Exploring the Reasons: Why Do Narcissists Cheat in Relationships?

Mar 23


Sam Vaknin

Sam Vaknin

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Why do narcissists cheat? Those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder may betray their partners due to their intense craving for external admiration, an empathy deficit when considering their partner’s feelings, and a strong sense of entitlement that overshadows commitment. This article will delve into the psychology behind their propensity for infidelity without providing excessive detail in the introduction, setting the stage for a deeper investigation into these driving factors.

Key Takeaways

  • Narcissists’ tendency to cheat in relationships is driven by their need for admiration,Exploring the Reasons: Why Do Narcissists Cheat in Relationships? Articles lack of empathy, and an exaggerated sense of entitlement, which allows them to rationalize infidelity and avoid feelings of guilt.
  • The pursuit of external validation, the use of sex as a means of control and ego reinforcement, and manipulation tactics like gaslighting and blame-shifting are all instrumental in narcissistic patterns of infidelity.
  • Victims of narcissistic cheating experience significant emotional trauma, and narcissists often follow a cyclical pattern of idealization, devaluation, and discard in their relationships, with infidelity likely to recur.

The Narcissistic Personality and Infidelity

Illustration of a person with a self-centered personality

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for excessive attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy. These characteristics can lead to various problems in relationships, often resulting in troubled and unfulfilling interactions with others. Narcissists’ traits significantly contribute to the likelihood of infidelity, as they influence their perception and interaction with the world around them.

Infidelity in relationships is a painful experience, and when it involves a narcissist, it can become even more complex. This complexity stems from the narcissist’s unique personality traits, which include:

  • Seeking admiration and validation outside their committed relationships
  • Lack of empathy towards their partners’ feelings
  • Justifying their actions based on an inflated sense of entitlement

The Pursuit of Admiration

A defining characteristic of narcissists is their incessant craving for external validation. When their long-term partner fails to fulfill this need, they often feel compelled to seek new partners. Their fear of rejection further intensifies this quest for admiration, pushing them closer to infidelity.

Sex often serves as a method for narcissists to chase validation and admiration. They derive ego satisfaction from their sexual prowess, which can result in infidelities. Their craving for sexual admiration significantly contributes to adultery, as it provides a means to validate their ego and steer clear of feelings of rejection.

Empathy Deficit and Its Role in Cheating

The absence of empathy is a distinguishing characteristic of narcissism. This empathy deficit often makes individuals insensitive to their partners’ feelings, paving the way for remorseless cheating. Such a lack of empathy implies that narcissists may neither fully understand nor care about the emotional ramifications their infidelity has on their partners.

This empathy deficit often results in narcissists feeling neither shame nor remorse for their infidelity. They can persuade themselves and their new partners that they are victims of their current or past partners, thereby justifying their unfaithful behavior. Thus, this lack of empathy not only results in infidelity but also enables narcissists to rationalize their actions without experiencing guilt.

The Entitlement Factor

A profound sense of entitlement is common among narcissists. They firmly believe that they are inherently deserving of satisfying their desires and often prioritize their needs over those of others. This sense of entitlement enables them to justify infidelity, ignoring the rules and consequences that would otherwise restrain their impulses.

This blatant disregard for the boundaries of fidelity often results in behavior that significantly harms their partner. The outcome typically involves emotional damage and the breakdown of trust within the relationship. Hence, the sense of entitlement significantly contributes to narcissists’ infidelity as it enables them to justify their behavior and overlook the harm they inflict.

Inflated Self-Worth and Extramarital Affairs

Artistic representation of inflated self-worth

Individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder typically harbor an exaggerated sense of self-worth and a chronic need for admiration and validation. This inflated self-worth can propel them towards extramarital affairs to fulfill these needs. They may perceive relationships, including sexual relations, as transactional and may not hesitate to engage in casual sex.

Their superiority complex, often tied to their social position, markedly influences their perception of sex and intimate relationships. Narcissists frequently use sex as a means to assert their perceived dominance over others. Their inflated self-worth, coupled with their craving for validation, can increase the probability of extramarital affairs.

