Narcissism is a common buzzword in modern society. It is used to label bosses, parents, friends, celebrities, and even spouses. While it is an apt word to describe someone that never seems to be wrong, among other strong characteristics, there is a difference between being clinically diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder and just possessing some narcissistic personality traits.
Whether your partner has been diagnosed as a narcissist or they just have some of the characteristics of the personality disorder, it can be extremely difficult to hold your ground and follow through with a divorce in a civil manner. All divorces are emotionally taxing, but divorcing a narcissistic spouse will test you in many ways.
You can successfully divorce a narcissist and find peace on the other end. Here are a few tips to help make the process easier.
1. Set Boundaries and Stick to Them
One of the most mentally healthy things you can do for yourself when communicating with a narcissist is to set boundaries and calmly stick to them. You are entitled to physical safety, respect, and to be heard. Think about what will help you secure those needs and create suitable boundaries.
Communicate those boundaries to your spouse and when they are violated, politely remind them of your boundary and remove yourself from the situation until the boundary can be kept. Nothing puts out a narcissist’s fire like refusing to play their game.
If you find that your boundaries are crossed more times than not it might be good to set ground rules for communicating, such as:
- Only speaking through your attorneys
- Creating times your spouse is allowed to call or text
- Requiring all communication to be through email or text so you have a written record of the conversation, or use a monitored app (e.g. OurFamilyWizard, etc.)
- Having someone else present for in-person meetings
If you have children you will also want to set clear boundaries about what is and isn’t appropriate to say in front of them. A narcissist will naturally try to win over everyone in your circle, including your children. It will be important to make it clear that neither parent will speak poorly about the other around your kids.
2. Get a Strong, Level Headed Divorce Attorney
You can’t fight fire with fire. An argumentative attorney will make your life harder because narcissists typically like to fight. You want to find someone who can capably handle your spouse without rising to their bate.
Finding an attorney who isn’t afraid of your spouse will also be important. You want to be advocated for and don’t want fear to get in the way.
Your boundaries aren’t the only ones that will be tested. It is safe to assume that anyone who will be involved in your divorce will have their boundaries tested by your partner, especially your lawyer. Make sure to find a lawyer who is good at setting boundaries, who respects the boundaries you have set with your spouse, and who will faithfully stick to all boundaries when they’re inevitably crossed.
Overall, you want an attorney who is confident, strong, and calm. When you meet with an attorney for a consultation, it is encouraged to get to know them and their style. Make a list ahead of time of key questions you want to ask to make sure the lawyer is a good fit for you and a good match for your spouse.
3. Try to Avoid Court
Narcissists are typically charming and have an easy time putting on a mask; they won’t come across as narcissistic in court.
You might think that you will have an easy time in court because your narcissistic spouse will surely show their true colors. In reality, people with narcissistic tendencies are frequently friendly and personable. Often you only see their narcissistic behavior behind closed doors. Don’t let them use this to their advantage.
Mediation is a legally binding alternative to fighting in court. It is less stressful, less time-consuming, and likely more successful. Because it is less time-consuming it will often save you money in the long run as well.
If possible try to settle your divorce in mediation and attempt to avoid the courtroom altogether.
4. Know What You’re Willing to Lose and Use That
Narcissists love to win, so let them when you can. Neither party gets everything they want in a divorce. Embrace that and use it to your advantage.
Have a list of things you don’t care as much about that you know your spouse does care about. You can use what they want as leverage to get what you really want. You can also use the information you have at opportune times to let them “win”.
Try to make your divorce painless by deciding key things before you begin. You will be less likely to be caught off-guard and retain more power.
5. Plan Ahead
When you have decided you are ready to divorce a narcissistic spouse, get a few key ducks in a row before you tell them you want a divorce. A small amount of preparation ahead of time will set you up to counter what is coming before it happens.
Include Friends and Family
Tell close family and friends you are getting divorced first. This might seem rude, but a narcissist will try to tarnish your reputation and get to people before you do. Don’t let them. Explain your side of the story to people you care about first so they have a clear picture of why you are getting a divorce.
You are going to need strong people in your corner. Secure them before the battle has begun.
Hire a Lawyer
You will also want to pick a lawyer before you tell your spouse you want a divorce. This is important for a few reasons. The first is that it guarantees you get who you want as your attorney before your spouse even starts looking. It also makes you less likely to back down.
Narcissists are relentless. If your partner doesn’t want a divorce they will try everything from showing more love to diminishing your worth to trying to convince you to stay. If you have a lawyer already you are less likely to be swayed by your spouse’s tactics.
After you have a lawyer and loved ones on your side, take some time to mentally prepare for what will happen next. Be ready for the worst version of your partner. Throughout the divorce process, a narcissist will lie, expect special treatment, try to bend any and all rules in their favor, trash talk, sweet talk, and manipulate at all turns.
When these entitlement behaviors exhibit themselves, show no emotion. A narcissistic person will rile you up to try and get a negative emotion out of you so they can use that to gain custody, make you seem like the at-fault party, or any number of things. Be calm, cool, and collected so they have no ammunition they can use.
