Is Your Marriage a Relationship or an Emotional Hostage Situation?

It is generally assumed that marriage is based on a loving, committed relationship between two people who mutually strive to keep it strong and healthy. Everyone anticipates, upon entering a marriage contract, that there will be ups and downs. Everyone knows that disagreements are bound to happen. With the love and commitment two married people share, these things can be navigated and negotiated.

A loving, committed marital relationship is one that is mutually satisfying–one where the couple is playing on the same team–one that strengthens and grows over time.

In an article written for entitled The True Meaning of Being in a Relationship, Owen Kessler sums up the meaning of being in a loving relationship as follows:

  • Meaning of being in love means being there for each other, through thick and thin
  • Striking the balance between freedom and bondage
  • Being vulnerable and having faith in each other, embracing the good and bad gracefully
  • Maintaining open and honest communication with each other
  • Giving each other space to pursue individual interests and allowing time apart to miss each other
  • Motivating each other to be the best version of yourself
  • For some, the definition of being in a relationship is celebrating the tiny victories and helping each other overcome setbacks
  • Meaning of relationship lies in dedication towards your partner and the partnership
  • What does a relationship mean for elderly couples? It is companionship and sharing mutually enjoyed activities

Relationships flourish when contentious issues are worked out and resolved through compromise, and then put to rest. This is not an easy process but it is a necessary one. Without resolution, the same issue will repeatedly come up, resulting in hurt feelings, growing tension, mistrust, false narratives, and resentments.

To quote Catherine Aponte Psy.D., A better way to work things out in your marriage is to see it in terms of how you interact with each other—what psychologists call the relational or interpersonal processes that occur between the two of you.The idea is to develop relational processes that foster the physical and mental well-being of both partners as well as the relationship itself.”

In an article Dr. Aponte wrote for Psychology Today entitled Your Marriage Vows Do Not Entitle You to Anything, she offers the following set of “interpersonal rules” to follow so that this can happen:

  • You each feel a special concern for the other—”every concern of yours is a concern of mine.”
  • The things that are important for you to flourish are viewed as wants that are negotiable—they are never “entitlements.” Your wants are not needs.
  • How you sort out getting the things you want is through negotiating collaboratively with each other—you are willing to negotiate in “good faith.”
  • Being collaborative in negotiating means sharing authority—neither partner is privileged by gender, how much they make, etc.
  • Being collaborative in negotiating means accepting responsibility for negotiated outcomes.
  • Being collaborative means that neither of you expects a “return” for what you do for your partner—you give because you are interested in your partner’s well-being

On your wedding day you and your spouse promised to love and cherish each other, likely taking a vow (perhaps before God) to “have and to hold, from that day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, ’til death do you part.” But what happens when one person honors the wedding vows and the other person does not? What happens when one person exploits the wedding vows using mind control, coercion, intimidation, and subjugation? Does emotional, psychological and/or physical abuse constitute a marital deal-breaker? It does, indeed.

Suzanne Degges-White cites 7 signs of a narcissistic marriage in 5 Narcissistic Marriage Problems & How to Deal With Them, an article she wrote for

  • Your partner refuses to take responsibility for their actions
  • Your partner overlooks or blatantly ignores your needs
  • Your partner “forgets” their promises to you, even though they do remember, but have chosen not to honor them
  • Your partner blames you whenever anything goes wrong, or a disagreement arises
  • Your partner pretends to be interested in you and what is important to you, but makes every conversation about themselves
  • Your partner went to great lengths to win your heart, but stops showing signs of caring once the honeymoon is over
  • They always find a way to get what they want, and then work to convince you that they are doing what you wanted to do all along

Sometimes an initially healthy, energizing friendship turns weighty and oppressive; the needy scale begins tipping in one direction and never balances back out. Being together is no longer fun—nearly every encounter becomes downright depressing. But your friend was there for you in the past and you feel obligated to be there for him or her now. The problem is that your debt never seems to get paid off.

The dynamics between narcissistic abuser and emotional hostage are largely unbalanced. In order to perpetuate what the emotional hostage thinks is a relationship or marriage, the person must sacrifice his or her opinions, needs, desires, hopes and dreams.

Married life brings no happiness, fulfillment, or security but rather fear, stress and misery. Emotional hostages must relent to a life of dominance and supremacy. Intermittent reinforcement (good guy, bad guy act) is strategically used by narcissistic spouses to emotionally and psychologically blind their hostage to the truth of who they are married to. That tactic and a plethora of other sinister ones used by narcissists effectively render their emotional hostages unwilling and unable to leave.

After reading this article you may recognize yourself or someone you care about as an emotional hostage. If so, please reach out for help with someone who specializes in narcissistic abuse treatment, or recommend that your loved one does.

Emotional hostages cannot see their way out of their situations on their own. As is the case with prisoners of war and cult members, narcissistic abuse victims suffer from deep subconscious programming–mind control–brainwashing. Their minds have been conditioned to accept control, manipulation and abuse. Their logical mind has been overridden. All decisions made using it will keep them trapped and in pain.

The emotional hostage situation will be grossly misunderstood by friends, family members, and religious affiliates. People will likely view your situation as a problematic marriage; one in which both parties are accountable. You may be encouraged to stay in the marriage and work it out. Please do not be influenced by anyone, even those with only the best intentions; people who have never seen the dynamics of your marriage behind closed doors, and people who cannot possibly understand what you are going through and will unknowingly lay guilt on you.

The best outcomes are had by those who wisely seek the guidance of narcissistic/domestic abuse or divorce coaches–professionals who specialize in this area. Be wise–be one of them.


Thank you, Randi, for sharing your work! Many will benefit from this information!


Randi Fine

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