Living with a partner who has narcissistic traits is undoubtedly challenging. People toss around the word narcissist lightly in conversation; however, when your companion truly suffers from narcissistic behaviors it can turn your life upside down. While you may love your partner very much (or not anymore!), their narcissistic traits can make it difficult for you to feel loved in return.
The first step is to recognize the signs. This will enable you to make some sense of seemingly senseless behavior.
10 signs that suggest your partner may have narcissistic traits
He or she…
- Expects continued appreciation and admiration from you and others.
- Overestimates their abilities and underestimates the contribution of others.
- Fantasizes about unlimited success in whatever they do.
- Compares themselves very favorable with high-status people, assuming only they will understand and truly appreciate them.
- Is often unreasonably demanding – having unrealistic expectations from you (and others).
- Contributes very little to the relationship.
- Has little or no empathy, often sneers, is contemptuous and over-critical of you and others.
- Is unwilling to discuss your feelings or concerns.
- Lacks insight into themselves and their behavior.
- Lacks appreciation of you, your feelings, your values and beliefs, your interests and concerns.
How to survive in a relationship with someone with narcissistic traits
People with narcissistic behaviors are usually charming in the beginning; however, their self-centered view makes it difficult for them to develop a strong long-term relationship. Their lack of empathy may even put your safety at risk. I wouldn’t be surprised if over time you have found yourself increasingly irritated, frustrated, stressed, or desperately hurt by them. You may have got into a spiral of negativity, with disappointments stacking up and dragging you down. Your self-esteem may have dropped because of this. At the same time, you may still love – or think you love – that person.
10 Tips for surviving life with a partner with narcissistic traits
- Be safe! Be aware of signs of domestic abuse and the cycle of violence.
- Give yourself permission not to think about your partner or spouse 24 hours a day! Take time to focus on meeting your own emotional needs.
- Remind yourself frequently that you are still uniquely smart and lovable – even if your partner suggests otherwise.
- Use whatever resources you have to deal with your own pre-existing insecurities, so that you get better protected against your partner’s criticism.
- Accept that you cannot change your partner. If only!
- View their behavior as a reflection of their insecurities – don’t take it personally.
- Share your experience with a trusted person – someone you know won’t judge you.
- Decide for yourself, and write down, what you do and don’t find acceptable behavior. Discuss it with someone you trust to make sure that you’re not making excuses for their behavior.
- Set boundaries as per #8 and decide what the consequences will be for unacceptable behavior (no petty punishments though!). You may increasingly feel that you can no longer carry on with this relationship.
- Be okay with contemplating ending your relationship or marriage, even if you’re not yet ready for it.
Can you ever hope to change things?
You cannot change your partner. Not because he or she may be narcissistic, but because none of us have such power over other people (at least not under normal circumstances).
All of us choose to change our behavior because feedback – positive or negative – and self-reflection. Those with narcissistic traits lack the capacity for self-reflection and have little insight into their own shortcomings and impact on others; therefore, it is unlikely that they will want to change.
Therefore, bringing about change in this kind of relationship is very challenging indeed, but not impossible. In any case, I would advise that you get professional help before you end the relationship!
10 Tips for making your relationship work
- Talk about why our relationships with others are so important, what it means to feel really connected with another person.
- Suggest any change without any reference to wrongdoing on their (or your) part.
- Emphasize the benefits a particular change or action would have on the relationship so that it builds their view of themselves as being ‘good’.
- Talk about what the two of you have achieved in terms of change and growth, however little. Avoid pointing the finger.
- Remind yourself frequently about what you do like about them, instead of ‘rehearsing’ what you don’t like.
- Help them focus outward – away from me-myself-I in a fun way, by asking questions such as:
a. Who was your best teacher?
b. Who is the best student in class?
c. Who is your ideal personality among people around you and why? Etc. This is particularly important when your partner/spouse is depressed.
- Offer someone else’s opinion about a specific behavior of your partner that might have irritated them. ‘Sandwich’ it very gently between positives.
- Do your best to make the connection between their past hurts and their behavior now – the more empathic you feel the less likely you get into a spiral of negativity (honoring your own boundaries though).
- Gain their interest, if you can, about the story of the lives of people around them.
- Help them understand gradually and gently what others feel and might truly want, need, or expect from them.
Most importantly: BE PATIENT and stick to your own boundaries.
Dealing with criticism
Someone with narcissistic traits can find criticism particularly challenging. They may respond by behaving rudely and aggressively if criticized. Help them to recognize that no one is perfect. Each one of us, including them, has our share of imperfections and shortcomings.
At all times, make sure that you’re safe!
How to encourage understanding and empathy
Aim for some daily ‘playful’ conversations together. Here are some examples that may help develop some understanding and empathy:
- Ask them to guess what you are thinking about. Likewise guess what they have in their mind.
- Take turns to each talk about yourself for 10 minutes – your successes, preferences, but also your failures and disappointments.
These types of conversations may help them to slowly and gently gain some insight into other people’s feelings. Be sure to start only when you’re feeling positive and generous!
When is it time to end a relationship?
There may come a time when you feel you truly have had enough, because it can be hard to have rewarding relationship with someone whose focus is always on themselves. It’s impossible to ever have a healthy relationship with someone who abuses you! You may have tried everything you could to help the relationship (and yourself) survive and have run out of ideas and energy. At this point, your self-esteem could be in your boots.
Know that it is okay to end a relationship. After all, it does need two people to commit and work together. It needs both of you to make the most of the fortunes, the challenges, and the limitations in a relationship. If you are currently struggling to manage a relationship with someone you feel might have narcissistic traits, we encourage you to learn more about our Couples Counseling