The Complete Guide To The Narcissist in Relationships For Partners

Last Updated on July 14, 2022 by Alexander Burgemeester

If you haven’t already noticed, the narcissistic relationship pattern is quite unlike any typical relationship.

Narcissists are self-absorbed, egotistical, and primarily focused on their own needs and happiness. This mentality transcends everything they do, and it often makes for destructive relationships with others.

Partners often feel exhausted, confused, and frustrated by this toxic behavior. If you feel stuck and don’t know what to do next, this is the guide for you. 

Signs of Being in a Narcissistic Relationship

Some types of narcissists are obvious. They’re over-the-top and dramatic with their personalities. Everyone knows of them as conceited or arrogant. 

For example, a malignant narcissist often displays sociopathic behavior because they present as incredibly entitled and cold to others. They seem to lack empathy and blame others when anything goes wrong. 

But not all narcissism is so apparent. Like all personality disorders, narcissism lies on a spectrum, and numerous subtypes are associated with this condition. 

That said, here are some universal, telltale signs that you might be in a narcissistic relationship. 

signs narcissistic relationship

You Don’t Know What They Want

One moment, the narcissist lavishes you with adoration and praise, telling you how special you are.

They’re utterly obsessed with you, and it feels so good. But the next moment, they’re fuming at you. You’re disgusting to them, and it’s like you’re the worst person they’ve ever met.

Narcissism is often classified by inconsistent moods and irrational behavior.

Therefore, the narcissistic relationship feels consistently chaotic. Even when things seem “fine,” you keep waiting for something destructive to happen. 

You Constantly Feel Inferior 

Narcissists thrive on being the center of attention, and this applies whether their narcissism is fragile or overt.

They can’t stand it when someone else is in the spotlight- that applies to their own partners or children. They do whatever it takes to get the attention they desperately desire.

You Always Question Your Reality 

Narcissists often lie or stretch the truth to make it fit their reality. For example, let’s say you casually remind them that you have a hair appointment later that day. They angrily respond that this is the first they’re hearing of it. But you’re convinced you two discussed this the previous night. 

Now you’re left feeling confused. Did you really tell them? Are they messing with you? Did they just forget? 

This pattern is persistent in relationships with narcissists. Unfortunately, chronic gaslighting can cause long-term damage to partners.

In the future, you might find it challenging to trust others. You may assume all intimate partners have manipulative or controlling tendencies. Furthermore, you might find yourself drawn to narcissistic people again and again.

You Feel Like They Read You Too Well

At first, you may feel amazed by how attuned the narcissist is to your needs and feelings. That’s part of the narcissistic charm, and it can be devastating for partners as they progress through their relationship.

When a narcissist seems to read you too well, that’s usually a sign that they’re engaging in narcissistic mirroring.

narcissist mirroring

Mirroring means they pay very close attention to your needs, preferences, and values. They then try to match their personalities with yours. For example, if you want to go to Japan, that’s next on their bucket list! If you struggle with depression, so do they! 

Narcissists use mirroring to store information to use on you later. Let’s say, for example, you did confide in your struggles with depression.

At first, they seem compassionate and supportive, and they even share their own struggles with their mental health.

But months later, they accuse you of never taking care of yourself, and they tell your family that you’re always so depressed and sad all the time. 

You Feel Like You Always Apologize For Them

Narcissistic behavior is often embarrassing. To compensate, you may feel like you have to constantly apologize or make excuses on their behalf.

You might even feel responsible for their actions as if they are a reflection of you. 

You’re Afraid of Them

Because narcissists are so unpredictable, you might fear your narcissistic husband or partner. The fear can be extreme (you’re worried they will physically hurt you).

But it can also be more subtle (you’re worried that you’re going to irritate them and have to deal with their moodiness). 

This fear can mirror that of any other trauma response. Narcissistic abuse can lead to PTSD symptoms, and people often find that healing from such abuse can be a complex and long road. 

You Never Know What Mood They’re Going to Be In

Sometimes, the narcissist seems content and pleasant. They attune to you and try to be a compassionate partner. But other times, they’re downright selfish and mean. 

guess mood narcissist

The takeaway here is that you never really know what will set them off. Anything could trigger their narcissistic rage, causing you to feel like you need to constantly walk on eggshells.  

You Feel Controlled

Narcissists crave power and control to feel validated. As a result, they will aim to control every area of your relationship, including your appearance, values, finances, work, and parenting style.

narcissist controls you

Keep in mind that the control tactics may start slowly. You might not even notice them until you realize that you second-guess making any independent decisions.

