17 Signs You're in a Narcissistic Marriage or Relationship

How to protect yourself

narcissistic traits to look out for in a partner

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Signs of narcissism are often hard to spot in the beginning stages of a relationship, but over time, these signs can be seen more clearly. This article will help you identify if your partner exhibits any of the tell-tale signs of narcissism.

What Is Narcissism?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) defines narcissism as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. At least five of these criteria must be present:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
  • A need for excessive admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally exploitive behavior
  • A lack of empathy
  • Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
  • A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes

Signs You're in a Narcissistic Marriage or Relationship

Let's take a look at some behaviors that someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) may present. While many of the following behaviors can be indicative of narcissistic personality disorder, only a mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis.

You Don't Feel Connected

Your partner talks with you when it is convenient. However, they have never actually asked what your plans are for the future or how you can work together to build the life you want.

They constantly brag about themselves and their accomplishments and rarely show interest or ask questions about anything going on in your life. Their happiness comes from external sources such as prestige at work and money. You wonder if they are even capable of feeling romantic love or emotional connection.

You Feel Manipulated

Your partner will make subtle threats throughout the relationship. They may not be direct with their words, but you'll get a sense that if you don't do something for them or give in to what they want, bad things will happen. Sometimes, it's easier just to go along with what they want even if you don't really agree with it. This is a way of controlling and manipulating their partners to get what they want.

Often, people in this kind of relationship forget what life was like before the manipulation started.

You Don't Feel Good Enough

You have feelings of inadequacy that don't match what you've accomplished in your life. Your partner tends to put you down or make negative comments about the things that you do. You've lost touch with the things that you used to enjoy doing because you don't have time for them anymore.

Maybe you're always tired and it's difficult to get out of bed in the morning. You've begun hiding things from family or friends or feel ashamed about what goes on in your life. You lie to cover up the things that your partner does or does not do.

You're Constantly Being Gaslighted

When someone constantly denies things that you know to be true, they are gaslighting you. This is often seen in abusive or controlling relationships and is a common tactic among narcissists.

For example, your spouse may make a comment like "You just don't remember right" about something that you know happened. They will gaslight you into believing that certain things never happened or that they did things because of something you did or said first.

Your partner may tell lies about your behavior and try to twist reality so that it fits their version of events rather than what really happened. You might begin second-guessing yourself and feel like you're going crazy.

If they do this in front of family members and friends, those people may start to think the problem is with you instead of your partner. It can be difficult for others to realize what happens behind closed doors because your partner appears so charming on the surface.

You Avoid Conversations

It may seem as though every conversation with your partner ends in an argument no matter how hard you try to stay calm and not get upset by what they say or do. The narcissist constantly tries to push your buttons to get you to react; controlling others' emotions gives them a sense of satisfaction.

Often, it's easier to avoid having a conversation entirely than to deal with the constant mind games.

You Feel Responsible for Everything

Narcissists think that everything is always someone else's fault, including the things that they do wrong. You won't get an apology from a narcissistic person. Narcissists don't see other people as being on equal footing with them so it makes sense why apologizing would be out of the question.

Your narcissistic partner likely never takes responsibility for their actions and always blames you. If something goes wrong, it is your fault, even if they're to blame.

Everything bad that happens in their life is somehow because of you, which leaves you feeling like there's nothing that you can do right.

You're Walking on Eggshells

Do you feel as though you're walking on eggshells because you never know when your partner is going to explode or be in one of their moods?

Typically, it goes like this: Everything seems fine, but then something minor happens and they go into a rage. Even a small thing like someone at work being recognized for an accomplishment while your partner feels overlooked can cause a narcissist to throw a fit. This is known as narcissistic rage.

You probably feel like you've lost yourself because now all of your decisions are based on what will keep your narcissistic partner happy.

You See Through the Charm

On the surface, your partner is charming, confident, and accomplished. However, they seem this way only because they are so skillful at hiding their true colors when in public. They say all the right things, and people love them, but the second that you're alone with your partner, everything changes. The switch flips, and suddenly you're dealing with a completely different person than who everyone else sees on the outside.

