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Narcissists want weddings, not marriage

By Ashley Strickland, Special to CNN
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Tue November 1, 2011
Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries' wedding was one of the most celebrated events of the year, but it's headed for divorce.
Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries' wedding was one of the most celebrated events of the year, but it's headed for divorce.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • People are rushing to get engaged and plan their weddings, not the marriages
  • Narcissism is one of the leading causes of divorce
  • Focusing on your wedding, rather than your marriage, can result in divorce

(CNN) -- When Kim Kardashian announced her engagement to basketball player Kris Humphries, a public hype began that was only formerly rivaled by the royal wedding in April.

This heralded event was to be America's own version of the royal wedding, if only in terms of build-up and opulence. Now, 72 days later, the relationship has been given an equally public ending, the wedding fanfare forgotten and replaced with public humiliation.

For celebrities, this kind of entanglement and collapse happens frequently and in the all-knowing eye of the public spotlight. But our own relationships are heading into a similar tailspin due to one common factor: narcissism, according to psychotherapist and divorce coach Micki McWade.

Shows like "Bridezillas" and "Say Yes to the Dress" have encouraged a cultural fascination with weddings, but it is our own entitlement that causes us to obsess over a one-day event. While couples are waiting to get married until their late 20s and early 30s, they may rush into the engagement and wedding planning, McWade said.

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"We all have a degree of narcissism," McWade said. "It can be triggered by an event like this; then people get very warped."

Not every wedding turns into a narcissistic circus, and they aren't all about the expense.

"The wedding is, on the one hand, a healthy way of making a public commitment to each other and acknowledging that you're part of a web of family and friends that helps to nourish the relationship," said Stephen Fabick, a consulting psychologist who specializes in conflict resolution. "But on the other hand, it preps like a cancer, where the focus is on the show and not the long-term or reality of the relationship."

"There is a much more materialistic emphasis today on the wedding," McWade said. "If couples are dating for six months and then get into this big wedding planning, they really don't know the person they are marrying."

McWade refers to this rush as the "pink cloud period," where couples in the first year of a relationship don't recognize faults within one another. But sometimes, the extensive planning of a costly wedding can expose a couple's differences in compatibility, values or beliefs.

"The emphasis today is largely on the wedding and not on the marriage," she said. "Because you're getting married, people think you're entitled to opulence."

And when the wedding becomes about "me" instead of "we" or "her big day" and not "our big day," it can be a warning sign that perhaps this is a union best avoided.

Surviving the task of planning a wedding together and ultimately living together for years and years means being able to support each other during basic decisions or rough patches. Couples who have dated for less than a year often can't even ride out small conflicts or navigate differences, McWade said.

Fabick believes that the financial stress of planning a wedding can also cause fractures down the road.

"It gets a little crazy when you have these lavish weddings where the money could be invested in a home or something that would take some stress off of the union, and that's part of the show," he said.

After sitting with couples through countless meetings with lawyers as they face down the disappointment of divorce, McWade has a few tips for entering into a marriage that works. Namely, she doesn't believe that people should become engaged before a year of dating.

"You should know that person for a year and not just get caught up in the hormones, because a lot of the attraction is very physical, but that does not mean that people are able to live together for the rest of their lives," she said. "I believe that relationship high isn't over for two years, but the high will go right out the window if you're not on the same page."

Second only to addiction, McWade claims, narcissism is the ultimate relationship killer and a significant factor in many of the divorce cases she has witnessed.

Narcissists lack self-esteem and live in an internal world, one that they can attract another person to and form a relationship around because they can read other people and manipulate them. It becomes a parasitic relationship, with all of the affection going to the narcissist, McWade said.

McWade believes that Americans are more predisposed to narcissism because of the inventive and explorative history of our country. Narcissism fueled this push for independent thought and creation, but it in turn "conquered the culture to some degree."

Parents have an unfortunate tendency to create narcissists, by forcing their children to become what their parents want in order to receive love, or if a son -- after all, 70% of narcissists are men -- believes he is the central focus of a family, according to McWade's research.

A higher rate of divorce and lack of intact families are also causing a spread of narcissism, Fabick said.

While she applies a 12-step program to people facing divorce in her book "Getting Up, Getting Over, Getting On: A Twelve-Step Guide to Divorce Recovery," the tips also apply to those entering relationships. Knowing and appreciating yourself will allow for a better relationship on both sides, McWade said.

"The best type of relationship is one where people are really independent on their own, and then they get together to share their experiences and love for each other," she said. "That they have full lives on both sides and that both people are pretty balanced on each side, and to be able to maintain that for a year -- that's the best."

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