How To Deal With Your Partner’s Narcissistic Behaviors

Dealing with a partner’s narcissistic behaviors can be challenging, as narcissism often involves a lack of empathy, a constant need for attention and validation, and a tendency to manipulate and control others.

Individuals who exhibit narcissistic behaviors will typically engage in love bombing at the beginning of the relationship, showering you with love, affection, compliments, and gifts as a way to win you over. However, once they have attained their goal, the abusive behaviors and manipulation tactics tend to begin.

Understanding this cycle is the first step to addressing the situation. You must recognize that the charm and affection are likely not genuine but rather a tactic to manipulate and control you.

If something feels off or your partner’s behavior changes dramatically after they’ve “won you over,” this is likely a warning sign that you are dealing with a manipulative or abusive partner.

How to respond to a narcissist

Responding to a narcissist can be challenging due to their tendency to seek attention and control interactions.

The best strategy is to disengage. Narcissists thrive on power struggles and attention, but if you refrain from engaging in arguments and ignore their provocations, you can disarm their tactics.

If possible, minimize contact with the narcissist altogether. This can reduce their opportunities to manipulate or control you.

Here are some other steps to consider:

Remain Calm

Narcissists often try to provoke emotional reactions in order to gain control. They thrive on creating conflict and eliciting emotional responses from their victims.

Therefore, remaining calm and composed can help you maintain control of the situation.

Avoid getting drawn into lengthy justifications or arguments as this will reduce their interest in manipulating or engaging with you.

Set Clear Boundaries

Establish clear boundaries for yourself and communicate them to your partner. Make sure you are firm and consistent in enforcing these boundaries to protect your emotional well-being. You should also be prepared to enforce consequences if the narcissist crosses those boundaries.

And, even when they act loving and affectionate, continue to enforce the boundaries you’ve set. Do not allow their charm and manipulation to cloud your judgment regarding what is acceptable behavior.

Use “I” Statements

When speaking up for yourself and discussing your feelings, use “I” statements to express how their behavior affects you. For example, “I feel uncomfortable when…” rather than “You always…”

This approach can be less confrontational and more likely to encourage a constructive conversation. Additionally, the more clearly you express yourself, the harder it is for the narcissist to manipulate you.

When speaking up, though, it is important to understand that narcissistic individuals often react negatively to direct confrontation.

Therefore, make sure to choose your battles wisely and consider addressing concerns in a composed and non-accusatory manner.

How to set boundaries with a narcissist

Setting and enforcing boundaries is a crucial step in dealing with the behavior of a narcissist. It empowers you to maintain your own well-being, protect your emotional and mental health, and regain a sense of control in the relationship.

Research on boundary setting in the context of abusive relationships has emphasized the importance of setting boundaries. Here is a summary of the findings:

Losing Boundaries as a Result of Abuse

Experiencing abuse, especially during childhood, can undermine a person’s ability to form strong interpersonal boundaries later in life. Many victims of narcissistic abuse struggle to assert their needs and limits, which makes it easier for a narcissist to gain control over them.

Some of the participants in the present study (Czerny, Lassiter, & Lim, 2018) tried to establish boundaries early in their relationship, but they were dismissed or ignored by their narcissistic partner.

As a way to cope with the abuse, they would adjust their behavior and succumb to their partners’ demands.

This undermined their sense of self-worth and resulted in a complete loss of boundaries. One participant reported:

“I mean, honestly I was nothing. You wouldn’t have even recognized me. I didn’t recognize me. It was incredible. I wasn’t even there. I didn’t do anything I enjoyed at all. I was just constantly trying to make sure everything was okay for him. And of course it never is okay. It’s never enough.”

Establishing Boundaries

Participants in this study then experimented by setting small, incremental boundaries. They gradually built up to more assertive ones as they gained confidence in themselves.

By asserting boundaries, you reaffirm your own worth and prevent your partner from diminishing your self-confidence. One participant commented:

“The knowledge of boundaries is empowering. It makes me realize that for an awful lot of it, I’m in the driver’s seat. Even though I’m still working on it, it helps me to shift the perspective to a boundary lens. That way I can ensure that I get to stay me. I get to keep the best parts of me, and no one can take me away again.”

You should expect that the narcissist will resist your boundaries. Be prepared for manipulation, guilt-tripping, or anger.

