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What is a cheating narcissist?

A cheating narcissist is someone who exhibits narcissistic personality traits and engages in cheating behaviors in romantic relationships. Narcissism is characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, and a constant need for attention and admiration. When combined with a tendency to be unfaithful, this can make for a toxic and destructive partner.

What are the traits of a narcissist?

There are several key characteristics that are common among narcissists:

  • Grandiose sense of self-importance – They have an inflated ego and think very highly of themselves.
  • Sense of entitlement – They believe they deserve special treatment and have unreasonable expectations of favorable living and working conditions.
  • Lack of empathy – They are unwilling and unable to recognize the needs and feelings of others.
  • Envy of others – They resent others’ successes and believe others envy their own supposed superior qualities.
  • Arrogant behaviors – They come across as conceited, boastful, and pretentious.
  • Desire for admiration – They crave constant praise and validation from others.
  • Exploitative tendencies – They will take advantage of others for personal gain.

In relationships, narcissists tend to be self-absorbed and lack interest in their partner’s needs or emotions. They think their partners should cater to them but make little effort themselves. They feel entitled to affection, intimacy, support and fidelity from their partner, but do not reciprocate equally.

What causes someone to become a narcissist?

The exact causes of narcissistic personality disorder are unknown, but these factors may contribute to its development:

  • Genetics – Research suggests narcissism has a genetic component and runs in families.
  • Childhood experiences – Excessive parental pampering, abuse, neglect, or other trauma in childhood may lead to narcissism later in life.
  • Brain structure – People with narcissism have structural and functional differences in brain regions linked to empathy.
  • Culture – Cultures that focus on competition, individualism, status, wealth and fame may foster narcissistic tendencies.

So both nature and nurture seem to play a role. Narcissists tend to have experienced dysfunctional childhoods and also exhibit distinct brain patterns and genetic profiles.

What is cheating?

Cheating can encompass different behaviors but generally refers to being unfaithful in a committed romantic relationship. Forms of cheating may include:

  • Having an affair – Engaging in physical intimacy and/or romantic exchanges with someone other than the primary partner.
  • Emotional infidelity – Developing a deep or romantic connection with someone else.
  • Online cheating – Flirting with others, sharing intimate messages or images, dating sites usage, pornography viewing.
  • Financial infidelity – Financially supporting another person or spending shared money on them.
  • Secret friendships – Maintaining secret close friendships with potential romantic partners.

Cheating violates the mutually agreed upon boundaries, trust, and intimacy exclusive to monogamous romantic relationships. Partners often consider even online interactions cheating if done secretly and involving sharing emotional or physical intimacy.

What leads narcissists to cheat?

There are several ways in which being a narcissist predisposes someone to cheating behaviors:

  • Sense of entitlement – They feel entitled to pursue pleasure outside the relationship.
  • Boredom – They quickly become bored with one partner and need novelty and external validation.
  • Thrill-seeking – They enjoy the excitement of forbidden encounters and getting away with infidelity.
  • Revenge cheating – They may cheat to get back at their partner for perceived slights or signs of independence.
  • Seeking validation – They use cheating to get reassurance about their own desirability.
  • Lack of empathy – They have little guilt over cheating and limited concern for their partner’s feelings.
  • Impulsivity – They can act recklessly on momentary urges and opportunities.

Narcissists feel entitled to set their own rules and pursue their own gratification irrespective of commitments, vows, or consequences. Their sense of superiority and impulsivity make it easy for them to rationalize cheating.

Are all narcissists unfaithful?

No, not all narcissists cheat. Narcissism exists on a spectrum, with some exhibiting more extreme narcissistic traits than others. Many narcissists do value their relationship and can still experience guilt, remorse, or love for their partner that prevents cheating. That said, those scoring high on narcissism measures are statistically more likely to cheat than non-narcissists.

Even if a narcissist does not cheat overtly, many engage in micro-cheating behaviors that subtly cross relationship boundaries, such as:

  • Flirting with friends, coworkers, or strangers despite being in a relationship
  • Emotional or physical intimacy with ex-partners
  • Overly close “friendships” with potential romantic partners
  • Secretive communication with alternate romantic prospects
  • Hidden pornography usage or interactions on dating sites

So while not all narcissists blatantly cheat, many engage in more covert cheating behaviors and infidelity enabling patterns.

Table showing narcissistic traits that enable cheating

Narcissistic Trait Cheating Behavior Enabled
Sense of entitlement Pursuing external affairs and believing they deserve more partners
Boredom and thrill-seeking Seeking the excitement of illicit relationships and sexual variety
Need for validation Having affairs to feel admired, wanted, and boost self-esteem
Lack of empathy Infidelity without concern for partner’s feelings
Impulsiveness and recklessness Cheating on sudden urges without considering consequences

How does narcissistic cheating differ from other cheating?

