When it comes to relationships, everyone wants something different. For some, all they want is companionship and love. For others, they might be looking for a specific type of partner.
But what about people with narcissistic personality traits? What do they want in a relationship? Is it validation and admiration? Control, perhaps?
Understanding these things can help you protect yourself from getting hurt and being taken advantage of. So we asked experts, “What does a narcissist want in a relationship?”
Here are their insights:
Kierstyn Franklin, CMP and Tiffany Denny
Certified Life + Health Coach, The Relationship Recovery
In today’s world, narcissistic personality disorder has expanded past being a personality disorder and now acts almost as a pop-culture reference to someone that is self-centered.
There are five types of narcissism, but the most commonly known type is grandiose or overt narcissism.
A grandiose narcissist is typically:
- totally self-absorbed,
- has little to no boundaries,
- has an exaggerated self-image,
- lacks empathy, and
- constantly needs to be praised and admired.
They look for people who are loyal, optimistic, self-sacrificing
Narcissists look for particular types of partners with certain traits. They look for people who are loyal, optimistic, self-sacrificing, and easily forgive others’ bad behavior.
This is why people with codependency patterns or may be considered empaths make for the perfect target. Although the narcissist expects these traits from their partners, they themselves engage in a continuous pattern of betrayal.
Related: How to Break Codependency Habits
Often, they are not just looking to add one person to their “roster” but many.
They like to keep their partner on the line to get a narcissistic supply or ‘fill’ when needed
They may or may not be in a romantic relationship with all of the people on their roster at a time. However, they like to keep them on the line to get a narcissistic supply or fill when needed.
The ‘fill’ can look like any emotional response, good or bad, special treatment, a pat on the back, or validation.
They want someone that makes them feel good at the cost of anything or anyone
Essentially, anything that makes them feel special and feeds their self-centered perception. And if their partner isn’t giving it to them, they have no problem discarding you to find it elsewhere.
The bottom line, all a narcissist wants from a relationship is someone that makes them feel good at the cost of anything or anyone for that matter, including their partner’s emotional wellbeing.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Psychotherapist
They feel that those who love them should exclusively build them up
In a nutshell, a narcissist wants a partner to keep at bay all the negative feelings the narcissist has, all the doubts, guilt, and self-hate.
Narcissists function on a belief that their partner’s purpose is to make them feel good about themselves.
This comes into conflict with the reality of a relationship when one inevitably has their beloved give feedback on what they are doing wrong. Narcissists are notoriously bad with feedback and feel that those that love them should exclusively build them up.
Narcissists struggle with empathizing and giving to their partners as their own needs feel more pressing and important. They often see themselves as victimized when a partner expresses needs different from the narcissist or says no to expectations.
Narcissists confuse not doing for them with doing something negative towards the narcissist.
The partner is expected to stop everything to help the narcissist if they’re having a crisis
Narcissists want a partner to be the receptacle of their needs:
- If they have a bad day, the partner should attend to that.
- If they need to get prescriptions, the partner should offer to pick them up.
- If they are having a crisis, the partner is expected to stop everything to help the narcissist.
Like everyone else, narcissists are looking for their partners to fill longings that were not filled in childhood. Unfortunately, due to childhood neglect and abuse, the narcissist’s needs can be never-ending.
Tiphanie Gibbs, Ph.D., LCMFT
Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist, Anchored in Love Wellness and Consulting
Narcissists seek a partnership in which they can dominate both the partner and the relationship
Having a narcissistic personality makes it challenging to love someone. A person with narcissistic personality disorder typically exhibits a grandiose pattern of conduct, a need to be praised, and a profound lack of empathy for others.
Narcissistic individuals may confuse a sense of entitlement with an irrational expectation of preferential treatment. They frequently put their needs first, anticipate being catered to, and become agitated—even to the point of abuse—when this does not happen.
