Is Narcissism Destroying Your Marriage?

In Greek mythology, Narcissus’ obsession with his reflection in a pool of water ultimately led to his death. For thousands of years, the cautionary tale has served as rich fodder for artists and philosophers, and even became the basis for Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of narcissism.

UT alumna Lisa Leit (Ph.D. Human Ecology, ‘08) further explores the psychological concept in “Conversational Narcissism in Marriage “ (VDM Verlag, 2008), which examines how narcissistic attention-seeking behavior in communication affects marital stability.

Central features of narcissism include a need for admiration and a lack of empathy, which may have damaging consequences for a relationship. Drawing upon social exchange theory, Leit and co-authors Deborah Jacobvitz and Nancy Hazen-Swann, found that conversational narcissism chararacterizes 78 percent of marriages and may ultimately lead to divorce.

Leit is a staff member of the Department of Rhetoric & Writing where she serves as a program coordinator for the Undergraduate Writing Center. She also has a private practice as a mediator, specializing in family dispute resolution. Learn more about her work at

Stay tuned for a series of ShelfLife posts about love, relationships and sex coming up this this week. We’ll write about Psychology Professor David Buss’ “Dangerous Passion,” Journalism Professor Robert Jensen’s thoughts on pornography, Betsy Berry’s popular English course “Literary Marriages from Hell” and philosopher Robert Solomon’s reinvention of romance.