There are some ways in which narcissistic infidelity differs from cheating motivated by other reasons:

  • Greater number of affairs – Narcissists are more likely to have multiple concurrent affairs and cheating partners over time.
  • More blatant deception – Their sense of entitlement can lead to less need to hide affairs.
  • Less remorse – They have less capacity for guilt and empathy regarding the pain caused.
  • Greater gaslighting – They aggressively deny proof of cheating and blame their partner.
  • Ongoing boundary violations – They continue micro-cheating behaviors even after being caught.
  • Intention to leave – Their cheating may signal their intention to end the relationship.

Whereas other cheaters may still value their primary relationship, narcissistic cheating is more likely to be chronic and indicative of the narcissist’s permanent disengagement. Their lack of empathy also makes healing the betrayal more challenging.

Signs your partner may be a cheating narcissist

Here are some red flags that your partner may be a cheating narcissist:

  • Flirts heavily with others in front of you
  • Spends a lot of time away from home with vague or suspicious explanations
  • Frequently criticizes you and puts you down but needs you to dote on them
  • Gaslights you and turns accusations back on you if you question their fidelity
  • Sense of entitlement and tendency to break rules
  • History of short, failed relationships due to getting “bored”
  • Need to always be the center of attention
  • Lack of authentic remorse or guilt when caught in lies

Pay attention to your gut instincts. If your partner exhibits a number of narcissistic traits and you notice odd behaviors that erode trust, they may be cheating or on the pathway to cheating.

Table summarizing signs of a cheating narcissist

Narcissistic Trait Associated Cheating Behaviors
Sense of entitlement Breaking rules, justification of infidelity
Needs attention Flirtation, secrecy, excessive time away
Lack of empathy Indifference to impact of cheating
Manipulation Gaslighting, lying, turning blame on partner
Impulsiveness Taking risks, reckless behaviors

How to handle cheating if you suspect narcissism

If you suspect your cheating partner is a narcissist, some tips include:

  • Look after your self-esteem – Refocus on your own needs and disengage from their put downs or blame.
  • Set boundaries – Make it clear which behaviors are unacceptable and enforce consequences.
  • Watch for gaslighting – Check facts to counter denial, distortion, and manipulation.
  • Get support – Connect with friends, family, or support groups to maintain perspective.
  • Consider leaving – Narcissists rarely change, so the relationship may need to end.
  • Therapy can help – Work with a professional to process betrayal trauma and identify healthy relationships.

It is extremely difficult to get a narcissist to own their infidelity and commit to meaningful change. You deserve a relationship built on empathy and faithfulness. Prioritize self-care while making informed decisions going forward.

Table comparing handling narcissistic vs non-narcissistic cheating

Narcissistic Cheating Non-Narcissistic Cheating
Chance of change Lower, narcissism impedes self-analysis Higher, capable of insight into impact on partner
Couples therapy Less effective, manipulates therapist Can help build understanding
Boundary setting May control behaviors but not empathy May increase mutual care and faithfulness
Discussing infidelity Meets with gaslighting, rage, blame Can prompt remorse and desire to improve

How to know when to leave a cheating narcissist

There are certain signs that indicate the relationship has become too toxic and leaving may be healthiest:

  • Cheating continues despite clear boundaries against it
  • Complete lack of authentic remorse, guilt, or care about your pain
  • Physical threats or abuse emerge
  • Other classic narcissistic devaluation behaviors escalate (name-calling, put downs, silent treatment, gaslighting, intimidation)
  • Your self-esteem reaches dangerously low levels
  • You develop anxiety, depression, trauma symptoms, or thought of self-harm

Being with a narcissist who repeatedly cheats and devalues you often leads to a trauma bond that erodes your sense of self. Leaving can be incredibly difficult but may be essential for your survival and mental health.

Table: Signs it’s time to leave a cheating narcissist

Red Flag Behaviors Impact on You
Chronic infidelity Constant heartbreak, erosion of trust and self-esteem over time
Extreme manipulative behaviors Confusion, anxiety, inability to know what is real
Verbal, emotional, physical abuse Fear, trauma, walking on eggshells
Complete lack of empathy Feeling unseen, unimportant, devalued


In summary, a cheating narcissist is someone who exhibits narcissistic entitlement and demands while repeatedly engaging in infidelity and deception in romantic relationships. Though narcissism exists on a continuum, pathological narcissism significantly increases the chance of cheating and lowers the chance of change. Partners of narcissists often suffer severe trauma from gaslighting, blame, and the erosion of self-worth. While attempts to heal through communication, boundary setting and therapy can occur, ultimately it may become necessary to leave cheating narcissists to protect one’s mental health and prevent further emotional abuse. Partners of narcissists deserve faithfulness, compassion and support – traits narcissists are unable to provide. With self-care, introspection and professional help, victims of narcissists can recover and rebuild self-esteem, moving forward to healthier relationships.