Narcissists often struggle in relationships because of their destructive pattern of disrespect for others, sense of entitlement, and desire for adoration. Narcissists seek a partnership in which they can dominate both the partner and the relationship.
They anticipate being treated with an air of elitism, superiority, and exclusivity
They desire to be placed above their partner and the relationship because they have an exaggerated feeling of their importance.
In relationships, narcissists seek to exude a sense of superiority, brilliance, and excessive affection. They anticipate being treated with an air of elitism, superiority, and exclusivity.
Excessive awe and unceasing attention are needed to lessen their fragile self-esteem. They like to be welcomed with ceremony, pomp, and hoopla and are frequently amazed, if not coveted.
They demand particular qualities in a partner due to their sense of entitlement and destructive tendencies.
Top five characteristics of a narcissist’s “partner”
Narcissists frequently perceive others as perfect or imperfect, depending on how they are treated. As a result, individuals often engage in relationships that benefit them or raise their self-esteem.
There are particular characteristics that narcissists prefer in a partner in a relationship.
The narcissist must have the impression that their relationship is devoted to them alone. Unfortunately, the narcissist does not show loyalty in return. The reciprocation of commitment to the relationship or their partner is subordinate to their desire for loyalty.
Narcissists are drawn to people who they can shape, who won’t question them, and who are susceptible to manipulation.
With the relationship still going and no need to worry about their partner leaving them, the narcissist may satisfy their desire to feel strong and superior to them. The narcissist might exert influence over a partner who lacks confidence and self-esteem.
Turns a blind eye
They cannot live without the benefit of just seeing the positive aspects of the narcissist. Seeing only the good supports the idea that the narcissist is different, superior, and exceptional from other people.
Overlooking their destructive behaviors infer that narcissists are faultless and sinless.
These partners put the narcissist in the spotlight while ignoring their own emotional needs.
A narcissist can better exert control over the relationship, achieve what they want, and take advantage of their partner with the help of these individuals. A narcissist would love to have someone like this in their life.
A partner who is forgiving is ideal for a narcissist. They have apologized and given their partner flowers, so they may now live guilt-free. Being a forgiving partner permits the narcissist to damage their partner repeatedly.
A narcissist is looking to be admired, adored, validated, and aggrandized
The question is interesting in itself because the narcissist actually isn’t looking to relate or have a real back and forth relationship.
The narcissist is looking to be admired, adored, validated, and aggrandized.
He is there for himself and wants you to be there for him, too. His mission is to defeat the unconscious emptiness inside by having external reinforcements that are never satisfied.
This is a person who needs others to complete himself and prove his worth. This person is like someone who leads an insurrection and, when it goes on, tells everyone to proceed because he is not in danger. If he is not in danger, that’s all that matters.
The implications when such a person becomes a leader because of his supposed charm and phony connections only to build himself up can be nearly spellbinding.
Followers will be caught in his ability to draw others and be deceived into thinking he is someone who is really there for them. This leads to dangerous psychological exploitation, hardly a relationship that recognizes “the other.”
The point is that the narcissist wants and wants and wants, never to be satiated.
This puts the “other” in a precarious position that he or she is not aware of. Not only is the other person unaware of the actual needs of the narcissist, but they are also in danger of losing their own self-awareness by becoming a follower.
Related: How Dating a Narcissist Changes You
Until they feel something “real” about how they are not regarded for themselves, they are in danger of becoming depressed and feeling empty.
This is when the other person in the fake relationship cries out for help and can indeed be helped to renew their own sense of worthiness, so they are demystified.
The other person has sadly gotten themselves into a plastic “relationship” unknowingly.
Relationship Coach | Creator, The Millionaire Marriage Club
They want everything to go their way, and all concessions are made in their favor
Primarily a narcissist wants control in a relationship. Control, meaning everything goes his way, and all concessions are made in his favor.
A narcissist doesn’t want to have to be concerned about others’ feelings or desires. They want to be surrounded by those who understand their feelings and desires and succumb to what they want.
