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How to Protect Yourself When Divorcing a Narcissist

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

When you’re getting divorced, it’s important to take care and protect yourself emotionally, financially, and legally. 

But when you’re dealing with a soon-to-be ex-spouse who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), this can be tricky. Narcissists are known for being manipulative and controlling, which can make divorce extremely challenging.

If you’re divorcing a narcissist, here are some tips to protect your well-being during this time.

Come up with a communication plan

When divorcing a narcissist, maintaining communication practices that are healthy for you and that will help support your legal strategy is paramount.

Limit what you discuss 

An effective communication plan starts with clear boundaries. Start by limiting your interaction to necessary topics only, such as child custody or divorce logistics.

Avoid sharing personal information or falling into the trap of emotional discussions. Narcissists often provoke reactions, hoping to draw you into ongoing engagement, and the more emotional you are in response, the more satisfied they are. By staying calm and composed, you address the issues that have to be discussed but don’t allow for a circular course of communication. 

Remember, it’s not about winning an argument but moving the conversation forward while protecting yourself. 

Pick the right channels of communication

Focusing your communication is critical. 

Email or a co-parenting app is the best course of action, with text messaging close behind. Limiting verbal or face-to-face conversations to emergencies and unavoidable circumstances is ideal. Keeping things in writing serves two purposes: it allows you to keep a record of all interactions, and it keeps the topic and approach focused on the issues rather than any reactions. 

There may be a time when all communication is directed through your attorney, especially at the beginning of litigation or at key peaks. Still, in the long run, you want to make sure you are establishing a forward-facing plan that can be sustained when litigation is over. 

Understand the impact of documentation

A note on documenting conversations with a narcissist: documentation can be helpful, as it provides a record of what was said. However, individuals with narcissistic personality disorder may still try to twist documentation to their advantage during divorce proceedings. 

Their emails may contain mistruths, misstatements, distortions of the facts, false generosity or kindness, or may contain denigrating, hurtful, or volatile accusations. 

To approach documentation effectively, work with your divorce attorney to pinpoint the specific elements you need to track and how to manage them effectively.

Have a good understanding of your finances

Having a strong grasp of your finances as you undertake the divorce process is vital for numerous reasons. 

To begin, financial preparation benefits anyone in divorce because it allows individuals to protect their assets during negotiations for equitable distribution, child support, or spousal support, and to better plan for their life post-divorce.

It’s crucial when NPD or other toxic personalities are part of the picture. Narcissists often engage in financial abuse to control their partners. They also may take advantage of the financial steps involved in divorce to attempt to maintain control. 

You can take measures to protect yourself by ensuring you have a solid understanding of your finances. To do this, collect all your financial records in one place, then review and organize them. 

Be sure to gather the following, if possible:

  • Bank statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Tax returns
  • Income documentation
  • Investment accounts
  • Loan statements
  • Insurance policies
  • Records of your assets

Gathering these documents will help you establish a comprehensive view of your finances, making it harder for your former partner to intentionally hide assets or otherwise deceive you when it comes to your finances. 

Where to start when you don’t know where to start

Finances can be a tricky subject even when complex issues like narcissistic personality disorder or financial abuse aren’t folded in. But these situations can make the topic even more cloudy. 

If you’re not sure where to start, focus on simple steps. Pull and freeze your credit report. Meet with a financial advisor. Open your own bank accounts if you haven’t yet. Step by step, you’ll build confidence in your financial awareness. 

If financial resources are a problem, know that many great resources are available in New Jersey to help you. Your divorce attorney can help you connect with those most aligned with your needs.  

Build a strong network to… 

Having a strong support network can be a much-needed lifeline when dealing with a narcissistic ex-partner. Building this network should include both professionals and personal connections who can offer advice, emotional support, and practical assistance.

Learn new coping skills and plan for the future with professional support

Bringing in professionals with expertise in divorce and NPD helps you in numerous areas of your life. They can also work in tandem with one another and your divorce attorney to make sure you’re setting and achieving your goals. 

Enlist mental health professionals

If you’re disentangling yourself from a relationship with a narcissist, counselors and therapists are a great resource. 

They can support you if you need to vent in a safe space or figure out ways to let go of frustrating situations. These professionals are also key as you establish new boundaries and a healthy sense of self during this time. They can also work to help you “decode” the NPD language and help you practice how to respond rather than react.

Work with financial advisors and tax professionals 

A financial advisor and/or tax professionals can assist you in navigating the financial ins and outs of divorce and life post-divorce. They can help ensure you’re fully aware of your financial situation, aid in budgeting and planning, and guide you through potential financial pitfalls. 

Tax advisors can help you run projections based on potential settlements and awards, and help you figure out where you are financially now and where you could be.

Connect with life and career coaches

Life coaches can work with you to set personal and professional goals during this transition period. They can provide perspective, clarity, and guidance as you figure out what comes next. 

Career coaches can also be helpful, especially if you’re re-entering the workforce or pursuing new professional goals. 

Create strong connections with friends and loved ones

Don’t underestimate the power of a personal support network. 

Family and friends can share emotional support and remind you that you are not alone. They can offer encouragement, validation, and much-needed distraction!

It’s not unusual for relationships to suffer, though, when you’re in a relationship with a narcissistic partner. Rebuilding connections is an excellent step, but you may also benefit from connecting with those going through a similar experience. Consider joining support groups, both in-person and online.

Find the right legal representation for your divorce

Interacting with a narcissist can be draining, but the strategies above can help you stay focused on your goals, preserve your energy, and regain autonomy.

However, legal support is crucial when you’re divorcing a narcissist. Individuals with NPD don’t play by the same rules as other people, especially during something as emotionally heightened as divorce. 

This is especially true when the legal system is not set up for accountability or timely action but for an adversarial experience where there is a lot of wiggle room in how things are presented and synthesized. 

An attorney who has experience with divorce and NPD can help you set clear expectations for what you’re going through and create a plan of action that fits your situation. This can reduce the chances of your soon-to-be ex derailing the process. 

The New Jersey divorce attorneys at Jacobs Berger employ our “de-stress divorce doctrine” to help minimize your stress through each step of your divorce. This involves a combination of practical guidance and realistic legal support to minimize the challenges during this time. 

Contact our team to coordinate your strategy session.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.