Narcissists embody all the wrong types of “self-love”: they are self-centered, self-entitled, and, in extreme cases, self-delusional.1 In a previous post, we discussed three possible reasons why Charlie Sheen, one of the most notorious narcissists in the celebrity world, has been so wildly unsuccessful when it comes to his romantic life. Here we provide three additional explanations for why narcissists, like Mr. "Winning" himself, tend to experience difficulties in their relationships.
1. Narcissists are more likely to cheat
Research shows that narcissists are particularly likely to cheat on their partners.2 One possible reason for this is that narcissists are not very susceptible to guilt, and so they may not be very bothered by the idea of hurting their partners’ feelings. Another reason for cheating is that narcissists tend to get a sort of “thrill” from keeping their partners guessing – they like to feel in control of their relationships, and so they are more likely to play emotional games.3 Yet another reason is that narcissists simply feel entitled to things they want (like other people).4 Regardless of the many reasons why narcissists are unfaithful to their partners, in each case it certainly makes sustaining monogamous relationships rather difficult.
2. Narcissists like “trophy” partners
Romantic relationships can satisfy many needs, one of the most important being a sense of connectedness. However, research shows that narcissists are not very interested in the loving, caring sort of romantic partners who can provide them with real intimacy.5 Instead, they prefer to attract partners who can enhance their image and their self-esteem: partners who have high social status, for example, or partners who are really physically attractive. So while Charlie Sheen’s relationships with his “goddesses” no doubt provide him with a much-desired ego boost (is there really any other good reason for dating a porn star?), it’s likely that they’re somewhat lacking in emotional depth.
3. Narcissists can’t take their partner's perspective
Not only do narcissists tend to undervalue responsive partners, they characteristically lack this crucial trait themselves.1 In other words, narcissists are not very good at understanding and responding to the needs of others. This means that even when they do attempt to be “sensitive”, they often fail rather miserably, because they are just too wrapped up in their own perspectives to understand where their partners are coming from.
As Charlie Sheen himself will tell you, all of this can lead some serious frustration on the part of the narcissist: “I’m going to marry a tree. Because the other type of marriage didn’t work so I’m going to marry a tree.” And from a psychological perspective, that’s probably not a bad idea. The tree will have the emotional capabilities of, well, a tree... but hey, it won’t ask for much, and at least it will get him some Sheen-focused media attention.
1Watson, P. J., & Biderman, M. D. (1994). Narcissistic traits scale: Validity evidence and sex differences in narcissism. Personality and Individual Differences, 16, 501-504.
2Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). Susceptibility to infidelity in the first year of marriage. Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 193-221.
3Campbell, W. K., Foster, C. A., & Finkel, E. J. (2002). Does self-love lead to love for others? A story of narcissistic game playing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 340-354.
4Hunyady, O., Josephs, L., & Jost, J. T. (2007). Priming the primal scene: Betrayal trauma, narcissism, and attitudes toward sexual infidelity. Journal of Self and Identity, 7, 278-294.
5Campbell, W. K. (2000). Narcissism and romantic attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1254-1270.
Samantha Joel - Science of Relationships articles
Samantha's research examines how people make decisions about their romantic relationships. For example, what sort of factors do people take into consideration when they try to decide whether to pursue a potential date, invest in a new relationship, or break up with a romantic partner?