A drive toward grandiosity and a need for admiration are examples of traits that can contribute to narcissist cheating patterns in relationships.

Narcissism is both a personality trait and the key feature of a mental health condition known as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

People referred to as “narcissists” are typically those who meet the diagnostic criteria for NPD or those displaying a high level of narcissistic traits on the personality spectrum.

Often referred to as “self-centeredness,” narcissism is more than just an inflated ego. Living with NPD also means craving admiration and praise, seeking instant need gratification, and lacking empathy.

Not all people living with NPD are unfaithful in their relationships, but the core features that make up narcissism may naturally encourage cheating.

How narcissistic cheating patterns differ from conventional cheating

Cheating can happen in any relationship for a variety of reasons. Narcissistic cheating patterns differ from conventional cheating, because they can be traced to distinct features of NPD.

Dolly Ferraiuolo, a licensed clinical social worker from Safety Harbor, Florida, explains a person with narcissistic cheating behavior typically displays:

  • a lack of remorse or guilt
  • manipulation tactics
  • ongoing deception and betrayal
  • objectification of partners
  • self-serving justification

When unfaithfulness occurs, these traits emerge in specific narcissist cheating patterns.

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Personality disorders are defined by extreme impairment in areas of interpersonal relationships. In NPD, a lack of empathy toward others and a self-serving focus can translate to moving between new partners rapidly.

People who live with NPD behaviors may find the novelty of a new partner wears off quickly, resulting in boredom. A need for thrill-seeking and lack of attachment can encourage the person to move on to someone else.

In addition to serial cheating, narcissistic cheating in NPD may involve multiple partners all at once.

Ferraiuolo indicates this is a way of keeping their options open. A harem ensures there’s always a source of praise and admiration, and it’s also a way of gathering partners who may all bring something to the table that serves their ego in a specific way.

Tricia Chandler, a rapid transformational therapist from Southfield, Michigan, says outlandish stories about sexualized encounters can be a part of narcissist cheating patterns.

“This is often completely fabricated and meant as a way to validate their worth to the partner, to hurt the partner, and to sometimes test the water to see what kind of reaction they will get if they actually do cheat,” she says.

A change in time away can be warning sign of both narcissistic cheating and conventional cheating.

Chandler indicates more time away can come in the form of commitments like business trips, but it can also be the sudden formation of new hobbies or friendships. These are all pursued without including the primary partner.

People who with narcissistic cheating behaviors may express how much they’re enjoying these new activities and new people — especially potential new partners — as a way of making their current partner jealous and inflating their sense of self-worth.

“Narcissists tend to rationalize their infidelity by attributing it to external factors, such as feeling
unfulfilled or deserving of more attention and admiration,” Ferraiuolo says.

This can also come in the form shifting blame to the other partner with statements like “I wouldn’t have done _______ if you hadn’t _______.”

Another universal red flag when it comes to cheating is fiercely protected social accounts and personal devices.

But in narcissism checking up on your partner is quickly turned around on you, says Chandler.

“Because the narcissist is cheating, they can’t trust the partner to not cheat, even though it is they themselves doing the cheating only, not the partner.”

This can look like demands for full access to passwords and accounts, and non-compliance is met with harsh reactions or punishment.

Chandler points out increased cruelty can be a narcissist cheating pattern.

Partners aren’t seen as equals to a person with narcissistic cheating behaviors. They may instead view their partner as an asset that meets their needs.

Once their partner stop meeting their needs, they no longer have a reason to encourage their partner to stay.

“Increased cruelty and abuse can indicate there is a new supply they are now getting all of their validation from, and the negative behavior toward the partner is to punish them for not being perfect anymore, or perfect like the new supply,” she explains.

Dealing with a person with narcissistic cheating behaviors

The emotional manipulation from a partner living with symptoms of NPD can make it challenging to recognize cheating or to know how to handle cheating if it occurs.

You can help protect your mental wellbeing from narcissistic unfaithfulness by:

  • learning to recognize warning signs of cheating in NPD
  • remaining calm during conflict to not satisfy your partner’s need to create jealousy or assert superiority
  • setting and clearly communicating boundaries and relationship expectations
  • sticking to your boundaries
  • focusing on your self-care

NPD is a mental health condition. Even with treatment, it is a lifelong condition. Many people living with NPD can’t recognize that their behaviors are hurtful to others.

A relationship therapist can help you decide if this is a relationship worth salvaging.

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NPD is a mental health condition that causes major impairment in areas of interpersonal relationships. It features symptoms of grandiosity, an exaggerated sense of self-importance, and a lack of empathy toward the needs and feelings of others.

Not all people with narcissistic personality traits are unfaithful in their relationships, but narcissism may naturally make cheating more likely.

Serial cheating, having multiple partners, and increasing cruelty are all narcissist cheating patterns to be aware of.