Let me begin by answering a question with a question: What do you mean by narcissism? A word like narcissism can reveal, it helps us to see certain things; it can also blind us to other things: all we see are certain bothersome characteristics of another person. So be careful with the way you use the word. Describe it: What do you see? What is the problem that you experience? Usually the problem will be of two kinds. One is that it is about them. Their conversations tend to be about themselves. They seem to be the center. They seem to want something to be made of them and in what they do. Related to that is they seem less interested in you. They seem to be indifferent. They seem to care less. They have a difficult time entering in, so that would be one group of descriptions. Another would be: it is about them until things go wrong, and when things go wrong, then it's about you; then it's about you.
For these to be themes rather than occasional episodes in a relationship are as difficult as it can get. So what do we do? Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Here are some ways that I've seen other women have mercy in these marriages. One, you want to develop a different identity. Now, this is going to seem like a very strange identity and you're not going to wear it that often, but it's—well, consider this. You want to become a gray rock. That's not original with me; a friend who has thought about these quite a bit suggested it. A gray rock. It doesn't approach another person agitated. You don't come angry to another person. If you approach this person with agitation or with anger, that person will probably just sort of match you right back. A gray rock is just plain boring. You move into a conversation measured, prepared.
You're approaching the person especially as one who doesn't understand how relationships can work sometimes, rather than one who is merely hardhearted. And then perhaps things like this: you think about inviting another person. You think about inviting them to come closer now. Now anything you say, if you're a gray rock who wants to invite a person to come closer, say whatever you want to say and it will be worthwhile. That doesn't mean it will be well received, but it will probably be wise. How might you invite? “I know that you love me. I know that.” That's inviting. That's inviting because the person's probably heard some of your frustrations over time and they have not heard this. “I know that you love me. Yet it seems at times that you are not interested in what I say.” Now, when you are prepared, when the gray rock is all ready to go and invites, you have put a lot of work into this and you're anticipating that the person will be somewhat appreciative of the work that you've put in, and you will typically be surprised.
For example, “Well, sometimes you are boring. Sometimes you really are boring.” What do you do? You hear that. If you don't know how to respond, you just stay as the gray rock and you consider it and you pray and you wonder, how could I respond to that? Well, perhaps at the moment or a day later or a week later, you say, “Okay, here's what I want to do. I don't want to be boring, so every once in a while I'm going to stop when I'm talking or you stop me and let's make this interesting. You can ask some questions, for example.” It's trying to ask the other person to help you in some way. That's language they probably will be able to hear. Another person asked for this: “I've been thinking about our relationship together…” And we always want to grow. That's just who we are. That's what we want to do. That's the nature of relationships. “I would like to institute a question of the day. One day I can ask a question and one day you can ask a question. And you're right, yes, I have thought about a question for the day,” and then you offer a question. Here's a question that somebody asked, it's not the first question you would ask, but it's a good one: “What are ways that your fears emerge? What are ways that your fears come out?” Or perhaps you can introduce it with, “Here's the way of humanity. All of us experience fears. What are the ways? You never speak about your fears, but you, you're like the rest of us. What are ways your fears are experienced? Now, the person might not have an answer to that, in which case you come back in two days and you ask another question.
Third, you ask the person for help. “I need your help on something. I need your help.” That is an invitational question. Here's a person who thinks they have skills that they can offer to other people. :I need your help” and perhaps they might be all ears on this. “Could you help me to think of some ideas that would grow our relationship together? I've been thinking about that question and I would like to be able to think more creatively. Could you help me to think about this?”
One other, and sometimes this will go poorly, but I've known when it's gone well, an invitation again, a good thing for every relationship is since we want to grow, we get help from other people. It's a can't-miss proposition. “Here's what I was thinking. For us to simply ask for help, such as…” and then you can have a list of things. It could be some friends you have. You would ask them to pray for you. That would be one way to get help. You ask for them to pray specific ways, and then you recognize that relationships don't move forward in our own cleverness or in our own skillfulness in the way we invite and ask questions.
And when your questions and your invitations, when they fall flat, what do you do? You pray and you ask for help. Perhaps you ask your spouse for help. “I have been working to try to have a conversation that would be a pleasure for both of us, and sometimes it's hard. Your turn. I've been thinking about this. I am running out of ideas. What do you think would be helped? What would be something you would enjoy speaking about together?” When you try that and you go back and you ask for mercy, you read books, you go online, you see what other people have done. You become a learner yourself, and you do what is prized in the Christian life. You persevere. You persevere in love.