They don’t want to be bothered by their partner’s hurt feelings but most often will only put the blame in return for being “too sensitive.”
Narcissists find it almost impossible to have empathy for another’s concerns. They’re convinced that his perspective is the only right one, which should be obvious to anyone else.
Partners of a narcissist frequently feel exhausted from the effort of trying to meet their needs or keep up with what he is demanding today.
The only way to survive with a narcissist is to get really good at setting boundaries
The only way to survive living with a narcissist is to get really good at setting boundaries and enforcing them consistently.
It’s a great circumstance for promoting personal growth, but a lousy kind of relationship in which to get personal needs met or experience true partnership.
Related: Signs You’re Dating a Narcissist
Certified Divorce Coach | Recovery Specialist | Psychotherapist
They want praise without having to shoulder the typical responsibilities of a relationship
Most people believe the myth that narcissistic personality disorder is a person who is very “full” of themselves or that it stems from grandiose self-esteem.
However, this disorder is a personality that is constantly trying to avoid being in touch with the part of themselves that subconsciously they do not like. That part contains weakness (in their mind), vulnerability, and insecurities.
This is the reason why the trademark of NPD is a lack of empathy and an inability to take responsibility for their behavior in relationships.
- They are the constant victim to others.
- They put on a mask or a show.
- They project and see in others their own faults.
- They gaslight or lie to avoid feeling less than.
- They focus solely on one aspect of themselves to distract from others.
For example, they will remind others of their financial prowess to distract from where they might lack elsewhere.
At the end of the day, narcissists want to be in control.
They want recognition and praise without having to shoulder the typical responsibilities of a relationship. They seek out people who buy into their false narratives so that they may remain in denial of their supposed weaknesses.
If you confront their system, you will be punished. Narcissists are not capable of true emotional intimacy.
They only love how you make them feel. They are not interested in your vulnerabilities or needs as it does not fit their purpose for being in a relationship.
Co-Founder, Select Date Society
A narcissist wants a partner who is naïve, passive, or eager to please
Narcissists will seek out partners they feel they can control, looking for partners who are naïve, passive, or eager to please. For a narcissist, control is non-negotiable. It’s a must-have in their relationship.
Narcissists demand constant attention
They need a partner who makes them the center of their world and who can cater to their every need. They want a relationship in which they get constant attention and adoration from their partner.
A narcissist wants a relationship in which their partner has unwavering loyalty to them
The narcissist will require that their partner is committed and loyal to them no matter what they put their partner through. The narcissist may be unfaithful but will not tolerate a partner who cheats.
They desire a partner who forgives easily and often
A narcissist’s behavior will require forgiveness repeatedly, so they desire a partner who forgives easily and often. A narcissist may subject their partner to verbal, emotional, and sometimes physical abuse, so they desire a relationship in which their partner is forgiving.
A narcissist desires a relationship that will enhance their image
They are often drawn to successful and attractive partners who they feel make them look good. A narcissist is consumed with image and the way the world looks at them, so they require a relationship that makes them look good to others.
Lindsey Mannon, LCSW
Therapist, Malaty Therapy
They desire a sense of entitlement or superiority
There is a common theme within what a person struggling with narcissism wants in a relationship. They desire a sense of entitlement or superiority, complete control, extensive admiration, and a focus on getting their own needs met.
Overall, a person with narcissism desperately craves the approval of others.
Someone may develop Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a result of being raised by parents with Narcissistic Personality Disorder or parents who switched from being emotionally dependent to uninterested.
Therefore, a child can grow to desire constant approval as their strengths were never recognized unless it benefitted their parent(s). Alternatively, the slightest criticism can lead to outbursts in efforts to regain any bit of their delicate yet inflated self-esteem.
Those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder want to feel competent and respected, leading to the desire to be treated as though they are not just capable but special. They often want to be seen as perfect or the best by others.
