If you’ve ever been involved with a narcissist, you know how abusive the relationship can be. Narcissists are manipulative control freaks, and they will stop at nothing to get you to do what they want. They will lie, gaslight, cheat, use triangulation, shame you, and blame you for any problems. They will make you think you’re the crazy one, and so, it would be natural to wonder, how does such an abusive person sustain a long-term relationship?
Narcissists who sustain a long-term relationship are able to do so for many reasons. The relationship may be long-distance, or their partner might be an empath, codependent, or just dependent on the narcissist. Narcissists are also adept at charming you into taking them back after a breakup.
A relationship with a narcissist is very complicated, and there are many reasons why they can sometimes sustain long-term relationships. To fully understand the factors that come into play, it’s critical to understand the relationship stages with a narcissist, how narcissism affects relationships, and why some people would choose to stay.
What are the Relationship Stages with a Narcissist?
Relationships with a narcissist typically pass through three stages: Idealization, Devaluation, Discard. It’s important to understand each of these.
In the idealization stage, the narcissist is very charming. They are supportive, attentive, and very loving. Many partners of narcissists often comment that they thought they had truly found their soulmate. They can believe their luck, but unfortunately, their luck runs out quickly.
Once a narcissist feels they know enough about you or have gotten everything they need from you, the devaluation stage begins. This is where the narcissist begins to criticize you, and before long, they are criticizing everything about you.
The partner of the narcissist can’t figure it out. Where is the loving, attentive, and supportive person they fell for? They often rationalize the narcissist’s behavior, saying things like, “They’re just going through a difficult time,” or “All relationships have rough patches.”
Unfortunately, this continues until either the victim enforces a boundary, leaves, or simply accepts this abusive treatment.
Once a narcissist feels they have gotten everything they need from you or if they feel you are getting close to leaving them, or worse yet, exposing them for the fraud they believe themselves to be, they may opt for the discard. As the saying goes, they may quit before they get fired.
Though the narcissist may discard their partner, that is rarely a permanent thing. They will often come back into your life at some point and try to hoover you back into their web of drama.
How Does Narcissism Affect a Relationship?
Narcissists are constantly in need of their supply of adulation — appropriately called narcissistic supply — and they will manipulate the people in their life to get that need met. They begin with an effective charm offensive to draw in their victims.
At the beginning of a relationship, a narcissist is very charming. They seem so supportive, interested in your life, and caring that you might even think you’ve met your true soulmate. They are so loving and caring that you can easily be swept off your feet.
It can take some time for them to show their true colors, particularly if the relationship is a long-distance one. When they do start to show their true colors, you’ll be genuinely confused. You’ll have difficulty reconciling the emotionally abusive monster they become with the charming, loving person you fell for in the beginning of your relationship.
What Happens if I Leave Them?
If you decide you want to break it off with them, they will turn the charm back on to hoover you back into their life. You can easily convince yourself that they were just going through a rough time or that this was just a rough patch in your relationships. All relationships have them, after all.
If you overlook their flaws or come back to them after they’ve charmed you again, the relationship might fall into an uneasy kind of truce. The narcissist now knows how far they can push you, and they may try not to cross that red line, as it were. That may satisfy you even for a long time.
It’s still likely that you’ll eventually understand that the narcissist is not going to change and decide to leave them, but that may be after several years in the relationship. This is one way that narcissists can have a long-term relationship, but you might also have to look at the possibility that you have some issues you need to heal as well.
Narcissists Love Long-Distance Relationships
This is one reason that relationships involving a narcissist can survive for a long time. If the relationship is long-distance, it can delay the length of time it takes you to figure out they are a narcissist.
It also provides the narcissist with quality narcissistic supply. As certified life coach and founder of Progress Through Process Ama Aya explains, “In a long distance relationship, they’re able to extract more potent supply from their target.” You’ve shown them how dedicated you are to them by being willing to commit to a long-distance relationship.
One woman I know told me about having begun a relationship with a narcissist when she was getting her bachelor’s degree. She met this narcissist when she did an internship, and he seemed perfect.
