Which Type Of Narcissist Is Hardest To Have A Romantic Relationship With?

Researcher Kennedy Balzen explains how narcissistic traits affect the maintenance of romantic relationships.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | April 4, 2022

A new study published in Journal of Research in Personality investigates how three dimensions of narcissism can affect our success in romantic relationships.

I recently spoke with the lead author of the research, Kennedy Balzen of the University of Texas at Dallas, to better understand the study. Here is a summary of our conversation.

What inspired you to investigate the topic of narcissistic traits and romantic relationship outcomes, how did you study it, and what did you find?

I am interested in personality research in general and, more specifically, personality traits that we may consider more 'antagonistic' in nature.

As interpersonal and romantic relationships shape so much of our lives, I became interested in how personality traits, specifically narcissistic traits, may function in these important relationships.

For my undergraduate honors thesis, I aimed to answer these questions related to how narcissistic traits function in romantic relationships. I had access to data collected from a dissertation study which was a daily diary study that looked at cross-sex friendships and romantic relationship outcomes. A couple of measures assessing narcissistic traits were collected in this study, which was exciting to me.

Before diving into the different behavioral presentations that narcissistic traits may exhibit, it is important to first establish that the fundamental core of narcissism is conceptualized as inflated perceptions of self-importance, or entitlement. While entitlement makes up the foundation of narcissism, there is considerable variation in how these traits manifest behaviorally, which was of particular interest in this study.

One thing worth noting about previous narcissism research is that much of the literature has focused on grandiose presentations of narcissism, which is characterized by social boldness and self-enhancement tendencies.

Put simply, grandiosity describes behaviors that the layperson may imagine when they hear the term "narcissism," and is in line with what we consider "normal" narcissism (rather than pathological/maladaptive).

Vulnerable narcissism is characterized by hypersensitivity, reactivity, and aversion, and has been considered a maladaptive dimension of narcissism.

Over the years, research has attempted to explain the different behavioral presentations of narcissism by drawing the distinction between grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism.

Additionally, much of the previous research that has investigated how these different narcissism dimensions may be associated with unique outcomes in romantic relationships has mostly neglected to include entitlement as a distinct dimension of narcissism.

My aim was to look at all three narcissism dimensions (grandiosity, entitlement, and vulnerability) and investigate each of their differential associations with romantic relationship outcomes.

Results of our study indicated that narcissistic grandiosity was not consistently linked to any outcomes in romantic relationships, while higher narcissistic entitlement was associated with greater non-sexual jealousy and perceived availability of alternative romantic partners. Higher narcissistic vulnerability was linked with greater non-sexual jealousy and less relationship satisfaction.

Your research speaks a lot about grandiosity. Could you expand on this topic and how it can manifest in real-life behaviors?

Behaviors related to grandiosity are mostly aligned with what the layperson may imagine when they think of narcissism. Essentially, grandiosity is a phenotypic expression of narcissism that revolves around building and maintaining an inflated self-concept. Grandiosity is commonly expressed through arrogance, self-enhancement tactics (e.g., explicit expressions of greatness or attractiveness), and social boldness (e.g., nominating oneself for a leadership position). Many of the behaviors associated with narcissistic grandiosity reflect heightened levels of dominance and extraversion (e.g., exhibitionism, boastfulness). Although grandiosity has been linked to some negative interpersonal outcomes, research has also found that grandiosity is sometimes linked to initial attractiveness and charm.

To what extent (if any) do you believe that entitlement and its association with greater perceived availability of alternative partners is detrimental to a romantic relationship?

Ignoring alternative romantic partners or other alternatives to the relationship is considered a protective mechanism to sustain the romantic relationship. However, persons with higher levels of narcissistic entitlement are primarily focused on how to benefit the self, even if it is at the expense of others.

Thus, our finding that entitlement is linked to greater perceptions of available alternatives may indicate less concern for loyalty to a current romantic partner, and therefore pose a threat to the relationship.

At the very least, existing research on romantic relationships suggests that increased perceptions of available alternatives should predict lower levels of commitment.

Do you have plans for future research? Where would you like to see research on narcissistic traits and romantic relationship outcomes go in the future?

I am hopeful that future research on narcissistic traits and romantic relationship outcomes will utilize research designs that assess these associations in daily life, such as dyadic daily diary designs and ecological momentary assessment.

Such designs will allow us to better understand state-level fluctuations and dynamic within-person processes.

Additionally, obtaining reports from both members of the romantic relationship will allow for the investigation of intrapersonal (self) and interpersonal (other/partner) effects.

Moreover, I hope that future research will include more diverse samples so that we may investigate if our conceptualizations of personality hold true across different ethnicities, races, genders, and cultures. In the future, I hope to focus more on these dynamic within-person processes that occur in interpersonal and romantic relationships for those with pathological personality traits.