If you are entering the dating scene, it’s important that you learn how narcissists act in a relationship. You see, they are very good at manipulating you into equating abuse with love. In fact, it’s common for people to spend years in a relationship with a narcissist before they realize that they are experiencing narcissistic abuse.

In romantic relationships narcissists are emotionally and physically abusive. They take pride in dominating, controlling, and terrorizing their partners. Their arrogance, sense of entitlement, immoral behavior, and excessive need for admiration makes being in a narcissistic relationship incredibly traumatizing.

This article is going to guide you through 13 of the most common manipulation tactics that narcissists use to abuse their partners. Also, in a short video (see below) Karina Ramdath, a Registered Social Worker and Therapist, shares important information about creating a safety plan that keeps you safe and reduces the risk of future harm.

Karina Ramdath, a Registered Social Worker and Therapist, Speaks About Creating a Safety Plan

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They Bait Their Partners

When a narcissist says or does something manipulative to get you to engaging in a negative interaction with them, it is called baiting. A simple example of this would be if you asked the narcissist in your life for space and they responded with, “You are one of the ugliest people on the planet. Please, take all the space that you need.”

They are saying mean and hurtful things because they want you to react. If they are able to elicit a negative response out of you, it would give them an opportunity to discredit your thoughts, feelings, and emotions by portraying you in a negative light. (image below)

A woman angry at a narcissist for baiting her.

Suggested Reading:

There are six different types of narcissistic baiting. You can click here to download our free guide that teaches you about all of them and then you can read our article How to Respond to Narcissistic Baiting to understand how you can protect yourself from baiting.

A Quote from One of Our Community Members

In my previous marriage I learned that she was a narcissist about 4 years in. I started using the Gray Rock Method and she HATED it with a passion. She would always try to bait me into playing her games but it never worked. She scared the hell out of me but I always reminded myself that she was just trying to get a reaction out of me.

They Gaslight Their Partners

When a narcissist says or does something that doubts or denies your reality, it is called gaslighting. For example, if you asked the narcissist in your life, “Why didn’t you show up for the date that we had planned?” And they responded, “What are you talking about? I never agreed to meet you!” This would be considered gaslighting.

Over time, narcissists are able to use gaslighting to manipulate you into doubting and questioning your own reality and sanity. When this happens, it gives narcissists an unfathomable amount of power and control over your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Suggested Reading:

There are six different types of gaslighting. You can click here to download our free guide that teaches you about all of them and then you can read our article What Does Gaslighting Do to the Victim? to understand the effect that gaslighting has on your well-being.

They Use Narcissistic Rage to Control Their Partners

Narcissistic rage is an unpredictable, explosive, and unjustifiable response that narcissists often have when they experience a narcissistic injury. It can manifest in the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, and/or neglect.

A Quote from One of Our Community Members

“For the longest time I was one of those “he never hit me so it isn’t abuse” type of people. He would punch holes in my bedroom door, tower over me, spit in my face, but he would never hit me. Then all of a sudden that changed and it got very physical. I urge anyone reading this to get as far away from their abuser as possible because they are dangerous!”

Suggested Readings:

Narcissistic rage is terrifying. Here are three articles that you can read through to learn more about it and stay as safe as possible:

They Use Projection to Avoid Taking Responsibility For Their Actions

Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when someone unconsciously takes parts of their identity that they find unacceptable and places them onto someone else. A simple example of this could be a married man who is attracted to a female coworker accusing her of flirting with him instead of acknowledging his own feelings.

A narcissistic woman using projection.

One of the most common projections that narcissists use in romantic relationships are accusations of cheating. What will often happen is a narcissist will cheat on their partner and then turn around and accuse their partner of cheating.

Suggested Reading:

Projection is one of the most important manipulation tactics that you should take the time to understand because it will teach you so much about narcissistic abuse. You can read our article Why Do Narcissists Use Projection? to get started on your learning journey!

