7 Signs of a Narcissistic Relationship Pattern

Narcissistic Relationship Pattern blog cover

Navigating the world of relationships can be complex and challenging. We each bring our own unique experiences, perspectives, and personality traits to the table, making for a dynamic and ever-evolving dance between two individuals. Among the potential challenges that come with love, there is one that has stood out in the modern dating lexicon—the narcissistic relationship pattern.

For those who have encountered it, the term narcissistic relationship pattern isn’t about partners who are a little self-absorbed. It’s about a type of relationship that is dominated by certain unhealthy behaviors, often at the expense of one partner’s emotional well-being. In this article, we’ll explore the dynamics of a narcissistic relationship pattern.

What is a Narcissistic Relationship Pattern?

The narcissistic relationship pattern is a systemic repetition of behaviors characteristic of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) within a relationship. Central to this pattern is an imbalance of power, where the narcissist seeks constant validation, attention, and admiration while offering very little, if any, in return. The partner of the narcissist is often left feeling as though their emotional and physical resources are being drained and that their needs and desires are consistently pushed to the back burner.

At first, a relationship with a narcissist can be electrifying. They typically have a charm that is hard to resist and a knack for making you feel special. This early, euphoric phase is often referred to as “love bombing”, where the narcissist showers their partner with affection in a bid to secure their attachment. However, as the relationship progresses, cracks in this facade begin to show, and the true dynamics of a narcissistic relationship pattern become apparent.

As the relationship progresses, their need for control and admiration can become all-consuming, and the partner may find themselves in a cycle of gaslighting, manipulation, and emotional abuse. By this point, the partner of the narcissist may have become enmeshed in the relationship, feeling a strong sense of attachment to their partner. It can be deeply confusing, and the partner of the narcissist may stay in the relationship far longer than they should, trying to get back to the euphoric initial stage and believing that they can change the narcissist’s behavior. Narcissists often choose highly empathetic and compassionate partners who have a deep desire to help and heal, which can make breaking away from the relationship even harder.

Narcissistic relationship pattern

7 signs of a narcissistic relationship pattern

Identifying a narcissistic relationship pattern early on can be a game-changer, potentially preventing prolonged emotional distress. Walking away may not be easy, but it can save you from significant harm in the long run. So let’s take a look at signs of narcissistic relationship patterns.

Sign 1: Intermittent affection

One of the key signs of a narcissistic relationship pattern is intermittent affection. Particularly in the beginning, a narcissistic partner often puts their significant other on a pedestal, idealizing them to an almost deity-like status. They will shower their partner with gifts, attention, and affection, making them feel like they are the center of their universe. This overt affection generally happens more intensely in the early stages of the relationship. However, it may continue throughout the duration of the relationship in waves. This keeps the partner hooked, always hoping to return to this ‘honeymoon’ dynamic. The narcissist benefits from this cycle as it allows them to maintain control and keep their partner invested in the relationship. It can make it harder for their partner to walk away because they catch glimpses of the person they fell in love with, leading them to believe that their partner is capable of change.

Sign 2: Triangulation

Triangulation is another narcissistic relationship pattern linked to narcissists. They may introduce a third party, such as an ex-partner or a new romantic interest, into the relationship dynamics to provoke jealousy or competition. This is a tactic that serves to maintain control and keep their partner feeling insecure—it’s a form of emotional manipulation. Sometimes triangulation is done in subtle ways, such as mentioning an ex’s accomplishments or how great their new coworker is. Other times it’s more overt, such as the narcissist flirting with other people in front of their partner or comparing them unfavorably to others. This behavior can create a sense of instability within the relationship. In turn, this can make the partner feel constantly on edge and unsure of how the narcissist feels about them.

Sign 3: Projection

Projection is a common narcissistic relationship pattern. When confronted with criticism or negative feedback, the narcissist may turn the tables and accuse their partner of having the very flaws they display themselves. This enables them to shift responsibility and avoid accountability for their actions. It can also be used as a way to gaslight their partner into doubting their perception of reality. For example, if the partner brings up an issue with the way the narcissist behaves, they may respond by saying something like, “You’re so controlling. You always try to tell me what to do.” This not only deflects attention away from their behavior but can also make their partner second-guess themselves.

Narcissistic relationship pattern

Sign 4: Stonewalling

Narcissists may use silence as a form of punishment or control, refusing to communicate or engage with their partner for extended periods. This narcissistic relationship pattern is a way for them to assert dominance and make the partner feel insignificant. It can also be used as a way to avoid accountability or responsibility for their actions. Stonewalling can be deeply damaging to the partner, who may desperately try to reach out and resolve issues while being met with complete silence. The narcissist may eventually come back with an apology or a grand gesture to regain control and keep the partner invested in the relationship. In some cases, they may return as if nothing has happened, leaving the partner feeling confused and invalidated. Communication is a crucial element of any healthy relationship, and regular stonewalling can create significant emotional distance. It’s worth noting that some people need time to process their emotions and may need temporary space, but there is a major difference between that and using silence as a form of manipulation.

