If you feel that something is not quite right in your relationship, where you’re constantly walking on eggshells, fearful of being chastised for not meeting your partner’s expectations, and on the receiving end of ongoing criticism and abuse, it’s possible you may be in a narcissistic relationship.
A narcissist is a term that refers to a personality style that can develop in some individuals, due to environmental factors, and perhaps combined with some genetic ones. It’s not fully known how it develops, but common experiences include childhood abuse, neglect or trauma or childhood of excessive pampering where the child is constantly praised as special and unique.
Narcissism is considered a spectrum disorder, which means that you can experience different degrees of narcissism on a continuum from mild to pathological.
Many people have narcissistic tendencies in their personality and it is not necessarily a bad trait- you can have a healthy amount of narcissistic traits that help you develop a positive self-image and high self-esteem. However, when narcissism is extreme within an individual, the clinical diagnosis is called narcissistic personality disorder or NPD.
If you’re sharing your bed with a narcissistic partner, it can be a complex and challenging road to navigate a peaceful and happy relationship.
In this article, I refer to the narcissist as he, and while the large majority of narcissists are male, these traits also apply to females as well.
Here are 7 signs to look out for to identify if your partner is a narcissist:
Sign #1: You constantly feel like you’re walking on eggshells
One of the most common feelings you experience with narcissistic people is that you constantly feel like you’re walking on eggshells. You feel like you might be summoned at any moment to discuss how you haven’t met their expectations or have disappointed them in some way. Common communication styles include the use of aggression to express anger and rage, which may also show up as physical abuse at the extreme end.
Because a narcissist has such an inflated sense of self, they often view people in their lives as objects that are there to meet their needs and expectations. As soon as they are disappointed, they will often criticise, blame, and confront you. It’s this pervasive tension that you are picking up on in the relationship that leads you to be on tenterhooks and avoid assertiveness while waiting for the next confrontation or outburst.
Sign #2: Your partner is obsessed with controlling all outcomes
Another common narcissistic relationship pattern is that they have a huge need to control situations and outcomes. Because of their grandiose view of themselves, they expect to be able to have people respond exactly as they want.
In social situations, they will often have a very clear, pre-determined idea of what they want to have to happen. If the social situation deviates from their plan, they will often react with anger and blame. The idea of losing control of a narcissist is sometimes a terrifying thought, so they will do all they can, including emotional manipulation, to ensure it does not happen.
This can show up in something as small as the guests at a party not responding in the way the narcissist expects or even with you arriving late at a function hosted by your partner. While these might be events you or I might not even register, the narcissist can experience this as a gross loss of control and take it as a personal affront.
This control may also show up in your finances. In a healthy relationship, it’s normal to have joint finances, discuss how you’re going financially, and have access to your joint funds. However, if you notice that your partner insists on controlling all the finances without letting you have access to them or knowing your financial position, this is cause for concern. It is also considered a form of domestic violence.
Sign #3: Your partner never hesitates to confront you or others in social situations where he feels he has been wronged
The narcissist’s first response is to confront, attack, blame, and criticise. The ‘Tit-for-tat’ style of communication is common with narcissists as they will finger-point and make accusations as soon as any issues are raised with them.
There is often no filter on their thoughts, and they will not hesitate to make a scene in a public setting or with friends and family. It can feel like you’re watching a toddler throw a tantrum, yet everyone stands around, and no one knows what to do.
The narcissistic person actually feels incredibly vulnerable and fragile deep within themselves. They often view themselves as damaged, unloveable, or deeply wounded. However, over time they build very strong defences and walls around this deep inner pain and struggle with giving and receiving love.
Many narcissists are even completely disconnected or out of touch with their own sense of woundedness. Part of this strong defence is layers of protection that show up through the critical communication styles involving confrontation, attacking, blaming, and finger-pointing. They often have the inability to make or sustain genuinely intimate relationships.
