Acknowledging the end of a marriage and seeking divorce is never easy, but in the best of cases, it can be a mutual decision pursued with mutual respect and calm on both sides. However, when dealing with a narcissist, divorce is sure to be contentious, bringing out all of the controlling, manipulative, and abusive traits that caused you to seek a divorce in the first place. Understanding what you are likely to face will help to prepare you in navigating the divorce process when you do leave a narcissistic spouse. Being prepared will not eliminate the conflict or turmoil, but it can increase your odds of sticking it out, bolstering your resolve, seeing yourself through the other side of extricating yourself from a harmful relationship. In this post, we will cover the following topics when it comes to divorcing a narcissist and provide suggestions to moving to the next step.
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Marriage
- How to Tell a Narcissist You Want a Divorce
- Divorcing a Narcissist and Co-Parenting
Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Marriage
According to the Cleveland Clinic, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition in which someone has an excessive need to feel important or impress other people. Its symptoms include a grandiose sense of self-importance, a belief in their own superiority, a lack of empathy, arrogance, and a need for admiration. The outward air of confidence they project masks a fragile self-esteem, and they are hypersensitive to any criticism or rejection that might indicate that they are less than perfect.
If you are married to a narcissist, the relationship may have started out like a fairy tale, with the narcissistic partner dazzling you with charm and lavishing attention on you. Then, slowly, the negative side of their personality began to show, with manipulation and criticism eating away at self-esteem and emotional security. This cycle of narcissistic abuse follows a predictable pattern: It starts with idealization, in which the narcissist overwhelms you with affection, gifts, and compliments. Even in this stage, some controlling behaviors may be present; for example, they may want to monopolize your time and make you feel guilty for spending time with others.
Next comes the devaluation or depreciation stage. The narcissist no longer idealizes you and instead starts criticizing, ridiculing, playing mind games, blaming you for everything, lashing out in rage or drawing away coldly—behaviors that throw you off balance, making you doubt yourself and leaving you anxious and confused. In the final stage, discard, the narcissistic partner may decide you are no longer worthy of them, and swiftly reject you. Or you may realize the relationship is not healthy and try to leave. In this case, the narcissist is extremely unlikely to merely let you go, as they will see the failure of the relationship as a blow to their ego. Instead, they will try to convince you to stay, reverting to the idealization stage and setting the cycle up to repeat again, for as long as you will let it.
How to Tell a Narcissist You Want a Divorce
Before you even think about divorcing a narcissist, you need to have your plans (yes, plural) in place for an exit. They can and will do everything in their power to sabotage you or convince you to change your mind. Plans should include your living arrangements, means of financial support (a narcissist will cut you off financially to maintain power and control), the support of family and friends, and an experienced divorce attorney who has been fully informed of your spouse’s behavior. Gather important documents and financial records before you separate, as the narcissist will also withhold these to drag out the divorce proceedings and punish you for leaving.
If you’re divorcing a narcissist and fear that your spouse will react with physical violence, consider if you want to speak to them in a public place or with a friend or family member present. While you may be tempted to list their faults or show the anger and hurt you are undoubtedly feeling as you inform them you are seeking a divorce, recognize that this will only increase the drama and conflict of the situation. Stay calm, focused, and firm, remaining brief and to the point.
Keep in mind that a narcissist will attempt to reshape the narrative to gaslight their partner and cast themselves as the victim. To counter this tactic, you should document everything that happens during your divorce, keeping texts and emails, and writing down contemporaneous accounts of events to be able to disprove false testimony. If possible, limit communication to written channels or route communication through your attorneys, minimizing the opportunity for the narcissist to misrepresent what was said.
Professional legal advice is essential for divorcing a narcissist — you should never try to go it alone! You need a strong advocate in your corner to help guide you through the inevitably difficult situation. This is where the experienced attorneys at Hoover Krepelka come in. Narcissists will view divorce as a fight to be won using every trick at their disposal, and our attorneys are the experts you will need in your corner to come out of this “fight” stronger than before. Your attorney should be someone knowledgeable about NPD who will not be deceived by your spouse’s manipulative and gaslighting tactics, who will protect your best interests, but who will also not create any unnecessary conflict that only adds to the trauma.
Divorcing a Narcissist and Co-Parenting
If you share children with your ex-spouse, be prepared for them to attempt to use the children to manipulate or get back at you even after your divorce is officially over. There is little chance of an amicable parenting partnership, or that the narcissist will change their ways for the sake of the children. Adjusting your expectations so that you are not disappointed by the lack of cooperation will help you adjust to the strategies you will need to employ to support your and your children’s well-being.
It is best to treat co-parenting (or, more accurately, parallel parenting) in this situation as a business relationship, with as little contact as you can manage. Maintain firm boundaries to avoid getting drawn into fruitless negotiations — the narcissist “wins” in their own mind just by getting you to argue or provoking you to descend to their level, which lets them assert control. Again, try to limit communication to written channels. This will allow you to provide documentation if your ex fails to adhere to an agreed-upon parenting plan, rather than simply pitting your word against theirs.
Do not allow them to draw you into “drama,” and do not give into the temptation of responding in kind when the narcissist puts the children in the middle by bad mouthing you. Now more than ever, the children need an emotionally stable parent who can model how to handle anger and frustration in a healthy way. Most importantly, be alert for signs of physical or emotional abuse, and be willing to go back to court to protect the children if necessary.
Protecting You in a High-Conflict Divorce
The Family Law Specialists at Hoover Krepelka, LLP are experienced at navigating challenging divorces and vigorously acting in your best interests every step of the way. Do not let a narcissist use the family law courts as a weapon against you—let our experts be your advocates.
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