Last Updated on April 13, 2021 by Alexander Burgemeester
How do you know if a narcissist is cheating on you? What are the 8 Narcissist Cheating signs and how do you come to terms with it?
Narcissists are notorious for engaging in both emotional and physical infidelity (1). In fact, there is a wealth of research that suggests narcissism is positively correlated with having extramarital affairs and more sexually permissive attitudes towards infidelity, even when there is satisfaction in a present relationship (2, 3).
The difference between your average cheater and a narcissistic cheater is that the narcissist is searching for power and control. Due to their lack of empathy and thirst for validation and narcissistic supply, narcissists are capable of collecting fans and admirers they can feed off of – all while maintaining a long-term relationship with a primary partner.
They’re often successful in deceiving their long-term partner and their other conquests due to their ability to manufacture lies and gaslight their victims into believing them. Narcissists have the ability to present a false mask. This allows them to deceive their partners and everyone else around them into believing that they are charming and honest.
Let’s start with 8 warning signs the Narcissist is cheating on you.
Narcissist Cheating Signs – 8 Signs a Narcissist is Cheating on You
There are varying levels of narcissism and different types according to some, so of course, not every narcissist will display exactly the same behaviors. And the cheating narcissist is likely to have developed a strategy that works for them when it comes to deceiving their victims. However, there are some general signs you can watch out for that might reveal your partner as a cheating narcissist.
1. Early on, they boldly declare that they would never lie or cheat
Cheating Sign #1: Beware of the hypocritical narcissist who deals in contradictions. If they declare early on in the relationship how much they despise lying and cheating, this could be a sign that they are exactly what they say they’re not. Remember, someone who constantly has to remind you how honest and trustworthy they are is probably the opposite of this behind your back.
They may even tell you a tragic story of how they themselves were cheated on to appear a victim and state that this is why they would never do such a thing, but if they constantly talk about how much they believe in integrity and honesty, this can actually be a red flag.
Narcissists often project a different image of themselves to the world, which contradicts who they really are (4).
2. They often cancel plans last minute or you don’t hear from them for days at a time
If you’re in the early stages of an ‘exclusive’ relationship, it’s easy to dismiss these behaviors as flakiness or attempts to play it cool. However, if these behaviors persist, it could be a sign you’re not the only one your narcissist has time for. If you’re in a long-term relationship with a narcissist and they commonly use stonewalling (the silent treatment) against you, this could also be a sign they are cheating, as they may be using this time to pursue their other targets.
This is why they might ask to take a ‘break’ from you or you don’t hear from them for days at a time. Even if you live with them, they may find ways to be ‘away’. They may even purposely start a fight with you in order to have a valid excuse to be absent.
3. Their social media use is shady
narcissists will often use social media as it gives them a sense of validation and power knowing they have people following and admiring them (5). Suspicious behaviour on social media can manifest in a variety of ways. Narcissists are known to be on dating apps even while committed and may also engage in obvious flirting both online and offline (6).
You might notice they post flirtatious comments on the photos of others or that they follow a large volume of sexually explicit accounts. They may refuse to put up a relationship status with you or keep adding suspicious new ‘friends’.
Equally, if your partner has no social media accounts at all, this could also be a red flag. They could be using this as a way of protecting themselves – if none of their partners can see what they’re doing on social media, it’s far harder to be caught.
4. Other people warn you about them
If the narcissist’s ex-partners are calling them out publicly or going out of their way to warn you about them, take a step back. This may seem like quite an obvious sign, but the narcissist is such a good liar it can be easy to believe them when they claim these people are ‘crazy’.
They will smear their ex-victims and say they were ‘obsessed’. They may even pre-empt these warnings and tell you lies before these people reach out to warn you, but don’t assume that every past lover is out just to ruin your relationship, listen to these warnings if they arise.
5. They lie compulsively
Narcissists are often masters of pathological lying (7). They gain a sense of power from being able to pull the wool over people’s eyes. If they are cheating on you, they’ll be lying to prevent themselves from getting caught. However, they may even lie when they have no reason to do so at all, as it gives them a sense of superiority. If you notice them lying about small everyday things, it could be a sign they are cheating on you.
6. They get extremely jealous or accuse you of cheating
To distract you from their own infidelity, they may call you out and suggest you are cheating on them. They may think you won’t suspect them of being unfaithful if they show strong contempt for such behaviour. Even if you do suspect they are cheating on you, it’s hard to bring up the subject whilst also trying to defend yourself. This is a strong sign you’re being cheated on.
7. Sex habits change
Sex can be a source for the narcissist to receive their fix of narcissistic supply. If you notice they are no longer demanding as much sex from you, there is a good chance they are getting it from somewhere else. Or if they suddenly want more sex from you, this could indicate that they have recently discarded another lover and so they return to you to meet their needs.
8. They suddenly become very frugal
Narcissists love to splash the cash on new love interests in the early stages of a relationship when they ‘love bomb’ their latest victim. If you notice a sharp decrease in the amount of money and time they want to spend on you, it’s likely they are focusing their attention somewhere else.
Do all Narcissists Cheat?
Not all narcissists are cheaters, but having Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) does make them more likely than the ordinary person to be unfaithful to their partner (8).
Similarly, you can’t say that all cheaters are narcissists. People from all backgrounds and with all types of personalities are capable of cheating. But the reasons a narcissist may cheat and the way they feel (or don’t) about it does separate them from others.
Why do narcissists cheat?
