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Why Narcissists Cheat: Understanding Narcissist Infidelity

Infidelity is a painful reality that many relationships face, but when it involves a narcissist, the betrayal can feel even more devastating. Narcissist partners are known for their charming and manipulative nature, often leaving their partners feeling confused and hurt. But what drives a narcissist to cheat

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the psychological motives behind a narcissist’s infidelity. We’ll explore:

  • The prevalence of cheating in relationships 
  • The connection between narcissism and infidelity 
  • The narcissist’s constant need for validation and ego boosts 

By understanding the complex factors that contribute to a narcissist’s cheating behaviour, we can gain valuable insights. So, let’s unravel the mystery together and shed light on the dark side of narcissistic relationships.

Unmasking the Charming Manipulator: Narcissistic Traits

To grasp the complexities of a narcissist’s infidelity, we must first understand the core traits of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Narcissists are characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. 

Beneath their charming exterior lies a fragile ego that constantly seeks validation. Narcissists crave attention and will go to great lengths to maintain their grandiose self-image. They often employ manipulative tactics, such as gaslighting and projection, to control and deceive those around them. 

A series of defining dynamics mark the narcissist’s relationships:

  1. Idealization: Initially, narcissists shower their partners with affection and attention, making them feel unique and loved. 
  2. Devaluation: As the relationship progresses, narcissists begin to criticize and belittle their partners, eroding their self-esteem. 
  3. Discard: When a partner no longer serves their needs, narcissists may abruptly end the relationship without remorse.
Cycle of Narcissistic Relationships

This cycle of idealization, devaluation, and discard can leave partners feeling confused, hurt, and emotionally drained. The constant exposure to a narcissist’s need for admiration and their inability to empathize can lead to anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

It’s essential to recognize the signs of narcissism in relationships, such as:

  • A sense of entitlement and superiority 
  • A lack of empathy and concern for others’ feelings 
  • A constant need for attention and admiration 
  • A tendency to exploit and manipulate others for personal gain 

By understanding the complex interplay of narcissistic behaviours and their consequences, we can provide comfort and guidance to those caught in the web of a narcissist’s infidelity. Remember, you are not alone; there is hope for healing and recovery. 


The Narcissist's Cheating Playbook: Manipulative Tactics

Narcissist's Cheating Playbook

When it comes to narcissistic cheating behaviour, there’s a distinct pattern that emerges. Narcissists often employ a range of manipulative tactics to maintain control, seek validation, and justify their infidelity. Let’s dive into the narcissist’s cheating playbook and explore the common strategies they use. 


The Sense of Entitlement

Narcissists possess an inflated sense of self-importance, believing they deserve special treatment and are entitled to do as they please. This mindset extends to their relationships, where they may feel justified in seeking attention and admiration from others, even if it means cheating on their partner.

The Art of Manipulation

One of the hallmarks of narcissistic behaviour is the use of manipulative tactics to control and deceive others. When it comes to cheating, narcissists may:

  • Gaslight, their partner, denies any wrongdoing and makes them question their perceptions.
  • Deflect attention from their infidelity by turning the blame onto their partner or external factors. 
  • Minimize the significance of their actions, downplaying the impact of their cheating.

These tactics serve to keep their partner off-balance and maintain the narcissist’s position of power.

The Double Life

Narcissists are skilled at compartmentalizing their lives, allowing them to lead a double existence without remorse. They may have multiple partners or engage in affairs while presenting a different image to their primary partner. This ability to separate their actions from their emotions enables them to cheat without guilt.

The Need for Validation

At the core of a narcissist’s being is a deep-seated need for admiration and validation. Cheating provides them with a source of narcissistic supply, boosting their ego and making them feel desired. They may seek out new conquests or engage in risky behaviour to feed their insatiable need for attention.

The Lack of Empathy

Narcissists often lack empathy, making it difficult for them to understand or care about the emotional impact of their actions on others. They may view their partner as an object to be used for their gratification rather than a person with feelings and needs. This lack of empathy allows them to cheat without considering the devastating consequences. 

It’s important to recognize these patterns and protect yourself from falling victim to a narcissist’s cheating playbook. If you suspect your partner of narcissistic cheating behaviour, seek support from trusted friends, family, or a professional who can guide you through this challenging situation. Remember, you deserve a relationship built on trust, respect, and genuine love.

Unmasking the Betrayal

Behind every act of narcissistic infidelity lies a complex web of psychological motives. While it may be tempting to dismiss a narcissist’s cheating as a simple act of selfishness, the reality is far more nuanced. Let’s explore the deep-seated reasons that drive narcissists to betray their partners. 


The Pursuit of Power and Control

Psychological Motives

Excessive Focus on Negative Thoughts

At the heart of a narcissist’s being is an insatiable need for power and control. They crave dominance in every aspect of their lives, including their relationships. Cheating serves to assert their authority and prove their superiority over their partner. By engaging in infidelity, narcissists demonstrate that they are the ones in control, making the rules and calling the shots. 

