The Two Faces of Narcissism in Romantic Relationships

As shown in the German study, the problems that rivalry creates in a long-term relationship include unwillingness to forgive transgressions; a tendency to get into arguments; and a critical attitude toward a partner in general. In the words of the authors, “Once the relationship becomes more settled… more communal character traits seem to increase in importance for romantic success (e.g. low selfishness, a propensity to forgive, sensitivity, supporting and caring qualities), because a lack of them … provokes serious romantic problems in the long run” (p. 298). The authors also conclude that of the two, narcissistic admiration is less poisonous for a relationship than narcissistic rivalry. You can think of yourself as great, and as long as you don’t resent or thwart your partner’s own greatness, your relationship isn’t fated to fall apart.

Because we normally think of narcissism in such negative terms, the Wurst et al. study is surprising in pointing out some of narcissism’s adaptive qualities. If you’re getting involved with a person high in these “bright” narcissistic tendencies, though, it’s wise to be on the lookout for the appearance of the less favorable qualities involved in rivalry. A partner who truly cares about you should root for your successes, and not your failures.

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