A narcissist in a relationship is most likely mistreating their partner. But not all people who mistreat are narcissists. How can you tell?
There’s some telltale signs that your partner is a narcissist. And unfortunately, that also means they’re unlikely to change. Healthy relationships are rarely possible with this personality type.
Is your partner just mean or are they a narcissist in a relationship? Take a look at these signs below and see if you can relate.
Narcissism personality disorder (NPD) is characterized by grandiose self-importance, lack of empathy and a need for admiration or attention. NPD is a clinical diagnosis. Since misdiagnosis is common, it’s hard to know how many people have this disorder. In the general population, experts estimate anywhere from 0.05 to 5% of people have NDP.
It’s important to separate narcissistic personality disorder from the narcissism spectrum. Everyone falls somewhere on the narcissism spectrum. Having a little bit of selfishness is good and often necessary. This would fall on the low side of the narcissism scale. On the high side of the scale, somebody is a full-blown narcissist and could be diagnosed as such. Most commonly though, we call people narcissists when they’re not diagnosed as such—instead, they just have high levels of the trait.
These days, some people refer to anyone they don’t like or who disagrees with them as a “narcissist.” But it’s important to note that narcissism is a specific trait and disorder.
Can you have a relationship with a narcissist? Technically yes, although probably not a good or enjoyable one.
If you landed on this post, it’s probably because you’re having a roller coaster of a relationship. And if your partner is high on the narcissism spectrum, you already know it’s hard to maintain a healthy partnership.
You can also probably look into your partner’s relationship history to see that they’re not capable of a long-term partnership. Often narcissists will have many short-term relationships and will always blame the other person for it ending. If they think you’ll catch on, they may lie about their history entirely, saying they haven’t had many relationships.
The truth is that the narcissist has likely dated a lot. They just don’t have the skills to keep anyone. This is why narcissistic are so common in the dating pool. Despite only making up (at most) 5% of the population, they’re constantly recycled back into the dating pool, making up a bigger portion of your potential matches.
If you think you’re dating a narcissist, you might be wondering if there’s a future or potential for change. You should know that narcissistic people are capable of keeping relationships but only if they can do as they please with no regard for others. If this sounds like a terrible and abusive relationship, that’s because they often are.
A narcissist in a relationship will take advantage as long as they can. Any relationship you have with them will be at the expense of yourself.
There’s a huge caveat to all the information here: It might not be true if the narcissist seeks treatment. Narcissistic personality disorder can be difficult to treat. Most narcissists don’t think they need therapy and if they seek it out, they may disagree with or even fool a therapist.
Even if your partner seeks help, they may not actually change and the relationship could further deteriorate. However, narcissists serious about changing can slowly work towards a more balanced and realistic reality. In this case, relationships may slowly shift can become healthy. Keep in mind though, narcissists are good at faking change. If you don’t see any concrete evidence that they’re actually changing, don’t wait around. And always plan an exit strategy for abusive relationships.
Here are some of the common experiences of people in a relationship with a narcissist. Remember that it’s usually impossible for a narcissist in a relationship to maintain a healthy partnership. If you’re experiencing any type of abuse, please seek help and make a safety plan to leave.
One of the most common things said about narcissists in relationships is how charming they were in the beginning. Let’s face it: Narcissism is an ugly personality trait. They had to hide that from you in order to reel you in and catch you.
The first few days, weeks or even months knowing a narcissism can feel like you’re on a high. That’s because they’re intuitively sensing what you need to be wooed. They know the exact thing to say, how to act and how to dress up their personality to match yours.
After months with a narcissist in a relationship though, their true colors start bleeding through. At first, you may be confused. The drastic change seems so random that you may blame yourself for their behavior. Or you may think it’s a one-off. But in time, you’ll notice what you’re seeing is actuary happening: The narcissist is a chameleon—switching from good to bad as they see fit.
A narcissist in a relationship doesn’t ask you many questions. That’s because that would require actually caring.
Most people’s favorite topic is themselves. But narcissists’ only topic is themselves.