CEO and Lead Therapist, Naya Clinics
They condition their partner’s responses to arrive at their own preferred outcomes
People living with Narcissistic Personality Disorder generally view themselves to be the center of their romantic relationships with others and, therefore, require their partners to live for their glory.
Instead of being responsible for it themselves, narcissists expect their every emotional need to be fulfilled by their partners. They need the relationship to be just about them and their feelings, so they often fail to empathize with their romantic counterparts.
Ultimately, people with narcissistic traits usually don’t offer much in the way of reciprocation. In fact, they determine their partner’s value based on how much their presence benefits them and their relationship based on how well it serves them.
Having manipulative tendencies, narcissists also condition their partner’s responses to arrive at their own preferred outcomes.
Not getting the responses they want from you, narcissists will resort to either intense anger, frustration, or disgust.
Health and Wellness Psychologist | Dermatologist, Loxa Beauty
A narcissist mainly wants a relationship they can be in control always. They mostly look for traits, including:
They want partners with low self-esteem
Someone with unstable self-esteem or confidence will go well with a narcissist. It is easier to manipulate them because people with low self-esteem feel hurt easily and are insecure—weaknesses loved by narcissists.
They want guilty partners to supply their ego
Some people always feel guilty, even if the matter is not their fault. But it can supply food to a narcissist’s ego who can take such guilt as an advantage to stay in command.
For instance, you may accuse the narcissist of being manipulative, only for them to turn the accusation against you, perhaps saying how unthankful you are for all they do in the relationship.
One that readily prioritizes their partner’s (narcissist) needs
Narcissists are egocentric and want to associate with partners who will center their needs. It should be someone who can set aside their desires for the sake of the narcissist.
Such individuals mostly have a history of rejection, maybe in their childhood, and want to fix situations to get what they missed.
The narcissist wants “you” to be responsible
A narcissist wants you to feed their ego (put them first, be understanding, and always see their good intentions). They do not have a framework that allows them to be wrong, and they want you on that same page!
If there is a problem in the relationship, they want it to be you.
If you do not take on the problems as yours (needy, clingy, too demanding), they will gaslight you until you are so upset they can focus on your negative behavior and “irrationality.”
The narcissist wants you to “not” expect anything
Sure they brought their “A game” in the first few months (typically 4), but don’t get used to that. You are supposed to meet any need that is inconvenient for them to meet without them.
It may be showing up at events that don’t benefit them, expecting their understanding or validation when they disagree with you or expecting them to make you feel a priority.
They will never say they want boundaries and limits, but it does lead to them extending their “A Game” a bit longer than usual.
Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy | Director of Marketing and Content, Divorce Answers
A partner that doesn’t question intentions
Any narcissist would never want to be called out about their actions and why they act this way. Having a partner that is too compliant with the ‘no questions asked’ rule is perfect for them because they are free to exercise their underhanded influence on you everywhere you go.
A partner that is vulnerable due to unhealed trauma
These are typical targets for narcissists who will play the role of a provider in order to exhibit themselves as someone who is highly supportive.
While this may sound very romantic, they will also take advantage of this vulnerability to manipulate you and gaslight you whenever you try to disagree with them.
A partner that sacrifices the needs of others first before their own
Individuals who feel a certain responsibility to look after others are easy targets for narcissists and will easily abuse this from their partner just to satisfy their own needs first.
Nicholas Jones, MD, FACS
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Nip and Tuck
You have to constantly pay them compliments and admirations
Narcissists have an underlying mental condition in which he or she has:
- an inflated sense of importance,
- a lack of empathy for others,
- the need for admiration, and
- difficulty with relationships.
They typically appear to have high self-esteem, but in actuality, they are extremely vulnerable and do not tolerate any criticism.
As a result of the underlying personality disorder, they often struggle with interpersonal relationships and generally are unhappy unless they are always the center of attention.
