Narcissism and Romance in the Age of Trump

Donald Trump. Photo: Greg Skidmore via Creative Commons.

A new blog post from Stanely O. Gaines, Jr. author of Personality and Close Relationship Processes.


In a recent blog on fifteeneightyfour, Dr. Stephen M. Stahl asked, “Is Donald Trump a Psychopath?”  On the basis of Mr. Trump’s apparently loving relationships with his offspring, Dr. Stahl concluded, Mr. Trump does not quality as a psychopath.  However, according to Dr. Stahl, Mr. Trump is a narcissist – that is, Mr. Trump holds an unrealistically high opinion of himself.  Although I do not dispute Dr. Stahl’s dismissal of the possibility that Mr. Trump is a psychopath, I suspect that Mr. Trump’s apparent narcissism may have gotten in the way of romantic relationships that he has developed with various women over the past forty years or so.

In Personality and Close Relationship Processes, I review the literature on narcissism and close relationships, especially romantic relationships.  Results of research by Dr. W. Keith Campbell and Dr. Craig Foster indicate that, the higher that people score on narcissism, the less likely they are to commit themselves to their romantic relationships.  In turn, the lower that people score on relationship commitment, the lower they score on accommodation (basically, opting not to “fight fire with fire” when their partners are angry or critical toward them, instead behaving in ways that tend to promote the survival of relationships over time).[1]  Given Mr. Trump’s tendency to respond to perceived slights with overtly antisocial behavior in his public life, I wonder if Mr. Trump’s own narcissism ended up undermining the quality and stability of his first two marriages in his private life.

I hasten to add that, unlike Dr. Stahl, I am not a psychiatrist. Rather, I am a social psychologist who studies individual differences in people’s behavior within close relationships.  Thus, I am reluctant to proclaim that Mr. Trump has been divorced twice because he is a narcissist.  After all, I do not know of anyone who has administered a narcissism inventory to Mr. Trump; and I have no knowledge of anyone who has measured his relationship commitment or accommodation at any point in time.  Furthermore, I’m not sure how well I would fare if someone were to assess my narcissism, relationship commitment, or accommodation during the past quarter-century — but that’s another story.

In any event, Dr. Stahl’s blog inspired me to speculate that narcissism may have been a deciding factor in the not-so-happy ending of two of Mr. Trump’s three marriages so far.  Then again, if no news is good news, then perhaps the lack of any research of which I am aware concerning narcissism as an influence on the dynamics of parent-offspring relationships can be counted as good news, as far as Mr. Trump is concerned.  More specifically, I have no way of knowing whether Mr. Trump’s narcissism is relevant to the way that he interacts with his offspring.  Although I am not a betting person and have never visited one of Mr. Trump’s casinos, I would be willing to place a hypothetical wager on narcissism as a likely culprit in Mr. Trump’s failed marriages; whereas I would be reluctant to risk being parted with my hypothetical money in making such a bet on Mr. Trump’s apparently positive relationships with his offspring.

[1] Campbell, W. K., & Foster, C. A. (2002).  Narcissism and commitment in romantic relationships:  An investment model analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 484-495.

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About the Author: Stanley O. Gaines, Jr

Stanley O. Gaines, Jr. (PhD, University of Texas at Austin, 1991) is the author of Personality and Close Relationship Processes (2016) and Culture, Ethnicity, and Personal Relationship Processes (1997) and has written or co-written more than 100 articles and book chapters, primarily in the fields of close relationships and ethnic studies. Dr. Gain...

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