Are You in Love with a Narcissist?
You’ve been googling the symptoms and reading as many blog posts as you can get your hands on. You’re wondering whether or not you are in a relationship with a narcissist.
As you read through checklists or take online quizzes these are the kinds of headlines that might, catch your eye:
- What to do if You’re Married to a narcissist?
- 16 Warning Signs you’re in Love with a Narcissist – And What to Do About it
- How to Survive a Narcissistic Husband
Reading these articles can offer a little bit of temporary solace. It’s comforting to feel understood and relieved to know there is a word to describe what you’ve been dealing with. You read through the checklists and answer yes. Yes, my partner lacks empathy, yes my partner is self-absorbed, yes my partner becomes defensive when confronted.
Obviously I do not know whether or not you’re in a relationship with a narcissist. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a serious medical condition that needs to be diagnosed by a licensed professional. Little is known about the cause of this condition and researchers are still in the early stages of learning how to provide effective treatment.
But whether or not your partner meets criteria, there is clearly a problem if you are wondering in the first place.
Your Biggest Problem is Not that You Have a Narcissistic Partner
The diagnosis is not what causes the problem, it’s the behavior that causes the problem. If you are concerned that your partner might be Narcissistic, chances are that you don’t like the way you are being treated right now. It feels rotten to be minimized, not listened to, disrespected and feel taken for granted.
If you believe that you are spending time with someone who acts superior to you, that can cause anger, insecurity, self-doubt and resentment. So the desire for a diagnosis can be your attempt to understand why someone is mistreating us.
Do Labels Belong on Jars or People?
Sometimes labels help and sometimes they make things worse.
The good thing about a label is it helps us take things less personally. It can also provide us with more sensitivity and empathy.
If you find out someone has pneumonia, it will help you understand why they want to rest instead of join you for a morning walk.
Similarly if you are doubting your own self-worth and then find out your partner has a professionally diagnosed mental health condition, it can help you take their judgments less seriously. It doesn’t sting as much if you can reassure yourself that it’s more about them than you.
The bad thing about labels is that they can cause you to feel hopeless and overwhelmed. You might see every day mistakes as character flaws that cannot possibly change. You might begin to look at your partner through a negative lens and expect certain negative or hurtful behaviors. You might fear that you are in a relationship with a flawed person who is unable to change and will mistreat you for the rest of your life.
Focus on the Behavior not the Diagnosis
It will be more helpful for you to focus on how these hurtful behaviors play out in your relationship. You’re entitled to be pissed off whether the behavior is intentional or unintentional, whether it’s the result of a mental health diagnosis, ignorance, not caring or habits learned in childhood. Pain is pain.
If you‘re unhappy with how you are being treated right now, or how the two of you interact, that’s what matters. It is a real problem that needs attention because YOU matter and you can’t have a happy and successful relationship if one person is satisfied and the other isn’t.
The good news is that it might be a solvable problem if you want things to get better.
Do I have to Kick “Em to the Curb?
So then the next step is to start figuring out what to do if you are unhappy in your relationship.
You might be getting advice from well-meaning friends to kick ‘em to the curb, saying things like, “You don’t have to put up with that!”. Their intentions are good, but remember the decision is yours.
We might not all meet criteria for a mental health disorder, but we all have flaws. We are all imperfect humans. Usually underneath narcissistic character traits there is fear of rejection and feeling of self-doubt and even worthlessness. Most people really don’t believe they’re really all that great, especially those who initially come across as arrogant before you get to know them well.
If you’re really honest with yourself you might even start to notice that there might be things you can do to make the relationship better as well.
Empathy is a Surprisingly Simple Skill
Relationships are hard work. They require vulnerability, frustration tolerance, time management and a whole lot of other things. The good news is that empathy is actually one of the easier tools that you can use to improve a relationship.
A lot of people don’t know that empathy is a teachable skill that can be learned and improved with skill training and practice. It comes more naturally for some than others, so there can be a misconception that people either have it or they don’t.
It’s much easier to become more empathic when you practice it with someone you actually care about.
Perhaps you’re in a relationship with a Narcissist, perhaps you’re not, but empathy training is the thing that will help either situation. If your partner learns how to behave differently when you are upset about something valid, your problem is solved. And if you are open to learning a little more about what is going on for your partner, you’ll learn more from working on this together than you will from reading WebMD.
Empathy Training is the process of learning and practicing deep listening skills together with your partner. Main Line Counseling Partners has launched a Free Empathy Training Course that you can complete in less than 15 minutes.
If you have more time, commit to one hour per day for a week with this course for you and your partner to complete together: The Happy Couple – A Virtual Retreat
Or if you want to learn more about your relationship, take this quiz to find out about your conflict management style.