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Narcissism

Navigating Narcissism: Dating a Narcissist

Part three of our series on seeking a deeper understanding of narcissism.

Key points

  • Signs of narcissism in relationships include aggression, lack of empathy or commitment, and putting a partner down.
  • People are often drawn to narcissists because of their outward confidence and charisma or bold acts of affection.
  • The best method for dealing with a narcissistic partner is often to end the relationship. Prepare by expecting pushback and seeking social support.

A lot goes into finding a significant other – maybe it’s trial and error, maybe it’s a chance meeting at a coffee shop, or maybe, in today’s era of technology, it’s from swiping right at just the correct time.

However you go about finding that special someone, it is not uncommon to hear things like “I’m trying to find my other half,” or “I want a person who will see me as their equal.” Wanting a romantic relationship that is mutually beneficial is by no means a big ask, and yet that is not necessarily what we always end up with.

Any kind of relationship can have its ups and downs, but at the end of the day, be it romantic, platonic, or otherwise, a relationship is all about collaboration and communication between different individuals.

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Narcissistic people can be difficult to be around, so what happens when that person is your significant other?
Source: Nathan McBride via Unsplash

In fact, some early writings by psychologists like Sigmund Freud thought of human beings as having a certain type of energy that we give toward love.

So, what happens when someone turns that energy dedicated to love entirely toward themselves?

So far in our series on Navigating Narcissism, we’ve introduced the reality of being around narcissistic people, and taking a closer look at narcissism in the workplace. Now, we’re getting a little bit more personal – what happens when your significant other is a narcissist?

Spotting a Narcissistic Partner

As mentioned in the first part of our Navigating Narcissism series, narcissism can take on quite a few different forms. Does the person only exhibit narcissistic traits, or do they potentially have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)? Are they someone who could be described as a grandiose narcissist, driven by a superior perception of themselves, or are they more of a vulnerable narcissist, who is fueled by a powerful sense of insecurity?

Regardless of what their label is, narcissism in romantic relationships tends to pop up in a few significant ways. For some of you, hearing the phrase “narcissistic partner” might have even brought a certain someone immediately to mind!

Recognizing that you are in a relationship with a narcissist is not always easy, but it can be extremely important to identify narcissistic partners as quickly as possible. Here are a few things to keep an eye out for:

Problems with Commitment. One of the most common issues raised in relationships with narcissistic people is a lack of commitment. This is a key characteristic of many narcissistic partners, because somebody who is primarily interested in what will best serve them is likely to stay focused on what they see to be “better alternatives” to their current significant other.

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What does narcissism in a significant other look like?
Source: Oziel Gomez via Unsplash

Aggression and Dominance. Because they are often trying to maintain their grandiose self-perception, individuals high in narcissism have been found to act out more aggressively toward romantic partners in an effort to establish dominance or to punish what they view as slights toward them.

Lack of Empathy. When we are feeling down, we probably want a partner who will tune into our emotions and needs. However, narcissistic partners are likely not going to go out of their way to focus on the things you are struggling with and may instead simply try and draw the conversation back toward themselves.

Taking Advantage of Partner. Relationships with narcissistic people may rarely feel like a partnership. In fact, narcissistic partners will often take advantage of their significant other, whether that be utilizing their status, money, or even just their time, in order to benefit themselves and their grandiose self-perception.

Putting Partner Down to Bring Themselves Up. In a similar way to what we mentioned above, you may find a narcissistic partner constantly putting you down in order to maintain their superior image and boost their self-esteem.

If your partner is frequently targeting your appearance or intelligence while simultaneously promoting their own, that may be a sign that you’re in a relationship with a narcissist.

Why Are People So Drawn to Narcissists?

When we consider all of the challenges that come with dating a narcissistic person, we may ask ourselves “How could I ever end up with someone like that?” The truth is, it can be quite easy to fall for a narcissist and not realize it until much later.

This is because a lot of the qualities that make narcissistic people so difficult to be with are usually the ones people are smitten by at the start.

For example, if you knew right away that somebody lacked empathy and would work tirelessly to solicit praise or admiration for others – even at your expense – you likely wouldn’t be interested in starting up a romance. On the other hand, if that person instead presented as confident, charismatic, and successful, you may give them another look.

On the research side, studies have also found that we are drawn toward narcissists because their grandiose view of themselves leads them to subsequently make grandiose attempts at courting others. In other words, someone might make large, bold romantic gestures or promises to gain your affection, even if they are doing it so that you will complement their efforts.

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Narcissists can cause a ton of stress, so why are we so drawn to them as partners?
Source: Renate Vanaga via Unsplash

Narcissistic individuals also tend to begin relationships with an equally inflated view of their partners, meaning that they see their partners as perfect individuals high up on a pedestal, which boosts their own self-perception as the significant other of that flawless person.

However, this means that when the person starts to recognize that their significant other – like all people – has flaws, they begin to resent them, or push them away.

Sometimes we can’t help but become romantically involved with narcissistic people, but once we’ve realized that our partner is a narcissist, what do we do?

What to Do If Your Partner Is a Narcissist

If your significant other is a narcissist, it leaves you in a tricky position. When we love somebody, even somebody that is negatively affecting our lives, it isn’t uncommon for our first instinct to be to try and change their behavior.

Unfortunately, narcissistic individuals, by nature, are often very resistant to change, because they don’t want to believe that anything is wrong with them. While it is absolutely possible for a narcissistic individual to engage in positive change, it can be a monstrous – and sometimes futile – effort for many romantic partners.

At the end of the day, if your relationship with a narcissistic person has a significant negative impact on you, be it mentally, emotionally, or physically, the most likely next step is to end the relationship. However, this is easier said than done, and there are several things to keep in mind before you take that step:

Prepare for Pushback. A breakup can be a hit to anyone’s self-esteem, but to a narcissistic person who is entirely focused on their perception of themself, their partner leaving them can be a devastating and personal blow. Prepare for your partner to engage in pushback, which can look like anything from begging, gaslighting, or potentially aggression.

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Recognizing we are dating a narcissist can be the first challenge, but what to do next can be the biggest challenge
Source: Justin Groep via Unsplash

Know Your Boundaries. A narcissistic partner will likely try and push your boundaries throughout a relationship, and especially at the end of one. Remain firm on these boundaries and lean on them as often as need be during the process.

Seek Outside Support. In any breakup, having social support on your side is a huge help, but especially when preparing for a breakup with a narcissist, have outside individuals at the ready. Whether this is family, friends, or a mental health professional, it will be a huge help to have people you trust by your side.

Romantic relationships have the potential to be mutually rewarding and balanced partnerships, but sometimes we find ourselves falling for a person that causes more harm than good.

Recognizing a narcissistic significant other and how they are impacting you is an important way to avoid a potentially negative situation and find the partner that is right for you.

References

Keller, P. S., Blincoe, S., Gilbert, L. R., Dewall, C. N., Haak, E. A., & Widiger, T. (2014). Narcissism in romantic relationships: A dyadic perspective. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 33(1), 25-50.

Campbell, W. K., & Foster, C. A. (2002). Narcissism and commitment in romantic relationships: An investment model analysis. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 28(4), 484-495.

Sybertz, A. (2021, January 19). Can a narcissist change? Here's what experts say. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.thehealthy.com/family/relationships/can-a-narcissist-change/

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