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Narcissism and Romance
By Tina Calabrese, LCSW
Executive Director at Heart & Soul

Narcissism is a complex idea. The idea is about being so self absorbed that it is difficult to see, feel or depend on another human being. Our American culture has reinforced narcissism by selling a message that you can have everything you want and that you need to think of yourself first. Capitalism drives a belief that money and things can solve problems, make you happy and get you the best looking partner you can have.

The problem with these current cultural beliefs is that it clashes with reality and with romance and mature relationships. It is important to take care of yourself and have self esteem. It is most important to be assertive and know your needs. It is equally important however to take care of your partner and know their needs and to sometimes think more about them than yourself.

This does not mean sacrificing or abandoning yourself. There is a sense in our society that you can be entitled to have a relationship on your terms and your terms only. There is an idea that a relationship can be expendable that you can just go on to the next person much like "Sex in the City" or a match dot com mentality. There is an illusion that if you are not a completely whole and healthy person that you cannot have a good relationship.

No. Not true.

I do believe in romantic love. Its wonderful if you are in love with the person you choose to spend your life with. As time goes on you may begin to see or feel things about your love that annoy you, are negative or that you wish they would change. You can discuss these issues and point them out but it does not mean your love will change. As long as these issues ARE NOT ABUSIVE or harmful to you, you may need to accept them and grow into liking them as idiosyncrasies.

Another idea that involves narcissism and intimacy is the concept that you can be very independent and still have a close relationship. You don't have to need the other. This is a false concept. A big part of having someone to love is to depend on them and to need them at times. It is not healthy of course to be dependent but it is healthy to rely on and trust that your love will be there for you no matter what.

It is important to have a mutual love bond in which neither you nor your love runs away when times get tough. Healthy relationships include moments when both can be a little child and lean on the other.

When there is not a level of narcissism or withdrawal (emotional or physical) in a relationship the couple can adopt problem solving mechanisms of compromising, improving communication, validation and acceptance of each other’s differences. A good relationship creates an emotional comfort zone so that you can feel free to feel and express without the risk of your love leaving or shaming you. Over time you can feel like you can say or share anything and that your love is also your best friend.

Remember that if you experience an unhealthy or abusive/neglectful relationship with a parent there is a tendency to go back to that to be attracted to that in order to re-experience it and fix it. This doesn't work. Therapy does. Be aware of your choices and mostly of your own behaviors. The mind tends to try to repair itself much like the immune system does. While your love relationship should create an emotional and psychological environment for healing and repair it cannot do all the work and it cannot take all the pressure.

Being compassionate and empathetic toward your love is very important and essential for a long lasting union. To disconnect either emotionally or physically when your love needs you is a clear way to deaden the love bond. If this continues over time and your love begins to expect you not to be there the relationship has basically ended.

Being in love and keeping love takes effort. Just like you take care of your pet, your garden and your children on a daily basis you need to take care of your love. You need to remain special to each other to make each other feel like there is never anyone else you desire or want. Minimize the negative and magnify the positive. Most importantly do not think only of yourself and do not allow yourself to be unloved or have the experience of your partner not being able to receive your love. Stay in the love state as much as you can tolerate. The tragedy is that so many people are unable to be loved and stay with love so they fill up on things and food and drugs and having more children and more gadgets and obsessions.

The key to staying in love and having a healthy relationship is to remain emotionally involved with your partner, to see and feel your love, to depend, to affirm, to nurture and to allow in love for yourself.

As my favorite Beatle said, "All You Need Is Love."  ■

Solomon, Marion F., "Narcissism and Intimacy" W.W. Norton & Co, Inc. 1999.

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