Narcissistic admiration and rivalry might not have a significant impact on the mental health of romantic partners, according to new research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
Narcissistic admiration is characterized by grandiosity and charmingness, while narcissistic rivalry is characterized by aggressiveness and asserting supremacy. People high in narcissistic admiration tend to agree with statements such as “I deserve to be seen as a great personality,” while those high in narcissistic rivalry tend to agree with statements such as “Other people are worth nothing.”
“The concept of grandiose narcissism as not only a type of personality disorder but a two-dimensional personality trait continuum (with the Narcissistic Personality Disorder as its extreme manifestation) has been increasingly studied in recent years, with a focus on individuals,” explained study author Leopold Maria Lautenbacher, who received a Master of Science degree in Psychology from Freie Universität Berlin, where he conducted the research.
“However, those most affected by it may actually be the people surrounding the (more or less) narcissistic individual, as the behavioral patterns that characterize narcissism are mostly directed at others and may cause suffering (e.g., aggressiveness and devaluation of others).”
The new study utilized data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study, a nationally representative survey of households in Germany. The researchers focused on mixed-gender couples, where one partner identified as male and the other as female, living together in the same household, and who were both adults aged 18 years or older. These couples were given the Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Questionnaire and Short-Form Health Survey, which includes several items assessing general mental health.
The data “provided a unique opportunity to investigate” the links between narcissistic traits and mental health in the context of romantic relationships, Lautenbacher said.
Couples who did not respond to any items of the two questionnaires were excluded from the current study. The inclusion criteria resulted in a sample of 7,438 mixed-gender couples. The average age of the male and female participants was 52 and 49 years, respectively.
Lautenbacher and his colleagues found that those with higher levels of narcissistic admiration tended to have better mental health, while those with higher levels of narcissistic rivalry tended to have worse mental health. These relationships were observed among both women and men. But the researchers failed to find evidence that narcissistic admiration or narcissistic rivalry were associated with the mental health outcomes of one’s partner.
“Having a rather narcissistic romantic partner does not have to automatically sound the death knell for your own mental health. We did not detect clear trends of worse (or better) mental health for individuals with increasingly narcissistic partners,” Lautenbacher told PsyPost. “However, keep in mind that we are not talking about Narcissistic Personality Disorder here – the results are restricted to non-pathological, interindividual differences in narcissism (i.e., we are all more or less narcissistic).”
“Furthermore, we only studied couples living together – individuals who are more vulnerable to the effects of a partner’s narcissism may avoid living together with the narcissistic partner or end the relationship in order to protect their own mental health.”
The researchers found some preliminary evidence that two of the Big Five personality traits — agreeableness and extraversion — played a role in the relationship between narcissistic traits and mental health.
“The lack of a clear link between someone’s narcissism and their partner’s mental health was surprising and did not support our hypotheses,” Lautenbacher explained. “Interestingly, further analyses suggested that extraversion and agreeableness, two of the Big Five personality traits, may play a crucial role in understanding the effects of narcissism on romantic partners, which warrants further research.”
As with all research, the study includes some limitations. For example, the study only analyzed data that was collected at a single point in time. To better understand the longitudinal relationship between variables, further research needs to be done over a longer period of time.
“Social desirability bias is an important caveat when investigating narcissism with self-report questionnaires, given that participants are asked to rate themselves concerning rather undesirable qualities,” Lautenbacher noted. “Another limitation was the use of short-form measures which are less precise than longer questionnaires. Further replication studies as well as longitudinal studies would be desirable to assess the robustness of our findings.”
“The terms ‘narcissism’ and ‘narcissist’ are widely and liberally used (e.g., on social media),” the researcher added. “I hope science outreach (like PsyPost) may foster a more nuanced understanding of this concept in the general public.”
The study, “Do narcissistic admiration and rivalry matter for the mental health of romantic partners? Insights from actor-partner interdependence models“, was authored by Leopold Maria Lautenbacher, Michael Eid, and David Richter.