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What Is the Connection between Narcissism and Cheating?

Marjorie McAtee
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Many experts believe narcissism and cheating in a relationship are inextricably interlinked. The symptoms of narcissism are often such that these individuals cheat repeatedly on their spouses or significant others, usually without understanding that they have done something wrong. The typical narcissist believes he is beyond reprisal and entitled to do as he pleases at all times. Many narcissists may hate women so much that they use sexual degradation and infidelity as a means of punishing them for perceived wrongs. The narcissist may also feel obligated to maintain a "normal" appearance of married life, while still viewing his spouse as a hindrance and resenting the fidelity she requires of him.

Many narcissists pursue sexual conquests as a means of ego validation. They can gain a sense of power from the sexual act, and the acquisition of new partners may give them the feelings of worthiness and value that they usually inherently lack. Narcissism and cheating in relationships may be linked especially because many narcissists enjoy having intercourse more if it is difficult to achieve because the target is perceived as difficult. Encounters such as these tend to boost the person's fragile ego even more than encounters that come easily.

Unlike partners who cheat due to unmet needs in the relationship, narcissists will typically cheat repeatedly, no matter what the perceived quality of the central relationship in their lives. Many may claim to hold their spouse or partner in high esteem, while insisting that their extramarital liaisons mean nothing. In reality, these people tend to have no more regard for their partners or spouses then they do for the women with whom they are unfaithful.

Most experts agree that, when a narcissist enters a relationship, he will typically cheat again and again, believing he has every right to do so and that there is nothing wrong with his behavior. This belief is often so ingrained that, when the spouse or partner eventually gets fed up and leaves, the narcissist will typically attempt to do everything within his power to preserve the marriage. People with narcissism tend to use marriage for the social status and the appearance of normalcy it can bring them, rather than for intimacy or family, since they are typically incapable of real emotional closeness.

Most psychologists agree that narcissism and cheating in relationships often occur together because the average narcissist is unable to sympathize with, or in some cases, even see, the emotions of others. People with narcissism don't usually understand, or care about, the emotional turmoil that their cheating causes in their spouse. Nor are they usually concerned with the wider family and social ramifications of these acts in a relationship, such as the effects that such behavior may have on any children in the family.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Marjorie McAtee
By Marjorie McAtee , Former Writer
Marjorie McAtee, a talented writer and editor with over 15 years of experience, brings her diverse background and education to everything she writes. With degrees in relevant fields, she crafts compelling content that informs, engages, and inspires readers across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a skilled member of any content creation team.

Discussion Comments

By anon1005317 — On Aug 03, 2021

When my ex boyfriend thought he was not going to make it through his surgery he and I ended up in the hospital at the same time, in the same ward. He then proposed and told all the staff about our situation. It was all about him and it worked for him.

Six months later, he cheated and lied about it, saying she was stalking him. It took me a few months to figure out why he did that. I watched him and how excited he sometimes got when she had called 13 times a day. He said he called the police, and also said because of his business he could not change his phone number, then he moved her into his home to take care of him, and said the whole thing was her fault. By then I had long left. His friends started staying away because he wanted lots of work from them to do for him to pay back for all he had done for them. So much more I could write a book.

By anon997344 — On Dec 19, 2016

When we were first married, she had a strange personality. Everything was great except my wife loved wearing shorts which left little to the imagination. I told her when she bent over at the laundromat while our washing machine was out that anyone could see the cookie. She always dressed to call attention to herself. She continued to dress that way years later.

Last year, she and I attended a party at a large hotel in Corpus Christi, TX We have been married for twenty two years. I am a Vietnam Veteran with PTSD. The next morning, we were sitting outside while her girl friend smoked. After a few minutes, a coworker came and sat down with us. He began talking to my wife since they were seated across from one another. They began to stare at one another and I tried to join the conversation and I was ignored. The guy only shot me a quick answer and did not break the stare and neither did my wife.