The tendency of a narcissist to cheat on a partner comes from a combination of factors. Some things that may contribute are:
- Narcissistic supply – narcissists feed off attention and a single relationship does not always give them what they need, especially if that relationship has been going a while and is no longer as ‘exciting’ as it once was. They may look to new admirers to provide the highs of attention they are looking for.
- Sense of entitlement – narcissists genuinely believe they are more deserving of things than other people. They feel entitled to whatever they want in life and this includes having more than one partner or having affairs.
- Poor impulse control – there is evidence that suggests a strong relationship between narcissism and impulsivity (9). This is not always true, as narcissists can also be extremely calculating, but in situations where there is an opportunity to secure narcissistic supply, a narcissist may find the urge irresistible and show a lack of self-control. This is not excusing their behaviour at all, but simply making you aware of this narcissistic trait.
- Power trip – narcissists like to feel they have control over others (10), so they may see it as a challenge to attract and seduce people, even if they are in a relationship. They enjoy the chase and the satisfaction of successfully seducing someone. They may even get more pleasure out of controlling more than one partner and so may engage in affairs or even lead multiple lives with multiple partners. They see this as proof they are superior to others.
- Lack of empathy – narcissists can dehumanize people and see them merely as objects to use for their own gain (11). This means that they don’t empathize with them and feel no guilt for cheating on a partner, even if it’s someone they’ve been in a long-term relationship with. This is because they have cut off from their human emotions, which they think makes them vulnerable.
How do you deal with a Cheating Narcissist?
If you notice some of these red flags, you have two options:
- Confront the narcissist or,
- Leave them as quickly and quietly as you can.
What happens when you confront a cheating narcissist?
If you’re pretty certain that your narcissist is cheating on you and you decide to confront them about it, just remember that they will use all of the usual narcissistic techniques to try and get out of it and keep you on their side. Some typical narcissistic reactions include:
- Denial – this will typically be their first reaction and they will refuse to admit to doing anything wrong. They will probably spin some lie to convince you of their innocence. Even if you have evidence that shows they are guilty, they will discredit this and insist the source is unreliable.
- Anger – they will get angry and gaslight you to throw you off the scent. They will refuse to engage on the issue and shut down the conversation any time you raise it.
- Blame – if they are completely backed in to a corner and have no choice but to admit they are cheating, they will try to turn the situation around and blame you for their wrongdoings, claiming it’s your behaviour that drove them to cheat.
Should you confront a cheating narcissist?
Confronting your cheater certainly won’t feel good and they’re likely to be nasty about the whole thing. But, if you require some proof, for the purpose of divorce, for example, you might have to do it. Even if you just want to leave the relationship, having this conversation might be the first step in that process.
Leaving a narcissist is not easy but if the Narcissist knows you’ve figured them out and no longer believes their lies, they might decide you’re no longer worth the effort and make the split easier.
The alternative is to simply leave and go no contact with them. If you think there is nothing to be gained from confronting them, then this is definitely your best option.
Read my other article for more on how best to ignore a narcissist. In the long term, this is an effective way of dealing with a narcissist, although it can be difficult at the start.
Whatever approach you take, the narcissist is likely to conduct a smear campaign against you that makes you out to be the bad person as they won’t want others to believe they are any less perfect than they think they are.
In the end, you are probably better off to stop the relationship. Narcissists are very unlikely to change their ways. If they are cheating on you now, they will probably continue to do so, no matter how remorseful they may seem.
References Used for this article
- Foster, J. D., Shrira, I., & Campbell, W. K. (2006). Theoretical models of narcissism, sexuality, and relationship commitment. Journal of social and Personál Relationships, 23(3), 367-386.
- Hunyady, O., Josephs, L., & Jost, J. T. (2008). Priming the primal scene: Betrayal trauma, narcissism, and attitudes toward sexual infidelity. Self and Identity, 7(3), 278-294.
- McNulty, J. K., & Widman, L. (2014). Sexual narcissism and infidelity in early marriage. Archives of sexual behavior, 43(7), 1315-1325.
- Hart, W., Adams, J., Burton, K. A., & Tortoriello, G. K. (2017). Narcissism and self-presentation: Profiling grandiose and vulnerable Narcissists’ self-presentation tactic use. Personality and Individual Differences, 104, 48-57.
- Andreassen, C. S., Pallesen, S., & Griffiths, M. D. (2017). The relationship between addictive use of social media, narcissism, and self-esteem: Findings from a large national survey. Addictive behaviors, 64, 287-293.
- March, E., Grieve, R., Marrington, J., & Jonason, P. K. (2017). Trolling on Tinder®(and other dating apps): Examining the role of the Dark Tetrad and impulsivity. Personality and Individual Differences, 110, 139-143.
- O’Reilly III, C. A., & Doerr, B. (2020). Conceit and deceit: Lying, cheating, and stealing among grandiose narcissists. Personality and Individual Differences, 154, 109627.
- Vaknin, S. (2001). Malignant self love: Narcissism revisited. Narcissus Publishing.
- Vazire, S., & Funder, D. C. (2006). Impulsivity and the self-defeating behavior of narcissists. Personality and social psychology review, 10(2), 154-165.
- Hart, W., Richardson, K., Tortoriello, G., & Tullett, A. (2017). Strategically out of control: A self-presentational conceptualization of narcissism and low self-control. Personality and Individual Differences, 114, 103-107.
- Watson, P. J., Grisham, S. O., Trotter, M. V., & Biderman, M. D. (1984). Narcissism and empathy: Validity evidence for the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Journal of personality assessment, 48(3), 301-305.