6 Tips for Living with a Narcissistic Romantic Partner
Living with a narcissistic romantic partner can be incredibly frustrating. They are a beautiful, wonderful person and both of you know it. But when the relationship seems to be all about how great your partner is, it can start to feel a little chilly with your own emotions left out of the spotlight. Your narcissist might be brash, self-obsessed, or simply unaware of the needs of others. But one thing is consistent: they always put themselves first.
Narcissists don't mean to be selfish or to ignore the needs of their romantic partners. In fact, many narcissists are loving and giving by nature. They just don't have the empathy or social awareness to back it up. If you are constantly finding yourself frustrated or hurt by interactions with your narcissist partner, but your partner is genuinely trying to make you happy, what you really need is communication. Before you give up on love, try these six methods for connecting with your narcissist so they can connect with you.
1) Tell Them How You Feel
Every romantic partner wants their beloved to read their mind. Even guys want to be surprised with dessert and a shower of love every now and then, but narcissists aren't up for most emotional surprises. Why? Because their biggest weakness is a lack of empathy. They don't 'just know' when you're having a bad day or when they've talked about themselves one too many times in a week. They can't feel your emotions, but they do care.
Instead of wishing your partner could read your mind, accept that they can't. Let your narcissist know how you feel in words. When they ask, "How was your day?" don't say "Oh, it was fine" and expect them to pick up the undertones of sadness. Instead, say "It was okay, but I feel lousy. Can we do something fun tonight?"
Chances are, your narcissist will be happy to help and give you the support you need. You just have to clue them in.
2) Ask for What You Need
Along the same lines, don't assume your beloved knows what you need or what is best for you. Narcissism brings with it a lack of perspective about the needs of others. If they are cold, they tend to assume everyone else in the room is cold and a supportive narcissist may start handing out sweaters. Narcissists often enjoy taking care of their family and friends but will offer only what they understand.
So be clear with your partner about the difference between your needs and theirs and ask for things you need when they don't notice. Say things like "Honey, when you start to feel cold, the temperature is just right for me. Can we get you a sweater so you don't have to turn up the air conditioner?"
This will give them a personal frame of reference. When they feel cold (a narcissistic experience), they know how to respond to make you comfortable.
3) Define Turn-Taking Protocols
Narcissists may not have empathy, but they do have a sense of fairness. If your partner has been focusing an unfair amount on themselves, they may not realize that they are accidentally dominating the relationship. Instead of getting frustrated with their selfishness, simply ask for your turn. Most narcissists have simply been 'taking every turn' because no one else has stepped up to make decisions.
Introduce turn-taking as something you care about and emphasize the idea of school-yard style fairness. Narcissists are stuck in a child-like emotional state, but this also means they understand "one for me, one for you" very well. A healthy, loving narcissist will be happy to share if you ask them to.
In many cases, all it takes to even the balance is to establish turn-taking as part of your partnership. An even one-to-one decision-making style is easy to accomplish. They picked dinner last night, you pick tonight. You picked the movie last week, they pick this week. In fact, you may even notice that your beloved narcissist is more strict about turn-taking than you are because they love taking their turn and enjoy the experience of equality.
4) Put "I" Statements in Time-Out
Narcissists often have a conversational flaw that is subtle at first and eventually starts to drive friends and family insane: The "I" statement. Narcissists perceive everything in relation to themselves. What they ate, how they feel, the books they have read, and the opinions they hold. A narcissist can talk on a wide variety of topics, but the "I" statement is always there and often is the opening to 90% of sentences.
One interesting, challenging, and potentially fun way to give your partner some perspective is to play a game with them. Challenge them to put "I" statements on the shelf for five minutes to an hour and you go into the challenge along with them. Both of you try not to make "I" statements and soon your narcissist will realize just how much their world revolves around this perspective. It won't fix them, but it will help them work around the inclination to self-focus.
Introducing the idea of taking a break from "I" statements is also a powerful way to help your narcissistic partner realize when they are not connecting. Narcissists have bad days, too, and sometimes the self-obsession is worse than others. If your partner is making you or themselves unhappy with too much self-focus, try re-introducing the "I" statement time-out to help them shake out of the mental rut.
5) Work Together as a Team
One of the most important details of living happily with your narcissistic partner is to work together as a team. Narcissists have trouble perceiving the feelings and struggles of others, which means it's easy for them to see challenges set to them alone as unfair. If you ask them to drop "I" statements on their own, for example, it can seem like you're asking them to do something you couldn't do yourself. Doing it together and laughing when those "I's" slip out, makes it something you're conquering as a team.
And teamwork with your narcissist has another interesting benefit. A narcissists lack of empathy also means that they assume others feel the same way they do. If you are working on a project or a relationship hurtle side-by-side, they will automatically feel that you are working as hard as they are and will try to take care of your needs as they take care of themselves.
If, for example, you are exercising together, your partner might bring you both a glass of water every time they get thirsty. If you are doing yard work together, they might bring you work gloves too when their hands get sore. Narcissism can be beneficial if the two of you know how to work with it together.
6) Consult with a Counselor
Finally, it's okay to admit that narcissism can be hard to work around. If your partner is essentially trapped in their own self-focus and it's getting in the way of your relationship, remember that both of you are suffering. Your partner inevitably wants to feel connected and to make you happy even if their own selfishness is the problem. If the two of you have tried to connect and are struggling to be happy together in the face of your partner's self-obsession, it may be time to consult with a compassionate professional who can help you sort out each other's feelings and find true balance in the relationship.
In many cases, narcissism is accompanied by other emotional or psychological problems like a troubled home-life, traumatic events in the past, or even just deep personal fears of intimacy beyond the narcissism. A couple's counselor can help you sort out any additional problems getting in the way of your happiness and help build a stronger, more communicative, bond between you. For more information or a private consultation about your needs, please contact me today. I'm here to help.