If a narcissist does ask a question, it’s usually to benefit or relate it back to themselves. For example, they may ask you about your most recent vacation. But they only ask so they can follow it up with their own story about a luxurious vacation they want to brag about.
In a normal relationship, people are naturally curious about each other. Even in the beginning, people ask questions to see if you’re a good fit. The narcissist doesn’t need to ask questions. They’re not looking for a good fit, they looking for someone compliant.
Everyone dislikes criticism, even when it’s constructive. Hearing bad things about ourselves is tough. However, most people can handle criticism moderately well and can control their reactions, even if they feel emotional.
A narcissist in a relationship can’t handle criticism, even when it’s phrased in the best way possible. To the narcissist, they have few flaws and none of them should ever be spoken. You can say the criticism in the kindest way possible, but they’ll still pick on you for bringing it up. Most will become enraged and hurl insults to make themselves feel powerful again. They’ll make you regret saying anything and likely make you feel ashamed for speaking up.
One of the telltale signs of narcissistic personality disorder is the lack of empathy.
A narcissist in a relationship doesn’t care about how their partner feels. Sometimes it may appear that they do, but only when it benefits themselves. For example, your partner may pretend to care to look like a caring person in front of others. Or they might only care when they need something from you.
But when a narcissist in a relationship has nothing to gain, they could leave you crying in a corner and feel nothing. While they expect everyone in the world to stop if they shed a tear, they could practically laugh at yours (and sometimes may).
We’ve all heard the phrase, “you’re never wrong!” But for the narcissist, they truly believe they’re never wrong.
A narcissist in a relationship may convince you that every argument is your fault. You’re overreacting. It didn’t happen. It’s your fault for bringing it up. That gaslighting can be confusing.
Less confusing is how a narcissist in a relationship carries this attitude with others. A friend might prove they’re wrong, but the narcissist will still fight that they’re right, even in the face of evidence.
If you think you may be in a relationship with a narcissist, pay attention to their disagreements with other people. It’s easy to blame yourself for their “always right” attitude at home. But if they’re commonly getting into disagreements with the waiter, bouncer, bartender, cashier and taxi driver, it’s definitely not you that’s the problem!
Everyone has goals and dreams—some small, some a little big. The difference is that the narcissist believes their most outlandish dreams will actually become reality.
For example, they may be obsessed with the idea of becoming a famous Rockstar, even though they’re 45 and can barely play the guitar. They may talk of becoming a rich investor, but have a hard time showing up to their day job.
Don’t get it wrong—these dreams may be realistic for some people. But the narcissist in a relationship does very little to actually move forward on their goals. That’s because they’re not really interested in their goal or the skills needed to acquire it. They’re only interested in the power that comes with achieving it.
A narcissist in a relationship may have unrealistic and unfair expectations of their partner. For example, they may expect their wife to have perfect gardens all summer or to have the perfect dinner ready every night.
Expectations can become borderline or truly abusive. For example, a narcissist in a relationship may ask you to look a certain way, maintain a certain weight, and behave a specific way around others. Normal people care about how you feel. But the narcissist in a relationship only cares about how you serve them.
A narcissist in a relationship will likely employ double standards. What’s okay for them isn’t okay for you.
The narcissist can stay out with their friends all night and return home the next morning. But their partner can rarely see their own friends. A narcissist in a relationship can flirt with people all day long. But their partner will get in trouble for speaking a word to the opposite sex. A narcissist can have no chores or responsibilities. But their partner must do all the chores and take care of the home.
When a narcissist is in a relationship, their partner most likely feels that things aren’t fair. And they usually aren’t.
A narcissist in a relationship will likely make you feel alone. Even if you’ve been with them for years, the internal battles you face with them makes you feel secluded from them, the world and the worst—yourself.
Narcissists have a way of tearing you down and isolating you. It’s hard to talk about this problem because you might feel nobody can relate. Since you want other people to see your partner in a good light, you might shy away from telling others what goes on behind closed doors. This can make you feel even more alone.
