7 Hidden Things A Narcissist Does In A Relationship

*We may earn a commission for purchases made using our links. Please see our disclosure to learn more.

How do narcissists maintain and manage a romantic relationship? Often they follow similar patterns in every relationship, and this post can help you understand those patterns. 

Typically, they employ a variety of stealthy tactics designed to manipulate and control their partner. You rarely know they are doing these things until it is too late. Even your own mother will do things behind your back if she is a narcissist. 

Because the narcissist is at once fundamentally insecure and wholly dependent on your attention, they will use every trick and technique to keep you under their spell. They unfortunately feel that they cannot depend on their true selves to keep your interest, so they develop an arsenal of defenses to maintain their persona and to undermine your confidence. This gives them the upper hand.

If you feel you are being manipulated by a narcissist in your relationship, continue reading to uncover some of their secret techniques that keep you tied down.

Secrets and Lies

A narcissist always has to operate in secret, and their projection of self is built on a foundation of lies, both subtle and profound. Here are seven specific ways in which narcissists use sneaky strategies to throw you off balance and keep them on top.

1. Vigilance and Surveillance

Narcissists must be hypervigilant about any given situation, especially when there’s a relationship on the line. They cannot open themselves up to any scenario in which the truth about their inflated image gets revealed. They are constantly on the alert for threats, real and perceived, which often puts them on the defensive.

They are also constantly surveying their surroundings in order to determine if there’s any risk, be it from a person or a situation. This requires an exhausting amount of effort, while the narcissist secretly scans a room in order to evaluate where they fit into the pecking order.

2. Selective Interaction

The narcissist will also be very skilled at selecting certain people to be around and particular situations in which to interact. They will subtly but surely surround themselves with people who mirror the image they project. You might find yourself lost amid a sea of sycophants, people who agree only with the narcissist.

The narcissist also employs this kind of manipulation with relationship interactions. You may find yourself rarely alone or in intimate situations with the narcissist. This makes them uncomfortable, because they might be forced to reveal something real about themselves.

3. Secret Evaluation and Image Management

Narcissists like to evaluate everyone around them, noting who seems more vested in validating the narcissist’s point of view. They will ensure that they remain at the top and will work to eliminate anyone they perceive as competition. You can easily get caught in the crossfires of a secret power struggle between the narcissist and a friend of yours.

They are also interested in maintaining an impeccable image and work tirelessly at using their charm and talents to amass a stable of admirers. This works at the beginning of a relationship to reel you in and, later, to keep you on your toes. You have to live up to their expectations if you wish to remain involved.

4. Silent Dominance

If the narcissist is still interested in maintaining a relationship with you after the initial charm offensive, then they will begin to subtly undermine you. This is a way in which to establish dominance over you, often in quiet and unobtrusive ways. They are now in control of the relationship.

Instead of complimenting you, they will belittle you in backhanded ways or criticize you in front of others, often hiding behind fake humor. Once you start to doubt yourself, then they know they have you under their thrall. All of a sudden, you find yourself sacrificing self-respect in order to promote their agenda.

5. Stealth Abuse

Narcissists employ an effective barrage of subtly demeaning comments that are designed to unsettle your self-confidence and disrupt your autonomy. While these comments may seem utterly insignificant at the moment, over time they become weighted with importance. You will begin to question yourself and place your trust in the narcissist solely.

These comments are along the lines of “oh, no, I’m not sure you understood me,” or “well, I know how sensitive you are.”  They are used to deflect any responsibility they may have in creating conflict in the relationship, as well as to undermine your self-assurance.

6. Subtle Isolation

The narcissist will eventually begin to isolate the object of their distorted affection. If you have stayed with the narcissist despite their demeaning and sometimes bullying methods, then the narcissist knows that you have been convinced to sign on to their worldview. Slowly but surely, you become cut off from other people in your life.

The narcissist will eventually begin to isolate the object of their distorted affection

The narcissist wants to be the center of your attention and cannot abide that you have other friends or family to rob them of their due. This has the additional effect of ensuring that you eventually have nobody else to turn to and nowhere else to go. They are now your only resource.

7. Verbal Manipulation

All narcissists are incredibly adept at using language and tone in order to manipulate their victims. This includes using coded language, as in the wordings mentioned above designed to confuse and demean their partners. They consciously alter their volume and their tone in order to get what they want out of any given exchange.

They are also masters at the silent treatment—which is another form of verbal and psychological manipulation. They will simply go silent and walk away, withholding affection until their partner begs or admits wrongdoing. This takes away any power the partner has to negotiate a conflict with self-respect.

Final Thoughts

A narcissist has a secret stockpile of weapons that will be used to manipulate, dominate, and control their partners in relationships. These techniques are often very subtle and go unnoticed until you are already under their thumb. But, if you learn to recognize these tricks, you can act to counter them. Or, better yet, you can simply walk away.

Oftentimes, narcissists don’t even consciously realize they are using these tactics to trick you into staying. It’s the only way, unfortunately, that they know how to maintain relationships. Just as they hide their real self, they will also hide their true intentions—control and domination.

If you decide you’ve had enough in a relationship with a narcissist, this article can give you some tips on how to end it


If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel


Narcissistic abuse takes a terrible toll on your life. I’m Patricia, and my mother is a narcissist, so I know what you’re going through. These blog posts will help you understand narcissism better and give you tips for dealing with the narcissists in your life. Healing starts here!

More to Explore

Free Roadmap

Want To Stop A Narcissist From Pushing Your Buttons?

Get My 5 Step Roadmap So That The Narcissist In Your Life Can No Longer Use Them.