Relationships often work best when they are mutually beneficial and characterized by respect, care, and understanding. When relationships are unbalanced, though, they can lead to conflict, tension, and hurt feelings. Have you noticed your boyfriend exhibits self-centered behavior, doesn’t appear to have empathy for you, or attempts to cut you off from family and friends? These could be signs that you are in a relationship with a boyfriend who has narcissistic tendencies, meaning he has certain personality traits that lead to self-serving behavior or displays possible symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder. (NPD), which is a clinical diagnosis found in the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). A person who does not meet the full diagnostic criteria for this personality disorder, may be said to exhibit narcissistic traits or tendencies.Below, we’re going to discuss the implications of being in a relationship with a boyfriend who displays such tendencies and provide you with tips for engaging in the partnership in a healthy way.
What Is Narcissism?
Narcissism is a personality construct characterized by traits associated with self-centeredness, lack of empathy, and an inflated perception of one’s importance. Some signs of narcissism include:
- Attention-seeking behavior
- Lack of boundaries
Because those with narcissistic tendencies frequently act in their own self-interests to the exclusion of the needs of others, they often experience conflict in their relationships. Being in a relationship with a person who exhibits such behaviors can be challenging due to common behaviors like love bombing and emotional manipulation. Someone with NPD/narcissistic traits may dismiss their partner’s feelings, especially if those feelings do not serve their own purpose. They may also regularly criticize their partner and provide them with unsolicited advice.
People who have NPD, or exhibit narcissistic characteristics often exhibit the following traits, which may affect their relationships:
- Desiring adoration – The admiration they seek usually stems from an exaggerated sense of importance.
- Wanting attention – Such a person may monopolize conversations or do other things to make people think they’re more special than others.
- Worrying about the opinions of others – A person with NPD might pay close attention to their own self-image and display excessive concern regarding how others perceive them.
- Manipulating others – Using emotional manipulation or similar tactics can allow an individual with narcissistic traits to serve their own interests at the expense of others.
- Lacking empathy – It tends to be very difficult for someone with NPD to put themselves in others’ shoes.
Navigating A Relationship With A Boyfriend Who Is A Narcissist
If your boyfriend displays narcissistic behaviors when interacting with you, there are many coping strategies available to help you engage with him in a healthy way. Below are nine ways to navigate a relationship with a boyfriend who has been diagnosed with NPD, or exhibits narcissistic behaviors.
1. Establish Healthy Boundaries
An overarching strategy for those who are in a relationship with someone with NPD is to set boundaries. Many of the below tips relate to this technique in some way. If your boyfriend displays narcissistic traits, his actions can have a serious effect on your mental and emotional health. For that reason, letting him know in clear terms the behavior you will and will not tolerate can help you save yourself.
For example, you may explain to him that arguing with you in an aggressive manner is not acceptable. If he then engages in that type of behavior, you can reinforce the boundary you set by distancing yourself from him or otherwise limiting interaction.
2. Avoid Engaging When He Love Bombs
Love bombing—in which an individual gives another person excessive attention, gifts, or affection—is a common technique that pathological narcissists use to manipulate their partners. Your boyfriend may have done this at the beginning of your relationship in order to win you over; and you might also notice that he does this when you’ve distanced yourself from him. If you respond by giving him attention, though, he likely goes back to focusing on himself and marginalizing you in the relationship.
Love bombing is a form of emotional abuse, and it is often a sign that your boyfriend is trying to manipulate you. When he does this, you can tell him that you’re not comfortable with his behavior, refuse gifts, and ask for space. While it may seem nice that your boyfriend is putting effort in to win your affections, engaging with his love bombing can reinforce that behavior and lead to further manipulation.
3. Nurture Outside Relationships
Those who display narcissistic traits often attempt to isolate their partners. If you have a boyfriend with such tendencies, he may try to cut you off from family and friends. He may do this to ensure your focus remains on him, you don’t hear other peoples’ opinions on the relationship, or you are forced to rely on him. You might notice that he talks about your family members or friends in a negative manner or tries to go through your phone.
4. Avoid Arguing
A primary desire of a person with NPD isto be perceived as intelligent—and also get their way—can lead them to try hard to persuade others that they are right in various situations. Your boyfriend may argue with you frequently in order to assert himself. If this happens, try to avoid engaging with him in the same way. Often, remaining calm and empathetic is the best approach, as matching his aggression may exacerbate the argument. If your boyfriend becomes agitated and hostile, you can distance yourself from the situation.
5. Remember That You Don’t Need To Justify Every Action
People with narcissistic tendencies may try to encourage you to question your own thoughts and feelings. For example, your boyfriend might question why you would want to take time for yourself one afternoon, demanding an explanation and trying to lead you to feeling guilty. While you can give him a reason, you don’t owe him an explanation for why you believe your actions are reasonable.
6. Be Cognizant Of Emotional Manipulation
Your boyfriend may try to prompt emotional reactions from you as a way of getting what he wants. By causing you to feel sad, guilty, or embarrassed, he can gain control. One of the most effective ways to deal with this behavior is to identify it, avoid engaging, and remove yourself from the situation.
7. Question Things That Don’t Seem Right
Because your boyfriend may lie in order to manipulate you, it can be hard to know what is true. If the things your boyfriend says to you do not seem to be grounded in reality, question them and trust your own instincts. One way a person with narcissistic traits tries to control others is to make them doubt their own mental stability. If you know your boyfriend is distorting the truth, it can help to identify that behavior and tell him in a respectful but firm manner that you will not be swayed.
8. Practice Self-Care
Because a partner with NPD may not tend to your needs, it can help to engage in activities that are geared towards caring for your mental, physical or emotional health. Self-care can be a crucial part of maintaining a healthy relationship with someone who displays narcissistic tendencies. Tending to your own needs can help you foster mental wellness and provide you with space to recharge. Your self-care routine may include getting enough sleep, eating well, and meeting with an individual therapist regularly to process ongoing relationship challenges and find support.
9. Consider Taking A Break Or Ending The Relationship
While you may care deeply for your boyfriend, if he is displaying narcissistic tendencies, sometimes the best solution is to distance yourself from the relationship. You may want to try out a short-term separation so you can evaluate your own emotional and mental well-being and give yourself a chance to decide whether to pursue the relationship further. On the other hand, if you know that the relationship is not healthy, parting ways could be the best course of action.
Navigating Narcissism With BetterHelp
Connecting with a counselor or other mental health professional can give you a safe outlet to discuss your concerns and create a plan of action for the future of the relationship. If you think you would like to talk to someone, but you are unsure about talking in person, there are a number of resources available.
Research shows that online therapy can be a beneficial form of treatment for those experiencing challenges in relationships that may be related to a mental health concern like narcissistic personality disorder. For example, in a study on the efficacy of online therapy for distressed relationships, participants reported experiencing significant improvements in relationship satisfaction, confidence, and quality, in addition to reductions in symptoms of individual mental health conditions.
As discussed above, online therapy is there for you when you or someone you love is living with narcissistic personality disorder. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can participate in therapy from the comfort of home, which can be helpful if you’re not comfortable discussing your relationship in person. Your therapist can also connect you with useful resources, such as articles or at-home exercises that can help you learn more about narcissism.
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