The Dark Triad: Navigating a Relationship Plagued with Lies

12 Oct

The dark triad refers to three negative personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. If you suspect your partner falls into this category, how best to navigate it?

In a solid relationship, it’s a given that neither partners lies, cheats, or in any way violates the premises on which their life is built, be these rules unspoken or otherwise. Only on this foundation of trust is it possible for both to totally and sincerely share their worries, doubts, and fears, as well as their hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

Complications arise when partners aren’t on the same wavelength about honesty. This uneasy dynamic is then exacerbated if one catches the other behaving in a way that transgresses the ethics underpinning the relationship. It doesn’t have to be anything major, either—a red flag might be as seemingly incongruous as them returning from a walk smelling of smoke, even though they told you they were giving up. This can be all it takes to set the wheels in motion—what else are they hiding? And how might that sense of distrust impact you and, in turn, damage the relationship?

A fascinating new study in Current Psychology by Mónica E. Muñoz and Sissy De Los Reyes of Texas A&M International University delved deep into the dark triad, the psychological trinity consisting of Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism. The dark triad is so named because the three traits are inextricably connected in people with undesirable attitudes. If you suspect your partner falls into this category, it ultimately begs the question: who can you really trust to be in a relationship with—and how can you find out before too much hurt has been caused?

Why is a dark triad partner bad for you?

Machiavellianism is the tendency to exploit and manipulate people. That’s not a great characteristic for someone to have in a relationship—but when your partner also displays psychopathy (a lack of empathy) and narcissism (extreme grandiosity and an inflated perception of self-importance), it isn’t long before you start to question every single thing they do and say.

That being said, some people miss all the signs entirely—precisely because individuals possessing the dark triad are also highly adept at deception. And what’s more, as Muñoz and De Los Reyes note, people high in dark triad traits don’t just engage in lies, but are also more predisposed to infidelity, coercion, and viewing love as a ‘game’. They are likely to have the avoidant attachment style, with little interest in commitment and a chronic resistance to closeness and intimacy.

However, it’s easy to fall in love with such a person because they draw people into their world—and it can be tough to escape. According to the researchers, ‘the strict honesty expectations of committed relationships may thwart’ partners with the dark triad—but if the relationship persists, they will likely ‘perceive an increased need for deception.’ Thus the cycle continues, and matters inexorably worsen.

How does a relationship operate when both partners are honest?

Deceiving your partner goes against the rules of a relationship that Muñoz and De Los Reyes call ‘obligatory’. In contrast, ‘discretionary’ rules ‘allow flexibility to judge when deception is fitting.’ They argue that people high in dark triad traits are less likely to follow obligatory rules and more likely to create their own discretionary rules when it comes to opening up to their partner.

But because both sets of rules can operate simultaneously, deceivers can get away with an ever-growing web of lies which their partner simply cannot untangle. In fact, they may be honest most of the time so their tactical lies are lost in the noise. But as soon as you twig just one time that something’s not quite right, the suspicion takes its pernicious hold, and the relationship won’t be the same.

Loving someone dishonest is hard—but you can break the cycle

It started with them having a secret cigarette on their walk—and now you’re second-guessing and questioning every text, phone call, and time away for ‘work’. When you really sit back and consider where you are in your relationship, you may well conclude that this just isn’t worth the time, effort, or heartache.

However, it’s worth noting that people high in dark triad traits aren’t necessarily intentionally malevolent. Each will have their reasons for having ended up that way, and they may be a good person in other aspects of life, and even share your values, goals, and dreams. They may genuinely yearn for a healthy and honesty-driven relationship, but have no idea how to stop their habitual lying. Perhaps they need to be shown that telling the truth is always the best course of action—even if the truth hurts. If they’re struggling to quit smoking and lied about it out of fear of reprisals, it’s worth considering that you yourself can be proactive in opening up the conversation, and let them know you can work through it together. And if you need a little extra support in the process, we can help.

The Vida Consultancy is an elite, multi-award-winning international dating agency—but many of our matchmakers are relationship experts in their own right, too. We have a wealth of experience navigating people through relationships plagued with dishonesty and lies—and we’re here to listen. Get in touch today, initiate the conversation—and, as a team, we’ll help you journey through this rocky terrain.

by Lynsey Wilson

Head of Matchmaking

Lynsey was born and raised in Scotland, graduating from The University of Aberdeen with an MA in Psychology in 2009. For just over a decade, Lynsey worked in social research within either an academic or non profit context. Throughout her career, her main drive and passion has been working with people and gaining an understanding of what drives them. This, along with her friendly and open nature, makes Lynsey a natural Matchmaker. Lynsey is based in the London office and primarily works with both London and European based clients.More by this author

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