Here are a few tips to help you enforce boundaries with a narcissistic individual:

  • State your boundaries in a clear and direct manner
  • Be consistent in enforcing your boundaries, even if they resist
  • Clearly communicate the consequences of crossing your boundaries and be prepared to follow through with these consequences if necessary
  • Make it clear that certain boundaries are non-negotiable
  • Stay strong and trust yourself
  • Reconnect with friends, family, or support groups that can provide encouragement and validation as you work on rebuilding your boundaries
  • Reduce contact or even cut off contact altogether if the narcissist refuses to respect your boundaries
  • If you’re concerned about potential retaliation, develop a safety plan to protect yourself when asserting boundaries

What not to do when in a relationship with a narcissist

When in a relationship with a narcissist, it’s important to be mindful of your actions and responses.

Remember that narcissists are driven by their need for control and admiration. They often have an inflated and grandiose self-image that they are deeply attached to. This self-view is a key aspect of their personality, and they will go to great lengths to maintain and protect it.

Therefore, you should avoid holding onto the hope that your partner will change their ways solely because of your efforts.

Here are some other things you should avoid doing in order to protect your well-being and maintain a healthier perspective:

Don’t Engage in Power Struggles

Narcissists thrive on power struggles and conflicts. Refrain from getting into arguments or trying to “win” against their manipulation.

Trying to argue or make them see your point of view will only escalate their manipulative and abusive behavior.

Don’t Enable Their Behavior

Enabling their narcissistic behavior by constantly catering to their demands or tolerating mistreatment only reinforces their tactics.

Don’t Take Their Behavior Personally

Narcissists’ behavior is often about them, not you. Avoid internalizing their criticisms or attempts to blame you for their actions.

Don’t Sacrifice Your Needs

It’s easy to put your partner’s needs first, but don’t neglect your own well-being. Prioritize self-care and set boundaries to protect your emotional health.

Focus on actions that empower you, such as seeking therapy, setting boundaries, and exploring your own interests.

Don’t Isolate Yourself

Narcissists often try to isolate their partners from friends and family to maintain control. Avoid cutting ties with your support network, as these connections are crucial for your well-being.

How to end a relationship with a narcissist

Ending a relationship with a narcissist can be complex and emotionally challenging; however, it is often crucial for your well-being and mental health.

Once you have made the decision to leave, develop a plan for how you will do it. You should expect resistance, manipulation, or emotional outbursts from the narcissist, so you must be prepared to stay strong in your decision.

Here is some advice on how to end a relationship with a narcissist:

Accept That You Cannot Change Them

Accepting that you cannot change a narcissist is a crucial step in healing and moving forward after ending a relationship with them.

You must understand that you can’t change someone who is not willing to recognize their behavior or work on themselves.

Instead of investing energy into changing the narcissist, shift your focus to your own well-being, growth, and healing. Rebuilding your life and self-esteem is a more productive endeavor than trying to change a narcissist.

Cut Off Contact

If you want to be free from their influence and abuse, it is necessary to limit contact as much as possible. Depending on the situation, you might find it beneficial to cut off all communication and interactions with the narcissist.

They will resist and react with rage, so be sure to set clear boundaries and stick to them.

In some circumstances, such as if there are children involved, cutting off all contact might not be possible, but you can nevertheless set your boundaries and limit your engagement.

Gather Support

Lean on your support network—friends, family, therapist, support groups—for encouragement and validation as you navigate this challenging process.

Let them know about your decision to end the relationship and ask for emotional support and practical assistance.

Having people around you who can validate your experiences and support your decision to leave will help you feel more confident and assured.

Stay Firm in Your Decision

Staying calm, assertive, and firm in your decision is crucial.

There may be moments when you miss your partner and doubt your choice to leave. The narcissist might even use guilt, promises to change, or threats to make you reconsider.

You must be prepared to stay strong in your decision. It can be helpful to reflect on the reasons you decided to end the relationship and even write them down.

Remind yourself of the unhealthy patterns, manipulation, and mistreatment you endured during the relationship.

Keep these reasons at the forefront of your mind or in a journal to strengthen your determination.

How to recover from a narcissistic relationship

Recovering from a narcissistic relationship is a process that takes time, self-care, and support.