This desire for power can manifest in various ways:

  • Asserting dominance through manipulative tactics and mind games 
  • Exerting control over their partner’s emotions and reactions 
  • Establishing a hierarchy where they reign supreme 

Narcissists believe that their needs and desires should always come first, and cheating is just another way to reinforce this belief.

The Quest for Validation and Ego Boosts

Narcissists are perpetually seeking validation to feed their fragile egos. They require constant admiration and attention to maintain their grandiose self-image. When they feel that their primary relationship is no longer providing them with the desired level of adoration, they may turn to infidelity as a means to secure a new source of narcissistic supply

Cheating offers narcissists a thrilling ego boost as they revel in the attention and desire for a new conquest. The rush of seducing someone new and the accompanying feelings of desirability and importance are like a drug for the narcissist’s insatiable ego.

The Avoidance of Emotional Intimacy

Despite their charismatic exterior, narcissists often struggle with emotional intimacy. They fear vulnerability and the potential for rejection, leading them to maintain a safe emotional distance from their partners. Cheating allows narcissists to escape the discomfort of true intimacy while still enjoying the benefits of a relationship. 

Narcissists can avoid the deep, meaningful bonds that require emotional investment by engaging in superficial connections and fleeting affairs. They can compartmentalize their lives, keeping their infidelity separate from their primary relationship, and maintain a facade of normalcy.

The Thrill of the Forbidden

For some narcissists, the allure of cheating lies in the thrill of engaging in something forbidden. The excitement of secrecy, the rush of adrenaline, and the ego boost of getting away with something taboo can be intoxicating. They may view their infidelity as a testament to their cleverness and ability to outsmart others. 

This thrill-seeking behaviour often stems from a deep-seated sense of entitlement. Narcissists believe they are above the rules and that their desires should be fulfilled, regardless of the consequences. 

It’s important to recognize that their cheating is not a reflection of your worth but rather a manifestation of their deep-seated issues. Seeking support, setting boundaries, and prioritizing your healing are essential steps in navigating the aftermath of narcissistic infidelity.

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Real World Examples

1. The Serial Cheater

A successful businessman, John has a history of cheating on his partners. He believes his wealth and status entitle him to sexual encounters outside his relationships. John’s current girlfriend, Sarah, suspects his infidelity but is repeatedly gaslit when she confronts him. John blames Sarah’s insecurities and denies any wrongdoing. 

When Sarah discovers evidence of his affairs, John minimizes their significance and refuses to apologize. Sarah is left devastated, struggling with trust issues and emotional trauma.

2. The Office Affair

A married executive, Emily begins an affair with her subordinate, David. She uses her position to manipulate and control the situation. When Emily’s husband confronts her, she denies the affair and questions his mental stability. Emily compartmentalizes her work and personal life, continuing the affair for the ego boost and validation it provides. 

When the affair is exposed, Emily faces professional consequences but blames David for seducing her and her husband for not being supportive enough. Her family is left to deal with the emotional fallout of her narcissistic infidelity.

Pareen Sehat RCC Registered Clinical Counsellor

Quote from our Clinical Director, Pareen Sehat, on the topic of narcissistic infidelity and therapy:

"Narcissistic infidelity can be an incredibly traumatic experience that shatters trust and self-esteem. In therapy, we work to validate the deep pain and betrayal felt by partners while also helping them understand that the narcissist's cheating is a reflection of their own insecurities and emotional deficits, not the worth of the betrayed partner. It is possible to heal from this type of profound betrayal through processing complex emotions, setting healthy boundaries, and rebuilding self-worth. The path is difficult, but regaining one's sense of self and ability to trust again is achievable with the right support."

The Impact of Narcissistic Infidelity on Partners: Navigating the Emotional Fallout

When a narcissist cheats, the impact on their partner is profound and far-reaching. The emotional devastation and feelings of betrayal can be overwhelming, leaving deep scars that take time to heal. It’s crucial to understand the full extent of the damage caused by narcissistic infidelity to begin the journey towards recovery.


Shattered Trust and Self-Doubt

One of the most significant consequences of a narcissist’s cheating is the erosion of trust within the relationship. Partners may question every aspect of their connection, wondering what was real and what was a carefully crafted illusion. This loss of confidence can extend beyond the relationship, affecting their ability to trust others and themselves.

Moreover, the manipulative nature of narcissistic relationships often leads to intense self-doubt. Partners may internalize the blame, questioning their worth and attractiveness. They may wonder what they could have done differently to prevent the infidelity, even though the responsibility lies solely with the narcissist.

Emotional Rollercoaster and Psychological Distress

The emotional impact of narcissistic infidelity is akin to riding a rollercoaster without a safety harness. Partners may experience a wide range of intense emotions, including:

  • Anger and Resentment: Feeling furious at the narcissist’s betrayal and the deception that accompanied it.
  • Grief and Despair: Mourning the loss of the relationship they believed they had and the future they envisioned.
  • Anxiety and Hypervigilance: Constantly worrying about the narcissist’s whereabouts and the possibility of future infidelity.

