When you met, sparks flew immediately—he’s magnetic, confident, passionate and tells the funniest stories you’ve ever heard. But even though your flame has some fantastic qualities, something feels…off. Narcissistic personality disorder, a mental illness that manifests as an intense preoccupation with a person’s own power and prestige, affects about 6 percent of the population. The signs and symptoms can be tough to spot at first, but might become more obvious the longer you stay in the relationship. If you have a hunch your partner could be a narcissist, here’s how to tell.
You’ve never met his friends from high school or college. Most narcissists make friends quickly and easily—just ask them, they’ll tell you. But it’s rare for these friends to stick around for longer than a couple of months. Once they realize the friendship is one-sided, they’re likely to bolt. (See if family members keep their distance, too.)
The story he told you last week doesn’t check out. Remember when he told you about catching a huge great white shark on a fishing trip with his brother? Well, a week later, you discover it was actually an average-sized bass, and his brother caught it, not him. Narcissists are great storytellers, but the tales are usually reframed to make themselves look superior, in order to counteract their low self-esteem.
You feel exhausted after hanging out with him. You only went out to dinner for a couple of hours, but somehow, even though you were just sitting in a booth eating together, you feel completely drained. Narcissists crave your attention and energy, and if he gets a signal you’re not 100 percent engaged at all times, he will do everything in his power to make sure you’re a captive audience. He might use manipulative tactics, like criticizing you, making up a story to impress you, or roping you into helping with an “emergency” that needs to be addressed ASAP.
He didn’t get excited when you got a promotion. You’re so psyched to tell him that you’re now officially a manager…but once you break the news, you realize he isn’t as thrilled as you’d hoped. In fact, he launched into a story about a time he got a bigger, better promotion. If you begin to feel uncomfortable celebrating your own success around your partner because you’re afraid he’ll get mad, minimize your accomplishments or hijack the conversation, it’s a big clue he could be a narcissist.
It’s always the other person’s fault. He got a $200 speeding ticket last week, but even if he was going 30 miles over the speed limit, he blames the traffic cop. And the other drivers who were on the road that day. And whoever set the stupid speed limit on that street, anyway. If your partner refuses to take responsibility for his own actions and can’t even consider that he could be at fault, it could be a sign. (Bonus points if later that month, you hear him bragging to a friend that he’s an amazing driver and hasn’t gotten a speeding ticket in ten years.)
He thinks his co-workers are jealous of him. In fact, according to him, there’s a never-ending laundry list of people who envy him because he’s so talented/handsome/amazing. At first, you’re impressed…until you realize his assessment of the situation might not really be accurate. (More likely, he’s jealous of them, and trying to deflect by building himself up. Tricky.)
You feel like you’re always giving, but it’s never enough. A healthy relationship is a two-way street. But when you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you might find yourself giving (and being expected to give) everything you have. Meanwhile, your partner has a seemingly insatiable need for praise and attention, but doesn’t seem nearly as interested in supporting you. If the relationship feels severely unbalanced, but he doesn’t seem to think there’s a problem, it might be time to call it quits.