They saw one another sporadically for a whole year and everything seemed so good, they decided to move in together after she graduated. She got a job at the same place where he worked and moved in with him right after graduation. She soon discovered he was a narcissist, but leaving him was complicated.
She worked where he worked and they lived together. She was also somewhat dependent upon him because she wasn’t making a lot of money and they lived in an expensive area. It took her another full year to get to the point where she could leave him.
How Does Codependency Affect a Relationship with a Narcissist?
People who are codependent have typically been abused in their childhood too. As a result of that abuse, they adopted a survival strategy that involved putting aside their needs and focusing on the needs of their abuser.
This pattern is something they carried with them into their adult relationships. They are focused on the needs of their family members, and as is common with any type of abuse, they are attracted to similar types of abusers.
When a narcissist meets a codependent person, it’s everything the narcissist wants. Narcissists want someone who is completely focused on their needs without concern for their own needs. This perfectly describes the codependent person.
It’s an exhausting life, however, and someone who is codependent can find themselves chronically stressed and tired to the extent that it can affect their physical and mental health. Still, codependency is one reason that narcissists are able to form long-term relationships with some partners.
Narcissists Will Make You Dependent on Them
If you’re not codependent, you might also just be dependent on the narcissist. Narcissists are also talented at convincing people to let them handle the finances or be the ones to work. They know that if you are dependent on them, it will make it even harder for you to leave.
If you share property or debt with a narcissist, breaking up can be a complicated process. If you share children with them, it will be that much harder to get them out of your life. You’ll have to have some contact with them because of the children.
That gives them more opportunities to insert themselves back into your life or keep you from leaving. Many people feel that leaving is just too daunting a task, and that’s why they stay in the relationship for the long term.
Why are Empaths Often Attracted to Narcissists?
Another type of person who is often attracted to a narcissist and who can form long-term relationships with them is an empath. These are people who can sense the emotional struggle the narcissist is really going through, and they want to help.
They will often stay in a relationship with such a troubled person to try to help them heal. It’s a tall order with the narcissist, however, because they fear intimacy. They are constantly afraid they will be exposed as the flawed, shameful true self they have hidden from long ago.
While the narcissist resists the idea that anything is wrong with them, empaths are people who strive to help others. They will often make considerable sacrifices in order to try to help someone they know is struggling with serious emotional problems. They can sense the emotions, even the deeply buried emotions, of the narcissist and they strive to help them.
This can go on for years, and it can cause serious emotional damage to the empath. Narcissists can be helped if they are willing to commit to long-term therapy and admit that they have a problem, but this is the exception rather than the rule for those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
Still, this connection between the emotionally damaged narcissist and the self-sacrificing empath can lay the groundwork for a long-term relationship.
How Can Narcissists Convince Someone to Stay?
The technique narcissists typically employ to get someone to come back into their life is called hoovering. It’s basically where they turn the charm back on to convince you they have changed or that they really love you.
They will once again be that charming wonderful person you first fell in love with, and they will make all kinds of promises that they will never treat you badly again. The reality is usually a little different.
They may sustain the illusion they have changed for a while, but unless they seek out professional help, they will soon be back to their old tricks. As long as their self-esteem issues remain unresolved, they will continue to engage in the same kinds of behaviors you’ve already experienced.
Still, they are often able to convince their partners to give them a second chance, and that can make for a long-term relationship even if the partner does eventually leave again.
Narcissists rarely leave their partners behind permanently, particularly if their partner is someone who gives them plenty of narcissistic supply. They will often do what they can to make their partner dependent on them to ensure they can’t leave even if they want to, and if their partner does leave, they will hoover them to get them back.
Narcissists can even reappear in your life after years of being apart. It’s also true that some partners of narcissists — empaths and codependent people — often stay in the relationship for long periods of time because of their own emotional state. While you might think they could never maintain a long-standing relationship, the truth is there’s a shoe for every foot.
It’s critical if you’re involved with a narcissist to learn more about how NPD affects the dynamics of that relationship. You need to check out this article about why narcissists often marry multiple times to learn more about just what you’re up against.
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