At the end of a relationship, a narcissist will often spiral down a long-winded gauntlet of manipulation tactics. They may blame you for causing the relationship to fail, work hard to keep you to stay with them, make lofty promises to change their behavior, or badmouth you to everyone around them.
How Narcissists Act In Relationships
People with narcissistic personality disorder may act in seemingly erratic and intense ways when in relationships. One moment, it may seem like they adore everything about you. The next moment, you’re made to feel as if you’re the sole reason everything is falling apart. To add further complication, they often struggle with owning personal accountability, recognizing their flaws, and practicing humility.
In narcissistic relationship patterns, they may present as needy for attention, unwavering in their beliefs and convictions, egocentric in the bedroom, and explosive when they feel threatened. Their emotional manipulation tactics can invariably trigger a vicious cycle of narcissistic abuse—especially if you’re an empath.
What Does a Narcissist Do at the End of a Relationship?
At the end of a relationship, narcissists may become combative, passive-aggressive, hostile, and even more controlling. People with NPD often fail to understand other people’s needs and values. They are hyper focused on their egos, but do not account for how their actions affect others. In many cases, they do whatever it takes to restore their sense of power.
Here are seven things a narcissist may do at the end of a relationship:
1. Blame It on You
A narcissist will commonly try to incite guilt and shame. They may spin the narrative to blame their partner for why the relationship failed. This maintains their grandiose perception of themselves and gives them the leverage to try and convince others to empathize with them.
Here are phrases you might hear from a blaming narcissist:
- “You didn’t want to give the relationship a fair chance”
- “You are abandoning me when I need you the most”
- “You don’t honor your commitments”
- “You’re too selfish to care about my needs”
- “You’re asking me to change too much”
2. Fight It
Some people with NPD will argue with the breakup. They may do this directly (“I won’t accept that”) or indirectly (“You’re being ridiculous. Let’s just talk it out”). Unfortunately, these strategies often wear down the other person. After all, it can seem easier to stay than engage in a fight.
Here are phrases you might hear from a fighting narcissist:
- “You don’t really mean that”
- “You’re just overreacting, and I’m not going to listen to it”
- “No, we’re sticking together; we promised to work this all out”
- “You can’t back out now”
3. Make You Jealous
In an attempt to “get even,” people with NPD will often try to make their previous partners jealous. They may find a new partner almost immediately and post pictures and sappy messages about them all over social media.
Their goal in doing this is multi-layered: they want you to feel as if they’ve moved on and they’re happier without you; they also want you to question your motives and second guess why you chose to end the relationship; they want to create the notion that they never cared about you in the first place.
Unfortunately, jealousy can be effective. It can trigger feelings of insecurity and uncertainty and make you feel like you need to compete, which can cause you to focus on seeking revenge, rather than moving on and recovering from the narcissistic abuse.
4. Guilt You Into Staying
Many narcissistic abusers try to capitalize on guilt to control others. In fact, guilt is a key component in many abusive relationships (i.e., you feel guilty about ending things despite knowing you want out).1 If you’re in a pattern of ending things only to get back together quickly, it may be an indicator that you’re struggling with feeling guilt over prioritizing your own needs.
Things you might hear from a narcissist who is trying to guilt you:
- “I’m going to kill myself if you leave”
- “There’s nobody else who understands me like you do”
- “You’re really going to end this when I’m still grieving my mother’s death?”
- “I’ll be fine, I guess I’ll just be alone. Hopefully nothing bad happens”
5. Promise to Change
In many cases, people with NPD will make dramatic promises to change when they feel threatened. At times, they may even show some effort in making changes, although these efforts are rarely sustainable.
It’s a misconception that narcissists don’t have insight into their behavior. In fact, emerging research shows that people with NPD are aware of their characteristics.2 However, this awareness often competes with their extraordinary need for control, entitlement, and recognition.
Here are some things you might hear from a promising narcissist:
- “Things are going to be different”
- “I’m going to go to therapy and get help”
- “I’m really going to focus on working on my anger”
- “You’re right. I’m ready now”
6. Stalk You
Stalking is a serious problem, and research shows that nearly 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men experience it at some point during their lives.3 In most cases, the stalking is done by someone they know. It comes in many different forms, including showing up without warning, spying, and engaging in cyber tactics like installing tracking devices or hacking into password-protected material.
7. Feign Crises
While some crises or catastrophes may be legitimate, someone with NPD will often exploit certain stressors to solicit your attention. These crises are crafted to induce guilt, especially if they know exactly how to manipulate you.
Here are things you may hear from a crisis-feigning narcissist:
- “I know we’re not together anymore, but I just wanted to let you know I’m waiting to hear back from the doctor about my concerning lab tests”
- “Just letting you know that my dog died”
- “I hope you’re doing well. I’ve been better; I just lost my job”
8. Seek Revenge
Unfortunately, people with NPD often struggle to accept a loss, and revenge is a tactic they may use if they feel attacked or threatened. In general, research shows that people are more likely to seek revenge when they feel motivated by power or the desire for status.4 If the narcissist can’t fight you or convince you to change your mind, they may try to hurt you in other ways.
Here are things you might hear from a revenge-seeking narcissist:
- “I’m taking you to court. You’ll never see the kids again”
- “You’re the bad guy here, and everyone will know soon enough”
- “You’re going to regret this”
A narcissist may employ these tactics privately in one-on-one situations, or they may try to involve others in a move known as narcissistic triangulation.
When & How a Therapist Can Help
If you’re considering ending a relationship with a narcissist, a therapist may be able to help. Consider seeking help if you’re feeling unsure about how to end the relationship, guilty or afraid to end the relationship, or alone in your feelings and experiences.
It’s best to consider finding a therapist who understands narcissistic abuse and other elements of domestic violence, like post traumatic relationship syndrome. You want to feel safe as you explore your challenging emotions. You also want to work with someone who can help you take the necessary steps toward proactive change.
With that in mind, there isn’t a universal checklist for “good” therapy. Therapy is a highly unique process, and you may need to meet with a few different specialists before finding the right fit. What works well for one person may not be as effective for you. Consider beginning your search with a trusted online therapist directory and consulting with potential providers.
Would Couples Therapy Help?
In general, experts advise against couples therapy for people in abusive relationships. Abusers can use what you say to a therapist against you when you’re in private. You might also find it impossible to be fully transparent with a therapist if your abusive partner is there. Finally, abusers often lie and present themselves much differently with a professional than they do at home.5
Final Thoughts on What a Narcissist Does at the End of a Relationship
No matter the circumstance, it’s reasonable to feel scared or uncertain about ending a relationship. That said, healing from narcissistic abuse can inevitably be a complicated process. It’s essential to recognize your needs and priorities. Remember that you deserve a loving, mature relationship where you feel respected. If you’re with someone who doesn’t offer you that, it might be time to seriously reevaluate the relationship.
For Further Reading
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: provides 24/7 confidential support via online chatting or on the phone
- Children’s Bureau: provides tools, resources, and partnerships with various community partners to promote the welfare of children
- Abuse Refuge: offers resources, support, and global outreach for abuse victims
- Quotes About Narcissists From Actual Therapists