Dealing With Narcissistic Men in Relationships

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Do you feel alone even though your partner is right next to you? Do you sleep in the same bed but feel light-years apart? Are you afraid of expressing these feelings to your partner because he might become angry or withdraw into isolation even more? If so, you could be in a relationship with a narcissist. It’s easy to fall in love with one. In the beginning of the relationship he was charming, delightful, charismatic, attentive and complimentary. He put you on a pedestal and treated you like a queen. You may have wondered why such a wonderful man would cut in front of the line or treated the waitress so poorly. But you ignored these little embarrassing incidents. However, once you were “hooked”, his behavior turned to constant criticism of you over the most trivial things and constant self-centered demands. You have become tense and emotionally drained from his unpredictable tantrums, personal attacks and indignation at any perceived (often misperceived) slights. You begin to doubt yourself due to the never-ending critical comments, you worry about what he thinks, and you become as preoccupied about him as he is about himself.

Most narcissists are perfectionists and he is no exception; nothing you or anyone else does is right nor is it appreciated. If you try to talk about your hurt or disappointment he somehow always manages to turn it around so that it is your fault. Plus he then uses that as fodder for another put down. As the cliché goes, “They can dish it out, but can’t take it.” They are highly sensitive to any perceived judgment.

Is he capable of love?

The narcissist’s relationship is with himself; he sees you as an extension of himself and you need to simply fit in. Partners of narcissists are often times confused, hurt and feel abandoned. Yet they stay with them because the narcissist will lure the partner back in by occasionally exhibiting once more the charm, excitement and attention they initially gave, leaving the partner with a sense of hope that things will get better.

In public, narcissists display their charismatic feigned self. People are drawn to them and find them charming and entertaining. But at home they show their true colors and revert back to belittling you and perhaps the person they were just entertaining. You might think they love only themselves, but that is a myth. In reality, narcissists have very poor self esteem. Their swagger, self-flattery and arrogance are a cover up for feelings of self-loathing; they do not admit these feelings to others or even to themselves. Instead they project their hostility toward themselves onto you and others as criticism and disdain.

In love relationships, narcissists tend to distort and misperceive the good intentions of others. They need to be in control at all times. If they feel slighted, they usually withdraw or isolate themselves; they do not see how their actions make their significant other feel anxious. This is especially true if their partner has a borderline personality disorder. Narcissists are often times drawn to partners who fear abandonment and/or who experience narcissistic traits themselves. A borderline-narcissistic combo is not unusual as people with borderline personality disorder have a very weak sense of self and difficulty bonding with others. They tend to over-invest in others-exactly what a narcissist needs.

The narcissist who is “in love” becomes enamored of someone who has qualities that he wants to have or no longer possesses such as beauty, power, organization, strong sense of self or so on. The narcissist tries to possess these qualities through his relationship as he sees his significant other as an extension of himself.

Common traits of a narcissist

Narcissism traits are on a continuum from someone who is very self-centered with a few personality traits of narcissism to full blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). A person with NPD would show five or more of the following characteristics:

  • An exaggerated sense of one’s own abilities and achievements.
  • A constant need for attention, affirmation and praise.
  • A belief that he or she is unique or “special” and should only associate with other people of the same status.
  • Persistent fantasies about attaining success and power.
  • Exploiting other people for personal gain.
  • A sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment.
  • A preoccupation with power or success.
  • Feeling envious of others, or believing that others are envious of him or her.
  • A lack of empathy for others.

How do I know if I am dating a narcissist? I don’t know him well enough to see the behavior described above.
There are some common traits that they exhibit during the dating phase (and beyond):

  • You always feel like you are the one chasing them.
  • They never care about your problems.
  • He works for applause for a living. (seriously)
  • They only make a move on you when they are good and ready.
  • You can’t depend on them.
  • The only activities you do together are ones they want.
  • They constantly give you ‘mixed signals’ (they want you then they don’t want you, they are hot for you and cold for you, creating constant emotional turmoil).

Are narcissists codependent?

