while she was going through what I though was an ugly divorce. Once we met she immediately moved me in, without asking her kids what they thought about it. Even though they liked me, they resented her decision. We later married and that’s when she totally changed. Separate bedrooms, separate accounts, separate, now competitive lives. I tried expensive gifts, trips, nothing ever worked. She always acted like I owed her. At 13 years old our one child together, pulled me aside and begged me to leave her ASAP. “She’s a monster dad, she doesn’t care about anyone or anything beyond her nose. I had to walk away, after 17 years of marriage my self esteem had plummeted, I had been hit nearly head on and was in severe pain, zero empathy.
I literally saw every single part of the description you just spoke of..
I wish I had run across this video years ago..Many thanks.

Toos Graaff
6 years ago

I am very aware of this problem, and like to learn more. In my counselling of couples I often find it hard not to bond with the spouse of the sap, and I can go my own way in my own marriage. The last example was with a friend, whose husband betrayed her for many years which she didn’t want to notice. He wanted to keep her besides his new girlfriend, that was for her a boundary she wouldn’t cross, so she deceided to diviorce him. Still he comes home almost everyday, expecting her to be nice to him, which makes it for her even harder to choose for her own life and dignity, as she sees it. Thanks and looking forward to mire, Toos Graaff

Katie Karas
6 years ago

I could see how the spouse of the self absorbed partner could fall into a pattern of focusing on the faults of their partner which sets up a pattern of criticism and defense.
I am also interested to hear your thoughts on “other differentiation” and how that plays into the relationship.

Bertha Alicia Alcocer
6 years ago

Thank you for sharing your insights. I have just had a first interview with a couple, the man fits in the description of the self-absorbed client. He is having an affair, the wife have just find out, and in the end of the session, he said he wished things to be just like they were before. I asked “before you started the affair?” and he answered, No, before she found out, I was having a good time..!

Effie
6 years ago

Just amazing, as always. To the point and totally accurate. A great and valuable help to all of us. Looking forward to the next installment of this series 🙂 well done !

Pratibha Eastwood Psychologist Hawaii

Hi,
I have done one of your intensives many years ago and appreciate being exposed to your work! So far it sounds familiar. And i like the hope you bring to the situation
aloha
Pratibha

Marcela
6 years ago

I would like to say many things but my english spelling is not good enough. I´m mexican and I only want to say THANK YOU for the transcript it give me the opportunity to read as many times as needed.

Ingrid
6 years ago

You are addressing a topic that I have seen so many times in my practice. I am presently working with a couple where the husband had an affair with a very young woman and his wife is having a difficult time dealing with forgiveness. We have worked for about 34 months now and the husband just made the decision to drive to a dance completion with his young female instructor, alone in his very expensive sports car. I see this behavior on the husband’s part to be extremely self absorbed. I am having a very hard time getting through to this man and am looking forward to some help in this area.

Konstanze
6 years ago

yes, great! I really look forward to your videos and thank you for your generosity of sharing them.
And what comes to my mind right away is that it takes two to tango – I can’t wait to learn about your approach to the “victim” of a partner’s self-absorption.

Jean
6 years ago

This was a great video not only for the many clients I deal with but also for analyzing my relationships and see the behaviors of my partners. Very well done and explained, it’s an eye opener and a valuable tool to help others. Thanks! I’m looking forward to listen to the other videos.

Eunice
6 years ago

I recently worked with a couple, different culture, the husband was extremely self-absorbed and becamek quite angry and terminated therapy when interventions were attempted. Looking forward to more info. To manage these situations in a more hopeful way in the future.

Lisa Hobson
6 years ago

I found you very comprehensive. Thank you. My experience with the self obsorbed partners was understanding how this piticular person was treated by his mother and his reaction to women because of that. His father was self obsorbed so his mother turned to him as the oldest male child to pick up the slack of of her own spouse. His reaction was to be very unavailable to his mother and had no respect for her which in his case became a continuation to the wives he would have. This disrespect looked like affaries among the ones you listed. When we are traumatized as children it can create a sort of stuntedness in our conscious awareness as this traumatic pattern puts them to sleep not wanting to deal with any integration.
Lisa Hobson
Organic Love Coaching

Chris Brown
6 years ago

I found the presentation very exciting. While I believe the description of the self-centered behavior is dead on, I’ve seen a variety of coping behaviors by the opposite partner. I think, in cases where the partner’s reactions vary from your example, it’s useful to refer to the entropy model. If the marriage isn’t being completely depleted, it indicates that that “energy” of some kind is being imported. My questions are, “From where? Is the energy holding the relationship together or simply providing life support for the one partner?”