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Worth in Narcissism

Self-esteem refers to a person’s subjective evaluation of their own value and worth. In contrast, narcissism involves feelings of self-centeredness, self-importance, superiority, grandiosity, and entitlement. Individuals with high self-esteem feel, ‘I am good,’ whereas narcissists think, ‘I am special’ or ‘I am the best’.

This essential distinction between self-esteem and self-worth in narcissism can influence how narcissists view their relationships and how they behave within them. Their bloated sense of self-worth can propel them to seek validation and admiration outside their committed relationships, resulting in infidelity.

The Role of Ego in Narcissistic Infidelity

Narcissists utilize sex not merely for pleasure, but also as a means of validation to assuage feelings of a fragile ego. Their pursuit of sexual affairs often manifests their need to experience a sense of conquest and reaffirm their desirability. This ego-driven quest frequently results in infidelity, as narcissists strive to elevate their self-esteem and secure the constant admiration they crave from new romantic interests.

Power Dynamics and Sexual Relationships

Illustration of power dynamics in relationships

Extramarital affairs involving narcissists often stem from a sense of grandiosity and entitlement. They believe they deserve attention beyond what they receive from their primary relationship. Narcissists also manipulate sexual activities to maintain control over their partners, using sex as a reward for desired behavior or withholding it as a form of punishment.

Sexual encounters between human beings, especially with narcissists, can be highly performative, driven by their need to exert control. The resulting push-pull dynamic can leave their sex partner, including women, confused and controlled, often leading to a complex sexual relationship.

This section will further investigate these power dynamics and their contribution to narcissistic infidelity, with the next word being crucial in understanding the underlying factors as reported by the Washington Post.

Sex as a Power Play

Narcissists frequently manipulate romantic partners into engaging in sex before they feel ready, utilizing charm and a lack of empathy, reflecting their use of sex as a means of control. They might also withhold sex as a controlling tactic, using it to shame or punish partners who don’t comply with their demands. Thus, sex becomes a medium for narcissists to exert power and control over their partners.

Sex acts as a substitute for emotional intimacy for narcissists, who are often unable to connect on a deeper emotional level. This leads them to focus on the physical aspects of the relationship instead, treating sex as a self-healing activity and objectifying their partner. As a result, sexual interactions with narcissists can be performative, with an emphasis on their own experience and gratification, often at the expense of mutual satisfaction.

Manipulation Tactics Used to Justify Infidelity

Gaslighting is one of the manipulative tactics narcissists use to hide their infidelity, causing their betrayed partners to doubt their own perceptions and sanity. Narcissists also resort to projection to deflect their guilt, frequently accusing their partners of infidelity to divert attention from their own unfaithful behavior.

By positioning themselves as victims, narcissists manipulate their partners into believing that their infidelity was a reaction to ill-treatment. This strategy provides an excuse for their actions and further rationalizes their infidelity. Additionally, narcissists use the withholding of sex as a tool to reward or punish their partner, establishing a power and control dynamic that helps justify their infidelity.

Fear of Intimacy and Its Link to Cheating

Artistic representation of fear of intimacy

Narcissists are notorious for fostering intense relationships devoid of genuine intimacy because they are rooted in fantasy. Allowing intimacy in a relationship threatens their False Self’s maintenance and challenges their narcissistic beliefs. True intimacy involves mutual vulnerability and emotional attachment, viewed by narcissists as a weakness rather than a strength.

The recurring cycle of idealization and devaluation that characterizes such relationships, particularly narcissistic ones, sustains an illusion of intensity but consistently falls short of fostering authentic intimacy. Consequently, this fear of intimacy serves as a significant barrier to real connection and vulnerability in relationships with narcissists, often culminating in infidelity.

The Avoidance of Vulnerability

Intimacy entails love, trust, and acceptance of another person’s entirety, which narcissists sidestep as it exposes their vulnerabilities. The heightened drama prevalent in relationships with narcissists highlights their avoidance of the profound, stable connection associated with vulnerability.