You Feel Strange About Sex

Sex with a narcissist usually feels chaotic and inconsistent. Sometimes, they seem to enjoy making love, kissing, and cuddling with you. But other times, it might seem purely transactional, as if you’re just a body they’re using for pleasure.

That’s because narcissists don’t value intimacy the same way most people do. It isn’t about building connections or securing a sense of safety.

All intimacy is centered on meeting their own needs for love, security, and attention. If you keep supplying those needs, they’ll likely keep coming back. 

You Despise Their Parenting Style

It’s no secret that narcissists have complex relationships with their children. Many times, they tend to split their children into overly simplistic categories

The golden child, for example, is seemingly perfect and on a massive pedestal to lift the narcissist’s self-esteem. The family scapegoat, on the other hand, can’t do anything right. In other words, the narcissist uses their children as pawns to maintain their self-esteem. 

Unfortunately, both sons of narcissists and daughters of narcissists are equally susceptible to the damaging effects of such toxic parenting styles.  

You Spot Narcissism in Other Family Members 

Narcissism and narcissistic traits can run in families. This is true with direct parents and also narcissistic grandparents

Adult children of narcissists often grow up feeling neglected, inferior, and angry. Sometimes, the combination of those traits leads to developing more of an empath personality. Other times, it can spiral right into another branch of narcissism.

Dealing with narcissism in families isn’t easy, and that’s why it can be particularly exhausting at family functions. If you’re dealing with narcissistic siblings or narcissistic in-laws, you might feel like you’re facing insanity from all angles.  

How Is It Like to Be Dating a Narcissist?

The narcissistic relationship cycle tends to follow some predictable phases. We’ll review the typical ones below.

dating a narcissist

Love-Bombing Phase

The love-bombing phase (also known as idealization) of narcissism can be the most exciting one. This is when everything seems euphoric because you two are both seemingly falling in love with each other.  

Some classic signs of love-bombing include:

  • Excessive praise and identifications of love
  • Feeling like they are totally addicted to you 
  • Making bold promises about long-term commitment very early on
  • Extreme clinginess (they don’t want to spend even a moment away from you)
  • Frequently telling you that you’re soulmates (often known as false twin flames)  or that nobody can understand them the way you do

Love-bombing doesn’t just happen in intimate relationships. Sometimes, when narcissists feel threatened in friendships, they will try to “fix” the problem by bombing the other person with affection.  

Devaluation Phase 

Just as you get hooked and feel like you’re totally attached, the narcissist seems to flip the relationship upside-down. They no longer seem as ecstatic to be in the relationship. They make snarky comments here and there. 

Devaluation often starts so slowly that you don’t even really notice it’s happening. But the more you commit to the relationship, the “safer” they feel in revealing their true colors. During the devaluation phase, narcissists are likely to cheat on their partners, withdraw completely, or tighten up their controlling tendencies. 

Suddenly, an onslaught of emotional abuse, gaslighting, and anger emerges. It’s as confusing as it is frightening, and you’re left wondering what happened to your perfect relationship. 

Discarding Phase 

The discard phase is incredibly painful. This is when the narcissist decides they are done with the relationship. The narcissist may dump you first- or they may act so horrendously that you have no choice but to leave them. 

Partners often experience immense rage, grief, and confusion during this time. Like a child who no longer wants to play with their beloved toy, it can feel as if you’ve been tossed in the trash. 

Why does this happen? Because when a narcissist is finished with you, they no longer feel like they can use you to meet their narcissistic supply. They need to find it elsewhere- often in another person. 

How to Deal With a Narcissistic Partner?

How do you actually cope with a narcissist? If you identify as an empath, how do you protect yourself while honoring your needs for connection or love? And what happens when the narcissist won’t leave you alone or respect your boundaries? 

Here are some important tips to keep in mind. 

Educate Yourself on Narcissism 

If you believe you have a narcissistic boyfriend or narcissistic girlfriend, educating yourself on Narcissism is crucial. You are dealing with a challenging dynamic. If you intend to stay in the relationship, you need to understand what to expect.

Eventually, you’ll see how they place their own needs before everyone else’s. You’ll watch how they oscillate between extreme anger and the desire for excessive attention.

Most of all, you’ll understand their insatiable need for special attention, even when they seem to desperately downplay or lie about that need.  

Identify Your Own Part

As a partner, it’s helpful to identify the role you maintain in the relationship.

For example, do you enable their problematic behavior? Do you continue making excuses for them because you feel guilty or embarrassed? Do you keep holding onto the promise that they will change their ways?

Remember that having a “part” in a dynamic doesn’t make you guilty, weak, or bad. However, it’s a good idea to acknowledge how your own actions may perpetuate feeling stuck or miserable.

