Divorcing a narcissist? Read this first
Updated: Jan 29
When divorcing a narcissist, your emotional survival comes under attack like never before. Hang on in there and keep going; you’re heading in the right direction.
How do you know you’ve married a narcissist?
Defining a narcissist in a single statement is not easy. If you’ve been living with one, then you’ll know all too well what we mean.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder can usually be grouped into a set of traits that most people who’ve known or been in a relationship with one will confirm, can change in an instant, be unpredictable, explosive, and complexly unreasonable.
Narcissistic behaviours may include:
Lack of empathy for others
A judgemental mindset
No capacity for remorse
An entitled mindset
No desire to resolve issues or always being “right”
Envying the success of others
Unwillingness to accept blame
If you’re headed into a divorce with someone who has consistently displayed several of these behaviours in the past, you may have been married to a narcissist.
Narcissists can be hard to handle. Their erratic, self-serving nature can inflict psychological and emotional damage on those around them.
As a provider of support services for separation and divorce, we’ve heard many firsthand accounts of typical narcissistic behavioural patterns within a marriage, and they can be highly damaging. We understand exactly where you are, and how you feel when you finally take the decision of divorcing a narcissist.
Many people do not realise they are with a narcissist until their collective behaviours start to emerge after the marriage begins to break down.
Early in a marriage, it’s easy to brush negative behaviours to one side and play down their damaging effects. However, over time, living with a narcissist can have an overwhelming and often an overbearing impact on your day-to-day life, not to mention that of any children you have together.
What should you expect when divorcing a narcissist?
Let’s not sugar coat things, divorcing a narcissist is likely to be an ongoing struggle.
At DSC, we have experienced first-hand just how traumatic and drawn-out proceedings of divorcing a narcissist can become. However, with our direct experience and collective know-how, our we’ve compiled a list of advice to help you through this period of unrest in your life.
Staying positive is key — especially with your children.
Once you make the official break from a high-conflict relationship with a narcissist, their behaviours are unlikely to change. In fact, they may even become more extreme.
While you will no longer be subjected to those behaviours within the home, a narcissist ex-spouse will usually look for ways to continue their previous patterns of manipulation. The have a deeply ingrained pattern of only looking at matters through the lens of what they can get out of others and will always be seeking to advocate primarily for what is best for them.
A narcissist will make unrealistic demands, and because they struggle to form genuine connections with others (including, in some cases, their own children) they will likely focus only on their own interests, rather than what’s best for everyone involved.
Many who experience divorcing a narcissist find their ex-partners become determined to seek revenge. Narcissists can fight exclusively with only their own needs and demands in mind. Punishing you for leaving them and/or filing for divorce may be at the top of their agenda, and making life harder for you in any way possible services their need for vengeance.
Stay strong, the divorce process may be painful, but it is far better than staying trapped in a marriage with someone who is emotionally damaging.
As a provider of divorce support services, we understand the emotional toll this can take on a person, and we can offer support and advice as to how to best deal with the process. You can also join our community and be part of a collective group of people who have or who understand what it’s like to be in your shoes. Search for the Divorce Support Collective group on Facebook.
A narcissist cannot simply forgive, forget, and move on. They hold onto their anger, their bitterness, and their desire for revenge will be only be fuelled when you no longer submit to their demands. Do not give up. You can empower yourself to rise above their games and come out on top.
It is also likely to expect that your narcissist ex-spouse will exaggerate, make things up, lie to their lawyer, solicitor or to law enforcement in order to justify their behaviour or in an attempt to “win” or make you suffer. Perhaps they have already done this. You may already have struggled, been upset, or felt completely at a loss with how to deal with this type of abhorrent behaviour.
Where family finances are concerned, it is also normal that a narcissist will not want to willingly provide financial support for their children.
Remember, they do not have the empathetic capacity to consider the impact of their actions on the children — they only think about what is best for themselves. Many narcissists believe that by withholding monies for the welfare of your children, they are avoiding “funding your lifestyle.” They have no capacity to understand the damage that this can do, and feel no responsibility, irrespective of the fact that it is the decent thing to do for your children.