Typically, victims of narcissistic abuse only realize the extent of the manipulation and trauma they have endured after the relationship is over.

When recovering from a narcissistic relationship, you must have compassion for yourself. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding as you heal from the emotional wounds.

Understand that you were manipulated and mistreated by the narcissist and you are not at fault for their behavior. Forgive yourself for staying in the relationship or for any mistakes you feel you made. Healing involves letting go of self-blame.

Here are a few general pieces of advice to help you heal after ending a relationship with a narcissist:

Accept Support From Others

Surround yourself with trusted friends and family that can uplift and validate your experiences.

You can also consider joining a support group with others who share similar experiences.

Additionally, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or mental health counselor who specializes in trauma, abuse, or relationships involving narcissists. They can provide guidance, validation, and support tailored to your situation.

Set Boundaries

Reinforce your boundaries and establish new ones that prioritize your well-being. Learn to say “no” without guilt and protect yourself from toxic interactions.

If it’s safe and feasible, consider implementing no contact with the narcissist to prevent further manipulation and emotional harm.

If you have to be in contact with them due to shared responsibilities, ensure you set limits and maintain firm boundaries.

Challenge Negative Self-Beliefs

Being in a narcissistic relationship will often erode your self-esteem. Try to challenge the negative beliefs they instilled in you and replace them with positive affirmations.

See the end of the relationship as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement. Use the experience to build resilience and strength.

Engage in Self-Care

Make your well-being the highest priority. Prioritize self-care activities that nourish your mind, body, and soul. Here are some suggestions:

  • Exercising
  • Journaling (writing down your thoughts and feelings is an established practice for processing emotions)
  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Spending time in nature
  • Grounding techniques, such as mindfulness, meditation, or breathing exercises
  • Pursuing hobbies and and passions that you may have put aside during the relationship
grounding techniques

How to know if you are in a relationship with a narcissist

Recognizing whether you’re in a relationship with a narcissist can be challenging, as they can be skilled at manipulation and deception.

However, there are several common signs and behaviors that may indicate you’re in an unhealthy relationship.

Keep in mind that the presence of one or a few of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean your partner is a narcissist, but if you notice a pattern of several of these behaviors, it is something to consider.

Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Grandiosity: A narcissist often has an exaggerated sense of self-importance and believes they’re unique and superior to others.
  • Constant Need for Attention and Validation: They crave constant attention, admiration, and validation and may become upset if they feel their accomplishments or qualities are not being recognized.
  • Entitlement: They may have a sense of entitlement and believe they deserve special treatment or privileges without reciprocating.
  • Lack of Empathy: Narcissists struggle to genuinely empathize with others’ feelings and perspectives. They may dismiss or minimize your emotions.
  • Control and Manipulation: Narcissists can be controlling and may use manipulation tactics to get what they want or to keep you under their influence.
  • Lack of Accountability: Narcissists often deflect blame and refuse to take responsibility for their actions, even when it’s clear they are at fault.
  • Inability to Handle Criticism: They will react to constructive criticism or feedback with anger, defensiveness, or a sense of wounded pride.
  • Jealousy and Envy: They may be excessively jealous of others and envious of their success or attention.


Czerny, A. & Lassiter, P. & Lim, J. H. (2018). Post-Abuse Boundary Renegotiation: Healing and Reclaiming Self After Intimate Partner Violence. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 40, 211-225.

Fraser, R. (2019). How to Heal from Narcissistic Abuse: Your Five Step Strategy to Recover the True You.

Krpan. K., Kross, E., Berman, M., Deldin, P., Askren, M. & Jonides, J. (2013). An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: The benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 150(3), 1148-1151.

Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Julia Simkus

BA (Hons) Psychology, Princeton University

Editor at Simply Psychology

Julia Simkus is a graduate of Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She is currently studying for a Master's Degree in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness in September 2023. Julia's research has been published in peer reviewed journals.

Anna Drescher

Mental Health Writer

BSc (Hons), Psychology, Goldsmiths University, MSc in Psychotherapy, University of Queensland

Anna Drescher is a freelance writer and solution-focused hypnotherapist, specializing in CBT and meditation. Using insights from her experience working as an NHS Assistant Clinical Psychologist and Recovery Officer, along with her Master's degree in Psychotherapy, she lends deep empathy and profound understanding to her mental health and relationships writing.