Because the narcissist is so concerned with control and manipulation to get what they want, they will not hesitate to criticise you or attack you for your perceived part in them not getting their desired outcome.
Sign #4: Your partner is unable to feel empathy for you and has great difficulty appreciating the feelings and needs of others
One of the most common traits of all narcissists is putting their own feelings first because they lack empathy. Again, due to their inflated view of their own self-importance, the feelings of others are not something that the narcissist concerns themselves with.
Empathy, commonly understood as the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another person, is a vital building block for all successful relationships. Over time, the lack of empathy in narcissistic relationships has a detrimental flow-on effect on the people that are close to them.
As a partner, you may feel like discussions are all about your partner’s feelings, but very little acknowledgement is made of your feelings. You may frequently be left feeling frustrated and misunderstood by your partner, and your needs have not been taken into account. You’ve probably also spent a lot of time trying to calm and acknowledge your partner’s feelings and ensure their needs are met.
Sign #5: Your partner finds it difficult to sincerely apologise, refuses to admit their fault, and avoids taking responsibility at all costs
The narcissist has layers and layers of defences that have been developed over time so that no one can hurt them or see their fragility or vulnerability. As a result, you will very rarely, if ever, hear your partner say they are sorry in a way that is whole-hearted and full of meaning. Even though they may cause you significant pain and suffering due to emotional abuse, and you may wish you were single, it is often a terrifying thought to have to take ownership of their behaviour or admit fault in any way.
If your partner has a history of intense but short-term relationships with others or a history of cutting off contact with family members and frequent fall-outs with friends, this could indicate the struggle the narcissist has in sustaining a healthy relationship, feeling empathy for others and taking responsibility for their part in relationship difficulties. It is also indicative that for the people that are close to the narcissist, this is often an impossible relationship that is too painful to sustain.
Fall-outs with friends and family members are often explosive, with the narcissist engaging in attacks and recriminations against you and others, sometimes in public settings. Many narcissists have a long list of friends and family relationships that they have terminated over the years. This is because they have significant interpersonal problems.
For most stable, happy people, it is far too painful to be friends with a narcissist, and they exit the relationship to protect their mental health. The demands, attacks, blame, criticism, and unrealistic expectations of others take their toll. Many narcissists have a large graveyard of friends and family from all the ruined relationships.
Sign #6: Your partner can fly into spontaneous rages where he abuses you and others with no remorse
A common characteristic of a narcissistic personality is that he will occasionally (or frequently) fly into what’s called narcissistic rage or narcissistic abuse.
You know this has happened because it will be completely spontaneous with no warning at all. You are often left completely shell-shocked and shaken, while your partner will continue on as if nothing has happened. This can occur in a restaurant if they feel they have received poor service or in other social situations where they feel they have been wronged by another.
There is often no awareness of how their behaviour is impacting others. Narcissists see themselves with excessive admiration and therefore expect to be treated so.
For example, they will tend to create a scene and berate waiters in public if they don’t get their food exactly the way they ordered, or publicly humiliate a door person because they are not on a guest list for a special function.
These are all seen as intolerable situations because they are not being acknowledged for the special person they believe they are and receiving the special treatment their grandiose sense of self believes they deserve.
Sign #7: Your partner exploits others for personal gain or to achieve his own ends
Another trait of narcissists is the subtle or sometimes very overt exploitation of others for personal gain. They can be arrogant and aggressively demanding to get what they want and will treat others poorly in order to achieve their goal or desired outcome.
This can show up in subtle ways, like trying to get goods and services for free or reduced. Or it may be through throwing tantrums in public settings, like restaurants and shops, to get the outcome they want or some financial or verbal apology.
The more extreme type of narcissist can even exploit fellow workers by bad-mouthing them or manipulating others in their climb up the corporate ladder.
Want to learn more? We recommend Dr. Craig Malkin’s outstanding book on this topic. Click the link below to purchase it from the Amazon store.
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This article was updated February, 2023.
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.