In the early stages of a romantic relationship, people tend to overestimate their partner’s qualities and evaluate their partners more favorably than themselves. This is called partner-enhancement and new research published in the Journal of Research in Personality found that narcissistic individuals do not partner-enhance to the same degree as non-narcissistic individuals.
Research shows partner-enhancement tends to decline as relationship satisfaction increases. “Couples who manifest partner-enhancement cope more effectively with disappointment or conflict, and experience weaker expectations of partner change, less negative communication, and higher relationship satisfaction,” explained study author Anna Z. Czarna and colleagues. “Conversely, couples who manifest self-enhancement (i.e., individuals evaluate themselves more favorably than their partner) are likely to experience relationship dissatisfaction and face relationship dissolution.”
Thus, the researchers were interested in narcissism as a personality trait and how individuals with narcissistic tendencies engage in (or don’t) partner-enhancement in romantic relationships.
For Study 1, the researchers recruited 70 adult participants who were involved in a romantic relationship to complete the online study. They filled out measures assessing the length of their relationship, level of self-esteem, level of partner-enhancement they engage in, and narcissistic personality.
Results show that relationships duration was not associated with partner-enhancement. However, narcissism affected this pattern in that those with lower levels of narcissism engaged in partner-enhancement at earlier (and not later) stages in the relationship. Those with high levels of narcissism, on the other hand, did not display partner-enhancement at any stage of the relationship.
Study 2 sought to replicate these findings with a larger sample size and using different measures of narcissism and partner-enhancement. Researchers recruited 412 adult participants involved in a romantic relationship. They measured the same variables as Study 1 but used different measures of partner-enhancement and narcissism.
In general, results showed neither relationship duration nor narcissism was associated with partner-enhancement. However, consistent with Study 1, those lower in narcissism partner-enhanced at earlier relationship stages, but not later stages. Those higher in narcissism once again did not partner-enhance at any relationship stage.
For Study 3, researchers tested both partners in a sample of 84 couples on the same measures as the previous studies (narcissism measure from Study 2 and partner-enhancement measure from Study 1). Results showed that shorter relationship duration was associated with higher partner-enhancement, but only among men, which was generally consistent with previous results.
“Among men, low narcissists partner-enhanced at an earlier (but not later) relationship stage, whereas high narcissists self-enhanced throughout. Among women, low narcissists partner-enhanced at an earlier and later (albeit less so) relationship stage, whereas high narcissists self-enhanced throughout.”
The authors cite some limitations to this work including the self-selection nature of the recruitment strategies, the mostly woman make-up of Study 2’s sample, and the inclusion of only young, heterosexual relationships for Study 3’s sample.
The study, “Narcissism and partner-enhancement at different relationship stages“, was authored by Anna Z. Czarna, Magdalena Śmieja, Maria Wider, Michael Dufner, and Constantine Sedikides.