Narcissists are rarely content in their relationships. Ask them why and they will point their finger at the other person. They don’t do enough. They aren’t good enough. A narcissistic person will always blame their partners for the lack of fulfillment they feel, but the truth is that their bad relationship problems are rooted entirely in their own shortcomings.
A narcissistic person struggles to form stable connections with others. Look at any proven narcissist and you will see the same pattern. Their relationships are generally turbulent or short-lived.
Rooted in their own egos, content with blaming the world for the problem they create, they aren’t able to fully dive deep and be emotionally honest with themselves. This translates into cruelty that makes romantic relationships hard and lacking in critical empathy and trust.
The narcissist doesn't always act the way we expect them to act.
Online culture has painted the narcissistic person as a one-dimensional animal. Creatures of arrogance, we are expected to believe they are easily spotted as people who suck all the air out of a room — but that’s not the reality. Real narcissists are charming and can present a depth that makes them tempting romantic partners.
The narcissist has a grandiose view of self, but that doesn’t always translate into grandiose behavior. Being the best in the room, and being in control, looks different to every narcissistic person and they flex those behaviors in different ways.
Some will put themselves in positions of traditional power. They get partners they terrorize and create families (or positions at work) in which they can lord themselves over others. Others, though, decide to play the victim. They consciously and subconsciously keep themselves weak and in crisis so other people will rescue them and do the hardest work of life.
Seeing this, it’s easier to understand the central problem that is insurmountable to most narcissists. Centering themselves in the middle of a world rooted in fragile, superficial egos, they get trapped in toxic relationships of their own making. These relationships haunt them and become one of the biggest obstacles in narcissists’ lives.
This is why narcissistic people struggle to form healthy relationships.
It’s a reality not spoken about enough. Narcissistic people struggle to form healthy relationships because of the many twisted ways in which they view themselves and others. Insecurity, ego, and delusion all come together to create extreme conflicts and a lack of emotional integrity in their intimate connections.
A lot of time is spent pointing to the narcissist’s arrogance or grandiosity, but those aren’t the primary factors that make healthy relationships difficult. Arrogant people still have friends, they have successful marriages. The same for people who live grandiose lives. Regarding connection, the first big challenge for narcissists is their deep-seated insecurities.
It’s true. At the core of every narcissist is a shockingly insecure person. There is a core fear and belief that they are the most unlovable person in the room. That insecurity may come from childhood trauma, or it may from their own poor behaviors and decisions. Either way, the narcissist feels ashamed of themselves and their inner world.
The result? They develop masks to hide their insecurities. These masks aren’t necessarily representations of who they really are. They are representations of what they think other people want to see. Narcissists are externally directed. They spend their lives chasing what other people want.
In the end, the narcissist traps themselves in faulty relationships with people who are equally ill-fitting for their true needs. They select weak partners who are willing to play along, and people with low self-esteem who get stuck behind the narcissist’s mirror. Husbands, and wives, fall for a mask and never get to fall in love with the real person underneath. The results are explosive and disastrous.
Thick layers of ego
The next big obstacle, in terms of relationships, come for the narcissist at the crossroad of their ego. You see, the narcissist relies on their fragile ego to obscure their insecurities. The problem is that a healthy ego can only be built on a full sense of who you are. But the narcissist doesn’t have that. So their ego becomes a thin shell, a projection of the thing they think will make them look the most self-possessed.
Some become mothers, bosses, and even active members of local politics and religions. The narcissist’s ego drives them into the pathways that provide the most power and positive attention (from the greatest number of people). Romantic relationships are regularly a part of this.
Narcissists pick partners who make them look good, partners who are willing to play along and accept the role the narcissist desires of them. They quickly become the partner who must call all the shots. Even in “love” their ego remains central to everything the narcissist does. The moment anyone questions that ego, it is seen as a threat. Conflict, destruction, and disposal follow.
A need to be in control
There’s no denying the narcissistic person’s need to control — both people and situations. What the world thinks of them is everything to the narcissist. They are literally driven by external validation. They have an unstable sense of self, so they look to what others want in order to decide what they want or need. In the end, they wind up tap dancing at a manic pace, controlling every detail of their lives (and the lives of those who love them) in order to maintain their projections.
It gets worse. There’s a fundamental delusion to narcissists. Narcissistic people believe that they are special or entitled to fantasy lives (with no evidence or effort to back that up). Many believe achieving these fantasy lives will negate their pain or finally put them on top of a pedestal that doesn’t exist.
Ultimately, this entitlement extends into their relationships where they believe they have a right to control and define their partners and family (who they inherently believe aren’t as special as them). They will say and do anything to pull the strings of those around them. It doesn’t matter if they have to destroy someone’s self-esteem, terrorize them, or lie.
The crisis maker
If the above leads one to think of the narcissist only in terms of grandiose braggarts, think again. Being “on top” and in control looks different to every narcissistic person. Some will steamroll their victims into giving them what they want, but others choose a different route. Specifically, they choose to play the victim and keep themselves in a state of perpetual crisis in order to elicit pity from their partners (and manipulate their behaviors and emotions).
