Identifying paranoid personality traits in your spouse

In the last post, I gave an overview of how personalities affect your marriage, if you missed it go here. In this post, I will cover the personality trait that is one of the most difficult to deal with in a relationship, the paranoid personality. For me as a psychologist, personality is definitely one of the most difficult concepts to put in a box, label, or even to describe. I absolutely love Helen McGrath and Hazel Edwards’ book, Difficult Personalities. It’s the only one I found that’s easy for non-psychologists to understand and apply. The authors categorize all difficult personalities in three general categories. They believe that some people hurt others because: 

  • their behaviors, thinking, and display of emotions are truly very damaging (think bullies, passive-aggressive, and sociopaths)
  • their behaviors, thinking, and display of emotions are just different from their own (on that note, we can cause them distress as well)
  • their behaviors, thinking, and display of emotions are just annoying and severely frustrating (think bossy, negative, critical, judgmental, superior to others)

These are very different categories and each would require a different type of therapy intervention and recommendation.I want to start out with the most severe situation. If you find yourself in a relationship with an individual that may fit in this group, I strongly urge you to take additional action immediately. I will have some steps for you at the end of this section.This category is full of extremely strong traits, that display in most situations and most settings. When we talk about extremes, we border on the concept of a personality disorder.When we talk about personality disorders, we pretty much mean several of those traits consistently placed on extreme ends of the continuum. Anything like that will eventually create problems. Individuals with such intensities (either too low or too high) will have maladaptive interpersonal behaviors likely to affect relationships. These personality disorders are difficult to diagnose, they require a trained professional, and many hours of therapeutic interaction to trace the patterns. If any of these next few pages trigger a feeling, thought, or reaction, there may be more in there to explore. These groups have such strong specific traits that it is highly likely it will impact the quality of the marriage. I want to focus on four personality disorders that have the potential to cause a lot of pain and extreme suffering in a relationship: paranoid, borderline, narcissistic, and antisocial. Since all these categories share characteristics, I don’t want you to focus so much on the category, but on the actual general traits.Let’s start with the paranoid personality. This personality disorder is associated with pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others, detachment from social relationships, restricted range of emotional expression, acute discomfort with close relationships and intimacy, inappropriate or constricted affect, excessive social anxiety, and sometimes odd thinking, speech or belief system. The major issue here is a deep fear of getting hurt which can manifest as an inability to open up or confide, misinterpreting compliments, holding grudges, unwillingness or inability to forgive insults, quickness to counter-attack and react with anger, jealousy, and a need for complete control of intimate relationships to avoid being betrayed and hurt again.These individuals would often be difficult to get along with, are hypervigilant for threats, appear to be cold and lacking tender feelings and may appear to be objective and rational. Their labile range of affect usually revolves around anger and irritability. They are often stubborn, sarcastic, rigid, and very critical of others, unable to collaborate, and have difficulty accepting criticism. The lack of trust in others leads to an excessive need to be self-sufficient and have a strong sense of autonomy. Of course, they attempt to exert control over those around them and often seek to confirm their preconceived negative beliefs and suspicions, which often leads to a hostile or negative response from others, which would only confirm original expectations. Paranoid individuals can and often suck the joy out of their partners.Paul & Marie’s StoryMarie and Paul dated for two years before getting married. Paul just came out of a bad relationship to a woman who constantly invalidated him, did not give him enough attention, withheld sex, and gave him the silent treatment. When he met Marie, he thought she was a God-send. She was caring, attentive, and made him feel like he was the only man in the whole wide world. She made him feel so special. She would ask him questions about his day, his thoughts, his feelings, and seemed to want to know everything about him. She would do special and unexpected things for him, like just stopping by his work with lunch and a hug. That was a welcome change for Paul!A few years into their marriage, as things got settled down and the family routines became more obvious and less exciting, Marie’s extra attention started to climb to new levels. She started asking Paul if he was getting bored with her, and if he was interested in other women. Although he denied any interest in other women, Marie did not stop. She became hypersensitive about Paul’s interaction with any women, including the cashier at the grocery store. Social events became unbearable ordeals, as Marie always accused Paul of flirting. Paul was not flirting and not interested in anyone else, but that did not alleviate Marie’s anxiety and paranoid, dark thoughts. Paul started avoiding social events and became more and more compliant with Marie’s demands to not have lengthy conversations with other women. He also became more withdrawn, depressed, and felt like a prisoner in this relationship. He was less responsive to Marie’s emotional and physical needs, which would only escalate her rumination, intrusive thoughts, and paranoid behaviors (such as checking his phone, email, and social media accounts).In next week's post, I will cover three more disorders that are very difficult and borderline dangerous, so be sure to check back.  In the meantime, head over to my FREE Marriage and Relationship Resource Center to get more material and training on this important topic. As always, if you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you!ABOUT: Dr. Ruxandra LeMay is a private practice psychologist in Litchfield Park, Arizona with experience in family therapy, ADHD, stress and anxiety management, and executive coaching. She is the author of My Spouse Wants More Sex Than Me: The 2-Minute Solution For a Happier MarriageClick HERE to check out her free resources on effective communication, emotional unavailability, intimacy, and anxiety management or join her at for monthly blog posts.