So, in relationships, narcissists may tend to be normal for a period of time as they wheel you in.
Once you are in their nest, you have to constantly pay them compliments and admirations. However, over time, most individuals will realize that their needs are not being met, or the love and care are not reciprocated, and they too will be unhappy.
This is just the beginning of a downward spiral because eventually, the narcissist will become manipulative and vindictive, which leads to abuse.
As the partner of a narcissist, it may become tough to detach yourself from them because you so desperately want to help them. Meanwhile, you are being abused and fail to realize that you are the victim.
Narcissists do not know what they want in a relationship. Once you realize you cannot make them happy, it’s best for you to leave because you are not the problem. It is the narcissist.
Related: Are Narcissists Happy?
Because of their inflated ego and sense of importance, they often do not recognize they have a problem. They may seek help and attend therapy and will go through a handful of therapists or try a few sessions and feel that the therapist is attacking them.
Narcissists are extremely difficult to manage, and more importantly, partners of narcissists often need therapy to return to a normal healthy life.
Founder and Chief Editor, Seniorstrong
There is nothing more formidable than being in a toxic romantic relationship with a narcissist. Not knowing what you have gotten yourself into is the only worse thing compared to this.
With a narcissist, you won’t be able to reap the advantages of sharing an intimate space with a loving partner because they just can’t be loving.
The only love they feel strongly about is a distorted version of self-love which aims at feeding their giant ego and vanity.
Although the true intentions and wants of narcissists vary from person to person, their general wants in a relationship could be identified as the following:
Endless loyalty, mostly one-sided
Narcissists crave loyal partners who will follow them around like a puppy without raising any questions against them. They want reliable companions who won’t turn their back against them despite their ill-treatments or questionable actions.
On the other hand, they don’t want to feel obliged to uphold the values of loyalty in a relationship by being outrightly or secretively polyamorous.
A partner who feels responsible for them
They long for a partner who is kind and supportive and feel strongly responsible for them. Such a companion will guarantee love even if the world turns against narcissists.
Being in a relationship with such a person will ensure they have someone 24/7 to feel for them without cutting them off because of their arrogance.
Someone who can literally carry them, putting their needs aside
A relationship in which narcissists have the liberty to do whatever they want without caring about the other person involved, who is mostly responsible for carrying them like a spoilt baby, is an ideal relationship for narcissists.
Narcissists want the other person to be vulnerable enough to seek agreement in their happiness while putting their own needs aside without thinking twice.
Though it sounds bizarre, some people actually fall under this category.
To be admired in every situation
As long as someone feeds their ego, narcissists don’t mind being committed in a relationship. Their desire to be admired is pretty strong to let them think deeply about the feelings of the other person involved.
They want a devoted admirer who will only see the goods in them and turn a blind eye to their faults no matter how startling those are.
The narcissist asks, and their partner provides it
The main problem with these people is not that they are self-loving but that they have a reduced ability to love others. They expect their partner to adore them, but their emotional attachment to others is superficial and shallow.
Narcissist people are not really able to provide love and affection.
They may seem to do so at first, but it soon becomes clear to everyone what their roles are.
- The narcissist asks, and their partner provides it.
- They are not interested in the feelings, needs, and interests of their partners.
- They are interested in their wishes and requirements.
- He will talk and never listen to what others are saying.
- They will generally ask for everything from you and will never return it in the same measure.
- It is normal for them to be loved and adored, but not to step out of his comfort zone out of love for another.
Poetically speaking: A narcissist is a sun around which the other partner revolves like a planet.
A narcissist person can be a fascinating person, but with whom it is impossible to make a good enough or minimal quality relationship.
We can ask why someone would want a relationship with a narcissist — a relationship in which they have to give a lot of love and get so little in return.
As they never receive the desired confirmation of love from the narcissist, they are in a state of constant tension and aspiration to please the narcissist even more in order to finally love them.