People with “codependency” issues lack a strong sense of self and define themselves through others. This is true for all narcissists; their self image is so weak and insecure they need constant validation through praise and admiration. If you have a relationship between two narcissists, they will be miserable needing each other and fighting over whose needs come first. They will also both push each other away. However, for people who are codependent but don’t have a personality disorder (like borderline or narcissism), it can be a perfect, if somewhat painful, fit. A codependent also has low self-esteem but theirs’ is boosted by the narcissist’s extroverted personality and aura of success. Furthermore, their low self-esteem allows them to endure the narcissist’s abuse. They feel guilty asserting their own needs and loving/caring for a narcissist makes them feel valued. It is also a perfect fit because the codependent doesn’t feel worthy of receiving love for the individual that they are, only for what they give or do.


Stereotypically, narcissists don’t seek help as they don’t see or admit to problems or imperfection. Sometimes a major loss will get them into counseling. Narcissism and codependency can be helped with patience, courage, and a commitment to yourself. Therapy would involve improving boundaries (narcissists don’t have boundaries and feel threatened when their partner tries to enforce them) and increasing self-acceptance. Psychotherapy and joining a 12-step program are the recommended starting point.



About Alexander Burgemeester

10 Responses to “Dealing With Narcissistic Men in Relationships”

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  1. Clifton Brantley says:

    This is a great article! I have a client who is dealing with a man like this. If I can get him to come in, where do I start with him? And if not, what do I tell my client who has strong feelings for him, but not married?

  2. Wife of a narcissist says:

    Thank you for this article. Now I know what I am dealing with because all these years I thought it was me but now I know what is wrong with my husband. He is my 2nd husband and I feel bad for putting my children through this. They are grown ups now and at least they will understand everything better now after reading this article. Hopefully I’ll find more articles on this and how to deal with it.

  3. AnonGirl says:

    I disagree with the following statement about dating a N: “You always feel like you are the one chasing them.”

    In my experience, the N comes on strong and pursues, sweeping you off your feet. This is because the N likely believes you are the “one”, because you reflect to the N all the traits that he wishes to possess. In my case, my N emphasized how much we had in common, basically gushing that I was perfect for him, everything he wanted. This is certainly compelling, especially if the N is attractive and appealing. The N will likely pull out all the stops on your first few dates, based on what you like to do. Grandiose gestures of romance are common. The N is addicted to the initial rush of the possibility of a new “soul mate” who has all the right qualities.

    Only later will the N start to see the imperfections and reality of the relationship, and begin to criticize and find fault, then withdraw himself. He will gradually pull away, or just simply disappear into thin air. Likely, as in my case, he is already dating other women or seeking out a new exciting Of course, he’ll likely later return to you to gain attention (narcissistic supply.)

    There is a great book called Narcisstic Lovers that has helped me a lot in getting past my recent “relationship” with a N.

    • greenidgirl says:

      I just ended a 4 month relationship with a Narcisstic man. Wow…what a ride!!! Swept me off my feet when I wasn’t even looking or wanting a serious relationship, pledged his love in so many ways, took me on 3 vacations, fabulous dinners, dancing, romance, total gentlemen and good lover. He told me that in his 50 years on this planet, no woman has EVER loved or adored him the way I did. He spoke the most incredible heart-felt emotions to me, backed it up with actions too. BUT, the entire time I found he was still keeping his options open to other women and then finally he started distancing himself from me big time. After I broke up with him, I found that he’s dating a 26 yr old. He and I both have daughters (mine is 25 and his is 23), so the fact that he’s dating a girl this age make me wanna throw up. He kept telling me that he was so in love with him that it scared him…I began to read into this and decided I wasn’t up for this emotional roller coaster. Sucks because now I’m left with sorting through what was real and what was fantasy. I feel bad for him because he’s always looking for a higher high, sprinkling a little piece of himself onto every woman he meets, falling in love with the idea of love, throwing himself into woman, selfishly to gain their love and attention only to abandon them, lie to them and cheat. People say he’s gonna try to come back to me after the thrill of the 26 year old wears off. I’m not so sure about that because he’s so self centered and has many options to occupy his thoughts of me or what I thought we had together. However I’d love it just for pure satisfaction of telling him to go pound sand. So happy I saw the warning signs early on and bolted.