Afterward, I asked her who he was and she said no one. Later, I thought about it and I began to get upset about it. I talked about it to my psychologist and I do not recall what she said. I asked my wife again and she said, "What are you talking about? You're crazy. I would never flirt in front of you.” She flat denied it. I said I was there and asked her what are you pulling on me. She said, "Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?” I started to think maybe it didn't happen but I knew better. Later, it came up again and she grabbed the phone and called her girlfriend (the smoker). I have had problems with PTSD but I'm not crazy. Now she is getting to the point where she throws objects at me and yesterday she pushed me on my chest hard. She is not large but I am a big man. When I asked her not to do that again she says, "There you go again picking on me.” We were in bed and she got up and went to the couch.

I am the one with the money and I let her pay the bills and she has an account but I can never see it.

She started working for a large insurance agency and the partying began at her ripe old age of 56 or 57. She looks good to me and she dresses so that people will turn to look at her. A month ago we were going out and she was wearing a pair of shorts so short that I asked her, “Hey are you going out in underwear?” She told me they were shorts and let's go.

I am not a prude but I mean, men can't help but look. I have to pretend that I do not notice. It is very horrible. I cannot take it any more. I did not want to be like typical veterans getting married many times, but I do not trust her any more. After the staring contest and telling me I did not know what I saw, I had to reflect and see how many other times she has lied and I have caught her many times, but if I mention it she will start screaming hysterically where the veins pop out of her neck and I do not understand the drama. I have so much more but I want to get some feedback before I continue.

By anon997274 — On Dec 07, 2016

I agree that if you plan to stay with a cheater don't try to find any information. However, in my case, I needed it in my state in order to file for a divorce and come out of the relationship. You can't just say "I think." Courts want proof or you end up spending a lot of time and money to fight it out! Finding out was hard, but I was relieved that I wasn't crazy and it's making my divorce go a lot smoother. He would never confess; therefore, I did the best thing for me: find out, no doubt, move on!

By anon994152 — On Jan 19, 2016

Excellent description of the narcissist and cheating, though the reference to a male makes it sounds like this is always the case. Not true, I can attest to that.

By anon993423 — On Nov 13, 2015

@ysmina: Because she was his supply.

I proudly left my Narc years ago. If had known what this was called, or that it even existed, I would have left way sooner.

By anon992553 — On Sep 16, 2015

Why does every article on narcissist always insist that the narcissist is male?

There are plenty of female narcissists, yet society tries to pretend they don't exist.

By narcfree — On Sep 02, 2015

@anon991507: I understand your pain. I still love him. But what I love was a front. Each girl gets a different front. I wanted so badly to believe it was real. CD is really hard to get out of, I understand he never loved me, but I will always love the persona he gave to me. Especially in the beginning, it was wonderful. I had never been happier and thought I found the love of my life. It was pure bliss.

@anon348398: I agree, not married; it ended after he finally owned up to cheating with a stranger. I, in anger, did a few things which upset him and I paid. I got to hear about the sexual encounter in detail, my car was messed with, he threatened to burn down a family members home with people inside, he called a family member he never met and smeared me, made my life hell to the point of depression, couldn't get out of bed, wished he would just stop and love me again. I had never in my life felt that way. I was punished greatly.

Every time I broke nc, I felt my self-esteem wear away. Every derogatory name for a female, I was called. I loved this man and he made me feel like the most worthless human on this earth. Nothing I did was right. I was a loser for the job I worked, I was a loser for something else, I was a slut for something I did in my past, it was horrific. He actually assaulted me a few weeks before we broke up. He was extremely sorry and I was made to feel like it was my fault, I took partial blame for the argument; but then I needed a hospital and he held me captive in his car. People there are all different kinds. Covert, Somatic, Malignant. The malignant ones will get violent, they are dangerous and think they are above the law.

Any grown man who throws a tantrum is not OK in the head, get away and let them talk about you. His friends are not yours so who cares what he says.

By narcfree — On Sep 02, 2015

@ysmina: He kept coming back to your friend because she allowed it. She most likely, like me, has a ton of empathy and a huge heart. Some women don't get attached to the narc, even if they go for a few rounds in the sack every month for say six months.