Sign 5: Hoovering

After a period of withdrawal or discard, narcissists may attempt to “hoover” their partner back into the relationship. They might do this by rekindling affection, making promises of change, or manipulating their partner’s emotions with guilt or pity. It’s a way for the narcissist to regain control over their partner, who may have begun to pull away or consider leaving. Just as they feel like they have gained some emotional distance, the sudden return of affection and loving gestures can be highly disorienting for their partner. Hoovering is a way for the narcissist to feed their ego and maintain their sense of superiority over their partner. It can be challenging for the partner to resist this behavior. This is partly because they often still harbor feelings for the person they once fell in love with and hope that things will change. However, as with all of the narcissistic relationship patterns, it tends to happen in cycles, and the same toxic dynamic resumes soon enough.

Sign 6: Withdrawal as punishment

Narcissists may use withdrawal as a way to punish their partner for not meeting their expectations or going against their wishes. This can be done through withholding affection, communication, or their physical presence. For example, they may physically leave the room or refuse to speak or engage with their partner. Emotional withdrawal can involve the narcissist becoming distant. In some cases, the narcissist may even disappear for days or even weeks at a time, leaving their partner feeling abandoned and confused. It can be deeply distressing for the partner, who is often worried about the narcissists’ safety and well-being. Of course, this is all part of the narcissist’s plan to assert dominance and make their partner feel like they are at fault. It’s a way of them guilt-tripping the other person by saying, “You made me do this. You caused me to withdraw.” In reality, it’s a form of emotional manipulation and control.

Sign 7: Alternating public and private personas

A common narcissistic relationship pattern is the stark contrast between how the narcissist behaves in public versus how they behave in private. In public, the narcissist may project an image of being charming, charismatic, and loving. They may be highly respected by their peers and seen as a core pillar of the community. In fact, they often try to position themselves as people who can be trusted and admired. In private, however, the narcissist is a completely different person. As we have discussed, they are typically controlling, manipulative, and emotionally abusive to their partner. This stark contrast can be extremely confusing and make it difficult to reconcile the public image with their private experiences. There can be a strong sense of cognitive dissonance, and the partner may find themselves constantly trying to figure out who the “real” person is.

How to Overcome a Narcissistic Relationship Pattern

Breaking free from a narcissistic relationship pattern is often an arduous but ultimately liberating process. The first step is to recognize that you are in a toxic dynamic and that the behavior of your partner isn’t normal or acceptable. It can be helpful to seek support from loved ones who can help you see things more objectively. If possible, it’s often beneficial to seek professional therapy, too, as it can provide valuable tools for coping and healing. It can also enable you to talk through the narcissistic relationship patterns and gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics at play. When you are in the midst of a toxic relationship, it can be difficult to see things for what they truly are. Therapy can help you gain perspective.

It’s important to avoid becoming isolated, as this is often what the narcissist wants. Make an effort to maintain connections with friends and family members who support you and be a sounding board for your experiences. It can also be helpful to educate yourself on narcissism and the different tactics that these individuals use in relationships, as you are doing right now. This can help you see through their manipulations and not fall prey to their behavior.

While it can be possible to work through these issues in some situations, it’s often necessary to end the relationship. Narcissistic patterns are generally deeply ingrained, and very few people are able to change their behavior without a prolonged period of professional help. Healthy relationships are built on mutual respect, trust, and communication, and narcissistic relationship patterns are fundamentally incompatible with these factors. Remember that you deserve love, respect, and compassion.

Final thoughts on a narcissistic relationship pattern

The narcissistic relationship pattern is a heavy burden to bear. It can leave scars that take time to heal and potentially affect future relationships. Recognizing the signs is the first step in overcoming this toxic dynamic and moving forward with your life. Ultimately, love shouldn’t oppress or diminish—it should uplift and nurture.

While every relationship has its challenges, a healthy relationship shouldn’t consistently leave you feeling drained, confused, or unworthy. At the end of the day, you should feel like your partner has your best interests at heart, not that you are a pawn in someone else’s game.

We hope that this guide has helped you to better understand the narcissistic relationship pattern. These behaviors can slowly creep up on you and chip away at your self-esteem. That’s why it’s important to take a step back and evaluate your relationship dynamic, particularly if you are experiencing any of the signs mentioned above. Knowledge is power, and recognizing these patterns can help you make informed decisions about your well-being and happiness.

If you found this blog post helpful, you might also like to read 11 Signs You are Dating a Narcissist and 21 Narcissistic Fictional Characters.

“Matching people using personality types is such a simple and powerful concept. So Syncd helped us find love, even in this difficult time. You’ve really changed our lives. In fact, we’re now married! Thank you.”

– Ben (INFJ) about Indy (ENFJ)

Get So Syncd the personality type dating app