Divorcing a Narcissist is Hard

Have you ever thought that your soon-to-be ex might be a little self-centered? There may be more truth to the statement than you ever thought possible. Unfortunately, divorcing a narcissist—even a self-proclaimed one—is one of the most challenging topics for an impending divorce.

Roughly 6% of all individuals in the United States have been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, there is such a thing as being too preoccupied with your own interests.

This manual establishes some guidelines and symptoms used by professionals during the diagnostic assessment of patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Here are a few of the criteria that people must meet, in order to earn this label:

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Taking advantage of others for personal gain
  • Lacking compassion or willingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Envying others and believing that others envy them
  • Having an arrogant or haughty manner
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior, even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating achievements and talents
  • Having a preoccupation with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty, or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior, and can only be understood by (or associate with) equally special people
  • Needing constant admiration
  • Possessing a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors (and having an unquestioning compliance about those expectations)

The list of formal criteria that is required to receive this diagnosis is relatively lengthy. In many cases, your spouse may present some, but not all, of the symptoms listed above. But the question remains: How do you deal with your divorce if your spouse behaves like a narcissist?

Why a Narcissist Makes Divorce Difficult

The unfortunate part of being married to a narcissist is that you already know how controlling and manipulative they can be. Your spouse may truly believe that they are a victim in every situation, which leads them to act without compassion or regard for your feelings.

Their victim mindset may bring about other unpleasant behaviors as well. Bullying is likely to be a key tactic that your spouse will cling to, especially as you move towards settlement negotiations. Their sense of entitlement and arrogant attitude leaves them feeling justified about requesting more than their fair share of your marital assets.

Reaching an agreement with an uncooperative, entitled spouse can be extremely frustrating and challenging. But if you give into their unreasonable demands, you could find yourself on financially shaky footing in the future. Then it is even more important to assemble a team of experienced communicators and negotiators, especially when your spouse knows how to manipulate a situation.

Protect Your Children from Becoming Pawns

When you divorce a narcissist, they are likely to aim at the things you value most. Perhaps their target will be your sizeable bank account, your prestigious career, or your dream home. Others may find that there is a far more sinister plan underway.

For many individuals, it may mean that your soon-to-be ex plans to incorporate your children into their power games. A narcissist may have very little interest in actually gaining custody of your children or parenting them long-term. Their offspring are seen as pawns in their mental games, in order to feel more powerful and exert control over you. Because children often end up in the middle of these vies for power, it is essential to protect them as much as possible.

In front of the children, try to keep negativity and harsh talk about your spouse to a minimum. As they get older and more mature, they will see your spouse’s behavior firsthand, and draw their own conclusions. If you speak negatively about your spouse in front of your children, it will only solidify the terrible things that your ex may be telling them about you. Parental alienation is a very real thing, so you do not want to play directly into your spouse’s games.

You should also consider enlisting the help of a professional counselor or therapist. This tactic gives your children a safe space to objectively process their emotions about the divorce and the manipulation of your spouse. Be sure that your spouse does not have access to these records, as it could allow them to exploit your children’s insecurities and feelings.

In general, make an attempt not to engage in conversations regarding your children’s schedules or activities, which do not apply to your spouse or your spouse’s time with the children. You never know how a narcissist may be planning to twist these details during a court proceeding. By keeping contact to an absolute minimum during necessary exchanges, you can decrease the odds of them painting you in an unfavorable light. Whenever possible, make sure all communication about the children is in writing.

Checklist for Divorcing a Narcissist

Prepare your paperwork.

A narcissistic spouse may restrict your access to pertinent documentation after you file for a divorce.

Before proceeding, make sure that you have access to every bank statement, asset statement, and documentation regarding investment income. Any information about your current financial situation should be closely reviewed and filed, in case you need it.

Having all of your paperwork organized and available is critical to helping your Certified Divorce Financial Analyst or divorce attorney realistically view your financial status. Then you can help them create a fair settlement, in order to get everything that you are truly entitled to.

