The Cycle of a Codependent Narcissistic Relationship

This article will outline the basic cycle of a codependent narcissistic relationship. By reading this article, you will be able to identify with more clarity…


This article will outline the basic cycle of a codependent narcissistic relationship.

By reading this article, you will be able to identify with more clarity if you are in a codependent narcissistic relationship. Noticing where in the cycle you are can help you identify how to heal. Tips to heal for each stage are also provided.

Codependent Narcissistic Relationship – Intense and Confusing

The relationship between a narcissistic partner and a codependent one can be mapped out. While, of course, your personal relationship may have some specific differences, overall there is a pattern in this type of relationship.

Relationships between codependent and narcissistic partners are intense marked by a lot of ups and downs. Also the cycle begins in such a passionate, romantic way that it later leads to a lot of confusion too.

Related: What is Codependency? 6 Key Symptoms Explained

The Beginning of a Codependent Narcissistic Relationship

The beginning of this type of relationship can feel like a dream come true for a person with codependency. Finally someone sees my worth, a codependent person may think when they meet a narcissist. And this feeling, after perhaps years of feeling “not-good-enough,” is understandably intoxicating for the codependent person.

Related: 5 Ways Low Self-Esteem Impacts Your Dating Life

Unfortunately, what the codependent person doesn’t understand is that the narcissist is manipulating them.

Being Swept Off Your Feet

In the beginning, a narcissist will love bomb their partner. They will tell the other person just how amazing they are and how they never felt this way before. A narcissist in the beginning will seem very attentive and thoughtful. Some people will be suspicious of this intensity believing that it’s disingenous.

codependent narcissistic relationship
From Ride or Die: A Feminist Manifesto for the Well-Being of Black Women

Yet a person in their codependency doesn’t question this. Instead, they have gone years struggling with self-esteem issues and it can feel like someone “finally” sees their worth. Truly, a dream come true for the codependent person.

In this whirlwind, a codependent person’s already low or non-existent boundaries are further chipped away. This enables them to stay loyal – and doubt themselves – when they narcissist later becomes abusive.

If You are in the Whirlwind Phase

First, kudos to you for noticing something’s off already. The fact you’re here reading this is proof of this. This is a tremendous sign you are already healing codependent parts of you. After all, much of codependency recovery is about learning how to listen to your gut. And then, the next step is all about trusting yourself.

You heard yourself.

In this stage, the wisest thing to do is to commit to your own self-protection. Preventing yourself future pain, confusion, and abusive treatment needs to be the priority. Here you will need to set boundaries.

Assess the Situation

One of the key five steps of codependency recovery is to set boundaries. At this stage, this entails walking away from your partner if you know deep down that you are being manipulated. Right now, this will look like love bombing but may include gaslighting.

codependent narcissistic relationship
From The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5 Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle

If you want to take your time, you may talk to your partner. A narcissistic partner will often dismiss your concerns or gaslight you. Pay attention to this. If they minimize your concerns that they are being disingenuous, this is a warning sign.

A healthy person will validate your concerns and offer to find a way to make you more comfortable. This may mean going more slowly or complimenting less. And they will follow through. A narcissist is also good at saying words but not following through with actions. Pay attention to this because people in their codependency already tend to prioritize words over actions.

Take your time. Listen to yourself. Set boundaries.

The Next Stage of a Codependency Narcissistic Relationship: The Cracks Begin to Show

Once a narcissist feels they have effectively shown their best self to the codependent person, they will begin to relax. This means they will begin to show you more of their entitled, selfish, and perhaps abusive nature.

Yet because of the way the relationship began, a codependent person will usually be extremely confused here. Already, codependency makes people prioritize fantasies over reality. Therefore, the person they want their partner to be will be “more real” to them than their reality. For instance, they will be convinced if they just work harder, their narcissistic partner will be the perfect person they first met.

Related: Love Addiction Signs and 3 Ways to Heal: A Therapist Explains

They believe that while their partner acts like Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde the love bombing version of them is their “real self” and the abusive one is a fake, wrong, version of their partner.

Both Versions are True

If you think there is a good version of your partner and a bad one, it’s necessary to accept reality.