Beki Sciacca
6 years ago

What comes up for me is this question: Of couples that have reached the point of coming in for counseling, I wonder if only a very small percentage do NOT have one member who would be described as a SAP? It almost seems that by definition, if both partners are able and willing to see things from the other’s perspective, they wouldn’t be seeking counseling? Just sayin’…
(Actually, I would love to hear where I am drawing a faulty conclusion here, to help me clarify the issues.)

Jeanette
6 years ago

i very much appreciate your focusing on this problem as it seems to be everywhere. I have noticed also self absorbed men involved with women who put up with their extreme neglect who each act in totally opposite ways outside the marriage, i.e. the men act like doormats towards other women (not their wife) and the women are quick to set firm limits in their other relationships.

Ethel Barber
6 years ago

I recognize my own countertransferance when I hear it in my office and hope to get some better ways to hanle my reactions. Thank you for puttng this out here and thank Diane Heller for recommending your video.

David
6 years ago

I appreciate the way you approach this topic. The presentation is clear and precise and it invokes a lot of Yes responses for me personally. It is a problem I encounter a lot in private en couple therapy and it seems to have increased over time as I have a private practice.
An example would be a client who thinks he can do whatever he wants without consulting his wife what her opinion and reaction is and being upset when she does not agree with everything he does or wants.

Julia
6 years ago

In working with couples I have witnessed a partner who was having an affair ignore and demean the partner because he was so self absorbed in his own life and the partner endeavoured to please to try and keep him in the relationship. She lost a sense of herself.

Frances
6 years ago

Thank you so much for sharing your years of experience! Indeed these couples can be a challenge to work with..there is great difficulty in acceptance for the need to change..I recently worked with a couple who had been friends for quite a while..she had kids from a previous relationship..he moved in, the children warmed to him and wanted to call him “Daddy”..he said no..never became part of a family life but provided for them financially…intimacy was great but when he decided..she was rebuffed if she initiated…she was lost, alone, more lonely with him there..she was able to finally separate from him..the guilt was difficult for her to deal with..felt she could have done more…now she is doing very well on her own, recognizing she too has needs and deserves respect..I look forward to continued education from you..again, thank you!

cindy
6 years ago

I believe that this dynamic can also be triggered in the other spouse (the non-self-absorbed) in an attempt to survive in the relationship. I have heard women attempt to try self-absorbed responses to “get heard” in the relationship, when their self-absorbed partner doesn’t acknowledge their struggle or point. I have not seen this to be a very successful coping strategy, but it does seem to be one, all the same.

Kristen
6 years ago

Are you making sense? Oh yes, and please keep talking!
The example I’ll share from my practice years ago is of an individual who spent endless energy and time seeing their partner’s feelings as “stupid” and “wrong” because he was talking so long to see the client’s forays into polymory as worthy of celebration. I work with polyamorous people/couples all the time, but her inability to consider his feelings or practice empathy was terribly limiting.

Brenda
6 years ago

I initially wanted to view these videos, as I have been doing more couples work and am seeing this issue frequently as a reason that the spouses are requesting couples treatment. I also see that this is an issue in my relationship. My partner is very self-absorbed and I have transformed from a codependent 25 years ago to a self-absorbed person myself.
An example of what I am working with now is a client whose boyfriend revealed something she finds very embarrassing to a female friend of his. He was bewildered when my client became upset about this and she continues to feel frustrated with his lack of empathy.

Kimberly
6 years ago

I want to thank you for posting this useful information. I have taken Gottman Level 1 training and have worked with couples. I find the self-absorbed partner taxing to work with. It seems as though we use all the tools in our toolbox and very little seems to be accomplished. I am eager to receive more information on working with these individuals.

cindy
6 years ago

How do you diffrentiate when it is abuse or someone healthy who can improve? Thank G-d I am remarried to a gentle sweetheart.

Marilyn Brown
6 years ago

Sound like working with an addict after they get sober.

Myrna
6 years ago

I think this would be really helpful since I am working with a couple where I believe
one of the partners are fully self absorbed and cannot see herself doing any wrong or causing the other to feel inadequate and isolated in this relationsip. I will be gald to learn and try to practice some techniques.

