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New Research from Albright College Explores What Makes Narcissists Happy in Romantic Relationships

Jan. 7, 2016

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Gwendolyn Seidman, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology

Reading, Pa. – When it comes to romantic relationships, not only do the narcissists among us desire “trophy partners” who can help boost their egos, but they’re also more content in these couplings, according to new research from Albright College.

“Everyone wants an attractive partner, but narcissists want it more, and the more they meet these ideals, the happier narcissists will be,” says associate professor of psychology Gwendolyn Seidman, Ph.D., author of a new study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

The study focuses on intrinsic and extrinsic ideals. The former traits include warmth, intimacy, trust and loyalty, and promote connections with others. Extrinsic traits, such as attractiveness, status and vitality, involve how others perceive us.

Previous studies have shown that relationship satisfaction is often directly linked to finding a partner who meets one’s intrinsic ideals. But narcissists are a different story. With a grandiose, inflated self-view, they tend to seek out people with extrinsic ideals – i.e. wealth, beauty and prestige – or those who are good for their image, says Seidman.

But does that make them happy? According to Seidman’s research, the answer is yes.

For this study, Seidman surveyed 206 adults, including 143 people currently involved in a romantic relationship. Using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, Seidman first assessed each participant for their narcissistic tendencies. Study participants were not clinically diagnosed as having narcissistic personality disorder.

Survey participants were then asked to rate how important certain traits – both intrinsic and extrinsic – were in an ideal relationship or romantic partner. The coupled participants also rated their own partners using the same list of traits and rated how satisfied they are in their relationship. 

The study found that those with higher narcissistic tendencies not only were more likely to choose people with extrinsic traits – the so-called trophy partners – but were actually happier in their relationship if these qualities were present.

But for people low in narcissism, having a partner that meets extrinsic ideals doesn’t necessarily make them happier. “These people are trying to fulfill communal traits, to bond with another person,” says Seidman.

Seidman says the research is evidence that relationship satisfaction can vary greatly from person to person, and not everyone is looking to connect with another, or form a meaningful bond or sense of community.

“For narcissists, it’s a very different kind of value system,” she says.

Thinking of dating a narcissist? Previous research has demonstrated that partners of narcissists tend to be happy in the beginning of a relationship (they see their partner as flashy and exciting), but relationship satisfaction can drop off drastically. “And by the time they break up, things are really bad. And narcissists don’t take blame,” says Seidman.

After all, the narcissist views his or her romantic partner as a means to an end, and may put considerable pressure on the other person to meet extrinsic ideals.

To access the study: http://spr.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/11/17/0265407515615693.abstract

To learn more about the research, check out Seidman’s blog “Close Encounters” at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/close-encounters.

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Founded in 1856, Albright College is a selective, national liberal arts college enrolling 1,700 full-time undergraduates and more than 800 adult learners and graduate students. The College’s flexible interdisciplinary curriculum, strengthened by a close-knit residential learning environment, encourages students to combine majors and disciplines to create individualized academic programs. Close faculty mentorship, numerous experiential learning options, and a diverse, supportive community of scholars and learners help students exceed their own expectations and graduate with a commitment to a lifetime of service and learning. Albright College is located in Reading, Pennsylvania.

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