Machiavellian vs. narcissistic relationship, what are the signs?

The term "Machiavellian" refers to the philosophical beliefs of Niccolo Machiavelli, a 16th-century Italian philosopher who essentially believed that the ends can justify the means - no matter how unethical the means are. In relationships, a Machiavellian personality is someone who is highly deceptive and manipulative to gain power and control over their partner. A Machiavellian person has a huge sense of entitlement and little regard for the rights of others. They are masters at spinning lies and contradictions to serve their interests.


Signs of a Machiavellian relationship:

1. They are pathological liars

Your partner constantly lies and makes up stories, tailoring their lies to get whatever they want from you at that precise moment. Their lies are often so complex and multilayered that it's hard to discern truth from fiction.

2. They are expert manipulators

Machiavellian personalities are highly skilled at pushing your emotional buttons through guilt trips, veiled threats, and passive-aggressive behaviour to get what they desire. They excel at mind games to keep you feeling off-kilter.

3. They are charmers

In the beginning, your partner may have love-bombed you with excessive flattery, attention and superficial charm. This was simply their way of reeling you in before the manipulation started.

4. They lack empathy

Your partner seems to have no ability to understand or share your feelings. They have a remarkable lack of compassion.

5. They are masters of blame-shifting

No matter what goes wrong, your partner always manages to spin it so that someone else is at fault – usually you. They refuse to be accountable.

6. They are possessive and jealous

Machiavellians often try to control their partners through jealousy and possessiveness. They may check your phones, accuse you of cheating, or restrict your outside contacts to isolate you.

7. They devalue and criticise you

As part of their need for power, a Machiavellian partner will frequently say demeaning things to undermine your confidence and keep you insecure, so you are easier to control.

While Machiavellian and narcissistic personalities share some similarities like a sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, and a tendency to be manipulative, there are some key differences between Machiavellian and narcissistic relationship dynamics:

Machiavellian relationships:

  • The Machiavellian partner's main motivation is gaining power and control through cunning, deception, and manipulation. Their tactics are very premeditated and calculated to serve their interests.
  • They tend to be skilful liars and masters at playing mind games to keep their partners insecure and off-balance.  
  • They use tactics like blame-shifting, passive-aggression, and setting up contradictory scenarios to undermine their partner's sense of reality.
  • While charming on the surface, they lack authentic empathy and remorse for their underhanded behaviour.

Narcissistic relationships:  

  • The narcissist's main motivation is feeding their inflated sense of self-importance and fragile ego through constant admiration and attention from their partner.
  • While they can be manipulative, a narcissist's tactics tend to be more overt, like belittling, devaluing, and making grandiose demands rather than convoluted mind games.
  • Narcissists frequently engage in demeaning and controlling behaviour and see their partner as an extension of themselves rather than an individual.
  • There's typically an ongoing cycle of idealisation and devaluation, where the partner is built up and torn down to regulate the narcissist's self-esteem.
  • So in essence, the Machiavellian uses more covert, duplicitous means to dominate their partner for power and control. The narcissist uses more overt bullying, belittling and entitlement to get constant ego-stroking from their partner. Both create toxic environments, but the tactics can differ.

Creating distance and boundaries is key to surviving, here are my top tips to get you started.

1. If possible, cut ties, completely

I know that this sounds harsh but manipulative people tend to be attracted toward the helpers and givers, the highly sensitive, the empaths. Manipulative people can also be considered energy vampires, for you feel drained after spending time with them.

2. When dealing with manipulative people - set clear boundaries

A manipulative person will have little or no respect for your personal boundaries. They might email or message you out of hours (work-related) and/or at unsociable times. They might dismiss your requests and do things anyway, even when you've spoken up to the contrary. Be clear about what you will and won't tolerate - and stick to it.

3. Stop rescuing them

As a kind, considerate person who genuinely wants to help, you might find yourself unintentionally placing yourself as the person to 'go to' to resolve a problem or a drama. Rescuing a manipulative person on a repeated basis will only have them coming back to you more frequently, with bigger problems, until you eventually fail to find a solution, or add to their problem.

4. It might get worse before it gets better

When a manipulative person sees you distance yourself from them or cut ties, they know that they are losing a lifeline. That scares them, so they do all that they can to get back the control over you that they once had. If they can’t do that then they will look to discredit or isolate you from your family and peers if they haven’t already done so.

5. You don't need to explain

No is a complete sentence and one of the most powerful words in any language. You don’t need to explain, justify, or make excuses. ‘No’ is the guardian at your front gate, your boundary that makes sure that the contamination from manipulative people doesn’t get through to you.

Being in a Machiavellian or narcissistic relationship can be psychologically and emotionally exhausting. If you recognise these toxic signs, it may be time to extract yourself before further damage occurs. A professional therapist or counsellor can help provide the validation and support you need.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN
Written by Nikki Emerton
Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN

I’m Nikki, a recovered perfectionist, still an over-achiever, and a slightly introverted lover of running, the outdoors, wild swimming & good food!
I am passionate about empowering you to be the best version of yourself, allowing you to unlock your potential by levelling up your skills and creating opportunities & growth through therapy & training.

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