Counselor Chris Oeuvray specializes in various forms of couple relationships. In this guest post she explains the difference between narcissistic, toxic and healthy relationships and how you can deal with all three forms.

If the relationship is narcissistic, the culture of argument looks like this: The narcissist (male or female) lets his moods out arbitrarily and uncontrollably on the partner. He uses it as his own personal lightning rod. Because he likes to argue and often. He uses the confrontation to feel himself. If the co-narcissist fights back, the argument escalates. The narcissist will do anything to win. He is less concerned with addressing and resolving conflicts than with demonstrating his power. His claims and arguments are unfounded. Bagatelles and trivial things are often disputed.

The narcissist gives space to his inner tension and does not spare his fellow human beings. He even believes that they have to endure it. And he always thinks he’s right. The narcissist turns every behavior, every statement in diaper ropes in such a way that his counterpart becomes the perpetrator. The narcissist takes it for granted that they can go far – very far. That’s why he doesn’t apologize for his behavior – not even when he uses psychological violence. In his reality, he only has to react like this because the other person provoked him. The co-narcissist has no choice but to submit to prevent escalation.

The narcissist constantly compares himself to others to emphasize his genius and awesomeness. Everyone else comes off badly. He likes to compare the co-narcissist to other people who are smarter, richer, better looking. He wants to show his partner that he is never enough for him, no matter how much he adapts, bends or changes. The narcissist is extremely skilful in this manipulation and gradually erodes the co-narcissist’s self-confidence over the years until only a small spark of it remains. Now the narcissist is in total control.

In a narcissistic partnership, respect is one-sided. The narcissist expects unlimited respect for himself, but he does not give it to anyone. Only he is worth respecting. Woe to him who refuses to respect him. He will destroy that person socially. Some also try to hurt the other person’s physical integrity. The co-narcissist will have to submit and live with it.

The narcissist controls the co-narcissist. He wants to know where the partner is, with whom, for how long. If the narcissist doesn’t like her or his friends, he will piss them off. He also does not shy away from intriguing and driving wedges in relationships with false claims. Eventually, the co-narcissist loses more and more friends and becomes systematically isolated. In a relationship with a narcissist there is no hope for change. As mentioned in my article, people with narcissistic personality disorder are terminally ill. The only solution: you have to leave a narcissist if you don’t want to go under.

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Now how is that different from his toxic relationships with difficult people who aren’t narcissists? In a toxic relationship, both partners are generally worse off when they are together than when they are alone. That’s pretty much the opposite of what you’d want. Why is that?

Toxic people are ill-defined and are not compassionate, they are compassionate. If one is feeling bad, he drags the other down with him. This puts a constant strain on the partnership. If a dispute arises, the situation escalates very quickly. Conflicts are not discussed objectively. In both cases, the fuse is short and discussions inevitably lead to an explosion. So neither clarification nor growth are possible. The couple find themselves caught in a negative cycle of hurt, hurt, and misunderstanding. The relationship becomes an on/off.

In comparison to others, they try to show their partner what they would like, what they need. But the opposite is not able to respond to the needs of the other, because both are not able to take care of themselves. However, the partner is expected to take care of it.

They want to respect each other, but they can’t. Respect in this case is something neither of them have learned. It is often the case that respect was not taught in childhood, the environment was basically hard and respectful. The two distrust each other and assume that the other will harm them because they have been disappointed in the past. So both unconsciously sabotage the relationship until the next bang.

Toxic relationships are characterized by both not addressing and not developing their personal issues. They focus on what others do badly to distract from their own problems. Without development, they will always maneuver themselves out of the partnership. The only solution is to take personal responsibility. If both do this and maybe even support each other in the process, this partnership can become healthy.

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In the event of conflict, the partners discuss the problems objectively. Both express in first-person sentences what is difficult for them, what annoys them, what they would like to change. The other person can respond to this and both opinions are brought to the table. After that, no compromise is sought. This would be a solution that one likes and the other doesn’t.

They seek consensus—and this is the most important characteristic of a healthy relationship. This is a solution that is at least acceptable to both. Both win.

Healthy people don’t compare themselves to others, but they do take inspiration from others. If you see something you like, tell the other person about it. So both can look at it and integrate ideas creatively for themselves. The two respect each other at all times, even in a difficult situation. They do not forget that they are connected in love. They express it with respect, even when they are angry or otherwise inadequate.

They don’t control each other because they trust each other. That means they can be disappointed and it can even hurt. But they trust that they can deal with injuries and grow from them. Disappointment is never intended. The healthy relationship is characterized by the fact that both treat each other lovingly, support each other and love each other. Love grows, it changes and the two always find a way to approach each other.

A prerequisite for a healthy relationship is self-love and self-respect. Only then can you accept the love of the other person. Yes, there are healthy relationships. Even more often than you think. It’s worth staying tuned for.