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Narcissism and relationships

Narcissism covers a range of psychological presentations.  At one end we might all need a certain narcissistic self-interest to make sure we look after ourselves.   It is healthy to have a certain amount of confidence and to speak openly about our achievements.   It is healthy to want to look after ourselves.

But in certain cases, this can veer towards pathological self-interest and can be a marker of more serious personality disorders.

When it comes to relationships with narcissists there are two sides to the story. The dominant narcissistic partner will demand more and more of the attention.  The weaker partner will have to give it.

How do you tell whether you are dating a narcissist?

  • Is everything about them?
  • Do your conversations become one-sided?
  • Do you end up listening to an endless story about other the person?
  • Do you have a sense that it is hard to get at the truth?
  • Do they keep referring to how special and interesting their lives are?

These kinds of indicators can be markers of a narcissistic personality

The narcissist will tend to present either a high need for attention, for bolstering them and their ego’s, or come across as charming and effortlessly engaging. This kind of charm is likely to wear thin. The charm you experience is part of something that is designed to capture attention, it isn’t genuine.  It’s like a Venus Fly Trap inviting insects to step inside. Don’t.

Narcissists tend to have evolved within complicated family environments.  It is often something that is learnt from a parent.  Sometimes as a response to an overbearing and demanding parent’s need for attention.

Narcissism and relationships

In marriages where there is a high degree of narcissistic relating, one partner will become vulnerable.  They will be caught up in a relationship in which all of the attention is being given to the dominant narcissist, and the more vulnerable partner will wilt.

If you know someone who is ‘wilting’ and failing to thrive in their marriage, try to get them to talk to someone about it.  If these situations are left, there can be grave consequences.

The dominant narcissistic partner will not notice.  They won’t care as long as they get the attention they need.  This might come out as a need for flattery.  Alternatively, if they detect (and people with these kinds of psychologies can be very sensitive to changing moods and environments) that they are not getting the attention they need and deserve, they can quickly become anxious, possibly paranoid as their more fragile personality emerges.  Once this fragile side is present you will find yourself having to work very hard to bolster and repair them.  They can be exhausting.

These narcissistic psychologies are fragile and cover up a range of more disturbing characteristics

One of the complicated aspects of narcissistic based personalities is that on the one hand they are extra sensitive to the changes of mood, but on the other they tend to lack empathy. 

Narcissists tend to be drawn to people who will bring them narcissistic tributes and supplies.  Think of the wicked fairy in Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, demanding that her magic mirror tell her she is the fairest in the land.  Narcissists need attention.  They may not explicitly ask you to tell them how beautiful they are, but they will expect attention, they will expect you to be interested in their stories.  If you fail to do so there will be consequences.

The narcissist puts themselves above everything else, this includes the truth

With a narcissist it can be very hard to feel like you are getting a straightforward account of things.  You know the old joke about not letting the truth spoil a good story? Narcissists operate like this.  Above anything else they want a certain kind of attention.  This is not a jokey matter, all too easily these things can become very serious.

It is easy to underestimate the danger and vulnerability of being in a relationship with a narcissist.  But there are cases where someone takes their own life and the surviving partner fails to provide any kind of answer or explanation for what’s happened, and everyone just has to get on with it.  The only thing you can know is that underneath the stylish exterior of the marriage, one person was very unhappy and couldn’t find a way to speak about it.

When narcissistic issues dominate, truth is a casualty.  If you have concerns that one of your friends is caught up in something like this, try to get them to talk about it.

Narcissism and relationships

Toby Ingham

Toby Ingham is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and supervisor based in High Wycombe in England. Toby works on both a short and long-term basis with people who are trying to work through a variety of situations. Sometimes these relate to a specific event such as CPTSD, bereavement, divorce or redundancy, sometimes relating to a more general problem or behavior. He blogs on a wide range of psychological themes.

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APA Reference
, . (2018). Narcissism and relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 May 2018
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