Divorcing a Narcissist
Divorce can be a challenging process, but most people would say it’s well worth the energy and effort in the end. That said, when you’re in the middle of the process, it can feel pretty difficult —and that’s doubly true if you’re divorcing a narcissist.
Whether your spouse has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) or simply shows some or all of the symptoms, you’ll likely have some trials ahead. Thankfully, you’re not the first one to be in this situation, and we can help you learn from the experiences of others.
Here are a few useful strategies for divorcing a narcissist—and moving forward to your post-divorce life.
What is a Narcissist?
The Mayo Clinic defines a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder as someone who:
- Has a heightened sense of their own importance
- Craves excessive amounts of attention and admiration
- Has troubled relationships
- Lacks empathy for others
The definition also notes that “behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
While narcissists may secretly feel moody or depressed, they’re likely to overreact with anger, rage, or contempt if they believe they’re being criticized.
5 Tips for Divorcing a Narcissist
1. Choose your Battles Wisely
Secret low self-esteem can lead narcissists to look for confirmation that their claims of superiority are merited in a variety of ways. For instance, a narcissist will want to “win” every argument—whether it’s about how to bake an apple pie or how to divide parenting time in your child custody agreement.
If you let their desire to fight draw you into an argument every time, you’ll quickly exhaust yourself. Instead, we recommend picking a few “battles” that have real importance to you and focusing your energy there.
This approach has the added benefit of giving the narcissist the feeling of a few “wins,” which they’re often very focused on.
2. Document EVERYTHING
Narcissists excel at lying and manipulation, and they can be very charming when it suits them. They’ll say one thing now and another thing later. When you try to call them out on the contradiction, they’ll deny it with what seems like complete sincerity.
In fact, narcissists can be so convincing that even a person who knows their tricks and has caught them in a lie may wind up doubting themselves instead of the narcissist. Due to how easy it is to begin questioning yourself, we recommend keeping records of everything, especially on those issues you identified as very important to you. At a bare minimum, this will help you keep the facts straight and save you precious energy that can otherwise be lost to trying to figure out if the narcissist is right.
If your divorce winds up in court, having documentation can help support your case. Therefore, if at all possible, we recommend keeping documentation, such as texts, emails, and voicemails, in the form it’s received from your spouse or co-parent.
Aim to conduct your interactions with the narcissist via written communication like email and text, as this will leave a paper record of their falsehoods and manipulations. Keeping voicemails or messaging application screenshots can also help. Saving the narcissist’s own words can be helpful in providing evidence for your side of the situation, especially if your divorce becomes contested, meaning the parties can’t agree on certain aspects of their divorce settlement.
3. Assemble a Team for Support ASAP
Although they may sometimes claim otherwise, narcissists want everyone to like them. Thus, a narcissist may put in a lot of energy toward convincing people in your circle—including your own friends and family—that you’re a bad person (and that they are a good one!).
As soon as you know that you’re getting divorced, talk to the people you’re closest with. Tell them what’s happening and share your “side” of the story. This won’t dissuade the narcissist from trying to win them over, but it can help them resist being swayed or placing you in the situation of “defending” yourself or your decisions. It’s also important to stay out of the drama. If your support circle is intent on fueling the drama, find a new support system. You need people around you who can help, not hurt, your path forward.
We recommend that everyone who’s going through a divorce identify and stay connected with their support group, but this is doubly the case for those who are divorcing a narcissist. It may also be a smart time to seek out a licensed therapist. A good therapist can not only help you cope with the marathon that is divorce, but they may also be able to share with you specific tactics for dealing with a narcissist in your conversations and personal life.
4. Set Realistic Expectations for How the Process Will Go
Unfortunately, separating from a narcissistic spouse can make for a high-conflict divorce. While you may be hoping for a drama-free process, it can be helpful to temper your expectations of what the divorce process will look like now so that you’re mentally prepared for what’s ahead.
Planning for where and how to engage may be particularly helpful. With the right strategy and the support of your key people, including a good divorce lawyer, you can try to avoid getting caught up in the worst of the narcissist’s drama.
To start with, set boundaries, particularly around how and when you’ll be in contact with the narcissist. You don’t have to respond to their messages instantly, and it may help to try to limit your interactions altogether.
Likewise, take care of yourself. Try your best to eat healthy foods, get a full night’s sleep and regular exercise, and maintain social connections. This may not stop you from getting frustrated, but when combined with realistic expectations, it can help you weather the storm a little better.
5. Hire a Divorce Attorney Who Has Worked With Narcissists
This may sound obvious, but it can also be helpful to work with a divorce attorney who has experience in working with high-conflict divorce, especially with narcissists and other difficult personality types. After all, if your family law attorney already understands how a narcissist works and what tricks they may try to pull, you’re already that much further ahead.
At Jacobs Berger, we have decades of combined experience in representing clients who are divorcing a narcissist or someone who exhibits narcissistic symptoms. We understand how emotionally challenging this can be for our clients and how the narcissist may try to manipulate everyone involved in the process.
We’re prepared to provide you with staunch support and practical and strategic legal advice. Our team takes pride in coming up with creative solutions to keep our clients moving forward.
If you’re divorcing a narcissist or other difficult personality type, contact us today for a strategic planning session—and take key steps toward moving on.