The people we fall in love with don’t always turn out to be the people that we thought they were. Although we expect the best from them, we can be surprised to discover that the people we love are self-obsessed, controlling, or domineering in their approach to life and relationships. Is your partner someone who demands control in your partnership? Are they manipulative? Underhanded? Unable to be truthful with you (or themselves)? Be careful. You could be dealing with the Dark Triad.
Dark triad partners pose a threat.
When we invest romantically in someone, we commit to seeing in and expecting the best from them. In a good relationship with a reliable partner, this pays off well. However, some partners take advantage of this investment and that’s especially true of the Dark Triad partner. This is a spouse or loved one who uses underhanded and (often) abusive tactics to control and manipulate the surrounding people.
Even when we spot this toxic combination, it can be hard to pull ourselves from the gravity of the situation.
A partner with a Dark Triad personality is one who has a high level of narcissism, Machiavellian tendencies, and a diagnosable level of psychopathy (Jones & Paulhus, 2013). While this partner can be very rare, they are nonetheless incredibly dangerous to our safety and our wellbeing. Attaching ourselves to this ruthless type of individual can leave us trapped and isolated from our family, friends, happiness, and even our sense of self. Does your partner have a dark personality that’s ripping your wellbeing apart? Now is the time to arm yourself in understanding and take action.
What the Dark Triad looks like.
The Dark Triad is as complex as it is mysterious. Consisting of 3 separate personality profiles — narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy — the person with elements of all three personalities can pose a particular threat to both our happiness and our general safety and wellbeing. In order to protect ourselves effectively, we must understand and recognize the components of the Dark Triad and how they manifest in those we love.
Narcissism refers to a next-level and clinically identifiable form of self-obsession and self-centeredness, which far transcends vanity. Referring to the Greek Demi-God Narcissus (notorious for wasting to death while staring at his own reflection), the narcissist is someone who feels entitled to power, respect, and the reverence of those around them. They seek to control anyone and everything in their lives, and they lash out when they don’t get that way. Beyond that, they also utilize subtle microaggressions which are hard to spot and confront effectively.
In the 15th century, political theorist and philosopher, Niccolò Machiavelli. released a work called The Prince which described leadership and all the ways in which one claimed leadership and power over others. Since that time, his name has become synonymous with the idea of the power-hungry, and the ways in which they scheme to manipulate and control those around them. Does your partner scheme or dig for information to hold against you later? This is described as a high level of Machiavellianism.
The term “psychopath” has become so overused and cliche in today’s society, that most of us have no true concept of what actual psychopathy looks like. Rather than the Dexter-like images we’ve been conditioned to look for, the true psychopath can occur across a spectrum. In general, though, they are people who have low empathy, socially gruff behavior, and a desire for high-thrill or exciting activities. The actual psychopath cares only for themselves because they are incapable of caring for others. They seek that connection of emotions, however, through increasingly explosive behavior.
Why it poses such a threat to our relationships.
Make no mistake — a partner who is living with the Dark Triad is one who is hard to manage and connect with as a partner. This is because this personality type generally struggles to stay true, and struggles to maintain equitable, stable bonds. This personality type poses a serious threat to our relationships and our general happiness.
Inability to stay true
Infidelity comes naturally in the dark triad, even if it doesn’t come from a desire to consciously hurt the people they’re attached to. Because this type of partner only empathizes with themselves, they can’t understand the pain caused in others from infidelity. Their primary goal is seeing to their own needs and desires, however, and whenever they decide that needs to happen.
The Dark Triad is marked by its short-term relationships and inability to retain stability in intimate and romantic relationships. It’s understandable. It’s hard to connect with someone who is self-involved, domineering, and manipulative in the sneakiest and worst kind of ways. Because getting close to this person is a challenge, their relationships with others don’t usually last long.
To a partner of this caliber, everything in this life (and subsequently their partnerships) is about meeting their needs and making them happy. This is because they exist in a reality in which everything is all about them. When they form a relationship, they expect people to fall in line and begin their rotations of reverence. They rarely bother to get to know their partners in any real way.
It’s very hard to trust someone who only has their own best interests at heart. Beyond that, it’s even harder to trustsomeone who has proven not to care about your emotions or the things you need from a partnership. Living with someone who has demonstrated a Dark Triad personality makes it hard to trust them. You never know when they are going to blow up, overreact, or otherwise decide to punish you for stepping out of life. You never know how they’ll react in any circumstance.
Relationships built around a Dark Triad partner are sure to be ones in which jealousy, revenge, hostility, and volatility take a front seat role. Although this partner may have an over-inflated ego and a great sense of self-importance, inside they are crippled by insecurity and the paper-thin idea that they’re better than everyone around them. When any of these aspects are challenged, it leads to conflict, which can be both mentally damaging and physically dangerous.
The best ways to protect yourself and your wellbeing.
There can be no doubt that you have to take action to protect yourself when dealing with the Dark Triad in someone that you love. While these individuals may love us back (in their own way) our happiness is never really safe in their compassionless hands. For this reason, you must arm yourself with self-esteem and take steps to build a wall between you and anyone in your life who would hurt or take advantage of you.
1. Know thyself above all else
The first step in any journey to improve our lives has to start with self-acknowledgement. You need to recognize who you are in this moment and also recognize too the things you fundamentally need and want in your life. Knowing what you want gives you the confidence to stand up for it and moves us more positively in the direction of fulfilling relationships.
