Realizing your partner is a narcissist can be scary, and living peacefully can be difficult, yet it isn’t impossible. Here are some tactics that can help you live with the narcissist you both dearly love.

1. Learn

Learn as much as you can about narcissists and being in a relationship with one. Knowledge is power and you need to know what living with a narcissist looks like.

Narcissism is a spectrum that ranges from the merely self-absorbed to one who has a clinical diagnosis of narcissist personality disorder. A diagnosis validates what you are seeing with your loved one and the different struggles you both face. Most narcissists have one or more of these key traits in common:

  • Grandiosity
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Arrogance
  • Using people
  • Poor empathy

2. Understand

When dealing with narcissism, accepting the things you cannot change brings you a lot of serenity. First, recognize that for some, their narcissism covers up their internal pain. This helps you focus on compassion towards the partner. Be compassionate but understand they don’t really understand compassion. Remember the positive reasons why you are in the relationship. Write them down and review them often.

Understand that you must choose your battles because you will seldom win. Likewise, understand that narcissists seldom go to therapy because they believe everyone and everything around them is the problem and not them.  Even if they go to therapy, the focus is on others and not on accepting responsibility for themselves.

3. Set Boundaries. Enforce Consequences. Repeat.

Set boundaries and then set more boundaries. For example, if your partner starts to berate you, tell her or him you will not accept this and then walk away. Explore with the narcissist the consequences of not changing unacceptable behavior. If the consequences are great enough, your loved one may try to act more appropriately.

Act, do not react, to the behaviors. Reacting means you give your power away to the narcissist. Reacting starts a battle of wits which you will never win. However, acting comes from a place of power. It keeps you focused on what needs to be focused on. Acting is a healthy way of communicating between equals; reacting comes from an emotionally upset position.

Accept that the boundaries will be challenged. Being challenged doesn’t mean the boundaries are null or unrealistic. It’s OK to stick to your guns, especially on big issues.

Have a healthy conversation about what it is like for you when your partner doesn’t focus on you. Don’t allow the conversation to become a defensive monologue. Focus on how both of you can communicate better.

4. Live In A Big World

Take care of yourself on all levels – physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. This is about understanding and coping with your own wants and needs. Keep the focus on you. Participate in hobbies and leisure activities without the narcissist, as well as some with the person whenever possible.

Focus on the relationship and not just yourself. Helping your partner acknowledge healthy ways for both of you to cope will keep him or her from feeling like an attacked victim. For when this happens, your partner will be more likely to attack you.

5. Protect Yourself From Abusive Behaviors

Do not take on their blaming, belittling, and abusive ways. You are not at fault. Get emotional support from other family members (not your children) and from friends. You will not get emotional support from a narcissist unless it behooves her or him in some way.

Have a safe place where you can go, for even though the narcissist may not be physically abusive, their ego needs do become overwhelming to those around them. They are often emotionally neglectful and emotionally abusive to others.

See a therapist as needed. A therapist can teach you how to cope with the narcissist and give you options that you may need to explore.

Finally, realize that you may have to end the relationship for your own sake and for the children. Be prepared for this.

Only you can decide what to do regarding being in a relationship with someone who is narcissistic. Not all narcissists are alike. Some, who have just a few traits, may be willing to work on issues while those who fit the definition of a narcissistic personality disorder will be more challenging. Using the guidelines above can help you on this journey.

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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