These emotional upheavals can take a significant toll on mental health, leading to depressionanxiety disorders, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The psychological distress can be all-consuming, affecting every aspect of life.

Recognizing Narcissistic Patterns and Seeking Support

To begin the healing process, partners need to recognize the patterns of narcissistic behaviour and understand that the infidelity is not their fault. Educating oneself about the traits and tactics of narcissists can provide clarity and validation.

Seeking support from trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals is crucial. Therapy can be incredibly beneficial in processing emotional trauma and developing coping strategies. Joining support groups or connecting with others who have experienced narcissistic abuse can provide a sense of community and understanding.

Reclaiming Your Life and Moving Forward

Moving forward after narcissistic infidelity is a challenging but necessary journey. It involves setting boundaries, prioritizing self-care, and rediscovering one’s identity and self-worth. It may also require making difficult decisions, such as ending the relationship and cutting ties with the narcissist.

Remember, healing is not a linear process, and setbacks are a normal part of the journey. Be patient and compassionate with yourself, and celebrate the small victories. With time, support, and self-reflection, it is possible to emerge from the shadow of narcissistic infidelity and build a life filled with genuine love, trust, and happiness.

Closing Thoughts

Narcissism and Cheating: A Review of Relevant Research


  1. Narcissism and Academic Dishonesty

    • The exhibitionism dimension of narcissism predicts greater academic dishonesty due to a lack of guilt associated with immoral behaviour. This effect is significant for self-reported cheating behaviour (Brunell et al., 2011).
  2. Narcissism and Sexual Infidelity

    • Narcissistic traits are positively associated with permissiveness towards sexual infidelity. Men and individuals with higher narcissistic traits show an increased likelihood of having affairs and more partners cheated on (Hunyady et al., 2008).
  3. Grandiose vs. Vulnerable Narcissism and Dishonesty

    • Grandiose narcissism is linked to cheating due to a lack of guilt, while vulnerable narcissism’s relationship with cheating is mediated by feelings of shame depending on the context (Schröder–Abé & Fatfouta, 2019).
  4. Narcissism and Cheating in Sports

    • Narcissism among athletes predicts cheating behaviour and favourable attitudes towards doping. Athletes with higher narcissistic traits are more likely to engage in unethical practices for personal gain (Nicholls et al., 2019).
  5. Narcissism and Relationship Infidelity

    • Sexual narcissism is linked explicitly to infidelity in marriage. The four facets of sexual narcissism—sexual exploitation, grandiose sense of sexual skill, sexual entitlement, and lack of sexual empathy—are strong predictors of infidelity (McNulty & Widman, 2014).


Narcissism is consistently linked to various forms of cheating behaviour, including academic dishonesty, sexual infidelity, and unethical behaviour in sports. The lack of guilt, grandiose self-view, and specific narcissistic traits like sexual narcissism significantly contribute to this pattern of behaviour.

Throughout this exploration of narcissistic infidelity, from the pursuit of power and control to the quest for validation and the avoidance of emotional intimacy, the reasons behind a narcissist’s betrayal are multifaceted and deeply rooted in their personality disorder.

We’ve also shed light on the profound impact that narcissistic infidelity has on partners, including the emotional devastation, shattered trust, and psychological distress that can linger long after the betrayal is uncovered. Recognizing these patterns and seeking support are crucial steps in the healing process.

As we conclude this discussion, it’s essential to remember that healing from narcissistic infidelity is possible. By prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries, and surrounding yourself with a supportive network, you can begin to reclaim your life and move forward with strength and resilience.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Some common red flags include:

  • Lack of empathy and disregard for your feelings
  • A sense of entitlement and belief in their superiority
  • A history of infidelity or dishonesty in previous relationships
  • Gaslighting and manipulation when confronted about suspicious behaviour

Narcissists often use a variety of tactics to rationalize their infidelity, such as:

  • Blaming their partner for not meeting their needs
  • Claiming that the affair was meaningless and didn't count as cheating
  • Minimizing the impact of their actions on the relationship
  • Asserting that they deserve to have their desires fulfilled, regardless of the consequences

While change is possible, it is rare for narcissists to alter their behaviour patterns fundamentally. Successful change requires:

  • Acknowledging the problem and taking responsibility for their actions
  • Engaging in long-term therapy to address the underlying issues
  • Consistently demonstrating empathy, honesty, and respect in the relationship

Narcissistic infidelity is characterized by:

  • A lack of remorse or guilt for the betrayal
  • The use of manipulation and gaslighting to conceal the truth
  • A sense of entitlement and belief that they are above the rules of the relationship
  • The infidelity is part of a larger pattern of narcissistic behaviour

Healing from narcissistic infidelity involves:

  • Seeking professional support from therapists specializing in narcissistic abuse
  • Joining support groups or connecting with others who have experienced similar betrayals
  • Prioritizing self-care and focusing on personal growth and empowerment
  • Setting boundaries and making decisions that align with your well-being and happiness
Picture of Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.

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