You need to know who you are and you need to build a strong foundation of self-esteem with which you can protect yourself. What do you want from this life? How do you really want to be treated? How do you really want to be loved in an intimate partnership?
The more honest you are in getting to know yourself, the more confident you will become. You will bolster your own reality, and as you do so you will peel away the layers of theirs. Life is not about settling for what other people want. It’s about learning to stand in our own truth. Prepare to protect yourself first by taking a deep dive into the heart and soul of who you are and what you want. Remind yourself that you deserve to be happy and you deserve to thrive.
2. Be wary of over-the-top charm
While someone with the Dark Triad personality can be extremely terrifying and hostile, they can also come with an extreme level of charm that’s hard to battle. Be wary when this person turns on a sweet attitude that is not natural to them or their demeanor. This over-the-top charm is a mask, and it’s one that can fool even the most stalwart of us who are determined to get away from the upheaval and the abuse.
Don’t be fooled by the charm that your partner will inevitably lay on you. The Dark Triad partner is nothing if not able to pinpoint what you want to hear. If you give them the chance to sweet-talk you, they’ll say anything they have to in order to get you back under their grasp. Focus on their actions and stop listening to their words.
The tongue of a Machiavellian narcissist is tipped in honey, but the back of their hand strikes exactly the same. Let their behavior tell you what their true colors are and be wary of excess charm. If they wanted to be this kind to you, they could do it all the time — not just when they were in trouble. Pull back the veil and see what the charm really is: a play to regain power. It’s an emotional Trojan horse and one that will backfire on you every time.
3. Don’t engage in emotional blackmail
Eventually, your partner will have to be confronted in some manner with your desire to leave or change things in your partnership. No matter how this is done, pointing out perceive issues will be taken as “flaws”. This is something the narcissist in the Dark Triad can’t tolerate. Rather than allowing to simply effect change, they’re going to try and use your emotions against you through emotional blackmail and last ditch attempts for control.
If threatening and dominating you don’t work, your Dark Triad partner will move on to micromanipulations in order to keep their hold over you. Don’t engage in the emotional blackmail. By engaging in the emotional baiting, you only give the narcissist or the psychopath the power over you that they crave.
You can take responsibility for mistakes you’ve made without giving over power. You can apologize, give whatever limited resolve you want, and walk away. Don’t allow yourself to be pulled back into their grief traps and sorrow holes. You don’t owe them your happiness for mistakes in the pasts or missteps made in honest error. Look for the guilt trips and the blame games and put a stop to them before they disrupt your emotional equilibrium.
4. Build a protective support system
It is not safe, nor is it advisable to approach the resolution of such a relationship without the help of friends, family, and / or mental health and abuse experts. This personality type is a volatile one, and it masks a person who often has no problem retaliating in kind for any perceived snubs. That’s a burden too heavy to carry on your own, and you don’t have to. Reach out to trusted ones and allow them to help carry you over the finish line.
Dealing with this type of partner is not a mentally or physically safe experience. You need to have a handful of trusted loved ones that you can reach out to for support. In consideration too, you may also need the help of a mental health professional (or an abuse expert) to help break your patterns and identify opportunities to find your happiness.
Make your mental and physical safety a number one priority. Your health and happiness are being eaten away at. Don’t allow that power to be taken away from you and don’t think that you have to fight this battle on your own; you don’t. Build a protective safety net around yourself and look for those who want the best for you in this life. Stop holding it all in and allow yourself to be supported by those who see the best in you and your future life.
5. Make a plan to disengage
Although you no doubt love this person in your life, building a stable and healthy life with them is highly unlikely without radical change. Now this change is not any change you can control, enact, or even oversee. The only way someone with these personality traits can hope to do to improve their lives is to seek the help of a mental health professional for therapy. The best thing for you to do is distance yourself from them until they do that.
You will never change the psychopath in your life. You will not convince them to be different, you won’t convince them to behave differently. Unless you are willing to put yourself and your mental and emotional wellbeing in permanent danger — you’re going to have to make a plan to disengage and walk away from the Dark Triad shadow in your life.
Get serious about creating an action plan to get away. What needs to happen in order for you to find your independence again? How much money would you need? Would your personal possessions need to be moved? Reach out to 1–2 especially trusted loved ones (with no relation to your partner) and make a plan. Keep things in their homes if needed and allow them to store important documents and cash that allow you to escape when the moment is right.
Putting it all together…
Is your partner especially domineering, self-obsessed, or manipulative? Do they loom over your relationship like a dark cloud, emitting toxic energy and emotion all over you and everything you’re trying to build? While it doesn’t apply to every relationship, you may be dealing with the Dark Triad. This personality combo is a dangerous one and one that has to be addressed honestly and with direct action and intention.
Know thyself above all else and know both what you want and what you deserve from your life and your relationships. Be wary of over-the-top charm and be cautious whenever a Dark Triad partner decides to overwhelm you with kindness. This is often a tactic meant to confuse you and retain control. Don’t engage in their emotional blackmail and don’t give them the emotional power of conflict or guilty submission. You have a right to walk away from them and a right to protect yourself from them physically, mentally, and emotionally. Build a protective support system around you and find a professional who can help you come up with a plan of action to escape this toxic partner. You will never change them and you will never “fix” them. The only thing you can do is move on and find your own happiness.
- Jones, D., & Paulhus, D. (2013). Introducing the Short Dark Triad (SD3). Assessment, 21(1), 28–41. doi: 10.1177/1073191113514105