Narcissists can readily detach and engage in new relationships since their attachment to previous partners lacked depth and genuineness. Consequently, this avoidance of vulnerability paves the way for superficial and unstable relationships, often culminating in infidelity.

The Tendency to Sabotage Relationships

Narcissists may engage in a pattern of relationship sabotage through cycles of intense experiences combined with bitter arguments and passionate reconciliations. The demise of relationships with narcissists often culminates in the discard stage, representing a form of ultimate sabotage when the partner is deemed no longer valuable for narcissistic supply.

This tendency to sabotage relationships is a significant factor driving narcissistic infidelity. It highlights the narcissist’s inability to maintain stable, intimate relationships, leading them to seek validation and admiration elsewhere.

The Impact of Narcissistic Cheating on Partners

Illustration of emotional turmoil after infidelity

Narcissistic cheating can lead to profound and lasting emotional trauma for the betrayed partner. Victims of narcissistic cheating may experience eroded self-esteem and persistent trust issues. Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be a contributing factor to infidelity as those with NPD may not fully recognize or care about the effects of their actions on their spouse.

This section will further examine the emotional consequences endured by the betrayed partner and the coping strategies that can assist them in navigating the aftermath of narcissistic infidelity.

Emotional Consequences for the Betrayed Spouse

The illicit romantic encounters by narcissists evoke profound emotions in the partner who has been betrayed. Betrayed spouses grapple with intense feelings of betrayal, hurt, and confusion due to the narcissistic partner’s need for external validation and infidelity. The act of cheating can lead to a devastating loss of confidence, trust, and sense of self for the one who was cheated on.

In cases of narcissistic infidelity, the cheating partner might only express regret for the personal repercussions they face, rather than the emotional damage inflicted on their spouse. This lack of empathy and remorse exacerbates the emotional distress experienced by the betrayed spouse.

Coping with the Aftermath of an Affair

Before making any decisions, the betrayed partner needs to:

  • Process their complex emotions following the revelation of a narcissist’s infidelity
  • Listen to their instincts when faced with inconsistencies
  • Depend on their intuition for decision-making

Professional counseling can be a crucial resource for a married person in western countries, especially betrayed partners, to achieve clarity, confidence, and closure, thereby helping them to cope with the trauma of betrayal in a marriage. Engaging in couples counseling might be useful for relationships that do not involve abuse and where both individuals are dedicated to mending the bond of trust after the affair.

Therapy and support systems play a significant role in the recovery and emotional well-being of individuals who have suffered from narcissistic infidelity.

Narcissists' Rationalizations for Their Infidelity

Narcissists hold a belief in their own exceptionalism, feeling that they are not bound by conventional rules of fidelity within relationships. This sense of entitlement enables narcissists to rationalize cheating as acceptable behavior, even when it goes against societal norms and the commitments they have made in a relationship.

This section will investigate the various ways narcissists rationalize their infidelity, exploring the blame-shifting tactics they employ and the illusion of being misunderstood that they generate to excuse their actions.

Blame-Shifting and Cheating

Narcissists often employ tactics such as becoming the victim in their narrative, projecting accusations they are guilty of onto their partners, and shifting blame for cheating onto circumstances. Rationalizations for cheating by narcissists can include holding the belief that if their partner had been more attentive or met their needs more effectively, they would not have pursued an affair.

When confronted about their infidelity, narcissists may increase emotional distress through gaslighting and further manipulation, impacting their partner’s emotional well-being. Narcissists may use absurd justifications for their infidelity, such as citing dissatisfaction with trivial matters like incorrect household purchases or perceived excessive attention to a pet.

The Illusion of Being Misunderstood

Narcissists might fabricate an illusion of uniqueness and being misunderstood to justify their pursuit of other relationships. They frequently accuse their partners of misunderstanding or mistreating them as an excuse for seeking connection or intimacy outside the relationship.

