What to Expect When Divorcing a Narcissist
When divorcing a narcissist, you will likely be very concerned about how the narcissist will react to your divorce. A recent psychiatric study found that the biggest consequence of narcissism is suffering by people close to them. Ultimately, you may decide that separating or divorcing your narcissistic partner is the best path forward for you. We work with many clients with narcissistic exes, and there are some common threads in how narcissists behave during divorces. Understanding those commonalities can help you manage your expectations and prepare.
Read on to learn more.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder & Divorce Background
What is a narcissist, anyway?
Narcissism is a spectrum ranging from narcissistic traits all the way to a formal diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. There is a high incidence of undiagnosed Narcissistic Personality Disorder, largely because narcissists rarely go to counseling. One of the traits of narcissists is that they have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and believe themselves superior to others — including experienced professionals. In other words, they think they know more than any counselor could tell them. (As you imagine something similar often comes up later during their divorce — narcissists also think they know more than their divorce lawyers and can be very difficult clients.)
That said, a formal diagnosis isn’t going to make a big difference in how you respond to someone with narcissistic traits versus someone with NPD. Even if your spouse has not been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a spouse with narcissistic traits is often high conflict during divorce. It’s important to work with a divorce attorney familiar with high-conflict divorce and all the associated issues. It’s also critical that you have your own therapist on board to help you keep yourself solid and focused during the divorce.
Keep in mind that your lawyer isn’t a therapist, and your therapist isn’t an attorney.
You need both on your team.
Narcissist’s Impact on the Divorce Process
When divorcing someone with narcissistic traits, prepare for:
- A divorce that’s longer and more time consuming than other people’s divorces
- Your spouse to fail to obey court orders
- The divorce to be more expensive
- Your spouse to lie
When a divorce involves a narcissist, it will almost inevitably be more challenging. In other words, it’s important that you know that the process will likely take longer and be more expensive than it otherwise would.
In the worst cases, it’s a drawn-out battle where your spouse may disobey court orders, file frivolous pleadings and motions, lie to you or the court, and try to use children as pawns. This behavior and court involvement can continue post-judgment after the divorce is final. One area that can be particularly frustrating with a narcissist is Discovery. A person with narcissistic traits often does not hand over records voluntarily (even when required by the court). That means that sometimes your divorce attorney will need to issue subpoenas, take depositions, or file Motions for Contempt. The more uncooperative the narcissist behaves, the more effort and resources it takes to obtain the information.
Drawing out litigation and lying are tactics some narcissists use to try to antagonize or harass you, so it’s critical to prepare for it both mentally and by having a solid legal strategy in place. If these things don’t happen — great. But if they do, you’ll be ready.
Gaslighting & Divorce
A common tactic that narcissists use during divorce is gaslighting — and it can be extremely frustrating so the more you prepare, the better.
Narcissists use gaslighting to attempt to gain power by manipulating others into questioning their own reality. Here are some of the ways gaslighting may show up — the narcissist may:
- Tell blatant lies
- Deny they ever said or did something (even when there is objective proof to the contrary)
- Try to align people against you (so you don’t know who to trust or turn to)
- Tell you that everyone else (your lawyer, your friends, family, a mental health professional) is a liar
The more you can mentally prepare for your spouse’s gaslighting, the less it will affect you. Your own mental health professional plays an important role in helping you navigate this.
When you’re divorcing a narcissist, it’s critical to remember that you can’t change them or make them recognize that they are a narcissist. However, you can always choose how you react and respond back to them. Your spouse owns their own behavior — don’t take it personally. Remember that behind the narcissist’s front of extreme confidence lies a very fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism (real or imagined). Their anger and blaming you is about them, not you.
Our first step at Freed Marcroft, the Goals & Planning Conference, is designed to get to the heart of your problem and unveil your true goals. Then, we take those goals along with the facts of your case and analyze them so that we can present you with recommendations and options on how to move forward.