Due to the narcissist’s lack capacity for empathy, and they are not tuned into the needs of anyone other than themselves, they will likely never realise or recognise the needs of others. It is no longer your job to help them understand how you feel, and doing so will likely feel like beating a dead horse. You only need to focus on looking out for yourself and your children.
Narcissists thrive on conflict and will very rarely back down.
Even when a judge rules in your favour, they will still believe they are right and that you somehow managed to manipulate the situation in order to cause bias. It is not your job to explain to the narcissist why you are offering the fair position — they will likely be unable to accept anything that isn’t the best deal possible for themselves, regardless of how fair the resolution you are offering may be.
How to Survive When You’re Divorcing a Narcissist
At this point, it’s important to understand that Narcissistic Personality Disorder can affect both men and women of any age. It’s not something you can really understand until you are in a full-blown relationship or marriage.
While getting out of a narcissistic relationship is tough, the notion of remaining in a relationship with that person is far more daunting a prospect.
1. Lean on your support system.
In some cases, a narcissist can be so convincing, they fool the people around you into believing you are at fault. Narcissists can easily tell lies and in some cases will do everything they can to remove any people you may care about from your life. Therefore, when you go through a separation or divorce, it can feel like quite a lonely time.
The first and most important way to safeguard your emotional survival when you are divorcing a narcissist is create and lean on a solid support system for yourself and any children you may have together. Rebuild your friendships, forge new friendships, and talk with a divorce coach and/or a therapist. It is vital you have an outlet to grounding community; you need people whom you can trust implicitly to talk with about what is going on.
If you feel you need expert support qualified divorce coach should be able to guide you through the practicalities, both personal and professional when you start divorce proceedings against a narcissistic ex-partner.
2. Join a community.
Talking with a divorce coach will give you direct access to someone who fully understands the true impact a narcissist is having on your life, any joining a community of people who have survived your situation, such as the Divorce Support Collective group on Facebook, will give you access to others who understand and care.
3. Analyse your role in any conflict.
When you’re emotionally healthy, you are better able to deal with divorce proceedings against a narcissist. When they cause a reaction from you, they’re winning. Ask yourself: Are you reacting? Are you giving the narcissist what they want? Are you allowing them to bleed you dry emotionally?
You cannot control the actions of your ex-spouse, but you can control is how you respond to them.
Narcissists are very good at manipulating matters and very skilled at causing confusion. They likely enjoy seeing you feeling conflicted and confused. They want you to question yourself and feel inner turmoil.
In terms of knowing how to respond; you need to take a measured approach.
Always remember that the narcissist is trying to push your buttons, and they know you just as well as you know them. They will likely know exactly how to hurt you. If a narcissist succeeds in making you feel guilty, bad, shameful or in fear; then this only serves to make themselves feel better.
3. Set boundaries and expect respect.
As we’ve already alluded to earlier in this post, a narcissist will always feel that their needs and wishes are more important than anyone else’s — including those of your children. Because of this, they have no real boundaries or respect for your needs or those of your children.
You are never going to be able to change your narcissist ex-spouse’s behaviour.
However, you can put your own boundaries in place, and in doing this, you will be able to refuse to allow them to cross those boundaries.
A good example of this can be found with how you communicate. You might choose to end conversations when they become confrontational, angry, disrespectful or manipulative. You may let them know that you are serious about your boundaries is to not respond to any form of communication that belittles or is dismissive of your needs.
A narcissist ex-spouse will push back, but you need to stand firm and stay strong and not allow yourself to be pulled back into the toxicity of their ways.
Remember your worth.
A narcissist wants you to doubt yourself and your own self-worth — do not give in. You’re a good person, and you are now seeing your situation more clearly than ever before.
You know that the person you fell in love with was likely an act they were portraying to “win” you. Narcissists are skilled at pretending to be something that they are not. The way you were treated in the end of your relationship has revealed their true colours, so do not allow yourself to be emotionally manipulated further. You may have married someone who was emotionally abusive, self-involved and not right for you, but many people make the same mistake, get through the divorce process and go one to thrive.
Appreciate who you are, celebrate your goodness and your self-worth.
As you get through this and the stronger you emerges once again, you will find their control over you will start to fade. You will gradually remember the strong person you are, and you will begin to come back into your own.
Stay strong. You can do this. And, we’re here for you.