When you first met Ted, you were swept off your feet by his killer good looks and seemingly grand ideas about life. After eight months, it’s not that great. Ted can’t stop talking about his big plans for getting a promotion at work, and you have caught him lying on more than one occasion.
But you do care about him, and he’s sworn to do something about his Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Sound like your relationship?
It’s important to understand that Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by an extreme preoccupation with oneself. Narcissists think they’re very special and always feel the need to be admired. A relationship with a narcissist is likely to be challenging, but you can decide the limits of the compromises you are willing to make.
Here are some tips that will help you get on with your relationship while you and your partner discuss personality disorder treatment options:
1. Set boundaries. People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder believe they’re very special, and expect others to treat them royally all the time. Even if you just slightly disagree with them over something, they might feel they’re being attacked.
“My experience as a therapist shows that narcissists can feel misunderstood, ignored, or hurt, especially when the hurt involves one’s sense of specialness,” says Ellen A. Golding, MFT.
While you should respect your partner’s point of view, it’s a good idea to refrain from debating if it’s not too important. Trying to convince a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder about something they disagree with can feel like banging your head against a brick wall.
However, watch out for any verbal abuse or violence – if any of these elements are present in your relationship, it could be a warning bell for you to get out of it.
2. Don’t expect much emotional support. Had a bad day at office or a fall out with your best friend? Your partner might not be the best person to turn to.
“Understand that your needs will be met differently. You may have to look to others if you require strong emotional support,” says Golding.
3. Understand where they’re coming from. If your partner displays symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, educating yourself about the disorder will do you a world of good. For example, people in a relationship with a narcissist often feel used. However, if you understand the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, perhaps you can control how you react to them.
“Because narcissistic people experience others as a means to support their self-esteem, there is a very real self-centeredness to them,” says Anthony F. Tasso, assistant professor, Department of Psychology and Counseling at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. “Therefore, it is common for the people in their lives to feel used and even exploited because of the one-sidedness of the relationship.”
4. Figure out your role. While you may not like to accept this, you’re filling a role in your partner’s life. “Deviating from these roles is often met with displeasure. First, consider what decisions you make that displeases the narcissist, and what decisions make them happy,” suggests Golding. “What sort of role is it you fulfill for them?”
If you’re trying to make your relationship with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder work, you deserve a pat on the back — but you should also know where to draw the line. Sometimes, the healthiest thing to do is to end the relationship.
“In the most severe cases, there is nothing that can be done by another person but to ‘steer clear’ and stay safe,” advises psychiatrist Dr. David Reiss. “Confrontations can be dangerous and, there is no ‘insight’ or understanding to work with.”
If your partner is open to getting personality disorder treatment, you will likely see an improvement in their symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. You will also be able to actively participate in their treatment so that you can build a healthier and stronger relationship.