Narcissism in a Relationship: “How to Know if My Partner Is a Narcissist?”

Narcissism in a Relationship: “How to Know if My Partner Is a Narcissist?”

Some say their spouses or ex-partners are narcissists. Perhaps it may seem so from their own perspective. We all have narcissistic traits, but only at their extreme do they amount to anything pathological. Narcissism is not easily diagnosed because hiding one’s true nature can be one sign or trait of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). So, how can you know if your partner or your ex is a pathological narcissist or just a ‘normal’ pain in the ass sometimes? What are the signs of narcissism which you should be aware of? Can you make a relationship with a narcissist work, and can you heal narcissism? And what are the causes of narcissism?

"Domestic violence doesn’t start on a first date, and mental abuse does not start with an onslaught of verbal insults. However, what you allow to be done to you today, will probably happen tomorrow, and in a year’s time. Signs abuse may be difficult to detect and before you know it, you believe that you deserve and perhaps are the cause of the way your partner treats you."

Kati Niemi: (R)evolution for Love - A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break Up?

Narcissism meaning: What is narcissistic behaviour, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)?

In short, narcissism means loving yourself. It is good to have healthy narcissism – to some extent.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has classified ‘all’ mental disorders with standard diagnostic criteria in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. APA’s DSM-5 (DSM-5 or DSM-V to illustrate the 5th edition published in 2013) includes Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) in the cluster B personality disorders. That cluster B includes also e.g. antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

Narcissism is a mental disorder where an individual has an increased sense of self-importance and exhibits the constant need for attention and admiration. A person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) takes advantage of other people. Narcissists show how important they are by behaving in a mannerism that can be termed as ‘awkward.’

Narcissism is mostly exhibited among people with close relationships. Narcissistic behaviour may be common also among casual friends or random company. A narcissist may be able to hide their worst traits at the office or another workplace, for example.

Narcissism: How does a narcissist behave in a relationship?

Romantic relationships are usually most affected by narcissism. It is indiscriminative in gender. In a relationship, the male or female may exhibit narcissistic behavior, and it is critical for the partner to be alert and notice its signs. The intensity of the signs of narcissism and how they affect the relationship may differ. Regardless, the narcissistic behavior is detrimental and exhausting.

When tolerated, the partner is usually the most affected, and the value of the relationship diminishes. Each partner should watch out for narcissistic signs in the other with the aim of either helping them seek help or leaving them. A narcissistic partner’s manipulation may be severe and life-threatening.

Here we shall discuss the signs to watch out for in a relationship that will unravel if the partner is narcissistic and how to handle each sign of narcissism. It is also vital to discuss the causes of the behavior for partners to understand each other and help in the discernment process on whether to leave or try and fix the relationship.

What are the signs of narcissism?

There are numerous traits and signs of narcissism, and while a partner may look out for them in the other, it is essential for them to seek medical help to ascertain the truth and the extent of the disorder.

A person may exhibit one or a number of the narcissistic signs that will be named below, but this information should not be used to only scrutinize your partner but also to examine how you react. Your reaction either helps to alienate the narcissistic behaviors or catalyze them.

There are four main conditions of a narcissist:

  1. An inflated, exaggerated sense of self-importance
  2. Low levels or lack of empathy to others
  3. The need for excessive attention and admiration
  4. Having troubled relationships with family, peers, or their lovers.

In a relationship, some hints can help tell if you are dating or married to a narcissist.

What are the traits of a narcissistic partner in a relationship?

So, how can you tell if your spouse is a narcissist? You are not the one to make the diagnosis and judgment but the following are the potential signs of a narcissist in a relationship according the diagnostic criteria in APA’s DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Sign #1 of a narcissistic spouse: Too Caring At First

At the beginning of the relationship, narcissists are even ‘too caring’ about your personal welfare, and they may show genuine interest in your emotions and habits. They are ‘too good to be true’.

A narcissist is constantly available when needed, and love messages stream in randomly. You may even feel that it is too early for a narcissist to show love that much, or that they cannot not know you that well to say that they would really love you already.

Most of the time, this thought is right, and the relationship should be avoided because once you reveal these thoughts later, narcissists could berate you for taking advantage of them and their trust or feelings.

Sign #2 of a narcissistic spouse: Down Washing Your Compliments

Whenever people praise you or name your achievements, a narcissist always wants to take credit. For example, if you passed your academic test, narcissists will assert that their support was what motivated you and made you succeed.

A narcissist makes you believe that you cannot accomplish anything without them, and they are more important in the relationship. Sometimes this behavior and type of talk are seen even when talking to other people about you.

Due to their low self-confidence levels, narcissists feel that putting others down is the only way they can rise.

Sign #3 of a narcissistic spouse: Absence Of Long-Term Friends And Relationships

If you discover that your partner does not have stable relationships with friends, then this may be a sign of narcissism. A narcissist has short-term acquaintances or a small group of people to trash talk with. Narcissists’ relationships usually end abruptly on flimsy reason.