6. Get a Therapist
Divorce is hard in even the most amicable of situations; get a therapist to help you through what is to come. Counseling can help heal the damage you have experienced from the coercive control your narcissistic spouse had on you, give you tools to understand your deeper feelings, and prepare you for your time in divorce court.
It can be difficult to find a therapist that fits your budget, availability, and personality, but persist. Research the best ways to find a therapist, ask for recommendations from trusted friends and family members, and read reviews online. Don’t wait until you are in the thick of the divorce process to start talking with someone. The sooner you find a professional, the better.
7. Be Mentally Prepared for a Long Fight
Remember tip number three, try and avoid court? That is the best-case scenario, but not what you should mentally and financially prepare for. Narcissists hate to seem imperfect and they hate to lose. Expect the process to take a long time because of endless motions, filings, and battles as your partner doesn’t get exactly what they want.
You should also expect extra expense because of the endless motions, filings, and battles.
8. Have an Outlet
Divorcing a narcissist will zap all of your strength at times. It isn’t always easy, but make sure your basic needs are met. This is even more important if you are the custodial parent during the divorce proceedings. You need to take care of yourself so you look strong and put together for your own interests as well as your children’s.
Beyond the bare minimum, do something for yourself often so you don’t get run down. You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money on something that will help buoy you. You just need to find something you enjoy that takes your mind off your divorce and recharges your battery.
In addition to a hobby or self-care activity, have someone trusted to talk to when you need to vent or find encouragement. Therapy is beneficial, but so is a close confidant who can listen more frequently. You will benefit greatly from someone who can listen and who can also help boost your self-esteem.
All in all, make sure you are fortifying your seven pillars of self-care.
9. Protect Your Children
If you have kids you need to include them in your pre-divorce preparations and plans. Narcissists with children will often fight for custody even if they aren’t necessarily interested in it just to hurt the other partner. Do all that you can to protect your children from harm during your divorce proceedings.
Protection From Abuse
If you or your children are the victims of domestic violence, your first order of business is to file the appropriate paperwork to get custody of your children during your divorce proceedings and to potentially get a restraining order if merited. If you haven’t started to already, document all physical and emotional abuse you or your children experience at the hands of your partner. This will be important for legal proceedings as well as custody arguments.
Living with narcissistic abuse is taxing, but according to most state laws, non-physical or non-sexual abuse isn’t grounds for a restraining order unless there is a history of stalking. Even though you won’t be able to legally prevent your spouse from being in your vicinity, you can still do many things to help protect your children.
If you can, remove your kids from your narcissistic spouse’s care. If you can’t, do your best to keep open communication with your kids so you can make sure their needs are met and that they know you love them during this time. You will need to carefully follow your court-ordered parenting plan during your divorce trial, even when it is hard to continue to let them be exposed to your partner’s narcissism. You don’t want to risk your potential custody by ignoring the judge’s orders.
If you can do nothing else, be the stable parent. This includes being dependable, but it also entails being calm, respecting the other parent, and keeping routines as close to normal as possible. Your partner will likely try to be the fun parent. You can also be fun, but you need to be stable above all else.
Being stable includes not rising to any challenges from your spouse in front of your kids. It is difficult to turn the other cheek and ignore the taunts of your partner, but it is what is best for your children if they are around.
Kids also benefit from not being drawn into the middle of their parents’ arguments. Don’t ask for your children’s opinions on how their narcissistic parent is treating you. Don’t ask them to pick sides. Definitely don’t speak ill of their other parent. Even if they are speaking ill of you. Just wait it out. Most narcissists show their children their narcissism if they haven’t already. You don’t have to be the one to point it out.
In addition to being consistent and loving, you should find ways to make your divorce easier on your children. Each kid will need different support to help them cope, but a few things are universally helpful. Therapy is a useful tool for kids of any age during a divorce. Another important help to your children is keeping any of their teachers or coaches in the loop so they know that your kid might be more distracted than normal.
If your children are older you can also ask them what would be helpful for them as they process the end of their parents’ marriage. They might or might not have specific ways you can help them. Either way, they will feel loved and supported if you ask. Finding any way to strengthen the relationship you have with your children at this time will provide strength to both them and you.
Lastly, when the time is right (usually after the divorce is over), share your side of the story in as calm and as objective a manner as possible.
10. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Despite the long process ahead, it will be worth it in the end. When things are at their hardest, take time to look forward to being free from the narcissist you will no longer be married to and to think about how nice it will be to not be brought down by another’s narcissistic traits.
Take time to plan what your future will look like and think about it often. Find a way that is meaningful to you to remind yourself of that future. You can make a bullet point list of things you’re looking forward to, create a vision board, have a sticky note of your post-divorce goals on your computer, or write about your plans in your journal each night. Let your future be your biggest motivator when you are most tempted to give up.
Your Next Steps
When it comes to divorce, spouses of narcissists have their work cut out for them. There will be difficult terrain to navigate, a complete lack of empathy from your spouse, and moments of blistering narcissistic rage, but these tips and strategies, and a qualified divorce lawyer will help guide you through your divorce case.