Quick show of hands: Who has sat by and watched as their BFF invested her whole life into this one person who couldn’t have been more wrong for her? Most people have seen someone else showing signs that they’re in a dysfunctional relationship. They fight all the time, maybe they even break up every other week… Yet still they’re together for what seems like ages, each too stubborn to let the other one go.
Now, are you ready for a little bit of ugly truth? You’ve probably been one of those people, too. Everyone has different tolerances in relationships, and there are a number of factors that make someone more likely to be in a relationship with a narcissist. Believe it or not, some of those things don’t spell out ultimate destruction, either – it is possible to be the soul mate to a narcissistic partner. Some people are more conditioned to be OK with that type of behavior. But everyone has their own boundaries, of course, and different situations will breed different coping mechanisms.
Curious how to make it work? Find the scenario that you feel applies best to you, and discover what that means for the future of your relationship.
You feel comfortable with your partner’s behavior.
To outsiders, your partner seems completely wrong for you. Maybe she’s mean, aggressive, needy, or otherwise not a good fit. But, to you, it’s all part of the dating game – you’ve got a pretty good handle on diffusing a hostile situation.
Or maybe it’s not that at all. Maybe you’re actually the narcissist, choosing to express yourself through passive-aggressive quips when it’s just the two of you. Your partner gets frustrated by your inability to show your anger in a productive way, and occasionally lashes out at you. While onlookers see this as abusive behavior, you two see that your partner is actually helping you find ways to better handle your emotions.
This situation can essentially be summed up as “other people don’t know the whole story.” The people who aren’t involved with your relationship usually can’t see what goes on behind closed doors (unless you’re the type to post your business on social media, but that’s another discussion for another day.) If you become concerned with the situation you’re in, professional relationship counseling may be a good choice for you – but you shouldn’t do it solely on other people’s recommendation. Only you know what you can handle, and only you know what’s really going on here. Act accordingly.
You’re used to fighting and then making up.
Some people are conditioned to be more OK with the fight/make up cycle than others. Whether you had parents or guardians who fought and loved passionately, or you personally react that way in relationships, you may be better equipped to handle the stresses that come with a yo-yo love like this. In fact, you are probably most comfortable in a relationship with someone who somehow reminds you of the person or people who raised you – it’s a psychological fact.
On the other side of things, you understand that everyone gets selfish and narcissistic sometimes – and that definitely includes you. You can see that your partner just needs a little more love (or a bit of distance, as appropriate), and you’re willing to help your partner come back around. For most people, narcissism is a temporary state, and it will pass in time – it only becomes a problem if it’s the default state of your relationship.
In this type of situation, it’s important that you each have your own established set of boundaries that you can both agree to. A true loving partnership entails that each partner wants to make the other happy, without sacrificing pieces of themselves in the process. If necessary, you may choose to turn to professional counseling to ensure that you’re taking the healthiest steps you can in your relationship.
You have learned to detach yourself from other people’s bad behavior.
In life, we learn how to set effective emotional boundaries – and that means removing blame on yourself for something that didn’t really have anything to do with you. It’s possible that you have managed to do this without consciously thinking about it, which would make you less vulnerable in high-energy, high-stakes relationships like yours.
Or, maybe those boundaries didn’t come into play until after you’d gotten with your ill-behaved partner. Understanding why they act the way they do can help you to distance yourself from the negativity, especially if there are mental illness issues to blame for the bad behavior. It’s not fail-proof, of course, but practicing acknowledging your own behavior and that of your partners – and seeing clear lines between the two – can help to cultivate the skill further.
However, just because you’re properly shielded against the hurt your partner’s behavior may cause doesn’t automatically mean that you shouldn’t seek help from a professional counselor, if that’s what you feel you need. In many cases, mental health issues can’t be managed without the help of a trained professional, and it’s a good idea to rule out any chance of unhealthy behaviors on your part, as well. In order for this approach to be effective, however, you’ll both need to be on board with the idea of therapy – you can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change.
You might just be codependent.
Unfortunately, not all relationships with a narcissist are meant to last – even if they do. Some people are in a chronic state of unromantic behavior, and you might be sitting by and enabling their bad behavior to continue. It’s important to assess within yourself if your relationship is really bringing you any happiness, or if it only causes you pain.
Likewise, it’s possible that you’re overlooking your own narcissistic behavior, and your partner is a codependent enabler. Narcissists are often drawn to codependent people because they often accept and even encourage the narcissistic behaviors – particularly if their parents or guardians set the tone for them sacrificing their own sense of self in a relationship.
If you feel there’s any chance that your relationship is codependent rather than romantic, it’s recommended that you each seek individual counseling to help mend any underlying problems. It might not be possible to save this relationship you’re currently in, but the sooner you address your codependence issues, the better the chances of avoiding a disaster in the making. You should never put yourself on the back burner to someone else, nor should you want your partner to put themselves on the back burner for you – it’s important that you both put yourselves first without sacrificing each other. You’re worth it – and she is, too.