7 early signs of a narcissistic partner (and what to do about it)

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Sometimes when someone is being highly self-absorbed or selfish, we tend to toss around the word “narcissist” or “narcissistic”.

But the truth is, all too often, what people don’t know or what they forget is that narcissism is a real, mental health diagnosis.

In a nutshell, these are people who have an inflated sense of their own importance, often needing admiration and praise from others.

Another one of the notable characteristics of such a person is his (or her) lack of empathy – which may make it difficult to have a fulfilling relationship with such a person.

If you suspect that your partner is a narcissist, you’ve come to the right place. 

In this article, we will talk about what narcissistic personality disorder is, what that looks like from a clinical viewpoint, and seven early signs of a narcissistic partner.

We acknowledge that living with a narcissist can take a toll on your mental health. So in addition to the above, we’ll be giving you tips on things you can do if your partner indeed shows these signs.

What is a narcissistic personality disorder?

As I briefly mentioned earlier, narcissistic personality disorder, or narcissism, is identified by a bloated sense of one’s own importance. People who have this condition need and are constantly looking for attention.

However, experts in the field believe that this is merely a cover-up for a fragile sense of self-worth.

Without the admiration and attention they crave, narcissists may become unhappy. 

It’s interesting to note that this occurs in men more than in women and the early signs of a narcissistic partner may manifest in a person’s teen years or in early adulthood. 

What characteristics make up a true narcissist?

In order to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, there are certain criteria that have to be met, which psychologists have listed in the fifth and latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses (DSM-5). 

One is a grandiose sense of self – for instance, it’s when someone brags overly much about their talents and achievements, or in some cases, they expect to be treated or seen as superior even without earning it.

They also fantasize about unlimited success or power, beauty, and idealized love. Narcissists truly believe that they are special and unique and that only people who are like them can understand them. 

And because they believe themselves to be special, they need excessive admiration. They also feel entitled to favors, preferential treatment, and they expect others to do what they want or agree with things they do.

They take advantage of others and lack empathy, which involves acknowledging others’ feelings and needs and putting themselves in another person’s shoes. 

Narcissists are also often jealous of other people or otherwise believe that others are jealous of them.

This type of person may also behave arrogantly or haughtily. 

An important note

Before we proceed with the signs of a narcissistic partner, you should keep in mind that these traits could occur in someone who does not have NPD.

Some examples of these people include high achievers and people diagnosed with bipolar personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and other such conditions. 

Only a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist can accurately determine whether or not someone has NPD.

What are the early signs of a narcissistic partner?

While the features of a narcissistic person are straightforward enough, it might not be as easy to spot them especially early on in a relationship. 

If your partner shows these signs, you may be in a relationship with a narcissist.

1) They were very charming early on in the relationship

As mentioned earlier, people with NPD are attracted to grandiosity and fantasy about many things – including love.

They may shower you with compliments and tell you things like how perfect you are for each other, even if you’ve only been on a few dates. S/he could also give you extravagant gifts, be very public outdoors and on social media.

You might recognize this as “love bombing”, in which a person ‘bombs’ you with grand displays of attention and affection.

It can be flattering at first, but the thing is, this can quickly become something dangerous. Experts say that this can be a manipulation tactic.

In fact, a 2017 study found that love bombing was positively correlated to narcissistic tendencies. It’s also correlated to an insecure attachment style, which shows as a lack of trust or value in oneself or others).

When you start to feel uncomfortable in their company, feel that they need to be reassured all the time, or make you feel like their issues are your fault, this may be a sign of a narcissistic partner.

2) They always talk about themselves 

When you share news or stories about yourself, does your partner engage or do you somehow find yourself listening to them talk about themselves instead?

Narcissists tend to steer the conversation towards them.

Clinical psychologist Angela Grace, PhD, MEd, BFA, BEd, says that they usually try to make their accomplishments and talents seem more impressive than they really are.

Meanwhile, according to psychotherapist Jacklyn Krol: “Narcissists love to constantly talk about their own accomplishments and achievements with grandiose. They do this because they feel better and smarter than everyone else, and also because it helps them create an appearance of being self-assured.”

3) They brush off your feelings

One of the signs of a narcissistic partner is that they lack empathy, or the ability to sense others’ emotions and mirror or acknowledge those feelings.

According to the same study earlier mentioned, narcissists don’t know how to apologize and how to comprehend others’ feelings and points of view. 

Being able to empathize is a key aspect of a healthy and successful relationship, which is why relationships with narcissists often fail.

4) They seek out compliments and attention

Earlier, I mentioned that experts believe that a person with NPD actually has a fragile sense of self-worth.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and founder of Kaleidoscope Counseling (Charlotte, North Carolina), Nedra Glover Tawwab, says: “They need a lot of praise, and if you’re not giving it to them, they’ll fish for it.”

According to Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) Shirin Peykar, a narcissist uses others to give them their sense of self-worth. because, they already have low self-esteem to begin with, they need even more compliments. She adds that people with NPD relies on others to make them feel important and by tearing others down.

If you relate to this, this may be one of the signs of a narcissistic partner.

5) They start criticizing you

Whereas some people are natural teasers, people with NPD make comments about you that are actually hurtful than constructive or playful.

According to Peykar, narcissists do this to shrink others’ self-esteem and make them feel better about themselves. And when you react, it only shows them that what they’re doing is working.

If your partner makes you feel bad for something you were previously proud of or didn’t consider an issue, they may possess this sign of a narcissistic partner.

6) They have few (if any) long-term friends

Narcissists have problems maintaining relationships with other people, which ends up with them not having many friends.

As narcissists are highly sensitive and insecure, they might feel slighted when you want to spend time with other people.

They might make you feel guilty for spending time with your friends instead of with them, or otherwise criticize the kind of friends you have.

7) They gaslight you

One of the signs of a narcissistic partner is gaslighting.

If you aren’t familiar with this concept, it is when one lies, wrongly accuses others, and warps the truth and your reality.

As a result, you might question your beliefs and your reality, and chip away at your own self-esteem and self-confidence.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you feel different from the person you used to be?
  • Do you tell yourself you’re being too sensitive?
  • Do you feel like you’re always making mistakes?
  • Do you blame yourself and apologize often?
  • Do you make excuses for how your partner acts?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you might be getting gaslighted.

Narcissists do this to assert their superiority and gaslighting is one of their methods, says Peykar.

What do you do now?

Narcissists can negatively affect your mental health, and leave you emotionally abused. 

Now that you know the signs of a narcissistic partner, it would be a prudent move to rethink the relationship.

It’s crucial to have a support system to help you through it, no matter which way your decision goes.

If you decide to keep your relationship with your partner, seriously consider the following:

  • see a therapist
  • set clear boundaries
  • record conversations and events to guard against gaslighting
  • stay calm and assertive
  • avoid gossiping with people not within your support circle
  • educate yourself on narcissism and learn to identify their manipulation methods

The bottom line

Being in a relationship with a narcissist is difficult.

Licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go? Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist, said that people who are in a relationship with a narcissist often don’t realize it until they are in too deep already.

We all have the capacity to be self-centered every now and then, but narcissists don’t know any other way to be. 

Hopefully, knowing these early signs of a narcissistic partner will help you spot red flags where they appear and preserve your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Louise Logarta

Louise Nichole Logarta is a content writer by profession, with experience crafting feature articles, editorials, and news articles. She has been published in noted Philippine broadsheets Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Manila Times. Topics of interest she likes writing about include relationships, current affairs, health, and pop culture. Travel, journal notebooks, fiction books, and iced coffee are some of the things she enjoys.

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