Find the right divorce attorney.

When dealing with an uncooperative, narcissistic spouse, you will need a divorce attorney that has strong communication skills. If your case ever goes to trial, your attorney should have the ability to persuade a judge about your right to marital assets.

An attorney who lacks communication skills may also allow a narcissistic spouse to bully them. If your attorney is unable to convince the judge or stand up for your rights during the settlement negotiations, it could cost you the security of having a firm financial future. If they have poor negotiation skills, you will not receive all that you are entitled to.

Be prepared for the additional expense associated with hiring the best divorce attorneys and teams in your area. In the long run, investing in their advanced skillset and knowledge will cost less than hiring an inexperienced or ineffective divorce attorney.

Try to remove emotion from communication.

Narcissists are interested in painting you in the worst possible light. You should be cautious about responding to any of their voicemails, emails, or letters with extreme emotion, especially anger. Any excessive emotion can be used to portray you as unreasonable, unstable, or overly hostile during court proceedings. Even a relatively minor exchange can be edited or revised to make you appear unhinged before a judge.

Document all conversation between you and the narcissist, including emails and voicemails. This calculated move ensures that you are documenting their angry responses to the situation. It can also help you catch your spouse in a lie, and expose their true colors during court.

Set boundaries about communication.

This tactic will hold both of you accountable. When dealing with a narcissist, email is often the best method of communication. You receive easy documentation about all the facts, which allows you to think before responding. Because dealing with a narcissist can be so emotionally taxing, email gives you an opportunity to remove all emotion from your side of the exchange.

When attempting to discredit your personality, an emotionally detached email gives a narcissist very little to work with. Before you click Send, think logically about each word and statement. Then you will avoid making an impulsive or emotional response.

Take court orders seriously.

A narcissistic spouse often believes that rules do not apply to them. Sometimes, they may feel that even a court order signed by a judge cannot hold them to a specific standard. This feeling may mean that your spouse attempts to circumvent court orders regarding child support, alimony, visitation, or communication.

If the above description sounds like it describes your spouse, you need to teach them early on that you take court orders seriously, and that you will not compromise about them. This lesson will set the precedent that you will bend on bigger issues down the road whenever it suits your spouse.

A narcissist finds joy in exerting their power and control over you. Therefore, they may manipulate court orders to suit themselves. It is simply another way to explore their favorite pastime.

So be ready and willing to return to court, whether or not your spouse defies the court order. Do not allow yourself to be swayed into accommodating anything, even it seems like a trivial issue.

Even after the divorce is finalized, keep the lines of communication open with your attorney. If your spouse is in contempt, you may need your attorney to represent you again in the future. Prepare now by opening up a savings account that will specifically cover these court bills, if necessary.

Take care of your emotional health.

Divorce is rarely a pleasant experience, but when your spouse struggles with a narcissistic personality disorder, it can be incredibly taxing on your emotional and mental health. To successfully divorce your narcissistic spouse, one of the first steps is hiring a therapist to help you sort through your own issues—including the ones stemming from emotional, verbal, or physical abuse inflicted by your spouse.

By taking responsibility for your emotional health, you can gain a feeling of control over the tumultuous times that surround you. Then you will be more prepared, so you can head into your settlement negotiations and divorce proceedings with a greater sense of calm and preparation.

Divorcing a narcissist is possible.

Divorce is already difficult, but divorcing a narcissist makes the entire process even more challenging. Before you file for divorce, you need to take the appropriate amount of time to prepare yourself for the challenge. As new situations arise throughout the process, advance preparation is key to maintaining a feeling of control and balance.

By preparing your paperwork, hiring the best team, setting healthy boundaries, and taking care of your emotional health, you are setting yourself up for success. Then you can handle the additional challenges that this unique situation can present.

When divorcing a narcissist, be sure you are ready to fight for your freedom and financial future.