- A relationships with a narcissist is never going to be easy.
- The most common advice is to get out of the relationship and move on.
- But for some people this doesn’t seem like an option, possibly because they have children, or simply want to make it work.
- It’s possible to have a relationship with a narcissist, but it’s incredibly draining.
- Be prepared for losing a lot of who you are, and sacrificing a lot of what you care about.
- Even if you do everything they ask, they may end up discarding you anyway.
The most common advice people hear when they are in a relationship with someone who has a dark triad personality is to leave them. “Run fast and far,” is the advice of therapist Perpetua Neo, who works with victims of narcissistic abuse.
But for some people, this may feel impossible because their life is so wrapped around the narcissist. Often, clients come to Neo asking what they can do to make their relationship work. Maybe they’re married, or even have children together, and unraveling their entire world doesn’t feel like an option.
It’s certainly possible to have a relationship with a narcissist, but it’s going to be emotionally and psychologically exhausting. Narcissists drain all the life and spirit from their partner, using them as an emotional — and sometimes literal — punching bag.
There is intermittent affection
“Some people they feel like they see this good person inside,” Neo told INSIDER. “He’s so sweet at times… and of course he’s sweet at times, that’s the whole point.”
Narcissists hook in their victims by love bombing them. It’s only when they are sure their supply will stick around that their mask starts to slip, and they reveal their true self. But they break up the insults and abuse with intermittent affection, which is what the victim holds out for.
But even if the victim is wise to the fact they are living with a narcissistic abuser, they choose to stay. So they ask professionals how they can make their relationship work.
“It’s a really tough question to answer,” said Neo. “And eventually I just tell them, if I could, I would tell you a way of making him better, so you would have a healthy relationship. And life would be amazing. But I can’t do that.”
You have to sacrifice a lot
Ultimately, to live a half decent life with a narcissist, you have to sacrifice a lot of who you are, and what you stand for. Also, said Neo, you have to accept you’re going to be lied to all the time.
“Prepare to be gaslighted, for there to be two versions of what’s happened,” she said. “Because narcissists are very good at rewriting reality and getting you to admit to doing something you didn’t do.”
For a narcissist to be happy, you’ll always have to accept their version of events as the truth. Otherwise, you’ll be on the receiving end of their narcissistic rage.
Even if you do everything they ask, a narcissist will still try and undermine you at every opportunity. It’s not like they’re going to reward you for good behaviour.
“They like to call the shots but they do it in a really subtle, undermining way,” said Neo. “So they’ll say things like ‘oh I can’t make up my mind, you decide what we’re going to eat or do.'”
Then, when you’ve made all the plans, they’ll say they want to be spontaneous, and you’ll end up doing something else. If you protest the decision, you’ll get called needy and demanding.
“Their spontaneity is something you have to appreciate instead,” said Neo.
You’ll be tapped out
Narcissists are always looking for someone else to blame. And if you’re in a relationship with one, chances are that’ll be you. So to make the relationship work, you’ll have to take them belittling you at every turn, and calling you crazy and oversensitive if you dare react. Essentially, you’ll be made to feel bad for every feeling you have.
“Be prepared to lose yourself, your interests, be denigrated, be harassed, because everything is your fault,” said Neo. “They will tell you your interests are bad or stupid, that your art is bad, the things you read are uncool, the music you like is terrible… They will try to beat and change you into somebody else.”
This may even include your career. To keep the narcissist happy you might have to give up your job and become someone who stays home all day, cooking and cleaning, even if this isn’t how you ever saw yourself.
“Essentially, your whole life will revolve around this person to make them happy,” Neo said. “Then they will turn it around and tell you you’re boring instead.”
If they are not a high-powered narcissist, they may use you as their financial supply too. In that case, you’ll keep your job, but you’ll be working overtime to keep up with the narcissist’s expensive tastes and careless spending.
Narcissists don’t trust anyone
They also might even stalk you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never given them a reason to distrust you, they still won’t give you enough respect to lead your own life without surveillance.
“Narcissists like to track their partners, so a lot of them will secretly install trackers into their partner’s phones, or computers, and they actually are pretty proud of it,” said Neo. “Another way is to marry you and make you change your surname, so everything about your identity gets eroded away.”
Unfortunately, narcissists are often extreme drug or alcohol abusers. That means you’ll have to get used to them pushing it too far, losing control of themselves, and acting erratically.
“Because they have bad habits they are also really irresponsible, miss their work, and their meetings, and everything else,” said Neo. “And you have to clean up their mess. So you’ll make all these excuses because you’ve already been warned that you’re a team and it’s you against the world.”
Narcissists use phrases like “you’re my soul mate,” and “I’ve never met someone like you,” so their victims are lulled into this false sense of security. In reality, they’re just isolating you from everything and everyone else.
“They’ll say things like ‘I’ve never met a person like you,’ ‘we are together and we have to face this big bad world alone’ — so it almost feels metaphysical,” Neo said. “And of course be prepared for keeping it all secret. If you ask for help you have to pay the price for that.”
It’s unclear whether narcissists really mean to hurt their partners to the extent that they do, because they are simply wired that way. They have often had bad childhoods, so they will use that as an excuse for their behaviour, and expect you to be understanding of it too. They will lash out at you if you don’t forgive them for everything and absolve their abuse, Neo said.
Either way, it’s unlikely there will be many happy times in a relationship with a narcissist. Your happiest days, Neo said, are likely to be the ones where they are in a cycle of depression or coming down from a drug high.
“The days where they’re down, and the morning in bed, that is the day you actually feel grateful for because you know you’re going to be safe,” she said. “So your new expectations from life actually sink that low, and that’s the kind of life you should expect if you want to be with a narcissist.”