Narcissism has a dramatic effect on any relationship, but it can particularly tricky with a romantic partner. The narcissist has an unhealthy self-image, and as a result, they are focused on getting other people to provide them with ego-boosting adoration called narcissistic supply.
To do that, they learn to manipulate people in order to control them. When you discover that your boyfriend is a narcissist, you have to take steps to protect yourself from his abusive behavior.
Setting boundaries with a narcissistic boyfriend involves being extremely clear about what you will and will not accept, enforcing boundary violations every time they happen, and insisting that he be civil with you at all times. You also need time away and to take good care of your own needs.
My narcissistic mother was intrusive and abusive in our relationship, but she had been that way all my life. While you don’t have to spend a lifetime with your boyfriend to discover he is a narcissist, you have likely been surprised by his toxic behavior.
It might seem like he suddenly changed, which is why it’s important to understand how narcissism affects relationships, the signs of narcissism, and how you can protect yourself with strong boundaries. This article will provide you with the knowledge needed to establish strong boundaries and safeguard your emotional well-being.
How Does Narcissism Affect Romantic Relationships?
When you first meet a narcissist, you likely think he is the perfect man for you. You might even be convinced he is your soulmate. He seems so interested in everything about you, he seems supportive of your dreams, and he is so charming.
It seems like a dream relationship, but it can quickly turn into a nightmare. The early stage of a romantic relationship with a narcissist is known as the idealization stage. But that changes pretty soon. Here is how a romantic relationship with a narcissist typically progresses.
|Idealization||This is where the narcissist idealizes their partner. They are loving, supportive, and charming. They are Team You!
But as the relationship progresses, the narcissist sets up unrealistic expectations for you, and when you fail to meet those, the problems begin.
|Devaluation||Once you are unable to meet the narcissist’s unrealistic expectations for the relationship, they begin to devalue you.
This involves harsh criticism. It seems that now you can do nothing right, and that perfect soulmate you fell in love with appears to be gone.
|Discard||Many people will break up with their narcissistic lover when the devaluation becomes unbearable, but if that doesn’t happen, the narcissist may discard you.
They often line someone else up as your replacement before doing so, but they are motivated to ‘quit before they get fired.’
What are the Signs Your Boyfriend is a Narcissist?
It can be really difficult to see your boyfriend may be a narcissist in the early stages of a relationship. If you suspect you’re dating a narcissist, watch this video to learn the signs you may have missed.
Of course, we’re all on our best behavior at first in a new relationship. But as the relationship progresses, it becomes all too clear you’re dating a narcissist.
One of the biggest signs your boyfriend is a narcissist is that he suddenly changes. He goes from being Mr. Charming to being often harshly critical. You can’t seem to find that charming guy you fell so hard for, and you can’t seem to do anything right.
He can go from loving one minute to angry and offended the next. It doesn’t seem to make sense. You might also find he disappears for long periods without any communication.
My friend’s narcissistic husband would disappear for days at a time when they were dating. She felt abandoned and couldn’t understand what was happening. It’s very shocking and confusing.
You might also experience the narcissist’s characteristic rage. Your boyfriend might erupt suddenly without much reason. You just find that he is yelling at you in an explosive fit of anger. Often, what he is angry about doesn’t make sense or involves a leap of logic.
For example, my friend’s husband was very sensitive whenever she would ask him what his plans were for the day. She felt she was just asking her husband about his plans, but he would interpret her question as suggesting that he is lazy and requires supervision.
He would suddenly erupt into a rage, asking her if she expected him to work constantly or if she felt he needed her direction. She would be shocked by the suddenness and ferocity of his anger. Of course, this is a distraction tactic and one that helps him gain more control over her.
Why Did You Fall So Hard for Him?
Well, the answer lies in how charming a narcissist can be initially. Most narcissists have learned over the course of their life what they need to do to manipulate and control the people around them. They know they need to seem interested in other people, and if they do that, they can learn more about them.
“A man who loves others based solely on how they make him feel, or what they do for him, is really not loving others at all — but loving only himself.”
— Criss Jami, American poet, essayist, musician, singer, designer, lyricist, and existentialist philosopher
They can particularly learn more about their vulnerabilities and how they best be manipulated. They have learned how to be charming to make people like them, and they have learned that if they do that, it makes it harder for people to abandon them.
These are all part of the reasons why it’s easy to fall for a narcissist. They are purposefully charming to get you hooked. They know it will be harder for you to walk away when they start to reveal their true nature.
Much like I couldn’t have known my narcissistic mother was toxic until I began to experience how other people’s mothers acted, you can’t know that your boyfriend’s a narcissist initially. Most people are charming when you’re first getting to know them.
They only begin to reveal more about themselves as you get closer and they get more comfortable. By then, you’ve fallen for them, and it’s harder to walk away.
