How Long Does a Narcissistic Relationship Last and How Does it End?

Narcissistic relationships can last anywhere from a few days or weeks to many years. There are anecdotal observations suggesting that the average length of a narcissistic relationship is around six months, but no empirical evidence supports this claim. 

Some people get married to narcissists and stay with them for years, while others leave or are left after a few weeks or months. As long as the narcissist is getting their needs met by their partner or the partner does not find a way to leave, the relationship will continue.

Narcissism lies on a scale from having a few narcissistic traits to having a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Higher levels of narcissism are associated with higher levels of aggression within a relationship, including physical, verbal, and indirect aggression, such as gossiping.

That means, the more narcissistic a person is, the more difficult the relationship will be. NPD is rare in the general population. However, even people who do not meet pathological levels of narcissism tend to be highly aggressive and difficult to be around.

If the narcissistic person is getting their narcissistic supply (excessive admiration, attention, and sense of control) from you, there is no reason for them to end the relationship.

Thus, how long the relationship lasts depends on whether the victim continues to be “useful” to the narcissist and whether or not the victim finds a way to leave the relationship.

What does a narcissist do at the end of a relationship? 

Personal accounts and research suggest that at the end of a relationship, narcissists will either increase their abusive behavior or try to win their partner back through love bombing.

A narcissist will end the relationship if they no longer receive their narcissistic supply from you and/ or if they have found someone else. However, it is often the case that a narcissistic person will have several partners, the so-called “narcissistic harem”.

If you are the one to end the relationship, they are likely to perceive this as a threat to their superiority and control.

At first, they may try to “hoover” you back. But if their attempts at hoovering and love bombing do not work and they realize you are serious, the abuse often escalates.


Hoovering includes behaviors that are aimed at manipulating you into not leaving or coming back to the relationship. As soon as they feel they have gained control over you again, the abuse will restart.

Hoovering Can Include:

  • Remorse: telling you how sorry they are and how much they have changed
  • Grand statements of their love for you
  • Gifts and romantic gestures
  • Making promises about the future
  • Using other people to get to you: if they cannot contact you, they might try to contact your friends
  • Emotional blackmail: they might tell you they are in a crisis or had an accident to get your attention and sympathy
  • Guilt tripping: they might tell you how you have “ruined their life” by leaving
  • Act as though nothing happened: they ignore your efforts to turn them down in the hope that you will give in eventually. They might call you and say “hey, let’s go out for dinner” with the aim of disarming and getting you to agree. 

Narcissistic Rage

It is often at the end of the relationship that the abuse escalates. They use any tactic possible to psychologically damage and destroy the victim, known as “narcissistic rage”. It can include some of the following behaviors:

  • Spreading rumors about you
  • Character assassination: they deliberately try to destroy your reputation by saying unfair and dishonest things about you
  • Threatening to tell your friends and family about certain things (regardless of whether they are true or not)
  • Stalking you on social media and/ or in person
  • Contacting you by getting a new number or creating fake social media accounts
  • Leaving abusive voicemails on your phone
  • Breaking, destroying, or hiding your things
  • Turning up at your home and possibly trying to break in
  • Bursting into rage: verbally and/ or physically assaulting you

Real-life Accounts of Victims

Below are some accounts of individuals in a narcissistic relationship taken from two different qualitative studies:

Study 1:

“Just the idea, the prospect of us breaking up freaked him out so much that I sort of had to take it back in a way you know because it seemed to utterly destroy him.”

“Well the fact that me and him were on the verge of breaking up for such a long time and never actually broke up says a lot about how he didn’t want me to ever leave him”

“He would never admit that “I never want to lose you” but I think he was so afraid of losing me that he turned into the victim just to keep me.”

Study 2:

“I wanted to have boundaries, and I needed to have boundaries. Because it was like, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t happy. He was hurting me. I talked about it a lot. I wanted to leave. But he’d fight me, and I was scared that he’d go crazy.”

How do you leave a narcissistic relationship?

Leaving a narcissistic relationship can be difficult. For that reason, it is important to be in the right frame of mind and to prepare before you leave.