Both versions are true. Perhaps it’s true that your narcissistic partner does think you’re awesome and feels love for you. (You are awesome and lovable.) And it’s also true that they disregard you and manipulate you.

When you prioritize the fantasy that only the loving person is your “real” partner, you feed your codependent part. To heal you must interrupt this and check the facts of how your partner is acting.

You’re Not Crazy

Consider keeping a notebook to literally write down all the ways your partner is treating you. What specifically are they doing or saying that may be “kind” or “hurtful.”

Seeing this on paper shows you that you’re not “crazy.” Rather the treatment you’re receiving is “crazy making.” This helps you overcome the tendency to second guess and doubt yourself so common in codependency which is reinforced by narcissistic abuse.

Becoming More Empowered

At this stage, you may want to consider seeking individual therapy to help empower you to set boundaries with the narcissist in your life. This will be necessary in order to recover from codependency and potentially heal your relationship.

You may also choose to do couples therapy but unless your partner is committed to changing, a narcissist will manipulate therapy typically. This means they may go for only a short amount of time before deeming it a “waste” or saying you’re the one who really needs therapy because you’re the problem.

The Final Stages of a Codependent Narcissistic Relationship: The Abuse Escalates

A narcissistic partner will often become increasingly abusive. This may be verbal and psychological in nature such as mocking you, name calling you and gaslighting you.

Related: How to Spot the Hidden Signs Someone is Gaslighting You

Abuse may also be physical, sexual, and/or financial. This abuse can be hard to identify too making it harder to leave. Also, a codependent partner may be dependent financially on the narcissistic partner making it very challenging to leave. Or if the narcissistic partner threatens to hurt themselves, their partner and/or loved ones if the codependent person leaves, this of course makes it very difficult to leave.

Related: What is Narcissistic Abuse in Relationships?

Feeling Stuck

In addition to just how overwhelming, confusing, and scary abuse can be, a codependent person may also feel very conflicted about leaving. People in their codependency tend to have a ton of empathy for others. Therefore, even when they’re being abused, they may excuse their partner i.e., they were stressed, “it’s not that bad,” or he just learned to act this way because of this own childhood.

From The Human Magnet Syndrome

In addition to this, a codependent person may feel stuck because they truly don’t want to leave. They love their partner – and when they treat them nicely they feel high from this. This can lead to a lot of toxicity of course where a codependent person both loves and resents their partner (understandably) while also hating themselves for staying.

You Have Options

People in their codependency also tend to feel “stuck” because they tend to struggle with all-or-nothing thinking. For instance, they may think they either have to leave or must stay. However, they have options. For example, they can stay and work towards healing. They can focus on their codependency recovery and see how this enables potential change in their relationship.

If they feel they can’t leave they can also work on a safety plan and perhaps open up to someone close to them. This often includes creating an emergency bag with access to some money to leave immediately if necessary. This plan also identifies how to protect children or pets.

You can create a detailed safety plan here. (You may need to access this website on a computer that your partner doesn’t have access to like at the library since computer usage can be tracked).

Have Empathy for Yourself

You may be more focused on your partner’s pain if you are codependent. Yet at this stage, it’s essential to honor you are hurting too. In fact, at this stage, you have likely developed trauma by being with a narcissist.

Related: Trauma Bonding, Codependency, and Narcissistic Abuse

An important way to heal at this stage is to seek trauma therapy. When you heal from the trauma your partner may have inflicted on you (and past trauma which may have led to codependency), you have more options in life. Trauma healing helps you see the bigger picture of your worth and value and how you want to live.

If your partner is willing it is recommended you seek therapy for attachment issues to truly heal together.

Recovery is Possible

People absolutely do heal from codependency. And people absolutely can heal from narcissism.

To heal your relationship, it will be important to focus first and foremost on your own attachment issues (narcissism and codependency both stem from this). This includes trauma healing.

There are many resources on this blog to help as well for healing. Wishing you all the best!

About The Author

Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.

Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.

Her other books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.

If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to or DM her on Instagram. We will always keep your name and other identifying information confidential.

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