These instances can also infer how they relate with their families; if they are distant and rarely communicate, then the signs of narcissism may be evident.

In most cases, these kinds of partners want you to spend all their time with them as reciprocation for their availability. Narcissists cause drama and accuse you of lacking empathy when you fail to abide by this term.

Sign #4 of a narcissistic spouse: Always Talking Of Their Accomplishments

If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, talks between the two of you are always about what they have done or what they are planning to do. A narcissist never fails to state how these accomplishments are important and special to both of you. In most cases, they exaggerate the accomplishments, and when you raise doubts, they become cold.

In retrospect, they do not listen to any of your accomplishments, and they water them down. Yours are never as important and grand as their accomplishments. One way to note this narcissistic behavior is how they respond when you talk about yourself; if they never ask follow-up questions or show interest, then they may be narcissists.

Sign #5 of a narcissistic spouse: They Lack Empathy

Narcissists are totally disinterested in how other people, especially their partners, feel. This is not a problem for them because they are self-centered. A narcissist believes that it is your responsibility to take care of and understand your emotions, which is partly true of course. But narcissists don’t want to understand you and show empathy if you feel bad.

“I wanted to get to the bottom of things when something was obviously wrong, either in my or my partner’s opinion, whereas my ex believed that problems didn’t exist if we never talked about them. After all those failed attempts to have a discussion, it became more difficult for me to raise even the smallest of concerns, let alone to have the courage to talk about major issues, such as our inability to talk about things. In the end, the only thing I wanted to talk about was divorce.”

Kati Niemi: (R)evolution for Love - A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break Up?

Some of the practical examples of narcissism are that they do not care how your work day was, how your friends are, and what bothers you. Narcissists do not understand or even try to make you feel visible or worthy by understanding your emotions. On the contrary, these are the things they expect from you regularly. This sign causes many relationships to collapse because relationships should be based on understanding and validating each other.

Sign #6 of a narcissistic spouse: Constantly Berating

This narcissistic activity includes scolding you or always picking on you in private or in public. Initially, it can be a bad joke or commenting negatively about you and your friends or interests. If this behavior is condoned, it extends to insults and abuses that become unbearable.

"Nagging and negative digs at each other tend to hog the airspace if you let them. An inveterate complainer will never run short of things to complain about. In addition to the classic arguments over the right and wrong ways to squeeze toothpaste, partners are known to take issue with each other for opening the window the wrong way or making too much noise when slicing crusty bread."

Kati Niemi: (R)evolution for Love - A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break Up?

The goal of a narcissistic partner is to make you feel unworthy. Narcissists lower your self-esteem because it makes them feel superior. They themselves have a very low self-esteem.

In some cases, you may try not to show hurt emotions, and they will react with irritations. Your reaction to their insults gives them the power to undermine you. When you accomplish something, a narcissist presents your advantage and highlight that they would have achieved better results if they had similar conditions and resources. Narcissists show this disgust and lack of support verbally and non-verbally.

However, if you yourself keep on nagging about your partner’s shortcomings, is it any wonder if they withdraw or turn cold or pay you back in kind? A partner who is not being nice is not necessarily a narcissistic monster but someone who has a healthy need to defend themselves.

Sign #7 of a narcissistic spouse: Gaslighting and manipulating

Gaslighting means that your narcissistic spouse manipulates you psychologically so that eventually you may start questioning your own sanity.

“My ex seemed to have forgotten about all our previous discussions and blamed me for deliberately twisting the truth and making things up. I often felt I was the cause of our problems.”

Kati Niemi: (R)evolution for Love: A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break Up?

This narcissistic habit, manipulation, is the hallmark of narcissism, but still it is often difficult to notice if you are already a victim of a manipulating narcissist. People with narcissistic personality disorder are often so talented in manipulating others.

Narcissists tell lies and exaggerate events or emotions so as to attract attention to themselves. They are usually aware of this habit.

The more you react empathetically, the more they manipulate you emotionally. Narcissists propel you to accommodate or do things you are not comfortable with. Narcissists usually spin phrases of you not caring, understanding, supporting, or appreciating them and their efforts in the relationship.

A narcissist may be very jealous and controlling. Even when they are wrong, it is your role to feel guilty and apologize because it boosts their importance and ego.

Sign #8 of a narcissistic spouse: Lack Relationship Definition

Due to their insecurity narcissists usually fail to acknowledge the relationship status. A narcissistic partner will divert the conversation when you ask who you are to them and how they feel. This tactic is used to evade responsibility and manipulate you into loving them more.

“In hindsight, I’ve thought about our relationship and come to realise more and more how problematic my ex’s behaviour was, particularly when we disagreed and in the way he dismissed my needs. He made me think that I was expecting too much from a relationship.”

Kati Niemi: (R)evolution for Love: A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break Up?

Sign #9 of a narcissistic spouse: Panic When Breaking Up

A spouse with narcissistic personality panic when you want to terminate the relationship on any grounds. A narcissist acts like they are serious, even though they have never felt genuine love and altruism towards you or anybody else.

