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Relationship with a covert narcissist - any advice/options?

Community Member

I have been with my girlfriend for 5 years now. Despite everything I love her dearly.

She is incredibly charming, attractive and intelligent. I was (and in ways still am) hooked. What I found though was only a month or so into the relationship things changed. I've had a long battle with anti-depressants - they caused all sorts of issues, unfortunately some in the bedroom. My GF took this extremely personally, I was yelled and screamed at on more than one occasion despite my best efforts to try and reassure her it wasn't her fault.

This manifested into a sexless relationship - I would guess we have had sex a dozen times maybe in the 5 years we've been together. We express intimacy in other ways which is fine but there's problems there. We have only just started sorting through this but it's a case of going one step forwards, two steps back. I have what I consider to be a normal libido, hers is extremely low.

The issue is even the slightest hint of criticism causes here to react severely. I look back on the last 5 years and realise I've been treading on eggshells for a big part of that time. It's preventing us from working through issues in the relationship. Whenever there is an issue, I end up being the one to apologise - it's the easiest way to keep the peace.

The way she treats me varies widely. Sometimes she is very affectionate and warm, other times extremely cold and silent. If I try and talk to her when in a bad mood, in the past it has caused a full blown tantrum. I used to think it was my fault. I started bending over backwards to try and make her feel better, I thought I wasn't good enough. I figured if I work hard enough I'll make her happy and things will be better.

There's so much more I could write about but I'm running out of space. I'm exhausted at times and I get little to no support from her in any of my own pursuits or interests. I have depression and anxiety and again I get very little support from her. She asks how I am going but I can tell she isn't actually interested.

I've been reading about narcissists, particularly covert narcissists. Just going through the checklist of common traits... it's describing my GF perfectly. It explains so much. She has no friends, often puts people off-side, and in many ways is very selfish. She is always the victim, even when it's obvious she was the one at fault.

Has anyone got experience with covert narcissists? Is there things I can do to help? Or am I stuck? I would be so grateful for any advice.

17 Replies 17

Hi Kailan,

We are so sorry to hear that are currently going through a separation from an abusive husband. We can hear that it's been a distressing and turbulent time for you. Please know that this is a safe space to talk about what you're going through and how you're feeling. Others in our community have been through similar and can relate.

It sounds like you have left the situation, but in any case please know that you can always get in touch with 1800RESPECT. They offer 24/7 confidential information, counselling and support for people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse. The lovely supportive counsellors have a lot of experience offering advice and support to anyone who has been through trauma like this. You can contact them on 1800 737 732 or visit  https://www.1800respect.org.au/

You may also find some helpful information on our page “Separation and divorce”.

Thanks for reaching out here. Please feel free to create a thread of your own if you'd like to seek some support from the community. 


Community Member

Hi all

I'm still here, trying to navigate the difficulties of the relationship. I've done LOTS of reading about narcissism; and particularly working hard to not feed those tendencies. I'm being more assertive and not just 'going with the flow' all the time. Standing up for what my own beliefs and views are; trusting my own judgement I suppose.

One of our issues is that we both live in separate houses. This isn't something that bothers me much; but I almost always have to stay at her house should we spend an evening together. I think for every 20 times I've stayed at her house, she's stayed at mine only once. It's only on weekends I stay over; she doesn't seem keen on doing anything like that during the week.

I expressed my feelings about this; in a nice way; saying how it would be so nice to spend quality time like this together DURING the week.. as opposed to just on the weekends. She said that I'd better propose to her then; rather than string her along. The suggestion I'm stringing her along was hurtful.

To me it all seems in the wrong order... aside from the obvious issues re. her narcissistic tenancies; there's a certain type of closeness that isn't there; mainly because we don't spend that kind of time together very often. Talking about proposing / marriage etc. seems kind of unrealistic when I don't feel the relationship is at that point. It makes me feel very lonely at times.

In my previous relationship which was comparatively "normal" - whatever normal means - we had the ability to be vulnerable and open to each other - something that has never really existed in my current relationship. I regret leaving that relationship. It was a huge mistake in hindsight.

I guess these concerns I will need to address at some stage but I am always worried at how she will respond. The slightest hint of criticism she takes personally and will throw it back at me. I'm out of energy, I really don't have the strength to face that just yet.

I'm sorry for the rambling, but I've been anxious all day about this and it's really knocking me about.


Some people usually some females in my experience, have a fixation on getting married regardless of their partner not being ready. If she wanted a full on defacto relationship as a trial, then why not try that?. If you asked her about a defacto relationship my guess is she'll baulk at the idea. If so then that would prove the above theory correct.

My assumption base don all the posts is that you both aren't compatible. A loving relationship shouldnt be that hard to maintain. It should be fun and exciting.

Repost anytime.


Hi TonyWK

I don't want to come to terms with what you say, but there's a part of me that realises you're probably right. A relationship shouldn't be this hard.

The thought of leaving her is frankly terrifying. I've spent over five years now with her being the centre of my world and still love her. I also realise, the balance of the relationship is not healthy. I've only just started to realise how I have been manipulate with various tactics to remain subservient for want of a better word. I've had silent treatment, verbal abuse, love-bombing and subtle gas lighting. I've become dependant on her, I no longer know what it means to be myself. My identity is being with her.

Under all that, I strongly believe she's not a bad person; and that these narcissistic tendencies are quite possibly involuntary. I don't believe she deliberately does these things. I suspect she as a result from her fairly difficult upbringing had to become increasingly self-reliant but also developed narcissistic behaviour patterns.