When the initial fascination with the narcissist passes and dissatisfaction with the relationship grows, people, wanting to preserve the relationship, ask the question of whether the narcissist person can change.
The narcissist, as a rule, does not want to change because he does not see any problem in himself and his behavior.
That is why those who choose narcissistic people as partners over and over again have two options.
- To understand how a narcissist person works and accept that minimum of relationships as the narcissist’s maximum, and stay in a relationship that brings them some psychological benefits.
- To ask why they make such emotional choices.
Relationship Expert, Sameera Sullivan Matchmakers
They want a partner who “unconditionally” follows them
All of us, at some point, have faced a narcissist in our life, but those with whom we have been in a relationship are often left with an array of mixed feelings. Mainly due to them being highly complex beings.
All they care about is satisfying themselves. They don’t care about a relationship being a two-way street.
They want a partner who follows them unconditionally and allows them to treat them however they please. They also wish for partners with low self-esteem to have more control over their partners.
Their egos are enormous. People who feel a strong sense of responsibility for others will go out of their way to make their partner feel secure, even if their partner manipulates that sense of responsibility.
They make their partners feel little and have a false sense of superiority.
Founder, Love Devani
A narcissist want to prove to their friends that someone is willing to be with them
A narcissist primarily wants attention in a relationship. Most of them get into a relationship not because they love their partner but because they want other people to know that they are not alone.
They want to prove to their friends that someone is willing to be with them because they are likable and have a promising personality.
It may not be true for some narcissists but be cautious in having a relationship with them because they are a bit risky.
Having a relationship with them does not guarantee a healthy bond. Know what kind of person they are first before risking your life with them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do narcissists want long-term relationships?
While narcissists may crave the attention and admiration that comes from a relationship, they often find it difficult to maintain long-term, healthy connections.
This is largely due to their lack of empathy, inability to accept criticism or responsibility, and tendency to put their own needs above those of their partner. Therefore, relationships with narcissists can be unstable and short-lived.
Can a relationship with a narcissist be successful?
It’s possible for a relationship with a narcissist to be successful, but it requires a great deal of effort and compromise from both partners.
Narcissists may need to work on developing empathy and understanding for their partner’s needs, while their partner may need to develop healthier boundaries and assertiveness skills.
How do narcissists behave when a relationship ends?
When a relationship with a narcissist ends, their behavior can vary greatly depending on the circumstances. Some common reactions include:
Anger and blame: The narcissist may become enraged and blame their partner for the failure of the relationship.
Smear campaigns: They might try to damage their ex-partner’s reputation by spreading lies or negative information.
Hoovering: The narcissist may try to re-establish contact and manipulate their ex-partner into returning to the relationship.
Moving on quickly: Narcissists may quickly find a new partner to satisfy their need for attention and validation.
It’s important to set clear boundaries during this difficult time and seek support from friends, family, or a therapist.
Can a narcissist change for the better?
Change is possible with narcissists, but it requires a major commitment to self-reflection, therapy, and personal growth. Because narcissists often have difficulty recognizing their faults and shortcomings, they may resist seeking help.
However, with the help of a mental health professional and a strong support system, it’s possible for some narcissists to develop healthier relationship patterns and improve their emotional well-being.
How do narcissists communicate in a relationship?
Narcissists often employ specific communication tactics in relationships to maintain control and assert dominance. Awareness of these communication tactics will help you recognize potential red flags in a relationship with a narcissist. Some common patterns include:
Gaslighting: Manipulating their partner’s perception of reality to make them doubt their own experiences and memories.
Passive-aggressive behavior: Expressing negative feelings indirectly, such as through sarcasm, silent treatment, or disguised insults.
Deflecting responsibility: Shifting blame onto their partner and avoiding accountability for their own actions.
Love bombing: Showering their partner with excessive affection and attention in the early stages of a relationship, only to withdraw it later on.
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