At this stage the narcissist pretends to love and care about you for them to get a second or third chance, because they don’t want you to reject them. When they get it they return to their cold behavior and use the same tactics to manipulate you again.

“I hemmed and hawed on my decision to leave a dozen times, because after each good discussions my partner would always mend their ways and show me the attention and affection that I had yearned for the entire duration of our relationship. I thought I’d been a complete idiot to even think about divorce, and that my partner was lovely. Every time I decided to leave, the relationship perked up. However, soon the novelty started to wear off: my partner tried to be something they weren’t, and as soon as I started to feel happy about our relationship, my partner interpreted it as everything being ok again, and went back to their old ways. It took me long to figure out what they were really like, and what behaviour was an extra effort from their part that they could keep up only so long.”

Kati Niemi: (R)evolution for Love: A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break Up?

Causes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Narcissistic disorders have three main causes:

  1. The environment that a narcissist grew in is the main cause. Maybe they were raised by people that adored or criticized them excessively. They either then criticize other people excessively or rely on compliments to function normally, thus prompting them to become attention seekers. The environment and life history of traumas and crises may cause narcissistic personality disorder.
  2. Genetic inheritability of narcissistic traits: The narcissistic disorder is sometimes inherited from parents, some children may get the gene, or sometimes it is activated by the environment they grew in.
  3. Neurobiology or neuropsychology which is the connection between the brain and behavior, is another cause of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The narcissist’s thinking and emotional processes may be altered, forcing a person to exhibit these narcissistic behaviors.

All the above causes of narcissism are difficult to notice because they all interact with each other. Whatever the original cause may be, a narcissist should be advised to seek therapy when the above signs and characteristics of narcissism are noted.

Treatment of narcissism: Can a narcissist heal? Is there a cure for Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

When you notice these narcissistic signs in your partner, your ex, child, or yourself, seek medical help. A doctor or therapist help you heal and prevent complications like becoming a drug abuser, being violent, being depressed, and having suicidal thoughts.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is not easily diagnosed because one of the main signs of a narcissist is that they can be very charming and manipulating. They don’t admit that there is anything wrong in themselves. However, psychotherapy is one treatment for narcissism.

Self-diagnosis of narcissism: How to recognize narcissistic behaviour?

Before you are ‘self-diagnosing’ your spouse or your ex-partner (or yourself!) as a narcissistic person, please contact professionals first. You may also find it valuable to read about narcissism from my book (R)evolution for Love. Here is one thought to consider:

"Be cautious about labelling your ex as a narcissist, even if your friends couldn’t agree more. One of the hallmarks of a narcissist is their inability to see matters from anyone else’s perspective. How good were you at that in the middle of your own separation pains? A narcissist expects to be adored and behaves like a martyr when things are not going their way. So, if your ex did not give you what you expected and you feel like a victim, how do you see yourself at that moment in time? Your partner serves as a mirror. The more demons you see in the reflection, the better the opportunity to learn about yourself. This isn’t to say that some of us have not, in fact, managed to pair with the most evil lunatic in the universe. But if you chose to spend years with this person, the question still remains: what can you learn about yourself because of that experience?"

Kati Niemi: (R)evolution for Love - A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break up?

You can read more about potentially narcissistic spouses or ex-partners, and how you manage to negotiate or break up with them without hurting yourself, in the book (R)evolution for Love – A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break up? The book includes also many true stories of several men and women in their happy or unhappy relationships and break ups.

Narcissism is a mental disorder that should be taken seriously.

The victims of narcissists should not be alienated but motivated to seek medical help. Narcissistic behaviour usually happens in relationships, and narcissism equally affects all genders.

If you are a victim of a narcissist, it is vital to understand how you react will either worsen or improve the tendencies in your narcissistic partner. But remember that you are not the one to blame for any bad behaviour of a narcissistic spouse. If you notice that these behaviors affect you negatively, the best action is to terminate the relationship and cut communication with that narcissist. You don’t need anyone who hurts you.

Without professional help, these narcissistic tendencies never change, so don’t lie to yourself that the narcissistic partner would be reforming. Otherwise eventually, it will be your mental or physical health that will be negatively impacted.

In case your spouse is a narcissist and you are suffering from narcissism, I wish you all the strength to seek help. 

"If you want to improve your relationship, talk to your partner and agree on which area you should make a concerted effort on for the next month. If your partner’s only tool to improve your relationship is withdrawal into silence and passiveness, doesn’t that mean that whatever tools there may have been to improve your relationship it would have been futile anyway? You shouldn’t need to throw yourself at anyone."

Kati Niemi: (R)evolution for Love - A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break up?
Author, Blogger, Hypnotherapist, NLP Trainer, Coach Kati Niemi - Founder of (R)evolution for Love

I also warmly recommend you to read the book (R)evolution for Love – A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break up?

With Love,
your coach Kati
Clinical hypnotherapist, NLP Trainer
[email protected]