Getting dumped by a Dark Triad personality may be a little messy. Those with Dark Triad traits are more likely to use manipulation and escalation when breaking things off, and some may be more inclined toward open confrontation, according to a recent study.
The Dark Triad refers specifically to three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. It describes some of the most malevolent facets of human nature: Dark Triad personalities tend to be self-important, manipulative, and lacking in empathy.
Plenty of research has explored Dark Triad personalities, both in relationships and more generally. Some studies have hinted that people who score highly for the three traits may be more likely to be unfaithful, for example. However, relatively few have delved into Dark Triad traits in the context of a break-up.
Addressing this, a team from the University of Liverpool sought to investigate the break-up behavior of those with Dark Triad personalities, in both the dissolution of romantic relationships and friendships.
In two separate studies, participants completed questionnaires designed to measure their Dark Triad traits and break-up strategies. The first, involving 722 people, looked at romantic relationships, while the second, which included 177 people, focused on friendships.
The results indicated that those scoring more highly for Machiavellianism and psychopathy were more likely to use cost escalation – making the relationship increasingly unpleasant – and manipulation when ending a romantic relationship. They were also, respectively, more likely to employ avoidance/withdrawal strategies – by avoiding contact with their partner – and distant/mediated communication – for example, ending the relationship over text.
Scoring highly for narcissism, meanwhile, predicted a greater likelihood of open confrontation with romantic partners.
When it came to friendship dissolution, the influence of Dark Triad traits was less apparent: Only psychopathy was found to predict break-up strategy, being linked to the increased use of distant/mediated communication.
The study is limited by its self-reporting nature, and the fact that it didn’t acknowledge the reason for the breakdown of the relationship, which could influence how the break-up goes down. Nevertheless, the authors conclude that “when terminating romantic relationships, those high on Dark Triad traits are more likely to engage in manipulative break-up strategies and are less likely to use break-up strategies characterized by empathy or compassion.”
Fortunately for people with Dark Triad personalities, and evidently those in relationships with them, it’s possible to reduce Dark Triad traits with some fairly simple interventions – even if they might not want to.
The study is published in Personality and Individual Differences.