If you’re currently in a relationship with a narcissist or if you’ve ever been in a relationship with a narcissist, you might think you know the answer to this question. But, as is often the case with narcissistic personality disorder, it’s complicated. It’s easy to see why people might be attracted to a narcissist in the first part of their relationship, but is a long-term relationship always doomed?
Relationships with narcissists are not easy. Their exaggerated sense of self-importance combined with a lack of empathy frequently spells disaster for their relationships. They desperately need external validation, however, and that is why they often marry multiple times.
Read on to learn more about the research that has been conducted on the subject as well as what kinds of partners narcissists choose and how that might affect the success of the relationship.
What are Narcissists Like in the Beginning of a Relationship?
Narcissists are frequently very charming in the initial stages of a relationship. They will often be extremely attentive and supportive of their potential partner. In fact, many people who have been in relationships with narcissists remark that they thought they had truly found their soulmate.
The reason for this is, as Rob Cox who has a degree in organizational behavior and psychology, states, “Mirroring and love bombing. They quickly see what makes you feel good about yourself and raise that to a whole new level.” Narcissists seem to be keenly aware of what you want or need in a relationship.
They will wait, watch, and learn everything they can about you in the beginning stages of your relationship. They will mirror your desires back to you and make you feel like they are the only person in the world who can truly understand you. Unfortunately, this doesn’t last for very long.
What Happens Over Time in a Relationship with a Narcissist?
Once a narcissist feels as though they’ve got you right where they want you, you will usually begin to see their true colors. They can’t sustain the initial focus on you that they had in the beginning of the relationship for very long. They need the focus to be on them.
They start to manipulate you, and when, as always happens, you don’t live up to their unrealistically high expectations, they begin to devalue you. At this point, you start to hear the criticism and see the ugly side of narcissism.
They may also begin seeking their narcissistic supply elsewhere in preparation for eventually discarding you or eventually being discarded by you. It’s common for narcissists to cheat on their partners. They always fear the possibility that they will lose their narcissistic supply and/or be exposed as the real — and terrible — person they believe themselves to be. So, they line up another source of supply in the wings for what they know will be coming, and they may even leave you before you can leave them.
Whether you discard the narcissist or vice versa matters little, however. They have usually been down this road before, and they may even be in a cycle where they discard you, but they will eventually come back into your life. That’s a common pattern.
What Kind of Person is a Narcissist Attracted To?
There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence about who the narcissist is attracted to, but the reality is that research conducted by experts in the Department of Psychology at the University of Mississippi found no real patterns in the types of partners narcissists have. The study found a slightly negative trend for homophily which is choosing partners who are similar to yourself.
That could indicate that opposites attract and narcissists will look for partners like empaths who have a lot of empathy and compassion for other people. The study, however, was limited by a small sample size and didn’t include married partners, only people who were dating.
That means there’s still no empirical evidence for the kinds of partners narcissists look for; however, the anecdotal evidence shows there seems to be a mutual attraction between narcissists and empaths. That could make sense because narcissists need external validation and empaths are extremely compassionate and eager to help other people.
The study above, however, also found a slightly significant trend toward homophily which is marrying someone similar to you. Two narcissists who marry can have a successful and long-term relationship if they get beyond the devaluation stage. They would seem likely to understand each other’s needs better than someone who doesn’t have the same problem.
What is the Research on Narcissists and Long-Term Relationships?
A study conducted by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of Georgia showed some interesting results regarding marital trajectory in relationships involving narcissists. The study was conducted on 146 newlywed couples who were reassessed several times over the course of four years.
The researchers examined partner characteristics and how much narcissism predicted for marital quality over time. They also found a small degree of homophily regarding partner characteristics, but there were no clear patterns for partner choice.
With respect to how narcissism predicted for marital quality, they found that relationships in which the wife was a narcissist had steeper declines in marital satisfaction and more increases in marital problems over time. They found that those relationships in which the husband was narcissistic had fewer problems or negative effects due to the narcissism.
The limitations of the study include the fact that these were younger newlyweds and they were only followed for four years. The researchers note that it would be more helpful to follow couples for longer periods of time and to examine these trends in older people.
What Does It All Mean?
While you would think that narcissists would have a high divorce rate and that their condition would be associated with problems in the marriage, that’s not always the case. Perhaps the fact that social norms favor male narcissistic traits more than female narcissism explains why narcissism in men doesn’t have the same negative effect on marriage as narcissism in women.
Alternatively, maybe the research indicates that wives’ characteristics have a greater influence on the quality of the relationship. While science has not been able to answer all of the questions related to narcissism and relationships, it is clear that many narcissists do divorce and remarry, sometimes on multiple occasions.
There are no statistics on whether narcissists divorce more frequently than other people, so it’s difficult to say if they are remarrying more frequently. What is clear, however, is that they do need a constant source of adoration and admiration known as narcissistic supply.
That means when they do divorce, they are likely to either have someone waiting in the wings or get right back in the game so they don’t have to endure a long period of time without their external validation.
It’s hard to say whether narcissists are marrying more frequently than other people, but they do need that constant source of narcissistic supply so it makes sense that they will be looking to replace it if they lose their partner. It is also true that narcissists frequently discard partners and then cycle back around to them after some time has passed.
Their considerable charm often helps them get new partners and reinsert themselves into the lives of old flames. For that reason, it’s not surprising to learn that a narcissist has remarried on numerous occasions.
Narcissists usually go through many partners over the course of their life, and they learn what emotional triggers they can use to manipulate each one. You don’t have to be one of their victims, however, because you can learn how to recognize and heal your emotional wounds. My 5 Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers can show you how to do just that and stop the manipulation forever.
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