Recognize the Manipulation Tactics

Once you start learning more about narcissism, you will recognize problematic behavior in many situations. You’ll decode the narcissism in their casual conversations, text messages, and even in the way they respond to you crying

It’s important to start labeling these tactics as you observe them. Labeling doesn’t mean you need to take immediate action. It simply means that you’re identifying when the narcissist is manipulating you. 

Set Boundaries

In general, boundaries are hard. But boundaries with a narcissist often feel impossible.

That’s because narcissists don’t inherently respect the limits of others, especially when those limits affect their self-esteem or happiness. When their ego feels threatened (which happens anytime they detect an ounce of regret), they tend to lash out.

That said, boundaries protect your integrity. You have every right to draw lines between you and the narcissist. What’s most essential is that you follow through with implementing those lines every single time. 

Seek External Support 

If the narcissist keeps hurting you (or keeps coming back even after you’ve ended things), you need outside support. You shouldn’t have to navigate this painful experience alone.

Consider reaching out to trusted friends or family who don’t have any real ties to the narcissist. If you don’t feel like those are safe options, it may be worth meeting with a professional therapist.  

Can Narcissists Change in a Relationship?

If you’re reading all this and feeling discouraged, you’re not alone. At this point, you might ask yourself whether change is possible- or whether it’s just a pipe dream.

First, it’s important to remember that personality disorders are pervasive and chronic. They are serious mental illnesses, and researchers don’t know the exact causes for their development. A narcissistic personality disorder is no different.

a narcissist cant change

While it’s presumptuous to assume that narcissists can’t change, sustainable change is rare. Most narcissists are quite resistant to admitting their problems, connecting with others, or even reflecting on how they can do things differently. These roadblocks make self-growth difficult!  

Instead of focusing on how and when they might change, the real question is: are you willing to keep sticking around? Because there’s a good chance nothing will improve. And if that’s the case, how will you feel? 

How to End a Narcissistic Relationship?

If you want to know how to get out of a narcissistic relationship, the first step comes down to really committing to your reasons for leaving.

You need to be firm with your desires because the narcissist hates rejection and will probably do everything in their power to keep you with them.

How Do Narcissists React After a Breakup?

If you’re ready to end your relationship with a narcissist, you might feel worried about how they will react. This is a valid fear! If being in a relationship is exhaustive, ending that relationship can be just as tiring.

Here are some reactions you can expect.

narcissist reactions after a breakup

Lots of False Apologies 

Get ready for all the grandiose narcissistic apologies and declarations about how they’re going to change their ways. If they’ve never taken responsibility for their actions before, you might feel swayed by their apparent humility.

But make no mistake- these apologies are not sincere, and they do not have your best interest at heart. Instead, narcissists grasp at whatever they can find to maintain the status quo. And if they want to stay in a relationship with you, they’ll promise you the world to make that happen.

Extreme Projection 

Narcissistic projection happens when a narcissist tries to transfer their emotions, thoughts, and needs onto others. 

For example, let’s say you come home from work and mention that you’re feeling tired. The narcissist might respond, You’re tired? Who’s the one that worked sixty hours this week? You can’t even see how good you have it.

After a breakup, a narcissist might use projection by accusing you of never caring about the relationship, wanting to cheat on them, or failing to “give it your all.” 

Projection is all about kicking you when you’re already down. The narcissist doesn’t want to sit with the uncomfortable feelings, so they throw them onto you. 

Excessive Hoovering

Narcissistic hoovering is a common reaction after a breakup. The narcissist does whatever they can to sweep you back into their lives. Even if they don’t want to be in a relationship with you anymore, they do want you to pay attention to them. 

Sometimes, that means apologizing time and time again for their wrongdoings. Other times, it means feigning a crisis, proving to you how they’ve already moved on to someone else, exploiting friends or family for information about you, or trying to smear your reputation.

Ongoing Threats 

As a general rule, narcissists treat old supply terribly. They also treat their exes as if they are the enemy.

The narcissist will do everything in their power to intimidate you once you leave. Unfortunately, this behavior often reinforces the devastating effects of narcissistic abuse syndrome.

If you share assets together, they will try to destroy you financially. If you have children, they will try to sabotage every step of the child custody process.

The message here is loud and clear: the narcissist didn’t like that you ended things, and they are going to punish you severely as a result.  

How to Get the Narcissist Back

If you want to get the narcissist back, you first need to reflect on your intentions. What exactly do you hope to achieve? What will getting back together do for your self-esteem, boundaries, and overall happiness?