A narcissist in a relationship might slowly work at cutting away your outside influences. It might not be obvious, but over time, they can encourage you to cut your contacts by:
In a normal relationship, everybody messes up sometimes. Somebody says the wrong thing, shows up late, forgets an anniversary—mistakes happen. And they’re usually followed up by some sort of apology.
A narcissist in a relationship never apologizes. Even if something is clearly their fault, they’ll find a way to blame it on you. The best you’ll ever get is a half apology, which may sound like, “I’m sorry I did that but actually it’s your fault anyway.”
Narcissists require you to apologize for things that aren’t your problem, didn’t happen or that they took the wrong way. They’ll never give out a true apology though—they lack the self-awareness to see their actions in a realistic light.
A narcissist in a relationship will put down his partner as a hobby. It may happen so frequently that you don’t even consider them put-downs anymore; it’s just part of the dynamic. Part of the day is waiting for the narcissist in a relationship to come home and unload their insults on you.
Put-downs can include quick comments about how you:
It could also escalate into full-on rage sessions where they verbally berate you.
Please recognize that this is verbal abuse. It’s not okay and you need to prepare a plan to safely and eventually leave. The narcissist in a relationship doesn’t say things because they’re true. They say things to gain power over you and make you compliant to their bad behavior.
Whenever a narcissist in a relationship isn’t getting their way, they’ll usually find ways to guilt and shame you until you change your mind.
Unfortunately, their tactics can be convincing. You might end up truly agreeing with them because they’ve manipulated you into believing something that you know isn’t true.
When you realize you’re in a relationship with a narcissist and try to leave, the guilt and shame and feel too thick to walk through. They may act like everything is your fault. That you’re a terrible person for leaving them. That nobody could ever love you again. Try not to buy into their emotional abuse. Remember that when a narcissist uses shame and guilt, it’s usually an attempt to regain the power you’ve rightfully taken back for yourself. Simply put, it means you’re on the right path to standing up for yourself.
If you’re in a narcissistic relationship, co-dependency is a good topic to learn about. That’s because it highlights the role we play, helping us see that we have the power to leave.
When we focus on the narcissist in a relationship, we’re spending all our time on something we actually can’t control. We can’t help that our partner is a narcissist. We can’t change them. We can’t do anything to make the relationship better.
But when we focus on co-dependency, we’re spending our time on something we can control. We can see why we’re drawn to a narcissist. We can contemplate what’s keeping us there. We can find value in ourselves. We can harness self-respect. We can leave. We can find better.
If you’re interested in learning about co-dependency, here are some good books and audiobooks to check out (download Libby for free library audiobooks!):
Can narcissists change? A narcissist in a relationship may blame their behavior on their stress, their father, the world, a conspiracy theory. But they will never take accountability for themselves.
Especially if you’re an empath, you might feel sorry for the narcissist. You might try to understand why they became the mean-spirited person they are. You may try to help them. But there’s no helping a narcissist who refuses to help themselves. They will only drag you down and slowly destroy you.
A narcissist in a relationship might say they’re open to change to appease their partner or stop them from leaving. You’ve probably went through cycles where you thought things were better, only for them to prove they’re still the same. The best advice is to leave. If you haven’t changed them by now, you won’t. It doesn’t matter if it’s been a day, a week, months, or years—nobody changes a narcissist but themselves. The longer you stay, the more they’ll eat at your body until they get to your soul.
Narcissists who truly want to change are best to do so while they’re single. That way, nobody will be caught in their line of fire anymore.
Read: The Narcissist vs. Empath: A Relatable Guide for Empath and Relationships
A narcissist in a relationship will be controlling, angry, confusing, mean and often abusive. Although they constantly seek relationships, they’re never healthy. Narcissist relationships are usually short-lived. If they’re in a long-term relationship, there’s a good chance the other person is being taken advantage of.
While we’ve highlighted several traits of the narcissist in a relationship, if you’re in a relationship with one, you could probably write a book on them. The most important thing to know if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist is that you should leave. Unless they’re actively and regularly seeking help, they will only continue to break you down to make you more compliant to their mistreatment. You deserve better, but you’ll only find it if you leave.
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