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6 Reasons Narcissists Struggle in Intimate Relationships

6 Reasons Narcissists Struggle in Intimate Relationships

Navigating the complexities of intimate relationships can be challenging for anyone, but for those with narcissistic tendencies, it can be particularly difficult.

Several factors contribute to narcissists' struggles in cultivating and maintaining deep connections with others, from a lack of empathy to a constant need for validation.

As you explore the reasons behind these struggles, it's important to understand the key characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

This mental health condition is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others.

These traits can create significant barriers to establishing and maintaining healthy, satisfying intimate relationships.

In the following paragraphs, you’ll discover some of the most common reasons narcissists have difficulty forging strong, lasting bonds with partners and the impact this can have on both individuals in the relationship.

Armed with this knowledge, you can be better equipped to recognize and address the challenges that can arise when engaging with someone who exhibits narcissistic tendencies.

The Narcissist's Need for Control

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity characterizes narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, typically beginning by early adulthood.

This often results in difficulties in maintaining intimate relationships.

In this section, we'll explore how the narcissists' need for control affects their romantic connections.

Fear of Vulnerability

Narcissists tend to have a deep-rooted fear of vulnerability. Opening themselves up to others and showing genuine emotions may make them feel weak or exposed.

This fear can lead them to distance themselves from their partner, limiting closeness and hindering the development of a bond based on trust and support.

Being vulnerable is a crucial aspect of forming meaningful relationships.

However, the fear of exposing their true selves prevents them from connecting with their partner on a deeper level, resulting in a shallow and superficial connection at best.

Manipulative Tactics

A narcissist playing the victim

Narcissists often use manipulative tactics to maintain control in relationships.

This is due to their need for admiration, devotion, or even financial stability.

Here are some common manipulative tactics narcissists use:

  • Gaslighting: Making their partner question their own experiences or perceptions, leading them to doubt their sanity.
  • Love-bombing: Showering their partner with excessive attention and affection at the beginning of the relationship, only to withdraw it later.
  • Playing the victim: Blaming others for their own mistakes or shortcomings, and expecting sympathy from their partner.

In relationships, narcissists often begin by idealizing their partner. This is why many people wonder why they didn’t see the warning signs. They tend to attract individuals that are caretakers and have a deep sense of empathy for others. Once the ‘fantasy’ phase subsides, narcissists begin to devalue their partners. These manipulative and emotionally abusive behaviors often result in the partner feeling that they are at fault or are the ‘crazy one” – Adria Hagg, LCSW

These manipulative tactics can cause significant psychological damage to the partner, as they undermine their sense of self-worth, trust, and autonomy.

The narcissist's need for control feeds on their fear of vulnerability and is often maintained through manipulative tactics.

Unfortunately, these factors make it difficult for narcissists to sustain healthy and fulfilling intimate relationships.

Lack of Empathy

Inability to Understand Others' Emotions

One of the challenges narcissists face when dealing with a relationship is their lack of empathy, which can manifest in various ways.

For instance, they may have difficulty understanding others' emotions. As a result, this can create a disconnect in any relationship, especially with close, intimate partners.

Narcissists often struggle to recognize the feelings and needs of their partners, making it difficult for them to foster a deep emotional connection.

This can lead to misunderstandings and feelings of isolation for their partners, potentially causing emotional distress.

Dismissal of Their Partner's Needs

Another aspect of narcissists' lack of empathy is their tendency to dismiss the needs of their partners. This can happen when they prioritize their own desires and emotions over those of their loved ones.

Narcissists are often self-absorbed and focused on their own needs, which can make them seem unresponsive or uncaring when it comes to their partner's struggles or concerns.

In relationships, this could mean narcissists ignore or downplay their partner's feelings, leaving them feeling unvalued or unimportant.

This dismissive behavior can have a damaging impact on intimacy since it creates an unequal power dynamic and a lack of mutual understanding.

In turn, this might lead the partner to feel unloved or unsupported, contributing to the deterioration of the relationship.

To maintain a healthy and fulfilling relationship, it is essential for both partners to understand each other's needs and emotions.

However, with narcissists' lack of empathy, this can be incredibly challenging – making it difficult for both parties to have a stable intimate connection.

Also, something intriguing to note is that people on the other end of the spectrum who are more empathic tend to attract narcissistic relationships, which you can read about here.

Grandiose Sense of Self

A grandiose sense of self is a significant factor that makes it challenging for narcissists to maintain intimate relationships.

In this section, we'll discuss how their entitlement mentality and unrealistic expectations contribute to their difficulty in fostering healthy connections.

Entitlement Mentality

As individuals with a grandiose sense of self, narcissists might feel that they deserve special treatment and privileges that others don't.

This mentality can create barriers in intimate relationships since their partner may feel unappreciated or disrespected by their demands.

For example, narcissists might expect their partner to always put their needs first, leading to an unbalanced and unsustainable dynamic.

To avoid these issues, it's essential to recognize the importance of mutual respect and compromise in a relationship.

Unrealistic Expectations

Another challenge that stems from a grandiose sense of self is the tendency to have unrealistic expectations.

Narcissists might believe that their partner should always meet their ideals and standards, which can set the stage for disappointment and resentment.

For instance, they may become easily frustrated if their partner doesn't cater to their every whim or agree with all of their opinions.

To build a more fulfilling and harmonious relationship, it's crucial to acknowledge that their partner is unique with their own needs and desires.

Learning to accept their differences and practice empathy will go a long way in fostering a deep and loving connection.

