Opposites Attract: Decoding Codependent/Narcissist Relationships

By Susan French

Every relationship needs balance — the yin and the yang. It’s the classic conundrum of opposites attract. And that’s never been more accurate than with the attraction between codependents and narcissists.

If you’re in one of these relationships, you may feel like it’s always stormy waters. Your friends may tell you: “it isn’t supposed to be THAT hard.”

And with the advent of Facebook’s massive success, everyone’s eager to show their relationship inspires #relationshipgoals. If you’re like me, your feed is all dream vacations and quiet embraces.

But that’s not reality, especially within a codependent and narcissist relationship.

These relationships are dysfunctional and toxic. Identifying these tendencies in your relationship with the help of a professional, could be the key to saving it. Or the push you need to get your ducks in a row and move on.

Here’s the scoop on codependents and narcissists, and how to start the personal journey to healing.

The Codependent Narcissist Relationship

In a codependent / narcissist relationship you have a fixer (codependent) and taker (narcissist). Let’s explore these definitions a little further, shall we?

Codependency is a phenomenon that occurs when one partner is overly invested in emotional support from the other. In these relationships, the other partner is often battling something internally that keeps them from being able to fully invest emotionally in the other person. This is often addiction, narcissism or both.

Needless to say, the result is a relationship that isn’t satisfying for either party.

The codependent, who thrives on emotional support, will keep trying to repair this dysfunctional dynamic.

The codependent partner will wonder how they can make themselves better to reach their ideal self. That person is quick to apply changes on the whim of a partner’s behest.

They see the other person’s faults as something that can be healed with enough help and support. As a result, that person is always pouring themselves into the partnership, aspiring to dig deep and mend the broken relationship.

This is a troubling dynamic for any relationship, but the problems are amplified when the other partner is a narcissist.

Narcissism is marked by over-the-top selfishness and gradiouse ideas about one’s abilities that may border on delusional.

People who have highly narcissistic personalities crave attention and admiration from those around them. But are deficient when it comes to returning warm feelings. They may appear cold, stoic, having a flat affect and being hyper-critical of partners to meet unrealistic standards.

It’s as poetic as it is disturbing how these relationships come to be. There’s something so obviously synergistic about two people in this position: one who feels the need to put every fiber of their being into a relationship, and the other who demands it without offering much in return.

But at the end of the day, this twisted synergy is not a recipe for a successful, healthy relationship and can cause couples to devolve into deeper issues.

Comorbidity in Codependency and Narcissism

Aside from the obvious toxic imbalance and one-sidedness of these kinds of relationships, there is a deeper issue why they aren’t likely to work. That’s because these conditions have high rates of comorbidity with other problems that are likely to exacerbate the issue of imbalance.

Those who live with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) often go through a string of inaccurate diagnoses before they reach the right one. That is, if they get diagnosed at all. One of the problems with personality disorder is that it’s not likely for those experiencing it to see that they are, in fact, the ones with the problem.

But those who have a personality disorder have likely had a hard lot in life. Things just don’t ever seem to work out.

And for the more conscientious of patients, that may lead to a trip to the therapist to get relief. However, what comes out of it is often a bipolar diagnosis, asperger’s or some other issue that isn’t entirely accurate. NPD can present itself like many other illnesses.

Pinning the personality disorder is hard enough. And once you do, you open the flood gate to comorbidity.

When it comes to NPD, patients often experience eating disorder, addiction and mood disorders. With all things considered, without the right treatment and interventions, this doesn’t make for the calm waters of a good relationship.

But that’s not all.

Comorbidity is also common among codependents. This group ranks high for anxiety disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, panic disorder, PTSD, self harm and other mental illnesses that require intervention.

Healing Codependency

Interestingly, the best way to handle a codependent relationship comes from the support group Al-Anon, which focuses on the loved ones of people who suffer from addiction.

Al-Anon suggests that in order to love an addict, one must detach. That goes the same for narcissism. It’s no wonder these two disorders go hand in hand.

To detach lovingly, you can use Al-Anon’s acronym:







For those suffering from codependency, that’s much easier said than done. It’s a catchy slogan, but what does that mean for a codependent? If you could stop, surely you would have done that by now.

Detaching from a loved one means letting them flail a little. It can be painful to watch. Of course, you want to help, but the healing journey for a codependent requires you learn to allow the people you love to fall flat on their face.

Detaching is not a hateful action. It isn’t about withholding love, intimacy or sentiment. It’s about reclaiming your energy from a narcissistic spouse or partner, and demanding they sit with the consequences of their actions.

That could mean that you no longer attempt to compete with unrealistic expectations. Or that you don’t make excuses for explosive behavior or attempt to solve the problems that occur as a result.

Spiritually, emotionally and mentally, this process can be a long road. Here are some tips for taking care of your spiritual well being, and recharging your battery, while you learn to detach with love:

  • Meditation:reduces stress, increases concentration, happiness, feelings of overall well being
  • Massage therapy:increases relaxation, relieves anxiety, reset chakras
  • The power of a pause:with codependents they inherently want to jump into a problem, even when it isn’t rational — pausing before a reaction can be a powerful tool to help the partner focus on a rational solution
  • Emotional freedom technique (EFT): tapping is particularly useful in helping people combat mood disorder, verbalize their problems and come up with the right solutions

At the end of the day, if you’re in a toxic relationship or dealing with an emotionally abusive partner, it’s important to seek the appropriate help and therapy from a professional. But in the meantime, you also need to take care of yourself.

With the codependent/narcissist relationship detaching is particularly useful. But codependents will need to find healthy ways to reflect on the issue and control their responses.

During this challenging time, spiritual remedies can be helpful as an important piece of the self-care puzzle.