How To Deal With Your Partner’s Narcissistic Behaviors

Narcissistic people engage in relationships to feel superior, in control, and to receive attention and admiration. Therefore, they act in a way that will allow them to have these needs met regardless of the cost to the other person. They are game players; unfaithful, exploitative, manipulative, deceitful, and uncommitted.

Initially, when they are trying to win you over, they will be charming, loving, affectionate, and shower you with gifts and compliments. When they have attained their goal or if you question them in any way, the abusive behavior usually starts. 

At first, it is subtle and you might brush it off, but over time, they chip away at your confidence and sense of self. This is the narcissistic love pattern that they tend to repeat in every relationship and that usually ends in being discarded.

How to respond to a narcissist

The best way to deal with a narcissist is to not engage with them at all or as little as possible. However, this is not always an option.

If you have a narcissist in your life, your focus should be on protecting your own well-being, rather than on trying to change them. Here are a few things to keep in mind when responding to a narcissist:

Remain Calm

A narcissistic person wants attention, regardless of whether this is positive or negative. They want to create conflict and get an emotional reaction out of you because it makes them feel like they have control over you.

Therefore, remaining calm is a nonviolent action that will show them you are not participating in their games and will not rise to their provocation. This reduces the power they have over you.

Create and Enforce Boundaries

A narcissistic person wants to break down your boundaries as a way to gain control over your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Therefore, creating and enforcing physical and emotional boundaries is one of the most powerful ways to deal with a narcissist. How to set boundaries will be discussed in more detail in the next section.

Speak Up for Yourself

Speak up for yourself assertively. That means speaking your mind with confidence but without being aggressive. If they are insulting or belittling you or trying to gaslight you, tell them you do not accept their behavior and/ or what they are saying.

A narcissistic person might perceive this as a slight and ramp up their attempts at controlling you, thus it is important that you stay firm. If necessary, remove yourself from the situation.

Use Precise Language

The more clearly you express yourself, the harder it is for the narcissist to manipulate you, for example, to turn the tables on you. Stick to the facts, keep your answers short, and remain calm and assertive.

How to set boundaries with a narcissist

Setting and enforcing boundaries with a narcissist is one of the best ways to deal with their behavior and regain your sense of self-worth and confidence.

Research on boundaries in the context of abusive relationships demonstrates the importance of setting boundaries and provides advice on how to do so. Here is a summary of the findings:

Losing Boundaries as a Result of Abuse

Experiencing maltreatment in childhood undermines a person’s ability to form strong interpersonal boundaries later in life. According to this research, many victims of narcissistic abuse did not have strong boundaries, which made it easier for the narcissist to gain control over them.

Some participants in the study tried to establish boundaries early on in the relationship but these were dismissed or ignored by their narcissistic partner. As a way to cope with the abusive behavior, they adjusted their behavior to please the narcissist and allowed them to take full control.

This leads to a complete loss of boundaries and consequently losing their sense of self. 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 experimented with setting small, incremental boundaries that gave them the confidence to create more boundaries and/ or leave the relationship.

Boundaries can be physical (your body), sexual (comments and touch), mental (thoughts and beliefs), emotional, and financial.

The key is to establish who you are and what you will and will not tolerate. 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.”

Remember that a narcissistic person is unlikely to change and therefore your focus should be on you and how you can grow and heal from the trauma. A few more tips on setting boundaries:

  • Find out what it is you enjoy and do more of that
  • Connect with trusted friends and family
  • Focus on safety
  • Stay firm: adopt an attitude of “take or leave me as I am” 

What not to do when in a relationship with a narcissist

There are several “don’ts” for coping with a narcissistic person.

Remember that narcissists are driven by their need for control and admiration. They are in love with an image of themselves and they will stop at nothing to uphold this grandiose and entitled self-view.

That means, there is no point in arguing with them or expecting them to change – in their view, they are always right and there is no reason to change. Here are a few important things not to do when in a relationship with a narcissist:

Don’t Argue or Confront Them

Narcissists are skilled manipulators. Trying to argue or make them see your point of view will only escalate their manipulative and abusive behavior. Conserve your energy by not engaging in arguments.

Don’t Justify Yourself

Regardless of whether they have done something wrong, a narcissistic person will try to turn the tables and make themselves out to be the victim and frame you as the perpetrator.

When you justify yourself, you are essentially accepting responsibility for their behavior. It is better to remain calm and leave the conversation, if possible.

Don’t be Emotionally Reactive

Getting an emotional reaction out of you gives the narcissist the sense of power they are looking for. Seeing you cry, angry, or frustrated does not induce empathy in a narcissistic person – for them, it is confirmation of the control they have over your feelings. If possible, stay calm but assertive.

How to end a relationship with a narcissist

There comes a point when you realize your only option is to leave the narcissist. This is often the right decision to make for yourself and your well-being.

It can be difficult due to the emotional bond you may have built with that person and/ or because they may not want you to leave.