They Constantly Victimize Themselves

When someone victimizes themselves it means that they label themselves as victims and blame their problems on external factors. It is very common for narcissists to use self-victimization to avoid taking responsibility for their bad behavior.

For example, if you catch the narcissist in a lie, they could victimize themselves by spreading false accusations about physical abuse during their childhood (i.e. “I don’t know how to tell the truth because lying was the only way that I could escape my father’s wrath growing up”).

A narcissist victimizing themselves.

Suggested Reading:

Do you remember that we said projection is one of the most important manipulation tactics that you should learn? Well, self-victimization is one of the most common signs of projection. Our articleHow Do You Know When a Narcissist Is Projecting? has more information about this.

They Use Flying Monkeys to Isolate, Discredit, and Silence Their Partners

A flying monkey is someone who a narcissist manipulates into helping them abuse another person. It is very common for narcissists to use flying monkeys to isolate, discredit, and silence the people that they abuse.

With that being said, not all flying monkeys are the same. In fact, there are three different types of flying monkeys: manipulated flying monkeys, forced flying monkeys, and natural flying monkeys.

Someone teaching about the different types of flying monkeys.

Suggested Reading:

Flying monkeys are devastating. You can click here to download our free guide that will teach you more about all three types of flying monkeys. After that, you can read our article How to Spot a Flying Monkey” and then top it off with our article How to Deal With Flying Monkeys” to stay as safe as possible.

They Are Financially Abusive

Financial abuse is a form of abuse when one intimate partner has control over the other partner’s access to economic resources, which diminishes the victim’s capacity to support themselves and forces them to depend on the perpetrator financially.

There are three types of financial abuse that you should watch out for.

Employment sabotage is when the narcissist uses emotional and/or physical abuse to manipulate you into quitting your job or to prevent you from finding a job. For example, the narcissist destroys important materials that you need to work or prohibits you from working specific jobs.

A narcissist being financially abusive.

Economic exploitation is when a narcissist intentionally destroys your financial resources or credit. For example, the narcissist maxes out credit cards in your name and doesn’t make payments on those credit cards or they live in your home without working or helping with household tasks.

Controlling the finances is when the narcissist uses emotional and/or physical abuse and/or manipulation to control the financial stability of the relationship. For example, they spend your money without your knowledge or they threaten to cut you off financially in arguments.

A narcissist yelling at someone.

Suggested Readings:

Money is a huge source of narcissistic supply for a narcissist so financial abuse is a very common occurrence in narcissistic relationships. Our articles The Three Types of Financial Abuse That Abusers Use to Control Others and 34 Signs of Financial Abuse That You Need to Know! will help you grasp a better understanding of financial abuse.

They Use Mirroring to Make Their Partners Feel Heard, Understood, and Supported

In the narcissistic realm, the term “mirroring” refers to a manipulative process that narcissists use to absorb information about the identity of others and use that information to create a falsified identity that portrays them as “perfect”. 

A narcissist using mirroring.

For example, you are on a date with a narcissist and tell them that your sibling died in a car crash 20 years ago. The narcissist says, “I don’t want to take away from what you just said, but my mother died in a motorcycle accident a few years ago so I just wanted you to know that I understand what you are going through.” This is mirroring.

A Quote from One of Our Community Members

Before I knew what mirroring was, I always felt like the malignant narc in my life couldn’t come up with thoughts, feelings, hobbies, emotions, etc. of his own. I felt like he always took the information I put out there and sent it back to me/others as if it were his own feelings, hobbies, emotions, etc. NOW I know it is just mirroring and that he piggybacks off of everything that others do and say.- Theresa

Suggested Readings:

The most common form of mirroring in romantic narcissistic relationships is love bombing. Our articleIs Love Bombing Emotional Abuse?has a lot of information that you may find helpful. Also, our article How Do Narcissists Use Mirroring? will help you grasp a better understanding of mirroring.