You Feel Criticized Constantly

Your partner is excessively critical of your appearance. They might make comments about your weight, clothes, or choice of hairstyle. They make fun of you or put you down; this might happen behind your back and/or to your face.

They make fun of others, especially people they perceive as lesser than them (i.e., someone they deem as less attractive or wealthy). In general, they are highly critical of everyone.

Your Needs Are Ignored

Your partner thinks only about their own needs and how things affect them, not you or anyone else—including the kids if you have a family. They will do only things that benefit themselves, not you or your relationship together.

For example, your partner might:

  • Want to have sex when they want it, but not so much when you want it
  • Expect you to pick up after them
  • Take credit for your hard work
  • Get upset when others treat their family better than yours
  • Favor certain children over others in the family if they feel one child makes them look better

Your Family Is Warning You (or Is Oblivious)

Your family has told you that they don't like how your partner treats you. Or, your family is oblivious that anything is wrong because your partner has been feeding them lies about you. Either way, your partner is a point of contention when it comes to family relations.

You've Been Cheated On

A narcissist is often a master flirt and might be cheating on you. They are very charming and know how to sweep people off their feet. You may find yourself constantly questioning if your partner is being faithful because of their flirting. They might have cheated multiple times, so nothing will stop them from doing it again.

You Feel Unloved

When you first got together, you felt like the most amazing person in the world. However, as time went on and problems arose, your partner began to devalue and ignore you. This is a red flag that they're not who they made themselves out to be in the first place.

You likely were receiving love bombs in the beginning to get you hooked, but once you were married, those love bombs went away.

You Get the Silent Treatment

Your partner uses the silent treatment as a power play to control you. They'll withhold affection and ignore your existence until they feel like being nice again, which is usually only when it will benefit them in some way (like getting what they want).

You might think that this behavior is normal or even "expected" of people who are married. However, the truth is that the silent treatment isn't part of a healthy, loving, and respectful relationship.

You're Stuck Financially

If there's one thing that narcissists know how to do well, it's to take advantage of their spouses financially. You might be paying for everything while your partner can't hold down a job, or their job might be bringing in a lot of income but they're not letting you see any of it.

If this is the case, chances are that your partner has been spending every last cent on themselves and isn't planning to share with you now or in the future.

You Can't Rely on Your Partner

When they make promises, you never know if they're going to keep them. Narcissists are notorious for making promises and then breaking them when it's convenient. You don't feel as though you have a partner you can rely on, and you find yourself having to do everything yourself.

You've Asked, They Won't Change

Narcissists aren't willing to change because this would mean admitting something is wrong within themselves—and narcissists never admit such things. On the other hand, some will proudly admit that they are narcissists, but claim that everyone else is the problem.

If your partner isn't willing to change their behavior, you might be in a relationship with a narcissist.

What to Do If You're in a Relationship With a Narcissist

Being in a relationship with a narcissist can have significant, long-lasting effects on your mental health. If your partner is emotionally abusive and unwilling to change their behavior, it's time for you to reconsider the relationship. And if you decide to leave it, have a support system in place beforehand—people you trust enough to confide in. This might be your friends, family, or therapist, for example.

If you continue your relationship with the narcissist:

  • Seek therapy or outside support
  • Create and maintain boundaries
  • Keep records of conversations, events, etc. to ward off gaslighting
  • Try to remain calm and assertive
  • At work, resist gossip, even though you might need to vent
  • Learn all you can about narcissism so you can recognize their tactics and manipulation

Get Help Now

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A Word From Verywell

Everyone has the potential to be self-centered from time to time; however, the narcissist seems incapable of operating in any other manner. Remember: Information is power. Learn all you can about narcissism so you can recognize what's going on. Given what dealing with a narcissist can do to your self-esteem, self-care is essential; consider therapy to protect your mental health.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.