Narcissism, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, has hit the mainstream. Although narcissism was always prevalent in about the same percentages of the population, the disorder is more widely discussed now than ever before. Because of the prevalence of discussions about narcissism in the political sphere — and its appearance in books and articles shared on social media — many clients wonder if their partner meets a criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Nobody can be diagnosed without being evaluated by a licensed therapist, but there are some clues in your everyday life that your partner may, in fact, be a narcissist. I will use the male pronoun here, but narcissists can be any gender.
He Is “Special”
In every story your partner tells, he ends up being the special one. Whether his boss recognized his potential and singled him out for a promotion or the cashier who opened a second register at the grocery store waved him over first before the other customers on line, the point of every anecdote is that your partner is unique and better than other people, and that others recognize this quality in him.
Anything He’s Involved In Is Also “Special”
Some narcissists emphasize how wonderful and perfect their families are. At first it may sound like they are only being loving family members. Then you start to realize everyone in the family is put on a pedestal to keep your partner feeling like he comes from a special family.
Or maybe he idolizes his boss and thinks the company he works for is far superior to other, similar companies. In the beginning of your relationship he will likely also idealize YOU, because he would not want to date someone who is average. This will keep on happening unless you criticize him, in which case the relationship often ends or becomes highly conflictual.
He Doesn’t Empathize Well
Although people gravitate toward charming narcissists, they don’t often end up feeling very well understood by them on a deep level. You may be baffled by how little your partner understands even his closest friends. He will often misinterpret their motivations, behaviors, and emotions. Narcissists are really great with surface-level friendships, but truly empathizing with others’ perspectives often eludes them.
He Seems Younger Than His Age
Because narcissists can’t empathize with others easily, they often seem like teenagers even when they are middle-aged. Their emotional age and their chronological age don’t jibe, because their focus on themselves makes them appear less mature than their years.
Narcissists are often hyperfocused on their looks. This keeps them in shape and wearing trendy clothing, even when others their age tend to let themselves go a bit.
He Is Best With Young Children and Pets, But Not Great With Older Kids or Teenagers
Narcissists tend to like those who don’t talk back or have different opinions from themselves. A little sibling who idolizes them is perfect, and so is a dog who follows them around. As parents, however, and even as uncles/aunts or siblings, narcissists don’t do well when kids hit the age where they don’t blindly listen to whatever the narcissist says.
He’s Very Generous, But Only in Ways That Indirectly Benefit Him
For example, he may buy you a membership to a pricey gym…but you don’t really like working out and you know he wants you to be in better shape. Or he donates a lot to charity, but only at work as part of a fundraising drive where he knows he will impress his philanthropist boss.
Or he is sexually generous. But after each encounter, he prompts you to rhapsodize about his sexual prowess, and even wants you to mention it to your mutual friends. (In fact, here’s another blog post all about how narcissists act in bed, and why they aren’t always as traditionally “selfish” as you’d imagine.)
He Doesn’t Do What He Doesn’t Want to Do
Examine your relationship carefully. Has your partner ever done anything that was entirely YOUR idea? As silly as this might sound, when partners of narcissists sit down to think about this, they often realize that — even in a decades-long marriage — their partner has literally done NOTHING he didn’t want to do, or at least nothing that wouldn’t bring him attention or adoration.
This realization is often a hard pill to swallow. It can lead the partners of narcissists to take a hard look at whether they want to remain in their relationships.
What To Do If It Seems Like Your Partner Is a Narcissist
If these points characterize your partner, a good first step is to do some more in depth reading about narcissists, like the books Emotional Vampires by Albert J. Bernstein and Disarming the Narcissist by Wendy Behary. If you conclude that your partner does in fact exhibit many of the signs of narcissism, then you should consider discussing this with a therapist.
Often, if you’re drawn to narcissists, there are reasons for it in your own past. Couples counseling could be a good idea, based on whether you want to remain together. Either way, understanding your partner’s narcissistic tendencies is a great first step in understanding why you may have been feeling confused or dissatisfied in your relationship.