A person with narcissistic personality disorder has an insatiable need for external validation. A spouse is a great source for that, but narcissists also learn that people often tire of them. For that reason, they need to have fresh sources of narcissistic supply, as that external validation is called, ready and waiting. Moreover, narcissists like to feel like they are powerful and superior in every way, including in their romantic relationships.
Infidelity is a common problem in relationships with a narcissist. Cheating provides them with a ready source of external validation should their spouse leave them. Additionally, they feel superior when they can successfully fool their spouse. It makes them feel like they can get away with anything.
It’s important to understand the underlying characteristics of narcissism that play into this truth. Narcissism is a complex personality disorder characterized by a poorly developed sense of self, and that is a big part of why they commonly cheat. Let’s take a closer look at the reasons why most narcissists cheat on their romantic partners.
Why Do Narcissists Often Cheat in Their Marriage?
The problem for a narcissist is they lack the ability to feel empathy like a healthy person does. Empathy is basically being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand how they are feeling.
Narcissists can’t do that, and so they don’t have any real understanding of how their behavior hurts their partner. This lack of empathy is combined with a low self-esteem. Though they seem arrogant and sure of themselves, they are actually filled with shame and self-loathing.
This low self-esteem creates a strong need for them to feel superior to other people. They get some of their through that external validation, but they often feel they aren’t getting enough from their partner or they fear they may lose their partner. That causes them to seek their narcissistic supply from someone else.
They consider this person a backup as well, in case their partner does, in fact, leave. They also get a self-esteem boost from the sense that they are devaluing their partner. That’s part of why they don’t really fear being caught. If they are caught, instead of feeling remorse, they use it as a way to further devalue you.
The narcissist also gets a thrill out of gaslighting their partner. They feel that by making them believe they aren’t cheating even though they are, they are controlling them. That makes them feel powerful.
Finally, the narcissist simply feels the rules don’t apply to them. They often break the rules of society, including those of romantic relationships. They are only concerned about getting their needs met, so they ignore any rules that would impede that goal.
These are the common reasons a narcissist will cheat on their partner. While it’s not possible to say it will always happen, it is a very common feature in their relationships.
How Can You Tell Your Narcissistic Partner is Cheating?
There are several signs to look for that indicate your narcissistic partner is cheating. Many of these are the same as you would expect from any unfaithful partner as well. Here are some things to look for if you suspect your narcissistic partner is being unfaithful.
Flirting on Social Media
In our modern world, it’s easier than ever to flirt with people. They will often tell you that the person is just a friend or that it’s just ‘harmless flirting,’ but you can be assured that, in the case of a narcissist, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
They may not even know the person they’re flirting with. They might be, for example, some random person on one of their feeds who they don’t know personally. It may even be someone they will never meet, but if they’re flirting, they’re looking for opportunities.
Accusing You of Infidelity
This is a common response for a narcissist. When they are cheating, they become overly jealous of you. Part of this stems from the fact that a narcissist views their loved ones as mere extensions of themself.
As such, they are projecting their own bad behavior onto you. It’s also a distraction technique because they put you on the defensive. If you’re defending yourself, it’s less likely you’ll see what they’re doing.
They Shower You with Gifts
This is a technique that helps assuage their own guilt and it distracts you from thinking they’re doing something bad. This is a particularly noteworthy technique if it is something they haven’t always done.
They’re trying to make you feel special as a way of manipulating you into thinking that they couldn’t possibly be cheating on you. They’re too thoughtful to do something like that. In reality, this is just a technique to control you.
Just like with any unfaithful spouse, if they begin to suddenly cancel plans you’ve had for a while, it’s an indication that they’re up to something. It’s normal to cancel plans every now and again, but if it starts happening frequently, it’s suspicious behavior.
Of course, they’ll have a convenient excuse for canceling your plans, but if it’s happening frequently, it’s a big red flag.
Narcissistic Rage as a Response to Your Questions
Another huge red flag is if they react strongly with narcissistic rage when you begin to question their behavior. Someone who is not cheating may certainly be offended if you accuse them of something like that, but they don’t usually become enraged.
The narcissist will not only deny the accusation, they become enraged that you made it. Their response will be completely out of line. This serves two purposes: it’s their denial and it’s a way to distract you. It also deters you from making the accusation at a later date because you don’t want that explosive reaction.
What Happens If You Have Incontrovertible Evidence of Their Infidelity?
If you confront a narcissist with your suspicions, they will not only deny it, they may get mad at you. If you have incontrovertible evidence that they have cheated, they will employ a different strategy.
Typically, the narcissist will find some way to blame their infidelity on you. As Sam Hanafy, who studied psychology at Cornell University, points out, “…they convince themselves it’s your fault, and actually lead the new partner to believe they’re a victim of you.” They may say that you cheated on them first. Regardless of whether or not this is true, they will insist it is and that’s why they are cheating.
If they can’t reasonably accuse you of cheating first, they will find some other thing you’ve done that caused them to cheat. They might claim, for example, that they cheated because you’ve been working so much or spending so much time with your friends.
They will somehow turn it around and make it your fault. They will stick to this story no matter how much you might protest or claim that something you have done is not comparable to what they have done.
For example, one woman told me about how her husband cheated on her. When she confronted him with evidence he couldn’t deny, he claimed that it was because she had dinner with an ex-boyfriend of hers. He was equating her having dinner with her ex to his six-month affair.
What won’t happen if you confront them is you won’t get a genuine apology or any genuine remorse. Narcissists simply can’t take responsibility for their behavior.
While it’s not possible to say that every narcissist cheats in every relationship, it is possible to say that most of them do. They have an insatiable need for narcissistic supply and to prop up their own self-esteem. Cheating makes them desirable and powerful, and that, to a narcissist, is almost impossible to resist.
One way a narcissist can manipulate their partner is by using their emotional triggers to distract and control them. If they are successful at doing this, they can often keep you from discovering anything bad they may be doing. My 5 Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers can help you identify and heal your emotional triggers so that your narcissistic spouse can’t use these against you. For a free copy of this handy guide, just click here and I’ll send it directly to your inbox.
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