Narcissism in a Relationship

June 25, 2019
Are you dating a narcissist? Most people probably think they know a narcissist when they see one, but they can be very charming at first. Later, their true colors come out and plague your relationship with deceit, manipulation, and emotional sabotage.

Contrary to what you might think, narcissists can fall in love just like everyone else. However, when there’s narcissism in a relationship, the anxiety and fear can be palpable. That’s because their love is like a lasso that gets tighter and tighter every day. Little by little, you lose your rights, your will, and even your own voice.

You probably know someone who seems to be a “magnet” for narcissists. Or maybe you feel that way about yourself. Why is that? Is there some explanation as to why you can’t identify narcissists and prevent bad experiences? Some theories argue that, in general, people who are more sensitive and empathetic are the ones who feel attracted to narcissists.

Maybe it’s because these two personality types are mutually beneficial in some way. However, it’s important to note that there isn’t conclusive data about this idea. After all, narcissists tend to be charismatic and charming at first. It’s very easy to fall into their trap.

Narcissists often seem extremely kind and vivacious at the beginning. They have a great sense of humor and are very intelligent and sure of themselves. Their extroverted charm makes an impression on people. That being said, their true selves are just lurking beneath the surface. Because, after all, narcissists are basically unable to create positive emotional bonds with other people.

A woman looking into a hand mirror.

Narcissism in a Relationship: Tips for Action

The way in which narcissism manifests itself in a relationship can vary. There are two common possibilities: the first is when both people are narcissistic. The second possibility is that one person is clearly behaving in a harmful and destructive way towards the other. Let’s take a look at both of those possibilities.

When Both People Are Selfish

Before we delve deeper, it’s important to differentiate between narcissistic behavior and narcissistic personality disorder. The latter is a clinical condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Thus, sometimes two people with this disorder end up in a romantic relationship with each other. It’s unusual, but it can happen. Another thing that sometimes happens during the lifecycle of a relationship is the following:

  • You put your own needs before your significant other’s needs.
  • You might feel a need for control, or you vacillate between wanting to be close to your partner and wanting distance.

So what happens when both partners are narcissistic? Basically, their connection is built over an abyss that they’ll eventually fall into. There are some couples who don’t love each other anymore but they still aren’t able to end things in a healthy way. Instead, they feel apathetic, indifferent, and dependent. They don’t want to let go of what was once “theirs”.

A guy tied up in a rope.

My Significant Other Is a Narcissist – What Can I do?

Usually, there’s only one narcissist in a relationship. So, over time the other person gets to know their loved one’s true nature. That’s when the blinds come off and they start to understand what it means to be romantically involved with a narcissist.

Keys for Reflection and Decision-Making

Livesley, Jang, Jackson, and Vernon point to a study that shows that 64% of cases of narcissistic personality disorder are genetic. Consequently, change doesn’t come easy.

Likewise, people with this type of personality will fall somewhere on a spectrum. Some narcissists are quite abusive, while others only display a few narcissistic traits.

These are some important points to remember:

  • Don’t doubt yourself. When you realize there’s narcissism in a relationship, there are only two options: react or learn to live with emotional abandonment. If you do the latter, you’ll constantly doubt yourself, your self-esteem, and even your identity.
  • Breakups and reconciliations. Are they really worth it? When your significant other is a narcissist, you live on a see-saw of break-ups and reconciliations. Maybe at some point, you find the strength to leave the relationship. However, narcissists are very good at turning on the charm and winning you back. Think about what that means for your dignity.
  • They need you to validate their self-esteem. But what about yours? Because narcissists don’t have a central ego, they need someone else to establish and strengthen their self-image. They get affirmation by feeding off of someone else. Think about whether or not this is really worth it. Think for a second about what you’ll be doing in 5 to 10 years.
A sad woman behind a window.

Conclusions

The best advice we can give you if your partner is a narcissist is to break up with them. However, this is a very personal decision and saying that narcissists can’t be good partners is like saying that no one can change or do anything about their personality.

The best thing is to evaluate on a case-by-case basis. Making sweeping generalizations is always dangerous. Not all situations are the same, and not all narcissistic people are exactly alike.

There are some psychological strategies to try and help people with a narcissistic personality disorder. One example is conversation therapy. However, changing narcissism is a complex process in and of itself, not to mention that most narcissists resist going to therapy.

Consequently, narcissism in a relationship is something that requires a lot of time and energy for defending yourself and making decisions. But if you find yourself in this situation, make change a priority and take care of yourself. Prioritize your well-being and your integrity.

  • Sedikides, C., Rudich, E. A., Gregg, A. P., Kumashiro, M., & Rusbult, C. (2004, September). Are normal narcissists psychologically healthy?: Self-esteem matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.87.3.400
  • Judge, T. A., LePine, J. A., & Rich, B. L. (2006). Loving yourself abundantly: Relationship of the narcissistic personality to self- and other perceptions of workplace deviance, leadership, and task and contextual performance. Journal of Applied Psychology91(4), 762–776. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.91.4.762
  • Masterson, JF (2004). Guía de un terapeuta para los trastornos de la personalidad: el enfoque de Masterson: un manual y un libro de ejercicios. Phoenix, Az .: Zeig, Tucker, & Theisen, Inc.