  4. Girlfriend of a N says:

    I have had the opportunity to read so much about being in a narcissistic relationship. I have been involved with a man for three years. This is the shortest relationship I have been in and it has caused the worse damage to my self esteem and I still haven’t figured out how to walk away. I used to think that I could make him feel secure and I ended up being filled with doubts. This article is spot on… and it’s almost funny.. I have always felt like I was the one chasing him from the beginning. And it doesn’t matter how beautiful he always says I am. He just uses it against me by showing his lack of trust in me with any man. I have done so much to try to make him see that I would never hurt him in that way, and I know it’s for nothing. I have always felt like I have to be so strong with him and that I cannot break down emotionally. He just is not willing to be there. I just want to be able to stop trading the emptiness I feel when I am alone for the emptiness I feel when I am with him. I know that I am better and can do better than this. There is always that hope though, that things could be right between him and I.

  5. ANOTHER girlfriend of a N says:

    The article is brilliant and spot on. and so are the responses. My guy and i were invovled for almost 2 years. started off wanting to impress me. That was shortlived. He cheated continuously on me with his ex’s. Criticised me. insulted me. Never complimented me even though people around him told him he was so lucky to have me. Although he spent money on me i think he did it to make himself feel great. Grandiosity +++. Always talking about money and all great things. Thrifty spender, gambling too. But i was lonely. With him yet so alone. And he showed very little empathy towards me…if any. After insulting me publically i decided its time to walk. And still he did not feel the need to try and fix things. He may come back later…and hopefully i will be even stronger to stick to my decision. But the emotional abuse is just too much.

  6. Andy says:

    My wife tells me and all her friends that I am a narcissist. I have looked at a number of articles on narcissism and I can see traits that I have. For one thing I do sometimes judge her behaviour and struggle to empathise. I do try to charm her to make her like me and give me an easier ride. I am quite a detached person and find it difficult to share things emotionally. My big problem is that when I read articles on narcissism I see strong traits in her (blame, rage, projection, boundaries) and I can’t work out if that is me in some kind of denial, refusing to look at it by projecting back on to her or the other way round. We have looked at articles together (only about me) and some traits that I just don’t recognise in myself (I think I am being open-minded) she can work at and sell to me as being absolute extreme traits of mine. How do I know if it’s me?

  7. Don says:

    This may help a lot of you. Just suppose that the person you are calling a narcissist never did love you and he had his reasons as he learned to know you as a person. You did not except the fact that he did not love you and pushed your way into his life. Now that you are there he is just telling you why he does not love you so you can change or go away.

    • GemGirl says:

      Don, but if the person who doesn’t love someone just wants them to change or go away, he can leave her. Why must there be all the abusiveness? No person with adequate empathy could allow themselves to continue doing harm to another just for the sake of it.

    • The Ex-GF of a Narcissist-Yay! says:

      My N ex-bf was the one constantly pulling me back in. I was very careful about not “pushing my way” into his life in any way and can honestly say this never happened. I think most N would never allow a woman to do that anyway. They have very distinct ways of keeping women in their places. Never did he express he didn’t love me, quite the opposite. I know he loved me so much it scared him and I did love him but didn’t like how he distanced himself from me and the sick pleasure he got knowing he was hurting me by being aloof and distant. This was a game to him and he loved every minute of it.

      From a psychological standpoint, I understood his need to distance himself because of the abuse he suffered as a child. It was this understanding and desire to help him (thus called co-dependency) that kept me in the relationship because a person can’t be normal after what happened to him as a child. I had so much empathy for the damage this abuse did to his inner soul yet his total lack of empathy totally creeped me out.

      Nevertheless, as long as he knew he had me hooked, he distanced himself from me but as soon as I was ready to walk or distanced myself from him, he was all over me like cat hair on navy blue fleece! There were times I had to literally peel him off me.

      I think you’ll find this scenario is more typical of a N relationship than what you are speaking about. He kept reeling me back in for 12 on/off years until I began reading about N. It was then that I saw him for what he was, understood why he was doing what he was doing, and realized his silly junior high school games (that’s exactly what I often told him they were) would never end. That’s when I suddenly cut all communication with him and ran from him as fast as I could. I know I will never go back. He is crushed and I can finally say…I really don’t care.

      You want distance? I served him distance on a silver platter. The difference is, I’m. Not. Playing. Games.

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