What Can You Do to Stay in the Relationship?
It’s at this point that you might be wondering if there’s anything you can do to salvage the relationship. It’s natural to want to try to get back to that charming soulmate you thought you had met, but as this must-watch video explains, you should understand how dating a narcissist changes you.
To be honest, saving the relationship won’t be easy, but if there is any hope, it’s in setting strong boundaries and enforcing them to try to affect the behavior of your narcissistic boyfriend. It’s not that your boundaries will change him or heal his narcissism, but you can get him to modify the way he treats you.
Setting boundaries is all about respecting yourself, so your focus is to get him to treat you in a way that you find acceptable. If you can achieve that, it might be possible to save the relationship, but it’s important to remember the following guidelines for setting and maintaining those boundaries.
1. Be Perfectly Clear
Usually, when you’re dealing with a loved one, you try to use a certain level of tact, but with a narcissist, you have to be blunt and perfectly clear. You have to state what you want and expect, and you have to be honest about what will happen if you don’t get it.
When setting boundaries with my narcissistic mother, I would tell her that I’m not forcing her to change. I am, however, stating what I will do if she doesn’t. The choice is ultimately hers.
If she wants to continue having a relationship with me, she will not do certain things and do others. If she can’t bring herself to do what I am asking of her, that’s her choice, but I also have choices about how I will react.
You’re not trying to get your boyfriend to change because you don’t control him. You do, however, control your own behavior. He doesn’t have to change, but if he elects not to, you will exercise the options available to you.
You’re essentially letting him know that you don’t find certain behaviors acceptable, and if he continues to engage in those behaviors, you will exercise your free will and enforce whatever consequences you’ve told him about.
You’re only controlling yourself, not him. That’s the goal, so it’s important to be extremely clear about what you consider to be a boundary violation and what the consequence of it will be.
2. No Name-Calling
This one is genuinely a two-way street. It means you will not put up with him calling you names, but you will also refrain from calling him names.
That means don’t label him as a narcissist or toxic or abusive. Likewise, he should not call you any names. Instead, you should address each other respectfully.
You can argue about something without resorting to calling the other person some derogatory name. When you start doing that, you put them on the defensive for reasons other than what the topic of the argument is about.
It does little good and causes the argument to become more about personalities than it is about whatever you’re talking about. It reduces the argument to its basest form.
“Over time, name-calling and other insults can slowly eat away at self-esteem, and victims will no longer see themselves realistically.”
— Sherri Gordon, Author, Bullying Prevention Advocate
If your boyfriend begins to belittle you by calling you names, simply let him know this is unacceptable and you won’t talk to him anymore until he can talk to you with respect.
You’ll probably have to enforce this boundary a few times before it takes, but if you’re persistent, you can get him to modify his behavior. This can help you to be better at resolving your differences in a healthier way. That’s the goal for saving the relationship.
3. Be Consistent in Enforcing Your Boundaries
Perhaps the most important thing you need to do when setting boundaries with your narcissistic boyfriend is to be consistent in your boundaries and the enforcement of violations. Any deviation from the enforcement of boundary violations will be seen by the narcissist as evidence of weakness.
They will exploit that by continuing to push the boundary time and again. To achieve the goal of modifying the way your narcissistic boyfriend treats you must stay consistent.
If you say that you will walk out of the room if he starts calling you names, for example, then you must do that every time it happens. This sounds easy, but sometimes you might not want to push the fight forward, or you might be in a forgiving mood.
During those times, you might think that you can just overlook the violation this one time. If you do, however, you’re opening the door for more violations. Narcissists are very observant, and they will notice the failure to enforce the boundary and use it against you in the future.
Staying consistent is vital to setting good boundaries with a narcissist. That means doing what you have said you will do every time he violates the boundary.
4. Give Him a Written Document
To help yourself stay consistent and to prevent your narcissistic boyfriend from claiming he didn’t know it was a problem for you, it’s best to give him a written document of your boundaries and the consequences for violations.
This is vital to setting boundaries with any kind of narcissist. They will often try to claim they didn’t know it was something upsetting to you or that they didn’t know what the consequence would be. This is an attempt to manipulate the situation and avoid responsibility for their actions.
Example of a Written Boundary Declaration….
If you write down every boundary and the consequence for violations of that boundary, they can’t make this claim. It will also help you keep yourself accountable. It can act as a guide, too, so that you can act at the moment you notice the violation without hesitation.
If your boyfriend tries to claim he didn’t know, simply remind him of the written document you provided to him and enforce the boundary. Over time, he will modify his behavior.
5. Include Plenty of Alone Time
When you’re involved with a narcissist, you’re going to need plenty of time alone. You need to get away from the toxic behavior to help yourself process any emotions you’re having after interacting with a narcissist.
