Chess Pawn imagining itself as a King, pawn in a Mirror being a king

The word “narcissist” gets thrown around a lot, especially in divorce. People often describe their spouses as narcissistic if they are acting selfish or self-centered. Certainly, such traits are components of narcissism, but being a narcissist requires much more than selfishness. Clinical narcissism is a personality disorder, and if you are married to someone with this diagnosis, trying to divorce them can be an excruciating experience. Put simply, different, and strategic, tactics are called for if you are divorcing a narcissist since they will likely turn your situation into a high-conflict divorce.

Are You Married to a Narcissist?

Before we go into a discussion of how to divorce a narcissist, find out if your spouse exhibits many of the signs of narcissistic personality disorder:

  • A grandiose or inflated sense of self; thinks they are special and that the rules that apply to others do not apply to them
  • An excessive need for admiration; always needs to be the center of attention
  • Relationships tend to be superficial and based on what the other person can do for the narcissist
  • Need for control at all times, which may show up as perfectionism and rage if things don’t go their way
  • Lack of empathy, even for loved ones
  • Fragile sense of self; retreats from facts that threaten their own self-image
  • Difficulty with attachment to others
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness; needs constant attention and praise
  • Lack of personal responsibility; blames others for their own faults
  • Lack of boundaries; cannot imagine that others think or believe differently then they themselves do, and does not respond well to being told “no”
  • Fears of rejection
  • Struggles with life transitions

Obviously, only a trained mental health professional can truly diagnose your spouse, but if you recognize much of your spouse in reading our list, you should not approach the issue of divorce as you typically would with someone who is not a narcissist.

Divorce is never easy, but often, negotiation and compromise are possible when narcissism isn’t part of the picture. Both spouses want to move forward with their lives and protect their children. But when one spouse is a narcissist, the dynamic changes.

Divorce threatens a narcissist’s self-image as a perfect spouse and parent, as well as their control over the other spouse and their children. Often their goal in divorce isn’t to build a bright future for themselves – it’s to punish the person who, in their view, is responsible for all their trouble.

Unfortunately, if you’re their spouse – that means you. During all the stages of divorcing a narcissist, you have to remain on your guard. The tactics your spouse may employ are not designed to be fair as a narcissist will go to almost unimaginable lengths to make a point or to make you suffer (sometimes they try to do both). Accordingly, it’s essential to have an experienced lawyer if you are facing divorce with a narcissist.

Difficulties You May Face During Your Divorce

When you’re divorcing a narcissist, winning means not only getting the resources you need to rebuild your life and protecting your children from the ugliness of divorce. It means keeping your own mental health intact and avoiding falling prey to your spouse’s vainglorious tactics

It is important to first understand that when separating from a narcissist you may be at something of a disadvantage from the start if you have children because, a true narcissist, will often weaponize issues related to the children. Protecting your children during the divorce is certainly a laudable priority, and you should avoid taking actions that would harm them emotionally (like disparaging their other parent or telling the children that their other parent doesn’t love them), since children are not yet equipped to manage your reasonable feelings of hurt, anger and abandonment along with their own. A narcissistic spouse, on the other hand, is often perfectly willing to use your children as pawns in a child custody battle just in an attempt to further control your behavior. That includes telling the children terrible lies in an effort to turn them against you.

In fact, if your spouse is a true narcissist, you can expect them to lie to everyone: friends, family, lawyers, judges, you, and even themselves. Remember that their priority is to preserve their self-image of themselves as perfect and special. Everything they say to others, and to themselves, is designed to shore up that image. They will lie to your face about matters large and small, even when you have physical proof to the contrary. “Gaslighting” is another term that often gets overused in this situation, but that is exactly what this behavior can be. If you start to doubt your own senses or sanity, you could be a victim of gaslighting.

Other common narcissist divorce tactics that may make your situation more difficult are situations like refusing to negotiate, refusing to provide financial information (or relinquish control of the finances); promising to do something and then not following through, even in defiance of a court order; and refusing to even take their own lawyer’s advice. And unlike most parties to a divorce who want to settle and have it over as soon as possible, a narcissist delights in dragging out the divorce process and wearing their spouse down emotionally and financially.

How to Divorce a Narcissist and Win

How do you “win” against someone who resorts to such behavior? By being prepared for it.

  1. Put an experienced support team in place as soon as possible before you separate or divorce. Have a small, but solid team of people you can count on who will not be swayed by the narcissist’s lies, charms, or persuasion.
  2. Get control of as much financial information as you can before mentioning the idea of separation and divorce.
  3. Get a good therapist; you will need one to help you maintain coping strategies and your sense of reality.
  4. And most importantly, get the smartest and most experienced divorce attorneys you can find.

Hiring an Experienced Divorce Attorney To Be By Your Side

You can expect your attorney to also be a target of your narcissist spouse’s rage, because your attorney is helping you escape their control. Therefore, your spouse will do everything possible to shake your confidence and faith in your attorney during the divorce process. If you research carefully before choosing a divorce attorney, you will know you can trust your attorney, and you will be more easily able to shake off your spouse’s lies and efforts at manipulation.

An attorney experienced in dealing with narcissists can give you a break from dealing with your spouse as well as peace of mind that someone is standing up for you at all times. If you are trying to divorce a narcissist, it’s important to have a divorce attorney who is also an experienced litigator. Many family law attorneys don’t have a lot of litigation experience because the vast majority of divorces settle out of court. Because narcissists are willing, even eager, to go to trial if it hurts you, you need an attorney who is prepared to stand up for you in court.

To learn more about how to divorce a narcissist and emerge with your mental health, property, and children intact, contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Divorce