I am often faced with clients who are in relationships with people with Narcissistic Characteristics. Only 1% of the population in the United States is said to be Narcissistic, but in my office, as a therapist who specializes in Infidelity, I see these traits frequently. Narcissism is a learned or adapted personality disorder where the focus is on one's self. There is an inability to have empathy, compassion or meaningful connections with human beings, so no close relationships are developed. Relationships are twisted into "what am I getting from this". If there is gain that is valued by the Narcissist, the "magic" in the relationship will fade in a short amount of time, as they will need and want more eventually and the relationship will unravel.
Narcissist's are charming, charismatic and are great at building a facade of how they want the world to view them. They are unwilling to take responsibility for anything that goes wrong in their lives or in their family, and they place themselves in positions of power within their family, but they are not close to anyone emotionally.
What does this look like? An example would be a father that has left his family, blames his wife for him leaving, will never discuss anything meaningful, or allow resolution for why the family is falling apart, but instead will play mind games and manipulate the situation to keep the family down. They must feel good about themselves and be in control. Allowing anyone to be too close to them will not be allowed. They usually identify friends as their clients and co-workers. They usually have no close friends and their lives are full of secrecy and lies. Much of their energy is spent establishing and maintaining a facade. They will label this as "privacy" or "taking care of themselves and their needs". In reality this is what they have always done. They may have their home or office decorated with photos, as though they are all about their children, for example, but they rarely see their children. As children get older, those relationships will typically be for monetary benefit, or something similar. The children will spend little time with the Narcissistic parent and have no desire to unless they want something from them. The Narcissistic parent will often divert blame on someone for reasons why the relationship is as it is. In reality, they are unable to discuss or deal with any emotional issue their children have, so they children will deal with their emotions in another way, as they have learned not to take their problems or every day events or issues to the Narcissistic parent. The Narcissist's world revolves around the self, and their is no room for concern about what other people are dealing with. Everything is twisted if it is not about the Narcissist. If you are feeling good and want to share that with a true Narcissist, they will find a way to manipulate that good emotion because they want to feel as though they are above those in their life.
The good news... This is a learned behavior which adapted from issues from childhood. Their emotional needs were not met. These traits can be unlearned. You must be firm with a Narcissist and not allow them to manipulate and control the conversations you have with them. This is the first step. They must face losing that power and what is meaningful to them, which in reality is getting them nowhere. They are truly alone, but they need to want to change and this is established through consequence. This usually requires professional help and most Narcissist's will not come to therapy more than once, unless they feel so empty they need to create change ion their life. Being diligent and strong is the key to creating change in relationships with a Narcissist. You must call them out on their behavior and not allow them to be in control of the relationship. Boundaries are key. Identify what you want and how you want the relationship to look and make that happen. The relationship will change one way or another.