Narcissistic personality disorder is something that can make relationships very difficult if not impossible. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder may struggle with friendships, family relationships and romantic relationships. When it comes to narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships, what should you know and what should you be prepared for if you believe you could be in a relationship with someone who has this disorder?
Learning More About Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Romantic Relationships
Before exploring the connections between narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships, it’s useful to have a true understanding of what narcissistic personality disorder is. Many people throw the term “narcissist” around casually, but narcissistic personality disorder is a diagnosable and serious mental health disorder.
Narcissistic personality disorder or NPD is defined by a sense of grandiosity about oneself, a lack of empathy for others, and a need for constant admiration. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder may be described as self-centered and demanding. Arrogance and manipulation are other defining characteristics of this personality disorder.
Someone with NPD believes they require and deserve special treatment and they see themselves as being superior to others. For example, they may believe because of their beauty, intelligence or success others should treat them differently.
When someone has narcissistic personality disorder, they may believe they can and should only associate with other people who are equally as brilliant or wonderful as they are.
Despite feelings of grandiosity, when someone has narcissistic personality disorder they often actually have a fragile ego beneath the surface. People with narcissistic personality disorder aren’t able to tolerate criticism. If someone does criticize or reject them, it can be crippling.
Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
If you are wondering about narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships, you may have already noticed some of these symptoms. Specific symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder may include:
- An over-inflated or exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Requires constant admiration and attention from other people
- Preoccupation with success, beauty, power, intelligence or having the “ideal” romantic relationship
- A belief that he or she can be understood only by other very special people
- Unreasonable expectations for how he or she should be treated
- Manipulates or takes advantage of others to achieve one’s own goals
- Disregards feelings of others
- Lack of empathy
- Is envious of other people or believes others are envious of him or her
- Arrogant attitudes and behaviors
Research indicates that anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of people diagnosed with this particular personality disorder are males.
When a person is diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, treatment can be difficult. As with other personality disorders, when someone has NPD, they may not realize they have a problem. Instead, they may believe the problem lies in others or the situation around them. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder may be defensive when confronted with potential problems, and since someone with NPD is highly sensitive to criticism, they can see any mention of the disorder as an attack.
However, if someone is willing to receive treatment, psychotherapy can be helpful and depending on the situation, medication may be used to treat specific symptoms. There isn’t a particular medicine approved to treat personality disorder.
What Are the Effects of Narcissistic Personality Disorder on Romantic Relationships?
As you may already know or be able to imagine, the combination of narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships is one that can be extremely challenging. Narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships can often lead to abuse patterns, whether physically, verbally or both.
So why are the patterns of narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships so difficult? There are many reasons. Some of these include:
- When someone has narcissistic personality disorder, they have little to no empathy for the emotions of others. Empathy is extremely important in any relationship because you can consider how your actions will make another person feel. You don’t want to hurt others, and you’re able to recognize this through your sense of empathy. If you lack empathy, as most people with NPD do, you aren’t able to understand how your words and behaviors will affect another person. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder may even be able to realize they are causing someone pain, but they might not even care.
- Someone with NPD often isn’t able to accept a person for who they are including the good and the bad. They can’t accept what they perceive as another persons’ imperfections and still value them. Narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships can often lead to extreme black and white scenarios where in the beginning the narcissistic person puts you on a pedestal and then when they realize you aren’t perfect, they begin to devalue or abuse you.
- People with narcissistic personality disorder often do want to settle down and have a long-term relationship, but they want perfection. When they can’t find what they view as perfect, it becomes problematic.
- People with narcissistic personality disorder who are in romantic relationships can’t accept their flaws or their own imperfection, so they don’t take accountability for their actions or their wrongs within the relationship. If you are in a romantic relationship with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder and you do attempt to criticize them or point out their poor behavior, it may be met with rage.
Narcissistic personality disorders and romantic relationships can be troubling, to say the least, but as with other personality disorders, NPD does occur on a spectrum. This means not everyone has severe narcissistic personality disorder. Having milder or more moderate symptoms is possible. In fact, of the people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, less than five percent have severe, full-blown NPD.
What Should You Do If You’re In a Romantic Relationship with a Narcissist?
Another question you may have about narcissistic personality disorders and romantic relationships is what to do if you are already romantically involved with a narcissist.
It’s easier for this to happen than you might think because, in the beginning, someone with NPD will often worship their new romantic partner. It’s not until later in the relationship they might start to show the negative signs of narcissistic personality disorder.
Once you start to see red flags, the first thing to do is learn more about narcissistic personality disorder. The more you learn, and you educate yourself on the traits of NPD, the less likely you are to spend time trying to figure out if you’re the problem or how you can help the other person.
You might also look for support resources such as online support groups for people who love a narcissist and are involved in a romantic relationship with them.
Once you learn more about narcissistic personality disorder, you will likely find that you have only two real options. The first is to leave the relationship and the second is to try and encourage the person to receive help.
If you are in a romantic relationship with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder you may have to create strict emotional boundaries for yourself. It can also be extremely time-consuming, and it can be a long-term process for someone with NPD to receive intensive psychotherapy to help them with the condition.
Ultimately when it comes to narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships, while they aren’t impossible, it’s extremely difficult. For many people who find themselves in a relationship with someone who has NPD, the best option is to leave the relationship if possible, as hard as it may be.
Psychology Today. “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” March 6, 2018. Accessed January 29, 2019.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” Mayo Clinic. Accessed January 29, 2019.
Greenberg, Elinor, Ph.D. “Why Do Narcissists Abuse Those They Love.” Psychology Today. August 4, 2017. Accessed January 29, 2019.
Meyers, Seth Psy.D. “I Love a Narcissist. Now What.” Psychology Today. April 17, 2014. Accessed January 29, 2019.