Poor Communication Skills

A narcissist struggling with poor communication skills

Narcissists often struggle with intimate relationships due to their poor communication skills.

They tend to manipulate situations to suit their needs and make it difficult for their partners to genuinely connect with them.

In this section, we will discuss two common communication tactics used by narcissists: Gaslighting and Stonewalling.


Gaslighting is a deceptive technique narcissists use to make their partner doubt their perceptions and reality.

They may use lies, denial, or make their partner feel crazy for thinking differently from them.

By doing so, narcissists gain control over the relationship and undermine their partner's self-esteem.

Here are some examples of gaslighting:

  • Telling their partner that an event never happened or dismissing their feelings as unimportant
  • Making their partner question their judgment or memory
  • Suggesting that their partner is overreacting or too sensitive.

It's essential for partners to recognize gaslighting in their relationship and seek support from friends, family, or a professional counselor if needed.


Another common communication tactic used by narcissists is stonewalling.

This is when narcissists refuse to engage in conversation or address issues, leaving their partner feeling unheard and invalidated.

Stonewalling can manifest in several ways, some of which include:

  • Ignoring their partner's attempts to communicate or changing the subject
  • Giving one-word answers or refusing to answer at all
  • Using body language, such as crossed arms or turning away, to shut down communication.

To counteract stonewalling, partners can try setting boundaries, expressing their feelings, and seeking outside help when necessary.

Remember, having a healthy relationship relies on open and honest communication from both parties.

Fear of Abandonment

Paradoxical Push and Pull

Fear of abandonment is a common reason why narcissists struggle with intimate relationships.

As individuals with narcissistic traits, they might find it hard to maintain deep connections with others because of their overwhelming fear of being left or rejected.

This fear creates a paradoxical “push and pull” dynamic inside them.

They crave the closeness and validation of a relationship, but at the same time, they're terrified of vulnerability, leading to self-sabotaging behaviors that can drive people away.

It's important for narcissists to recognize this paradox so they can begin to understand the underlying causes of their relationship struggles.

When they feel this push and pull happening, they can try to pause and reflect on how their fear of abandonment might be influencing their actions.

Being kind to themselves and remembering that working towards a more secure attachment style is a journey that takes time.

Emotional Unavailability

Another factor contributing to narcissists' challenges in intimate relationships is emotional unavailability.

As individuals with narcissistic tendencies, it's difficult for them to express their emotions openly and genuinely.

They might feel guarded, fearing that being emotionally open exposes them to potential rejection or abandonment.

Emotional unavailability can manifest in several ways in their relationships.

For example, they may struggle to empathize with their partner's feelings or experience difficulty expressing their own emotions.

This emotional disconnect can strain their relationships, leaving both them and their partners feeling unfulfilled and disconnected.

To work on improving emotional availability, narcissists can try practicing greater self-awareness and self-compassion.

Journaling or talking with a trusted friend or therapist about their emotions can help them untangle the complex web of fears and behaviors that keep them and their emotions at arm's length from their loved ones.

By facing their fears and learning to be more vulnerable, they can gradually build stronger, more intimate connections with others.

Difficulties in Resolving Conflicts

A narcissist saying it's not me, it's you

Unwillingness to Take Accountability

Narcissists tend to have an inflated sense of self-importance and might believe they are always right.

This makes it difficult for them to take accountability for their actions or mistakes, especially during conflicts with their partner.

Instead of admitting their faults, they may shift the blame onto others or make excuses.

By not owning up to their mistakes, they make it harder for their relationship to grow and thrive.

Avoidance of Confrontation

Narcissists typically avoid confrontation, which can further complicate conflict resolution.

Since they crave admiration and positive attention, engaging in confrontations or disputes can be emotionally draining and uncomfortable for them.

They might try to sidestep difficult conversations, leaving issues unresolved and causing resentment to build up over time.

To navigate these challenges, it's essential for narcissists to recognize their tendencies and make a conscious effort to work on them.

Address conflicts head-on, listen to their partner's perspective, and be willing to take responsibility for their actions.

By doing so, they can foster healthier and more fulfilling intimate relationships.

Why Narcissists Struggle in Intimate Relationships – My Final Thoughts 

In exploring why narcissists have a hard time with intimate relationships, it's important to recognize that their difficulties often stem from their deeply rooted personality traits.

Keep in mind that, as you read, your understanding will be enhanced by maintaining a friendly tone and perspective.

One main reason for their struggle is their need for constant admiration and validation. In a healthy relationship, both partners show their appreciation for each other.

However, narcissists often have an insatiable desire for adoration, which can be emotionally draining for their partners.

Because of this, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a balanced and fulfilling relationship.

Another impediment to developing intimate relationships for narcissists is their tendency to devalue their partners.

No matter how wonderful their partner may be, narcissists will eventually find fault and criticize them.

This devaluation process can erode the foundation of trust and emotional stability needed for a strong connection.

Poor communication skills also hamper narcissists' ability to form lasting connections.

Narcissists often struggle to empathize with their partner's emotions, making it difficult for them to respond to their needs effectively.

This lack of empathy can lead to misunderstandings, resentment, and ultimately, a breakdown in the relationship.

Lastly, narcissists struggle with maintaining relationships because they find it difficult to transition from a self-centered view of life to a more reciprocal one.

This inability to see beyond their own needs and desires can cause their romantic connections to become strained and unsatisfying for both parties involved.

As you can see, there are several significant challenges that narcissists face when it comes to developing and maintaining intimate relationships.

By understanding these issues, individuals can better navigate relationships with individuals who display these traits and work towards healthier, more fulfilling connections.