Tell me a story of a relationship involving a narcissist, and I’m sure to hear a tale of cheating, manipulation, and psychological abuse.
We’ve all heard horror stories.
But it is inevitable?
Are all relationships with narcissists doomed to fail and end in cheating? Or can a narcissist be a good, faithful partner?
Can a narcissist be faithful in a relationship?
It’s possible for a narcissist to be faithful in a relationship, but unlikely. Narcissists tend to prioritize their own needs and desires over their partner’s and have few qualms about engaging in infidelity if it serves their own interests.
Additionally, their lack of empathy and tendency to manipulate others can make it difficult for them to form genuine, long-lasting connections. The incentive structure for a narcissist to stay faithful just isn’t there.
Relationships are fundamentally transactional to these types, so fidelity is purely a matter of opportunity to them.
Who do narcissists date?
Narcissists often look for partners who can boost their ego and enhance their sense of self-importance. They may seek out attractive, successful, or adoring partners, as these traits can make them feel more special and superior.
That’s the truly interesting thing about these master manipulators – they’re actually incredibly insecure and need a steady stream of reinforcement to survive.
Narcissists may also look for partners who are submissive and willing to cater to their needs. This helps them maintain control in relationships. They’re attracted to people with a history of codependency.
Overall, narcissists are likely to prioritize their own needs and desires in a romantic partner rather than seeking a mutually fulfilling relationship. So long as they have a partner willing to give them that, they’ll stick around.
Can a narcissist truly love their partner?
Sure, it’s possible for a narcissist to have feelings for their partner, but maybe not in the traditional sense, or what you and I would consider love. Their feelings are more shallow and self-serving.
Narcissists are focused on their own needs and desires and are more likely to view their partner as a means to boost their own ego or fulfill their emotional needs.
Any “love” they might feel is likely to be conditional and self-centered rather than genuine and empathetic.
That’s because a narcissist often lacks the ability to truly understand and care for their partner’s needs and emotions, which can make it difficult for them to form a deep, meaningful connection.
Even if a part of them wanted to have a loving, long-term relationship, it would be an uphill battle for them, requiring a lot of intervention and counseling support.
Narcissists largely experience love as an expression of “What can you do for me?” They rarely give in return, a trait common in trauma-bonded and codependent relationships.
The narcissistic trauma bond is powerful and not predicated on genuine affection, despite what your partner might have you believe.
Narcissists are better at weaponizing love than feeling it:
Unfortunately, narcissists are better at pretending to love people than actually doing it. Enter love bombing, the first phase of narcissistic abuse.
Here are some signs of love bombing that look like love from a narcissist but aren’t:
- Constant attention and praise: The narcissist may constantly shower the victim with attention, compliments, and praise, to make them feel special and desired.
- Excessive gift-giving: The narcissist may give the victim excessive gifts, such as flowers, jewelry, or other items, to make them feel appreciated and valued. It’s much harder to “feel” your gut signaling something’s wrong when you’re giddy with butterflies.
- Excessive flattery: The narcissist may use excessive flattery and praise to make the victim feel important and superior to others.
- Rapid intimacy: The narcissist may try to create a sense of rapid intimacy by sharing personal information or experiences with the victim to make them feel close and connected.
- Constant communication: The narcissist may try to maintain constant communication with the victim through phone calls, text messages, or social media. They’ll make it seem like it’s because they’re really into you, but it’s actually a ploy for control.
- Making the victim feel like they are the only one who understands them: This is a powerful one. A narcissist may try to make the victim feel like they are the only one who truly understands them, and that no one else can provide the support and validation that they need.
But keep in mind, all of this is a means to an end. Most narcissists like to fill their cups with high-intensity emotions and the thrill of the chase, which is all this is. As soon as they’ve “got” you, they either monkey branch to the next person or shift their behavior to something more controlling and intimidating.
But then again, not all narcissists are the same.
It also depends on their narcissistic style:
There are three main narcissistic styles and one of them is much more vulnerable than the others. They are grandiose narcissism, (the aptly named) vulnerable narcissism, and malignant narcissism.
Grandiose narcissim is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a strong need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. These individuals may have an exaggerated sense of their own talents and abilities. They often expect others to cater to their every need and desire. This is your more traditional narc.
In milder cases (weird to say), it might present as over-confidence and an inability to compromise or consider the perspective of others.
Vulnerable narcissism is characterized by feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and a need for constant validation. They’re still very self-absorbed, but it’s turned inward.
They’re the opposite of grandiose narcissists in that they are overly needy and emotionally draining individuals. They will smother their partners to fill their cups. This might look like “loving” another person, but it’s not.
This is also the type more prone to gaslighting and passive-aggressiveness.
Their neediness is intimately connected to their lack of self-worth. It has nothing to do with love or any real bond with their partner.
I read an article that characterized this narcissistic type as every Woody Allen character, which seemed very fitting to me.
Malignant narcissism is a combination of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. It is characterized by a lack of empathy, a lack of remorse, and a tendency towards aggression and manipulation.
These individuals may engage in abusive or manipulative behaviors to control others and maintain a sense of power and superiority. Any of these narcissistic styles can exist on a spectrum:
The harder a person swings to either extreme on the narcissistic scale, the less capable they are of forming a genuine, emotional connection with people.
So questions about whether a narcissist can be faithful or truly love another person have to consider where on the narcissistic spectrum the person sits.
Additionally, how self-aware is this person about their narcissism? Are they in therapy and getting help?
These factors matter, too.
For an excellent explainer of the three types of narcissists (with different names), check out this video:
Does every narcissist cheat?
Taking everything we just discussed into account, not every narcissist will cheat. They might ghost or leave you for someone else before fully cheating.
That being said, a lot of narcissists are shameless cheaters. They do it for various reasons, the most infuriating of which is because they can.
They’re all for it if they believe it will benefit them in some way, such as by boosting their ego or fulfilling their own emotional needs.
Narcissists may also be more likely to cheat if they believe they can get away with it or if they feel that their partner is not meeting their needs or expectations.
Again, narcissists like high-intensity situations where they feel desirable and wanted. Infidelity is a great avenue for that.
Even vulnerable narcissists may stray if their (unfulfillable) needs are unmet by their primary partner. How could anyone be enough for a person like that?
You don’t have to figure this out on your own.
Bottom Line: Can a narcissist be faithful?
Anything is possible, but this is unlikely.
Where does the narcissist falls on the spectrum of narcissistic behaviors? Are they actively getting counseling to manage their narcissistic tendencies? These factors will largely determine their ability to be a good partner (let alone a faithful one).
The good news is few people actually tick all the boxes for the DSM-5 classification of narcissistic personality disorder.
The bad news is a lot of people hang out in the space between.
Narcissistic partners do not react well to boundaries and have trouble seeing beyond their own needs. Often they are willfully manipulative and abusive.
These are bad qualities, and you should probably steer clear of these relationships.