They Use Future Faking to Manipulate Their Partners

Future faking is when a narcissist makes a false promise in the future to get what they want in the present. For example, the narcissist in your life knows that you have been working double shifts to save up money to go back to school but they don’t want you to leave.

To stop you they use future faking by saying, “Hey I don’t like seeing you work so hard when I have the money that you need. Please, stop exhausting yourself with these double shifts and let me pay for you. This will give us time to work on our relationship.”

A narcissist using future faking.

It sounds really good but when the time comes to pay for the tuition, the narcissist refuses to pay and you don’t have enough money to pay for yourself because you stopped working double shifts so you could “work on your relationship” with the narcissist.

Suggested Reading:

Sadly, future faking can keep you trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle for years of your life. Our article How to Respond to Future Fakinghas a lot of helpful information that can help you break free from the cycle and begin your healing journey.

They Use Intermittent Reinforcement to Control Their Partners

Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals. Narcissists use this manipulation tactic all of the time. In fact, intermittent reinforcement actually has a massive impact on your brain.

A confused narcissist.

You see, after months, years, or even decades of being abused, the “reward” that narcissists give you triggers your brain’s reward center and floods your body with dopamine. That’s right. Dopamine. It is the same neurotransmitter that is released when humans abuse drugs like opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine.

Suggested Reading:

When narcissists use intermittent reinforcement on you, it can cause you to develop an addiction to them! Our article Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction? has information that will explain this further.

They Use Hoovering to Drag Their Partners Back Into the Relationship

When your relationship with the narcissist has ended or is about to end and they do or say something to manipulate you into giving the relationship another chance, this is called hoovering.

For example, if you broke up with the narcissist in your life and a week later they called you crying, telling you that they can’t live without you, telling you that they missed you, and telling you how much they loved you, this would be considered hoovering.

A narcisisst hoovering a woman.

Suggested Reading:

Narcissists feel entitled to remaining in power and control of you for as long as they see fit. Because of this, hoovering is a very common occurrence in narcissistic relationships. Our article How to Deal With a Narcissist Who Is Hoovering has information that can help you keep the narcissist out of your life for good.

They Use Stonewalling to Avoid Taking Responsibility for Their Actions

The term “stonewalling” refers to a narcissist’s refusal to participate in the communication and connection of the relationship. For example, if you asked the narcissist, “Hey where is the money that I set aside for rent?” and they responded by giving you the silent treatment, this would be considered stonewalling.

A narcissist stonewalling someone.

There are three types of stonewalling. The first is the silent treatment, the second is gaslighting, and the third is intimacy avoidance. Narcissists use stonewalling to protect their distorted version of reality.

They Use Triangulation to Create a Power Imbalance In the Relationship

When the narcissist turns a one-on-one situation into a two-on-one situation by involving a third party, it is called triangulation. They do this to create a power imbalance so they can dominate the situation.

For example, imagine you are in high school and want to go on a foreign exchange program. A narcissist could stop you from leaving with triangulation by saying, “Are you seriously just going to up and leave for 6 months? What am I going to do while you’re gone?! My ex would have never done this to me. Maybe breaking up with her was a mistake.”

Suggested Reading:

If you are interested in learning more about triangulation, our article 6 Insightful Examples of Triangulation In Narcissistic Relationships will help you grasp a better understanding of it.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Narcissists are incredibly abusive in relationships. The manipulation tactics that they use are designed to dominate, control, and terrorize their partners. Being in a relationship with a narcissist is traumatizing.

About the Author

Hey, I’m Elijah.

I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years. 

I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.

Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.


Lavner, Justin A., et al. “Narcissism and newlywed marriage: Partner characteristics and marital trajectories.” Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment 7.2 (2016): 169.

Maltas, Carolynn. “The dynamics of narcissism in marriage.” Psychoanalytic review 78.4 (1991): 567-581.

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