Your narcissistic boyfriend likely won’t want you to have time alone, as that can undermine his efforts to control and manipulate you. But this is something you need to insist on, and you need to follow through.
You’ll find that you’re in a better mindset when you do interact with him if you’ve had time to yourself. It helps you clear your mind and process your emotions. That’s essential for your psychological and emotional well-being.
6. Insist on Civility
You should insist on civility at all times from your narcissistic boyfriend, and you should provide the same for him. It’s easy to become emotional when you’re in a romantic relationship, but respecting each other’s humanity is vital for staying civil.
“Being kind will manifest in connections, influence, and effectiveness.”
— Christine Porath, Author, and Professor
Yelling, name-calling, and threatening each other are all ways that arguments can become uncivil and abusive. When that kind of behavior takes over your romantic relationship, it is likely doomed to failure.
If you genuinely want to save your relationship, you must insist on civility no matter how tense the situation becomes. You must be able to treat one another with respect and kindness to continue on together.
7. No Abuse, Ever!
Along with civility, physical and emotional abuse are not acceptable in a romantic relationship either. Certainly, both you and your narcissistic boyfriend have the right to express your needs and ask for compromises that ensure both sides get their needs met.
Sometimes, a discussion regarding needs can become emotional, manipulative, and even physically threatening. When emotions run high, it’s easy to cross a line. But you simply can’t accept that kind of behavior on either side.
If the argument is escalating to that degree, it’s time to take a break. Go for a walk to clear your head, sleep on it, or go do something else for a while. Abusive treatment is not something you can ever accept, or the situation is likely to get worse.
This has to be a strong boundary that you enforce consistently. No one should be subjected to abusive treatment in a healthy relationship. You should both be able to discuss your needs and have the other party listen with loving attention. Anything short of that requires a strong boundary.
8. Adjust Your Expectations
When you have a narcissistic boyfriend, you’re going to have to adjust your expectations for the relationship. Narcissists don’t have the capacity for healthy empathy. They don’t see how their behavior can affect other people, mostly because they are so focused on their own needs.
Their single-minded focus on their own needs means that they will not be able to give you the kind of loving, empathy, and understanding attention to your problems and life goals. They will always bring the conversation back to their own needs and goals.
You have to realize that their personality disorder is preventing them from giving you what you might otherwise normally expect from a romantic relationship. For many people, that’s a deal breaker.
If it’s not for you, however, you can adjust your expectations for this one relationship. Truthfully, it’s not realistic to expect that we can get all of our emotional needs met by one person in our life. You get different types of emotional needs met by many people in your life.
Your family might provide some of those needs, your friends give you others, and your romantic partner meets still other needs. But a narcissistic boyfriend just won’t be capable of meeting certain needs. You’ll need to realize that and adjust your expectations to realize that you’ll have to get those needs met by other relationships in your life.
9. Push for Therapy
The most hope you can have for making real, lasting change in your narcissistic boyfriend’s behavior and your relationship together is through professional psychotherapy. A therapist can help the two of you find better, more compassionate ways to communicate.
They can also help you deal with processing your emotions, and they may be able to help your narcissistic boyfriend reduce his narcissistic behaviors and increase his level of empathy. Most narcissists don’t change unless they have experienced long-term, intense psychotherapy.
“If there is even a small move in the direction of understanding his spouse’s point of view, the marriage has the capacity to improve.”
— Samantha Rodman, Psychologist and Author
If you can convince your narcissistic boyfriend to go to therapy with you, it’s probably the best hope you have for salvaging your relationship. It will take time to see real differences, but by learning how to communicate with one another in a healthier way, you can see big changes that may help save your relationship.
Therapy can help narcissists to understand the inner turmoil they are constantly experiencing, and it can help them adjust their behavior to be more loving and empathetic. It can also help them understand the origins of their personality disorder, which is a vital step for making real change.
If you have a narcissistic boyfriend, you have a real challenge on your hands. They can be extremely charming in the early stage of your relationship, but that usually changes rapidly and for the worse. It can become extremely abusive if you don’t set and maintain acceptable boundaries.
What’s more, your boyfriend will use your own emotional wounds against you as a manipulation tool, so it can be dangerous for you to get too close to him. There is, however, another way to prevent that from happening.
As I went through my own healing journey to recover from the narcissistic abuse I suffered at the hands of my mother, I discovered that when I was able to defuse my emotional triggers, I could prevent her from using them against me. I created a 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers to help you do the same thing I did. I can assure you it works.
This free guide will help you identify, defuse, and even heal your emotional triggers so your narcissistic boyfriend, or any other narcissist, can’t use them against you ever again. If you would like a copy of this guide, simply click the link here and I’ll deliver it straight to your inbox.
If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel