It can be very difficult to make a decision to just go no contact with a narcissist you love. It’s also very difficult to live with that very same narcissist as they are constantly manipulating you, attempting to control you, and often devaluing you. That can hit your self-esteem particularly hard and make you wonder if it is even possible to live with a narcissist and be happy.
Many narcissists do manage to have long-term relationships with their partners. Their partners are usually only happy by understanding the narcissist’s behavior and accepting that emotional satisfaction will not come from the relationship. Instead, it will come from their own self-care practices.
If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, it is vital that you understand how narcissism will affect your interactions with your partner. You must also avoid becoming codependent, set strong boundaries, and take care of yourself. Let’s explore these concepts.
How Does Narcissism Affect the Relationship?
Narcissists are very charming at the beginning of a relationship, but it usually doesn’t take long to see their true colors. Once they feel they’ve hooked you, they often begin exploiting the relationship for their own needs.
What they really want and need from you is called narcissistic supply. Because they have buried their true self (which they believe to be horribly flawed) and replaced it with a false self, they need other people to continuously prop up their self-esteem.
When they constructed their false self, they also created numerous grandiose ideas about themselves — like that they are omnipotent or omniscient. The problem with this false self, however, is that it cannot do the work of a real ego. It can’t internally support the narcissist’s self-esteem.
For that, the narcissist needs you; however, the narcissist also lives in a constant state of fear that their true self will be discovered. They are ashamed of their true self and full of self-loathing as a result of the trauma that caused them to bury it in the first place.
Since they live in fear of exposure, they are hypervigilant to any threat to the false self they’ve created. That makes them hypersensitive to the slightest criticism, and in fact, they also often perceive innocent remarks as criticism.
That usually leads to a lot of tension in a relationship, and the way the narcissist treats you frequently degrades to a cycle of abuse.
What is the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse?
The narcissistic cycle of abuse is similar to other kinds of abuse. It starts out with lots of apparent support and loving admiration, but then the relationship deteriorates over time.
The narcissist will use a number of manipulative techniques to get you to doubt yourself, and they will begin to devalue you with often harsh criticism. To put it colloquially, you’ll notice the bloom is definitely off the rose.
You’ll feel as though you’re walking on eggshells most of the time because the slightest comment you make, no matter how innocent, can easily set off the hypersensitive narcissist. Obviously, the devaluation is hurtful for your own self-esteem and leads to numerous arguments.
This is usually the point at which most people will leave a narcissist behind, but those that stay can fall into the trap of codependency. If you avoid the trap of codependency and threaten to leave the narcissist, they may turn on the charm again to prevent that.
If you accept their proclamations that they will change and stay with them, the cycle will likely begin anew.
What is Codependency?
Codependency essentially refers to enabling the narcissist’s behavior by not calling them out or forcing them to stop treating you that way. Usually, people who become codependent have had their own traumatic experiences in childhood.
Codependent people are those people who come to care more about their partners or other members of the family even at the expense of their own needs. They will excuse and forgive the behaviors of emotional abusers like narcissists.
By making excuses for the narcissist in their life, they are enabling the narcissist’s bad behavior. They also often fall prey to the narcissist’s manipulative tactics and may come to believe they are the cause of all the problems in the relationship.
Is it Possible to Stabilize the Relationship and Be Happy?
If you fall into the trap of codependency, you’ll likely need psychological help of your own to overcome the behaviors associated with being codependent. If you are able to do that or if you don’t ever become codependent, you may be able to salvage your relationship with the narcissist by learning to set and maintain strong boundaries.
People who are able to stay with a narcissist and be happy must accept a few things. First, they have to accept that they cannot change the narcissist. It might be possible for a narcissist to get psychotherapy and improve their behavior, but you, as their partner, cannot change them or make them do that.
If the narcissist you’re with doesn’t believe they have a problem, then you must accept they are likely to continue behaving as they have all along. That means you have to accept another hard reality.
The other thing the partner of a narcissist has to accept — particularly if they refuse to get help — is that the narcissist is unable to empathize with you and understand your needs. That means they will continue to treat you with disregard for your feelings or how their behavior impacts you.
To be happy, you must therefore seek certain emotional satisfaction from other sources like friends and family members. You’ll also need to set and maintain strong boundaries to avoid the manipulation and control the narcissist will employ to get what they need. You’ll also need to take good care of yourself because the narcissist is unlikely to be helpful in that regard.
What Kind of Self-Care Should the Partners of Narcissists Practice?
Given that narcissists often devalue and disregard the needs of their partners, you’ll need to take care of yourself. You’ll want to ensure you get plenty of ‘down time’ away from the narcissist so you can clear your head.
You’ll also want to counteract any devaluation with the use of positive affirmations and time with loving family members and friends who will support you emotionally. You might also consider psychotherapy for yourself so that you can process the emotions that arise from the narcissistic abuse you’ll experience.
Another thing you want to do is identify and set strong boundaries regarding what kind of treatment you will accept. You’ll also want to determine the consequences for boundary violations and be sure to enforce those consequences every single time the narcissist crosses a boundary.
Living with a narcissist is not easy, and it’s even harder to actually be happy. It can be done, however, if you avoid the pitfall of codependency and maintain strong boundaries. You’ll also need lots of loving support from family and friends who are on your side.
If you can accept that the narcissist will not likely be able to give you the emotional support that you might expect from a loving partner, you can provide that for yourself and live a happy and satisfying life even with a narcissist.
One key to living happily with a narcissist is denying them the ability to manipulate you by using your own emotional triggers against you. You can use my 5 Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers so that you can regain control over your emotional responses and stop the narcissist from using them to control you. It’s key to living happily with such a toxic person.
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