5 Ways Narcissists Damage Loving Relationships
Seeing the manipulations of narcissists and learning to manage them.
Posted March 24, 2023 | Reviewed by Tyler Woods
- Narcissists often lack empathy for others, which means they have little concern for their partner's feelings or needs.
- Narcissists may withhold affection or attention, causing the other person to feel unimportant or unworthy.
- Even though narcissists are hurting inside they are very hurtful to their loving partners.
- Taking care of your emotional health is key to managing a narscissistic partner.
Rachel, a 40-year-old client, sat in front of me heaving with sobs.
Finally, she said, "I kept giving and giving to Gabe. I don't know what I did wrong but I just wasn't enough for him. My friends kept saying he was a narcissist and that narcissists are toxic in relationships. But I just thought if he could see that I loved him, he would change for the better. Instead, he just dumped me."
The self-centered and manipulative behavior of narcissists can cause harm to their partners, as they may be unable to give and healthily receive love. Still, while bearing these challenges in mind, it is important not to vilify narcissists.
Be Mindful That Narcissists Are Hurting
Despite their outward displays of confidence and superiority, narcissists can experience a significant amount of pain and insecurity. This may stem from a variety of sources, such as past trauma, feelings of inadequacy, or a deep-seated fear of being rejected or abandoned.
Narcissists may also experience a profound sense of shame and self-loathing, which they may attempt to mask with their grandiose behavior and attitudes. They may be afraid to reveal their vulnerabilities and insecurities to others for fear of being seen as weak or unworthy.
Additionally, narcissists may struggle with internal contradictions. For example, they may crave attention and admiration from others, but resent and envy those who receive it. They may desire intimate relationships but fear the vulnerability and emotional intimacy that come with them. Still, despite their struggles, narcissists can impose emotional turmoil on those who love them.
5 Ways Narcissists Hurt Loving Relationships
- Lack of empathy. Narcissists often lack empathy for others, which means they have little concern for their partner's feelings or needs. As I detail in Why Can't You Read My Mind?, empathy is the emotional glue that holds relationships together. The lack of empathy in narcissists can make their partners feel ignored or undervalued, leading to resentment and hurt. Dan, a counseling client, recently shared with me how his wife was dismissive and critical of his feelings. This led to Dan's feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- Manipulation. Narcissists can be skilled at manipulating others to get what they want. They may use guilt, intimidation, or charm to control a partner, which can lead to the other person feeling trapped or helpless. In the example of Rachel from the beginning of this post, Gabe repeatedly told her, "You make me treat you like crap."
- Gaslighting. Narcissists may use gaslighting tactics to make a partner doubt their perception of reality. They may twist the truth, deny facts, or blame the partner for things that are not their fault, causing the other person to question their sanity. Shauna, a 31-year-old client, shared with me how her head would spin when her boyfriend, Trey, often simply denied saying something hurtful or accused her of being too sensitive.
- Devaluation. Narcissists may devalue their partners by criticizing, belittling, or insulting them. They may also withhold affection or attention, causing the other person to feel unimportant or unworthy. One admittedly narcissistic man, James, shared with me, "I know my wife is hot, so I treat her poorly to keep her feeling down so she thinks she has no one else to go to."
- Cheating. Narcissists may cheat on their partner to fulfill their desires without regard for the other person's feelings. This can cause immense pain and damage to the relationship. Jamie, another client, shared with me, "My boyfriend is a great guy, but sometimes I just want to have sex with other guys. He'd freak out if he knew, so I just protect him by not letting him know."
Tips to Manage a Narcissistic Partner
Managing a narcissistic partner can be challenging, but a few strategies can help:
- Set boundaries. Narcissistic individuals can be highly controlling, so it's important to set clear boundaries and communicate them effectively. Be firm and consistent with your boundaries, and make sure your partner knows which behaviors are unacceptable.
- Don't engage in their game. Narcissistic individuals thrive on attention and drama. Refuse to engage in their drama, and don't give them the attention they're seeking.
- Seek support. Dealing with a narcissistic partner can be emotionally draining. Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist who can offer a listening ear and help you process your emotions.
- Practice self-care. It's important to prioritize your own needs and take care of yourself. This could involve practicing mindfulness, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and engaging in hobbies that bring you joy.
- Consider couples therapy. If your partner is willing, couples therapy can help improve communication and address underlying issues in the relationship. However, it's important to recognize that narcissistic individuals may be resistant to therapy and may not be willing to change their behavior.
Overall, narcissists can be damaging to relationships due to their self-centered behavior and lack of concern for others. It can be difficult to have a healthy, fulfilling relationship with them, and it may be necessary to seek professional help or end the relationship altogether if the suggestions above do not help. Remember that managing a narcissistic partner can be a difficult and ongoing process. It's important to take care of yourself and set boundaries to protect your emotional well-being.
To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
Bernstein, J. (2003) Why Can't You Read My Mind? Da Capo Books, New York, NY.
Bojana M. Dinić, Anđelka Jovanović, (2021) Shades of narcissistic love: Relations between narcissism dimensions and love styles,
Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 175, 110707, ISSN 0191-8869, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2021.110707.
Czarna, A., Magdalena Ś., Wider, M., Dufner, M. Sedikides, C. (2022) Narcissism and partner-enhancement at different relationship stages,
Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 98, 104212, ISSN 0092-6566, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2022.104212.
When writing this post, I asked Chat GPT to provide me with a poem to highlight the hurtful games that narcissists play:
A narcissist's heart beats for one, Their ego the only rising sun. They see the world as their stage and play their part with arrogant rage.
Their love is but a shallow sea, A reflection of what they want to be. They seek to control and manipulate and feed on others to elevate.
Beware the charm that they display, For it's a mask that quickly fades away. A narcissist's love is but a lie, A mirage that fades when you get nigh.