Then there are some women who do get very attached. What happens is eventually even the ones who get attached see something is off, or do not see a future with him and they leave. That would be when the narc goes back to your friend, if he thinks she will "feel sorry for him" that's their whole schtick, the world has done them wrong and we must feel ever so bad for them. They are very good at targeting women with higher amounts of empathy and forgiveness. Not to say there is anything wrong with other women. It all depends on who he can hook the hardest.

He will go out and sleep with 20 women and come back, knowing she will take him in, especially if she loves him. This happened to me. I was not married, but in what I thought was a long term relationship. I loved him and had no idea he would ever step out or need to.

I have been told I am beautiful, I am overly caring to a fault, educated (he was not) came from a good family, had a great upbringing with a lot of opportunities. I was arm candy to the world and nothing more. I didn't realize how much he resented me until it ended. Boy did I hear it all. I was laughed at for getting a degree; he threw everything in my face I had ever told him, boy did he resent me, or I say he was jealous. Here I thought he was over the moon to be with me, but no, he hated me and he cheated a lot.

His enablers or friends covered for him and I was never allowed to be around them much, red flag! But he knew I loved him so he could treat me like crap I would leave and he would literally beg me to stay. Throw in marriage, a future, growing old, all the stuff they say to every woman and I bought it hook line and sink. They will look you in the eyes and they have this stare which I thought then was love it is not, and will tell you that you are the "one" they have never had such a "connection" and a normal human believes it, who would lie about love right?

The only way I ever was able to walk away was by chance running into him a week after meeting and talking about getting back together. Yes, I was going to take him back a third time until I saw the real him. He had just told me he loved me and hooked me back in and he was out with other women and I was publicly humiliated in font of them. I had no clue he had such an evil side.

I assume whenever I was not with him during our relationship he was with others. It was a shocking wake up call. They are inhumane. I found him to have more respect for his side girls than he ever did for me.

By anon991507 — On Jun 26, 2015

I will be separating from my narcissist husband very soon. He is cheating, but is denying it and blaming me for why our marriage is the way it is. He so full of himself, at one point he wanted me to gather most of our family and wanted me to say I am the cause of the marriage failing. He would do anything to protect his image. The unfortunate part is I have no hardcore proof he is cheating – only circumstantial.

He uses his job and the fact that he is a workaholic as a cover up for his lies and deceit. He constantly tells me I am to blame to anyone who will listen. He tells me how much I hurt him and broke his heart. I should have not ignored the red flag of him being married three times (one of which he never told me about, but I found out on my own) prior to me should have been a sign. He comes off as very charming and he uses his money to hide behind who he really is. People would never believe he is cheating because he does so much for people.

I, on the other hand look like the snooping, delusional wife that hurt their precious family member. The main problem is I love him and it hurt so bad. He would often joke and say "it's time for me to move on, I fixed you and now I need to go to the next person". We would just laugh and laugh about that. Who knew he was actually telling the truth? I want to hate him, but I can't.

By anon990551 — On Apr 27, 2015

From what I read, narcissists view their wives or girlfriends as their security. It's all about looking good to their friends and family. They don't respect them or "love" them anymore than they do the women they cheat with. Everyone to them is an object but they use the objects for different reasons. At least that's my understanding of narcissists.

By anon950479 — On May 10, 2014

I went out with a narcissist recently for seven months! He told me many times, "I've never married or lived with anyone my entire life because I am not made for relationships. That's why I'm still single at age 50." I always had a rule not to get involved with anyone who has any relationships because my ex-spouse cheated on me and I don't want to cause pain like I had to other women.

Guess what? It turned out my N was lying all along. I found out he was married twice in the past and is married now! Wonder if he lied and lies to all of women in his life? I'll bet he does!

By anon940874 — On Mar 20, 2014

@anon940865: Get ahold of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Their toll-free number is 1-800-799-7233. They can help you. They have experience in helping people in your situation. Please call them. Good luck.

By anon940865 — On Mar 20, 2014

How do you get out when you have a child and no money/job, and no family or friends to help? How do I get out?

