(IMPORTANT: If your narcissistic partner is abusive, do not attempt to save your relationship. These resources can help you to leave.)
Your partner is self-centered, manipulative, and often insincere. His charm and high level of ambition have gotten him far in the professional world, but you often have trouble connecting on a more personal level. He doesn’t share in the blame when things go wrong. He makes impulsive decisions without your input. It wouldn’t make much of a difference if he did ask, though. He has a way of getting what he wants from you. He doesn’t listen, and when he does he may belittle and criticize. You often think twice before sharing your feelings with him at all.
You know your partner is a narcissist. Maybe he has even been diagnosed by a professional. People ask you all the time – why don’t you just leave?
The difficult truth is that we often don’t get to choose who we fall in love with. Narcissism is a disease, and you may be deeply in love with the person living beneath it. Narcissism is also a spectrum. Your significant other may show many narcissistic traits, but work very hard to be a better partner. He may even seek treatment or agree to couples’ therapy. You may have children together, and share a deep commitment to keeping your family whole.
You may just be deeply and hopelessly in love.
Whatever your reasons for staying, it will be a long, difficult, and often draining road. If you insist on traveling it, there are some things you should know. These tips will help you to empower and protect yourself on this journey.
1. Love yourself first.
No matter how loving your narcissist may be, he is simply not capable of giving you the emotional support you require. For this reason, it is imperative that you consciously maintain a regimen of emotional self-care. Give yourself time each day to review and validate your feelings. Talk to yourself kindly. Do things that build up your sense of self. Make this a non-negotiable condition of your relationship.
One way to do this is to devote yourself fully to a cause that your partner has nothing to do with. The project itself doesn’t matter, as long as it is one you are passionate about that is truly your own. Cook meals for the homeless, become involved with an animal shelter, or visit the elderly. Immerse yourself in the world of art or music. It is easy to become wrapped up in your narcissist – after all, he sure is wrapped up in himself. Finding an outlet away from the relationship can help you to maintain your sense of self. It will also provide you with some of the things your partner may not be able to. If he cannot fulfill your need for appreciation, support, and connection, this is a good way to find those things on your own.
The Intricacies of the Quiet Narcissist, and how to Deal with Them (Effectively)
2. Have compassion.
Narcissists are not happy people. As Martha Stout explains in The Sociopath Next Door, “Unlike sociopaths, narcissists often are in psychological pain, and may sometimes seek psychotherapy. When a narcissist looks for help, one of the underlying issues is usually that, unbeknownst to him, he is alienating his relationships on account of his lack of empathy with others, and is feeling confused, abandoned, and lonely.” Celebrate the small victories, and remember that your narcissist is not playing with a full deck of emotional cards. If he mentions that he is considering therapy, it may be tempting to scoff and tell him it’s about time. After all, his reaction would be far from considerate if the shoe were on the other foot. Instead, praise his insight and show him support. What is obvious in your eyes may feel insurmountable to him.
3. Nurture your capacity to detach.
Many partners of narcissists are at risk for developing a co-dependent relationship. You and your narcissist crave one another’s attention and approval. Because of your partner’s disease, this will always end in an imbalance. You will give more and more, and it will never be enough. Meanwhile, your partner will give you only what they need to for you to stay. If you are to maintain a relationship with your narcissist, you must refuse to engage in this dynamic. As Dr. Tara J. Palmatier explains, “Emotional detachment is the conscious choice to not allow another person push your buttons and hurt, anger, frustrate or annoy you. The easiest way to do this is to develop indifference.” This is extremely difficult to do, but it is necessary if you are to maintain your sanity. When your partner resorts to an unhealthy dynamic, calmly tell him that you will not engage in this behavior. At first he may take this as a challenge. You will need to hold strong. With time and consistency, you have the power to change the way you interact for the better.
“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm, but the harm [that they cause] does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves,” wrote T. S. Eliot. Loving a narcissist is a long and challenging road. Take care of yourself, and don’t allow it to destroy you.