Peggy
6 years ago

I Enjoyed hearing your information on the self absorbed partner in couples therapy. I find it difficult to break through that tough exterior to make healthy change in the relationship leaving me frustrated as well. I look forward to more insight and technical support in this area of therapy.

Barbara
6 years ago

Thank you! Really looking forward to your next video. I have a couple, both recently divorced. The female partner continues to check her ex-husband’s social media accounts. She even contacts her ex’s potential new partner’s. She does not understand why this is upsetting for her new partner. I have been stymied about how to effectively intervene as she is unable to understand why this behavior is problematic. P.S. You are making sense!

Susan
6 years ago

You are absolutely on target with so many people I have seen! This outline fits 2 or 3 couples I have in my practice now and several in the past. Narcissistic was too strong-self-absorbed is just right! Recent example: husband’s difficulty understanding his wife’s request for childcare assistance while she finished coursework for certification. Why couldn’t she just do it during the baby’s naptime? Evening time would cut into their time as a couple. When she tried to explain she was often tired at end of day & it wasn’t good study time, he became very upset and suggested he just quit work himself so she could have her time when she wanted it. Didn’t go well–think this fits? Very much looking forward to more information and ideas.

Barb
6 years ago

Thank you for this video. I am excited to learn more from you.
I see this dynamic frequently, especially in parents transitioning due to separation/divorce. Unfortunately, the children also suffer the consequences.
I am anxious to hear your intervention strategies.

Francine Lapides
6 years ago

Great first video Ellyn. Your clear, vivid descriptions are incredibly helpful, so thank you so much for making this available to all of us. You asked for examples. The couple of mine who jumps to mind is an MD with a self-employed, talented but lonely wife. He is an avid golfer, and runner and spends most of his days off in these activities away from her and home. They are presented as a “must” for his well-being and not open to her co-participation. He has also climbed a few literal mountains, and goes off occasionally on hunting vacations. In addition, he uses various chemicals in which he indulges without consulting her, usually before or just after arriving home in order to “relax”. He’s come a long way in the months of therapy, but it’s not inherently obvious to him to turn toward her, to consult with her on decisions that affect them both, or that time together is a regular need for her. Once aware, he cooperates and seems genuinely to enjoy their time, but quickly withdraws if she has any negative feedback for him. I’m looking so forward to hearing the coming videos and ideas that you’ll share. The I & I is a staple in my therapy tool chest (so valuable) as are many of the tools I’ve learned from you and Pete over the years. Thank you so much for being there for all of us!! It’s good to feel so supported. Francine Lapides

Jackie
6 years ago

I have also felt countertransference with clients who are self-absorbed. They are the ones who believe the problem lies in their spouse because they are “so together”. It is difficult to not be offended by the level of self-absorption they display. I look forward to any techniques you may offer to help open their eyes to the role they play in the difficulties in the relationship and to monitoring my own reactions to them.

Debrah
6 years ago

I am a licensed MFT and I work with couples regularly. I have one couple in particular, both are significantly depressed and on meds to help manage their conditions. One is always threatening suicide and relies on the other to “take care” of him while he is experiencing distress. I believe that the one partner who threatens suicide constantly has fears that the partner is growing tired of the relationship and the fear drives him to hold on by any means necessary. If he appears, sick or incapable of caring for himself, the partner won’t leave. This sort of self absorption is very frustrating to me and I am really trying hard to work through my feelings of judgment and anger. Both partners are mentally ill, but one of them is making getting better the sole responsibility of the other. It is very frustrating to see them both suffering so much!

Norma
6 years ago

It makes total sense. I’m glad to coin a word rather than narcissim. I think the patients are more accepting of this term. It’s very helpful for you to describe and define self absorption.
Thanks

Pamela Levy, LCSW
6 years ago

Hi,

Yes! Your video is wonderful. I’m dealing with this issue right now. I’d love to learn more about how to reflect back to the SAP how his behavior is undermining his own wellbeing w/o accusing him or inciting him to become even more defended! I’m looking fwd to hearing more or thoughts on the topic!

Pamela

Susan Cummings CDP, ICADC

Thank you for taking on the task of gathering information and passing it on to others dealing with these most challenging but interesting clients . Your description fit my ex spouse and after the divorce, guess what I did? Picked another self-absorbed partner. My good fortune was that I then decided to get healthy and was able to step away from the cycle of dysfunction and abuse and neglect. I often see in my practice partners wanting me to “fix” their spouses because “they themselves DO NOT need any “fixing”. Can’t wait for the next installment. Again Thanks Susan