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How to Tell a Narcissist You Want a Divorce

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

If you’ve decided that you’re ready to divorce your spouse, you’ve taken a big step. It takes courage and commitment to get here!

However, the next step can be tricky to navigate: telling your spouse you want a divorce. It’s even harder when your spouse has narcissistic personality disorder or another toxic personality. 

Narcissists are known for their controlling and manipulative behavior, which can create additional stress and hurdles to initiating a divorce. You cannot control a narcissist’s behavior, but how you break the news can lay the groundwork for a conversation that establishes your boundaries and helps you move forward. 

What is NPD, and how does it affect divorce?

The term “narcissist” is a big buzzword lately and can be used casually to refer to an entire category of behaviors and personality traits. Still, there is a difference between someone who is perceived as narcissistic and someone who is clinically diagnosed with NPD. However, it’s common for people with NPD to evade diagnosis through lies or manipulation. 

Someone with NPD may demonstrate traits like:

  • Excessive ego or feeling of self-importance
  • Willingness to exploit others for their own benefit
  • Need for constant recognition, attention, or reassurance
  • Lack of empathy
  • Expectation of special treatment  
  • Anger, impatience, or offend easily  
  • Heightened emotions like despair or rage to manipulate others 
  • Gaslighting (planting self-doubt and confusion in the mind of another person to manipulate them)

A clinical diagnosis isn’t the most important consideration, though—the behaviors associated with it are. Whether your spouse has NPD or simply displays some narcissistic traits, these behaviors can create frustrating hurdles in divorce. 

During a divorce, it’s common for individuals with NPD to:

  • Refuse to cooperate or follow through with divorce procedures 
  • Stonewall during negotiations
  • Use children and child-related aspects of a divorce as a way to manipulate
  • Attempt to manipulate or abuse their spouse financially
  • Volly false accusations 

Five tips on how to tell a narcissist you want a divorce

When your partner is willing to go to extremes to complicate things, it’s understandable that initiating a conversation about divorce might be challenging. Here are practical tips to get started so things feel a little easier and less stressful.           

1. Make a plan for your next steps

Before informing your ex that you want a divorce, invest time creating a solid plan for next steps. This can include:

  • Consulting with a financial advisor
  • Hiring a trusted divorce attorney
  • Preparing or investigating new living arrangements
  • Developing communication strategies tailored to someone with narcissistic personality traits

These preparations can help you begin to protect your assets and family after your initial announcement, even if your spouse has a negative response. 

For example, financial manipulation is a common strategy of narcissistic spouses. With this in mind, consider working with a financial advisor before and during your divorce. Alongside your legal counsel, they can help you gather statements and reports and establish a comprehensive view of your finances. 

Set up a realistic budget that accounts for all your needs and identify any gaps so you can be as financially literate as possible. This will help you make empowered choices about your future. 

2. Be straightforward 

When you tell a narcissist that you want a divorce, be clear and concise. Don’t waffle or show ambivalence. Limit your interaction to necessary topics, and don’t allow them to engage you in an emotional or circular conversation. 

The goal isn’t to win the argument or to make the other person see the error of their ways—in fact, it’s important to avoid making it an argument. Instead, it’s about moving forward, initiating the divorce proceedings, and protecting yourself.

When communicating, whether in person or electronically:

  • Be direct (no uncertainty)
  • Keep a neutral tone
  • Deliver information only (use facts, not feelings)
  • Be brief and focused 

3. Stay focused on your goal  

Staying focused is often easier said than done. Narcissists often have extreme reactions and want to provoke a similar response. 

When you tell a narcissist you want a divorce, they will likely position themselves as the victim and blame anything or anyone else for the situation. They may respond aggressively, attempt to gaslight you, or try to make you see the “error” of your decision.  

They also may respond in another extreme fashion, trying to overcompensate with passion and gift or showering you with attention (also known as love bombing), and trying to convince you to stay with them because they are the “only” ones who can love you so boldly.

Understand that this behavior—whichever form it takes—is inherently manipulative. Stay focused on the facts and clearly assert your boundaries.      

As you initiate and move through your divorce, it may help to have a strategy for documenting your communications with your soon-to-be ex. When done effectively, this can minimize the impact of false statements, discourage conflict, and reinforce your boundaries. 

The way you document things and communicate can serve two purposes: it can be proof for the court should litigation be unavoidable, and it can serve as an empowering tool for setting the stage for post-divorce communication and actions. Your divorce attorney can assist you in identifying what information to record and how to manage it.

4. Seek out professional support 

When you divorce a narcissist, they often employ tactics and behaviors that affect all aspects of your life. These behaviors pile on stress to an already stressful situation. Seeking professional advice before and during the process can help prepare you for the future. Here are some ways to help build your network: 

Attorneys with experience in NPD divorces: an attorney experienced in this type of divorce can help you know what to expect and navigate the whole process

Financial advisors: A financial advisor and/or tax professional can help ensure you’re fully aware of your financial situation and guide you through potential financial pitfalls. 

Mental health professionals: Counselors and therapists provide a safe space to vent, establish boundaries, and maintain a healthy sense of self. If you have children, pursuing counseling for your children can help them process their emotions (whether or not your ex is a narcissist). 

Jacobs Berger can help you de-stress the divorce process

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

The divorce attorneys at Jacobs Berger employ our “de-stress divorce doctrine” to help minimize your stress through each step of your divorce through practical guidance and realistic legal support to minimize potential challenges.

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.