Getting into the right mind frame means committing to leave the relationship and not allowing the narcissistic partner to convince you to stay.

No matter what they say or do, you stick to your decision because you understand that they are trying to manipulate you.

This requires you to accept that they will not change, understand the damage they have caused, and realize that in the long run, you will be better off without them. Here are a few tips:

The Friend Question

Turn the situation on its head and imagine a very good friend or close family member came to you for advice about their relationship. Imagine they told you all the things that you have experienced in your relationship – what would your advice to them be?

Would you tell them to stay with an abusive partner? Would you say the relationship is worth the damage it causes to their self-esteem and confidence?

By imagining that someone else is telling you, you might be able to gain more clarity on your situation and feel more confident about your decision to leave.

Write it Down

Write a list of all the things your partner has done and said to you that have been hurtful, confusing, and abusive. If your partner is narcissistic, the list is likely going to get very long very quickly. Keep this list with you and use it to remind yourself of why you are leaving.

Accept Help

Speaking to trusted friends and family and/ or a therapist can help you to put things into perspective and confirm that the best option is to leave the relationship.

Bottling up your feelings does more damage than good, thus speaking about what you are going through will help you to process and heal.

Preparing to Leave

It is often a good idea to plan how you will leave because when they find out they are likely going to have a strong emotional reaction. Here is some advice:

  • Do not tell them you are leaving or where you are going
  • Make sure you are in contact with trusted friends and family
  • Contact the police if necessary
  • Stay somewhere you know you will be safe
  • Have enough cash if they can access your bank account
  • Check for trackers on your devices
  • Log out of your accounts on all devices
  • Have your important documents (e.g. passport) and valuable possessions with you when you leave

How to recover from a narcissistic relationship?

Healing from a narcissistic relationship is like healing from any other traumatic experience: it takes time, patience, and work.

For that reason, it might be helpful to consider therapy or going to a support group. It’s also important that you spend time with loved ones, do things you enjoy and practice self-care.

Although it can be easier to avoid painful emotions in the short term, in the long term it is better to face them. Avoidance does not allow you to heal properly and the pain and trauma will remain.


Will a Narcissist Ever Be Happy in a Relationship?

Highly narcissistic people enter into relationships to satisfy their narcissistic needs i.e. control, dominance, admiration, and attention.

When they are receiving an unconditional and unlimited supply of this, it is possible that they experience some satisfaction (or happiness) in a relationship – but this does not last long.

Generally speaking, narcissists experience low relationship satisfaction and have a game-playing style of love. That means, they enjoy controlling other people’s emotions, seek out as many partners as possible (to get attention and admiration), deceive their partners, and lack empathy.

Thus, they do not experience the same kind of happiness a non-narcissistic person enjoys in a relationship.

How Will a Narcissist React When They No Longer Have Control Over Someone?

Narcissism is associated with an extreme need for control. They distrust other people and want to ensure that their self-esteem stays unscathed. Therefore, losing control over someone, especially when they felt they had control over them previously, is likely going to cause a punitive reaction.

They might burst into narcissistic rage and try their best to psychologically (and physically) harm you. Or they might love bomb you as a way to get you back under their control. Whatever their behavior, it will be aimed at getting your attention and regaining control.

How Long Do Narcissists Typically “Love Bomb” For?

Love bombing can last a few days, weeks, or months. The aim of love bombing is to gain control over the other person, thus once this goal has been achieved, their true colors start to shine through.

Love bombing can also happen in cycles; that means, if they feel they are losing control over you or they want something from you, they may love bomb you again until they have what they want.


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.

Green, A. & Charles, K. (2019). Voicing the victims of narcissistic partners: A Qualitative Analysis of Responses to Narcissistic Injury and Self-Esteem Regulation. SAGE Open.

Howard V. (2019). Recognising Narcissistic Abuse and the Implications for Mental Health Nursing Practice. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 40(8), 644-654. Kjærvik, S. L., & Bushman, B. J. (2021). The link between narcissism and aggression: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication.

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.