Narcissistic individuals may engage in extramarital affairs as a response to their fears of being devalued, seeking to maintain their self-image of superiority and specialness. Some reasons why narcissists may cheat include:

  • Feeling misunderstood or underappreciated
  • Seeking validation from others
  • Wanting to prove their desirability
  • Craving excitement and novelty

Narcissists may claim that their cheating was a momentary lapse due to feeling misunderstood or underappreciated, which they believe justifies their search for validation elsewhere.

Patterns of Narcissistic Cheating Behavior

Narcissistic affairs typically follow a pattern:

  1. Idealization: The narcissist idealizes the affair partner, showering them with attention and affection.
  2. Devaluation: The narcissist starts to devalue the affair partner, criticizing and belittling them.
  3. Discard: The affair ends abruptly and painfully, with the narcissist moving on without remorse.

It’s important to note that narcissists often repeat this cycle of infidelity, so the cheating is likely to happen again and again.

Narcissists may employ triangulation as a tactic during their affairs, using a third party to create jealousy, manipulate emotions, or increase their own perceived value. This section will probe into these patterns of narcissistic cheating behavior, aiding the reader in understanding the stages of a narcissistic affair and recognizing the signs of narcissistic infidelity.

The Stages of a Narcissistic Affair

A narcissistic relationship usually transitions through three phases:

  1. Idealization phase: The narcissist showers their partner with affection and adoration.
  2. Devaluation phase: The partner is subtly made to feel insecure and their self-esteem is undermined.
  3. Discard phase: The relationship ends, either with the narcissist leaving or the partner recognizing the unhealthy nature of the relationship.

The narcissistic abuse cycle is characterized by a repetition of the idealization and devaluation stages, creating an ongoing cycle that can include attempts to win back the partner after a breakup, known as hoovering.

Narcissists often display a pattern of rapidly replacing former partners with new ones, indicating a lack of genuine attachment and a continual search for admiration and validation.

Predicting and Recognizing the Signs

Abrupt changes in a narcissist’s behavior that might suggest involvement in infidelity include:

  • Changes in hygiene and appearance
  • Variations in libido, either an elevated or diminished interest in intimacy
  • Frequently canceling plans at the last minute

These behaviors could indicate that the narcissist is spending time with other human beings, such as other women, someone other than their partner.

An increased need for validation and excessive flirting, especially on social media, are behavioral red flags potentially linked to narcissistic cheating. If a narcissist is frequently vague about their whereabouts or disappears often, it might signal they are seeing someone else. A narcissist unexpectedly increasing gift-giving may use it as a tactic to offset suspicion and distract their partner from potential cheating.


In conclusion, narcissistic infidelity is a complex issue rooted in the unique traits of narcissistic personality disorder. These traits, such as a need for admiration, lack of empathy, and sense of entitlement, contribute to patterns of infidelity that often result in emotional trauma for the betrayed partner. Understanding these patterns can be the first step towards healing. It is crucial to remember that support and professional counseling can greatly aid in coping with the aftermath of narcissistic infidelity.

Frequently Asked Questions

What to do when a narcissist cheats on you?

Take some time to process your emotions before reacting to the situation. Reflect on the possibility of staying in the relationship after rethinking it thoroughly. (Date not included)

Do narcissists cheat on purpose?

Yes, narcissists may cheat with purpose because they seek validation and have an unreasonably high sense of self-importance, leading them to devalue their partners. They may turn to infidelity to satisfy their desire for attention and admiration.

Can a narcissist be faithful?

It's unlikely that a narcissist will ever be faithful. A narcissist prioritizes themselves above all other people, and they need an almost endless supply of attention, flattery, and preferential treatment to maintain their self-image.

What is the role of narcissism in infidelity?

Narcissism fuels infidelity by driving individuals to seek admiration and validation outside of their relationships due to a lack of empathy and a sense of entitlement. This can lead to unfaithful behavior.

How does narcissism affect sexual relationships?

Narcissism can impact sexual relationships by leading to a power dynamic where the narcissist seeks control and validation through sex, leaving their partner feeling confused and controlled.