A narcissist is typically viewed as a person who’s in love with him or herself. On the surface, this is an accurate way to describe the behavior. But behind that charming preoccupation with self is a person who’s deeply wounded and unhappy with themselves. You would never know it if you only saw them periodically. They seem happy, satisfied and confident. But if you’re in an ongoing relationship with a narcissist, it’s only a matter of time before you begin to see the cracks in their facade.
- Your partner needs to be the focus of attention. At first it may not be obvious that a person with narcissistic tendencies likes to be the center of attention. They can initially show great interest in you and may even compliment you or compare you favorably with others. But this attentiveness is usually short-lived. They’re typically working to win your favor to elicit your interest in them. It isn’t a diabolical scheme or strategy — it’s just the self-centered way they typically go about developing relationships and getting the attention they crave.Healthy relationships are characterized by reciprocating dialogue: one person speaks while the other attentively listens. In contrast, conversations with a narcissist tend to be heavily weighted toward monologue with them doing most of the talking and you doing the listening. When you do get a chance to speak, your views are often dismissed, corrected or ignored.
- Your partner is controlling and demanding. In relationships where mutual respect is practiced, each partner is considered to have an equal voice when it comes to decision-making. But that rarely happens in a relationship with a narcissistic person because they find it difficult to take the perspective of their partner. They want to be in control and typically make executive decisions to ensure that situations work in their favor.After you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissistically-minded person for some time, you also begin to see how lopsided the effort is to maintain the relationship. For example, you may feel that you work much harder than your partner to keep conversations going, work through conflicts or admit mistakes. Despite your effort, your partner is critical and demanding and seems to focus more on what you’re not doing or not doing well enough. They may even take the role of victim and claim that they’re the one who gives so much and gets so little in return. Based on your partner’s comments, you seem to continually fall so short of his or her expectations.It’s also common for narcissists to feel a sense of entitlement, expecting you and everyone else to cater to their needs. There’s really only one correct way to view any situation: their way.
- Your partner is volatile when challenged. No one likes to be told they’re doing something wrong, but when constructive criticism is communicated in a sensitive way, the relationship can benefit and grow from these types of discussions. Unfortunately, narcissists tend to quickly become defensive if they sense criticism of any type, even if it’s constructive and sensitively delivered. They put up a shield to protect their fragile self-image. Their first line of defense is often to discount or minimize what’s being said or devalue the person saying it. Or they may go on the offensive and judge, criticize or blame you for the very same points you were trying to make. They tend to hold grudges and may repeatedly bring up past conflicts as a way to punish you.
- Your partner has an exaggerated sense of self-importance. One of the ways some people compensate for feelings of inferiority is to make themselves out to be better than others. Narcissists are pros at one-upping others as a way of feeling superior. It might come in the form of a “joke” that you find demeaning or a complaint made to others about you regarding something your partner is unhappy about, or simply an embellished tale of some exploit that exaggerates their role. They might portray themselves as a hero or savior that others look up to and admire. This grandiose perspective is how they keep the exaggerated sense of their self-importance alive. Instead of feeling an equal sense of value, you often feels inferior or as if you don’t quite measure up. This feeling of inferiority is only accentuated when other people buy into the facade that your partner perpetuates.
- Your partner threatens to leave when you fail to comply. When people in secure relationships get into conflict, the question they typically ask is: “How can we resolve this conflict and keep our relationship strong?” When conflict arises in an insecure relationship, the question often becomes: “Should we stay together?” A relationship with a narcissistic person definitely qualifies as an insecure connection because you never know when you’ll disappoint or anger your partner to the point that they threaten to leave. Sometimes this threat is simply manipulation to get you to comply with their wishes. Other times the narcissist may actually punish you with abandonment. Either way, the relationship feels fragile and this type of relationship doesn’t have a strong foundation on which to build a lasting and secure relationship.
If you conclude that you’re in a relationship with a narcissistic person, what do you do? First, stop trying to change your partner and focus on changing your response to these patterns. Decide that you’re not going to tolerate the unhealthy ways your partner treats you, such as always putting his or her needs above yours, being controlling and manipulating, making threats or demanding you comply with their wishes. Create a new boundary in the relationship that insists on being treated with respect and value. This might be hard for you to do, but it will be exceptionally hard if your partner has strong narcissistic tendencies.
If the relationship is important to both of you, seek help to work through these issues. If your partner only wants a relationship on his or her terms, it might be in your best interest to look for an exit point, which may be the only permanent solution.