Here, we see the covert or vulnerable narcissist. This is someone who plays up their weaknesses, or who creates messes that others have to clean up for them. Everything comes back to their pain and their suffering. They never stop talking about their trauma or the bad things that have happened to them. Especially when they’re being held accountable.
This type of narcissist is not above throwing their pain in the faces of others whenever they are held accountable or asked to be responsible for their actions or emotions. This causes a lot of problems in their relationships. The other person is endlessly saddled with the misery of a person who refuses to do better and who wants to be carried through life.
No foundation of empathy
Narcissistic people have been painted as people who don’t understand emotions nor have them. This is untrue. Narcissistic people have a deep understanding of their own emotions, where they come from, and how they work. What they don’t have is the same understanding of others’ emotions.
A narcissistic person doesn’t think that other people have the same emotional experiences as them. In their minds, no one suffers as much as they do, no one is as deep as them. They don’t hold space for the emotional experiences of others and that makes their relationships a struggle.
Fundamentally (and diagnostically) the narcissistic person is lacking in empathy. They don’t hold compassionate space for their partners, they expect them to suck it up. They, however, can break down and take up as much emotional space in the relationship as they want.
That understandably leads to conflict and resentment. Their partner, always being forced into an emotional “second place,” can come to see the narcissistic spouse or lover as a source of oppression, with impossible emotional divides between them.
A hand in the delusion
Narcissists are nothing if not delusional in the way they think. It’s another form of self-protection. If they can create a delusional life, in which they are never at fault and always carried emotionally by others, then they are good people who don’t have to do any of that hard internal healing. Within these delusions, they come to believe they don’t have to work hard to get what they want or to feel better.
These narcissists expect the people around them to provide whatever they demand or expect within the delusion. Perfect housewife? The uber-successful husband? They design the role and everyone must play along with their delusions and help to reaffirm them (no matter what those delusions are).
For those who step outside of the delusion, the punishment is swift. Partners who point out that the narcissist is flawed, and that they have some responsibility, will face conflict and alienation. In the worst cases, a partner who insists on denying the narcissist’s delusions can find themselves terrorized or discarded.
Fault lines of accountability
The narcissistic person never willingly take accountability for any of their failures and shortcomings. Because they are externally validated and directed, they also look to the world to take responsibility for the things they get wrong. In romantic relationships, this responsibility often lands on the shoulders of their partner or spouse.
If they lose their job, don’t make it far enough in life, or get embarrassed in the outside world, they blame their partner. It doesn’t matter how far they have to reach. They will blame the other person in the relationship for making them tired, holding them back, or otherwise doing something that made the narcissist “mess up.”
It doesn’t stop there. Narcissistic people don’t only blame people for their mistakes and failures, they also make other people responsible for their emotions. It’s true. A narcissist can’t self-regulate or self-soothe. They expect their partners, children, and families to do it for them…and punish them with explosive reactions if they fail.
Is there a future of happiness for narcissistic people?
One central question results from all of the above. Can a narcissistic person change? Can they ever have happy and stable relationships? In theory, yes. A narcissistic person is capable of change. Do they change, though? It’s not as likely when you see the work that is entailed in helping a narcissist see the errors of previous behaviors.
- Getting help: As unlikely as they are to change, narcissists can change if they take the initiative too. This initiative, though, must include skilled psychotherapy with an expert. With years of training and support, the narcissist can teach themselves new, healthier behaviors (but it is extremely rare and highly unlikely).
- Killing the ego: If a narcissist went to therapy and spent years reconfiguring their egos and outlooks, they could then engage in healthy ego deaths that are necessary to build empathy. This, however, remains a behavior outside the desires of most narcissistic people.
- Increasing awareness: Awareness is the key to all healing, no matter who you are. The more aware of your behaviors you become, the better you can get at choosing healthier reactions. If narcissistic people were to focus on increasing their self-awareness, it would lend itself to healthier and more fulfilling relationships.
Despite the potential, it’s important to remain cognizant of the reality. Most narcissistic people never escape the trap of their own insecurity and ego. They spend their lives blaming others and looking to the world to save them. Try as they might, these partners are never able to do that. Why?
Because each of us is responsible for our happiness in this life, whether we are in love with someone or not. Relationships are little more than a complement to the lives we already have. They can’t provide rescue. We are the only ones who can save ourselves, but this is a truth that many narcissists never acknowledge (or acknowledge too late).
It doesn’t matter how hard the narcissistic person works to paint a picture of perfection. Beneath the surface, there is always emotional turmoil and struggle — especially in their relationships. Trust, stability, none of it can exist when there are endless blame games and desperate attempts to protect a tragically fragile ego. The divides are huge in narcissistic relationships and couples don’t quite break through.
Seeing this reality can help us to create more realistic expectations of the narcissists in our lives. There is no saving them from the mess they make for themselves. Instead, the best we can do is see their story with compassion and work to protect our own future happiness and peace.