Once you have made the decision to leave, plan how you will do it, and importantly, do not doubt your decision. Here is some advice on how to end a relationship with a narcissist:

Accept That You Cannot Change Them

As mentioned, narcissists do not see a reason to change. You cannot change another person unless they want to change themselves.

It is not your responsibility and it is a waste of your time and energy. Focus on how you will change yourself; how you will establish your boundaries, heal from the trauma, and rebuild your confidence.

Cut Off Contact

If you want to be free from their influence and abuse, it is necessary to entirely cut the narcissist out of your life. That means, blocking their number and social media accounts, never seeing them, and changing the locks on your house, if necessary.

They will likely find other ways to contact you and therefore it is important to stay firm and cut them off immediately.

Of course, if you have children or other shared responsibilities, this might not be possible but you can nevertheless limit the contact you have with them and set boundaries.

Find a Support Network

If possible, establish a support network or reconnect with trusted friends and family before you leave. That way they can help you through the process and provide a place for you to stay if you need one.

Having people around you who can confirm that you are not “crazy” and support your decision to leave will help you to feel more confident and supported.

Stand by Your Decision

This is very important. There will be moments when you will miss them and doubt your decision. Therefore it might be a good idea to make a list of all the abuse they have put you through and all the reasons why you are leaving.

It will serve as a reminder and confirmation that your decision to leave is for the best – even when the narcissist tries to convince you otherwise or love bombs you as a way to reel you back in.  

How to recover from a narcissistic relationship

It is often only when the relationship is over that the victims of narcissists realize the extent of the abuse and trauma they have lived through.

Recovering from a narcissistic relationship means having compassion for yourself, resisting self-blame, and thinking “how could I have let this happen?”

Remember, narcissists are highly skilled at subtle and insidious manipulation and it is not your fault you fell into their trap.

Recovery can take time and therefore requires patience. There is not a single formula for healing and what is helpful to you will depend on your personality, experience, and needs. However, there are a few general pieces of advice for recovering from a narcissistic relationship:

Accept Support From Others

You might feel very alone in your experience but there are many other people who have fallen victim to narcissists. It might be helpful to join a support group, whether that is in person or an online community where others share similar experiences. Trusted friends and family are another source of support that you should lean on if possible.

Consider Therapy

Talking to someone who is neutral and does not know you personally can be useful. A therapist will be able to help you to make sense of what happened, establish boundaries, and build yourself up again.

Healing from abuse can be tough thus having someone who walks it with you can make it less daunting and isolating.

No Contact

You cannot heal until the narcissist has been completely removed from your life. If you have to be in contact with them due to shared responsibilities, ensure you limit it as much as possible and establish firm boundaries.

Avoid Avoidance

Avoiding difficult emotions by rushing into the next relationship, taking drugs or drinking alcohol, or by any other means, does not make the distress disappear.

Although it can be difficult, facing your pain is the most effective way to heal, especially in the long term.


Make your well-being the highest priority. That might feel uncomfortable or alien to you at first but recovery requires you to look after yourself and your well-being. Here are some suggestions:

  • Set boundaries: learn to say no
  • Stop drinking and/ or doing drugs
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Exercise regularly – it does not need to be high-intensity, long walks are good, too
  • Spend time in nature
  • Get plenty of good quality sleep. Educate yourself on “sleep hygiene”
  • Practice grounding techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, or breathing exercises
  • Start a journal – writing down your thoughts and feelings is an established technique for processing emotions
  • Treat yourself: buy yourself a new outfit, go to a spa or massage – anything that makes you feel good

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

Knowing whether you are in a relationship with a narcissist means paying close attention to their behavior. Some behaviors are more obvious signs that you might be in a relationship with a narcissist, such as verbal, physical, or sexual abuse.

But narcissistic abuse can be subtle and sly so other behaviors, such as gaslighting, are more difficult to identify.

There are two types of narcissism: grandiose and vulnerable. Grandiose narcissists are extraverted, boastful, and confident and are therefore more easily recognized. Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, are more reserved and therefore more difficult to identify. 

However, they are both interpersonally exploitative and manipulative and their partners have described them as bossy, demanding, intolerant, argumentative, conceited, arrogant, and cruel.

Some Other Signs of a Narcissistic Relationship Include:

  • Being charming when it suits them
  • Everything is about them: they speak about themselves all the time and have little interest in listening to others
  • Attention-seeking behavior: either in a pompous, extraverted manner, e.g. being loud and showing off, or in a subtle manner, e.g. putting themselves down to elicit compliments
  • Excessive need for compliments and admiration
  • Entitled behavior e.g. expecting to be treated more favorably than others
  • Extreme sensitivity to criticism: they become very emotional when faced with perceived criticism
  • Controlling behavior: monitoring your whereabouts, choosing what you wear, etc.
  • Manipulative behavior: gaslighting, turning the tables, etc.
  • They isolate you by criticizing or downplaying the importance of you friends, family, and hobbies 


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.

Anna Drescher

Mental Health Professional

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

Anna Drescher is a freelance writer specializing in mental health and psychology.