I am also very concerned that she has no close friends. Her mum unfortunately suffers from serious mental illness. The only person she has other than myself, is her Dad. And with him; she doesn't have a deep relationship. I'm so worried what would happen to her if I was to leave as I know she loves me; it would hurt her to no end. Sadly she has little self awareness so even if leading up to me leaving we were constantly arguing, it would likely still come as a total shock.

I've tried nearly everything to make the relationship work but I accept that sometimes despite all these things, it still will never be enough. It sounds cowardly but I also am scared of how it will affect me; I have quite severe anxiety and depression as it is - a traumatic event like that could be dangerous.

Thanks again for your insight

Community Member

Hi Batticus

I was in a relationship with a covert narc. for 25 years and it never got better, in fact, it got worse. Guilt....I stayed at first because of guilt, so i relate to your words. His mother was mentally unwell, father psychologically absent and his brother and sister had their own issues. So I felt I was the only person who could help. The truth is he had survived the first 23 years of his life without me and would have survived the rest without me. You mentioned that you have been together for 5 years, so she survived before you came along and will most likely continue to do so if you leave.

I was lovebombed and idealised and put up on a pedestal - I felt amazing, as though I was so loved. But then came the devaluation through his anger (rage), disinterest, criticism, stonewalling, gaslighting and manipulation plus so much more . Most of the time I was confused and racked with doubt. I didn't know which way was up or down.

Marriage appears unreasonable without some time living together (unless not permitted for cultural or religious reasons). It sounds like emotional manipulation. Being stripped of your self-worth is common in abusive or toxic relationships, it keeps the abuser in a power position. The way you feel now 'terrified' that can be a sign of an abusive relationship. Maybe she lacks insight and is unaware of her actions but that doesn't remove your right to happiness. In the past you left another relationship and although I can't imagine that was easy, you have proof of your own self-reliance and courage. If possible some form of counselling might help you to re-gain your sense of power and agency.

Don't be like me and waste your years on someone who doesn't let you be yourself and be happy.

All the best.

Community Member

Hi FiFik

What you describe sounds so eerily familiar. I've done everything I can to 'fix' this person and it's achieved very little. While things are better than earlier on, a relationship shouldn't be this hard.

I find draining the ups and downs. We went away for the long weekend, and I had a nice time. Now that it's been pointed out, I guess what I'm experiencing is the love-bombing. As soon as something more important comes up, I am no longer treated that way and am no longer a priority to her; well at least that's how it feels.

That yo-yo-ing causes me to get so confused. In a strange way, it's easier if the person is being awful all the time; at least you know where you stand. But when they go from being aloof and cold to warm and fuzzy in fairly rapid succession; it's almost impossible to keep up. I start doubting myself; even not sure if I've remembered things correctly any more. I don't know what to believe!

Right now I have no idea what's going on. We had this nice little holiday and everything seems peachy... BUT I'm anxious that things will suddenly change. The treatment you describe (anger (rage), disinterest, criticism, stonewalling, gaslighting and manipulation) I get too. Not so much the anger/rage part now... that was earlier on... but I realise that has stopped because I'm doing what she wants most of the time.

I'm sure you can relate to this, I went out for my lunch break today... I feel like I'm in a fog - so tired and confused. Trying to think about easier times.

Thanks so much again

Hi buddy.

I want you to know that we need to be focused as much as we can on all things positive, especially when we are around someone who may experience behavioral difficulties. As partners, we also serve as carers for each other. We need to be supportive, loving and compassionate towards people and our partners, for it is us who can help them improve and to be the best versions. We can never fix/change someone and we never try to do this as we love and accept people for who they are. Someone who is mentally and physically strong will have minimal difficulties filling this role. If not, it might be best to focus on building ourselves to be the best version we can be as this will improve our relationship and to live a happy and prosperous life.

Conclusion: we need to accept our partners for who they are and know that we cannot fix or change them. It is our job to support them, love them and to be compassionate as we all want to be the versions of ourselves.

I'm just exiting an 18 year marriage, I believe my wife is a covert Narcissist. The circumstances are bizarre and my councillor says they are so bizarre I couldn't have made them up. She is beautiful and interesting and the sex was always great, but I was gradually diminished and gaslit over time. It started small and grew, I loved her and continually overlooked the twisted retelling of events and the lies. Three years ago she decided that she was reincarnated after having past life regression therapy to try to solve her issues with her mother, next came the online affair with someone she'd never met, then plotting to visit him. All through her life with me she has found someone to hate and blame in her workplaces, never holding a job for long, failures are always the fault of others, eventually it worked its way to me. Then there was the affair with the IT guy at work who helped her try to displace the boss shr opposed, when I found that out because of the late work nights and suspicious behaviour I became the enemy. Marriage counselling yielded lies about me, told in such a way that the counsellor accused me of being the narc. Theres much more, but eventually I was worn down, played into her hands and moved out, then I was branded a DV abuser and AVO was sought but not successful. Locks on doors were changed, her family gathered around, her flying monkeys. My 2 boys knew she told lies and were unimpressed by the drama, but she manipulated me, couldn't get my belongings unless she had a support person there, diminished me, controlled me. I now face losing my imagined future, she tried reeling me back in at the same time as lining up the next partner, a guy who'd been interested when I met her, clearly my financial prospects were better, now she's sleeping with him. There are so many things that make her a covert narc that theres no room here to explain, but my advice is to get out, I still feel like I love her but its an illusion, everything was always about what she wanted and I danced to the tune, just leave the relationship.