By anon348398 — On Sep 16, 2013

I was married to a narcissist. I did notice changes in his behavior as time went on, but when you comment on it, they convince you it's not them; it's you. So over the years you hear that so often that you begin to think it's true.

If anyone reading this is still with a narcissist and they cheat, don't, under any circumstances, make it public unless you are living separately, and filing for divorce. I made that mistake and when I say he made me pay, he was so abusive, verbally, mentally, emotionally and yes occasionally physically, that I started to think suicide was the only option open to me.

Luckily I realized that no one is worth me taking my life.

I finished the marriage and to hear him crying (literally) you would have thought he hadn't done a thing wrong. Well she wanted him, she chased him and now she's got him, it'll be her turn soon.

As for me, I may be still living alone after four years, but I am a whole lot stronger and a hell of a lot happier. My life is peaceful and yes, I've just started going on dates. Namaste.

By amypollick — On Aug 16, 2013

@anon345175: Unfortunately, therapy does not generally work with a narcissist, unless they just happen to have some kind of personal epiphany. They can't see there's a problem. Therefore, there is no need for counseling. If it's true narcissistic personality disorder, therapy isn't much help. They have to come to the point where they can believe they're wrong about something, and this usually doesn't happen. The DSM-IV doesn't present a hopeful outlook for these people, where therapy is concerned. It really is a mental illness.

By anon345175 — On Aug 16, 2013

Why is this related to men only? My wife is a narcissist and though I have tried numerous times to validate her value to me, I suspect she has cheated on me several times (four times I know of). Though I've finally stood up to her and recently came into the understanding of the mental disorder, she is in the process of filing for divorce. My usefulness has run its course.

But my real question is how does one get a narcissist in to see a therapist so a proper diagnosis can be attained? She has repeatedly stated she doesn't need counseling.

By anon343070 — On Jul 26, 2013

@Ysmina: That's like asking why people who travel a lot have a house. Because it's nice to have somewhere to come back to and regroup between adventures. Also, in many cases, it's more of an exciting challenge to the other women knowing that he is married so it raises his status that another woman already wants him and is actually with him.

By anon341057 — On Jul 08, 2013

I just broke up with a narcissist. It was out of control and it was causing me to lose all respect for him. Actually, I only found about about narcissism a few months back but in all honesty, it was a relief to know that it was a mental disorder because narcissists will go to any extreme to make you believe it's your fault.

My problem is that if they no longer want to be bothered with you and you have served your purpose with them, why do they keep bothering you?

What I found the most difficult was that my narcissist friend had more than one personality and it makes me feel so bad for anyone in a committed relationship with a narcissist who has more than one personality. I will elaborate on this once I know that the site is still active.

By bear78 — On Feb 28, 2013

I doubt that every narcissist cheats. They might have an inclination but I don't think it's accurate to make such a generalization. There are so many people who are not narcissists and still cheat.

By ddljohn — On Feb 27, 2013

@ysmina-- I'm not a psychiatrist and I definitely don't consider myself an expert on narcissistic personality disorder.

But I think what happens is that a narcissist, due to a lack of self-esteem and self-worth, constantly needs people to validate that they are worthy. They do this by getting people to care for them and value their presence even though there is no reciprocation from their side.

You could say that a narcissist is like an empty bottle who needs to be filled and refilled by other people. A narcissist will do anything to "fill up" their sense of self-worth. And that unfortunately often includes cheating on their partner and then returning to them over and over again.

By ysmina — On Feb 27, 2013

A friend of mine was married to a narcissist who constantly cheated on her.

The weird part was that each time, he would come back to her and say that it meant nothing and that he needs her. She forgave him because she was in love but soon enough realized that he would never change.

She also found out later that he made many promises to these women and did so many things to show his love. Why did he keep coming back to my friend then? It doesn't make sense.

Marjorie McAtee

Marjorie McAtee

Former Writer

Marjorie McAtee, a talented writer and editor with over 15 years of experience, brings her diverse background and education to everything she writes. With degrees in relevant fields, she crafts compelling content that informs, engages, and inspires readers across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a skilled member of any content creation team.
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