Before taking action, it’s a good idea to really pause. As mentioned, narcissists don’t readily change, and narcissists often become more hysterical and ballistic once they know you’re onto them

How to Get Revenge on the Narcissist?

Because narcissists love playing mind games with everyone else, revenge can seem tantalizing. This is especially true if you’ve ended the relationship or are considering doing so. 

How to Get Revenge on the Narcissist_

If you want to really:

You need to learn how to outplay them at their own game.

Clapback When They Get Feisty 

Sometimes, humor has its place in narcissistic relationships. For example, you might say something like, did my self-absorption get in the way of yours? Or, you could say, Thanks for reminding me why nobody likes you! 

Of course, you should be very mindful when you use sarcasm or humor to engage with the narcissist. This tactic doesn’t really address the problem, and it will likely trigger more anger.

Humiliate Them Publicly 

This is a very risky way to seek revenge, but you could start talking about how their behavior has hurt you. Or, you could call them out for outlandish actions by saying, Yeah, that never happened, or, Are you really going to sit here and lie about that? 

It’s risky because narcissists can’t tolerate rejection. So instead of accepting responsibility for their behavior, they’re likely to defend it, blame others for it, or attempt to turn on you completely

Disengage Completely 

The absolute worst thing you can do to a narcissist is to ignore them altogether. Over time, if you stick with it, this strategy will result in them hating you

It may sound simple and even ridiculous, but silent treatment tends to fuel even more narcissistic rage. The difference is that you’ve proactively chosen to avoid engaging with their chaos.

Remember that going no-contact with a narcissist is usually the best option for moving on entirely. It eliminates the potential for them to have any reach or pull in your life.

And even if they try to crawl back (which they often will), cutting all communication allows you to focus entirely on your needs without being distracted by their tactics. 

Should You Confront a Narcissist?

Ready to give the narcissist peace of your mind? Do you want to hurt them just as much as they have hurt you? 

Many partners fantasize about confronting the narcissist with the truth or exposing their harmful behavior to the world. It’s tempting, but you should proceed with caution, and here’s why.

What Happens When You Confront a Narcissist_

They Will Continue Blaming You

Narcissists hate being held accountable, so any slight feedback will morph into them spinning the problem onto you.

And if they can’t directly blame you, they’ll probably integrate some other person or situation to blame. This is known as narcissistic triangulation, and it happens when a narcissist essentially introduces an unwanted threesome into your relationship.

For example, they’ll blame their terrible boss for their bad mood and state that work is the reason they’ve been such an awful husband. Or, they’ll tell you their neighbor keeps flirting with them, and they’re innocent!

The goal here is simple: they want to transfer your feelings of frustration or rage towards them onto someone or something else. 

They Will Continue Denying the Behavior 

Although it may seem crazy, some narcissists will deny their behavior at all costs. Even when they are blatantly lying, they become relentless in their mission to defend themselves.

This is why confronting a narcissist tends to be futile. They have no interest in abiding by typical social rules. They don’t care if you feel disgusted or annoyed by them. They just want to protect their ego and ensure that they keep receiving their precious narcissistic supply.

They Will Laugh or Tell You They Know They’re Narcissistic 

It’s a misconception that narcissists don’t recognize their own problematic behavior. Many of them do. In fact, many narcissists know they’re narcissistic. It doesn’t mean they necessarily like their behavior, but it could mean they’ve grown to accept (or even embrace) some of it. 

This heightened self-awareness may be most apparent in cerebral narcissists, as they experience immense pride and value in thinking they are smarter or more sophisticated than everyone.  

The difference is that they can still justify or rationalize their actions. The world, according to them, would be so much simpler if everyone played by their rules. And so, you calling them out on their behavior won’t change much. If anything, they’ll just use that information against you.

They Will Become Dangerous 

A cornered narcissist can become wildly impulsive and unpredictable. Narcissism often goes hand-in-hand with other personality disorders or criminal activities.

Your safety- and the safety of others- may be compromised in a fit of rage. In general, it’s best to avoid getting caught in their crossfire. Your life may literally depend on it. 

If you live together, having some form of a safety plan is essential. Leaving may not always be a feasible option, but you still need to protect your livelihood.  

Final Thoughts

Narcissistic relationships are stressful and complicated. If you’re with a narcissist, it’s important to educate yourself on the risks and evaluate your options.

Remember that you are worthy of love and respect! If you aren’t getting it from the narcissist, it’s time to reconsider your steps for moving forward. 

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Alexander Burgemeester

Alexander Burgemeester has a Master in Neuropsychology. He studied at the University of Amsterdam and has a bachelor's in Clinical Psychology. Want to know more?

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