Ending a marriage is rarely easy, but when you’re divorcing a narcissist spouse, the challenges you face can feel extreme.
Narcissist spouses are driven by an urge and feeling of entitlement to “win” at all costs. At every turn, a narcissist’s core personality traits – lack of empathy, manipulative and controlling behavior, and thirst for attention – are there to ratchet up conflict and tension.
As much as you want to take the high road, a narcissist is often willing to “go there” in hurling false accusations and engaging in unnecessary court battles, turning an unpleasant split into a full-blown nightmare.
If you’ve been on the receiving end of rage-filled sentiments like…
You’ll never see the kids again. You’re a horrible parent.
I’ll make sure everyone knows this divorce was all your fault.
I don’t care how long it takes or how much it costs — you won’t get a dime from me.
…you need to immediately take steps to safeguard yourself.
Whether you’re dealing with someone with only a few narcissistic traits, or you suspect your spouse may have full-blown narcissistic personality disorder, family law expert Bari Weinberger has some key information and strategies for you to protect yourself and your children and get through this difficult time.
Build relationships — and document everything
Psychologically healthy people move through anger. They realize that divorce involves give and take. They’re able to put negative feelings about their ex aside in order to have a positive co-parenting relationship. They understand that fueling a high-conflict divorce damages children.
Narcissists, by definition, have difficulty making empathy-centered decisions. They want to get their way and they don’t care what kind of slash and burn strategies they employ to do so, including spreading lies and even making false accusations before a judge.
You can take immediate steps to shield yourself from this high conflict behavior by making it a habit to document everything, especially when it comes to your kids. Get a journal and start logging places you go and people you speak with during the day. Carefully document time with your children and the activities you engage in. Even things like what did you eat for dinner? What movie did you watch? Who else was with you? Take photos and videos. Save letters and cards your children have sent you. Keep a log of phone calls to your kids.
It’s also helpful to nurture relationships with other adults in your child’s life. Check in with your child’s teachers or make an appointment to talk to your child’s pediatrician. The goal is simply that you want these people to know the real you. Don’t bash your ex to them, but be honest. You can explain that you and your spouse are divorcing and that you are doing everything you can to put your child’s needs and well-being first. Ask them for their advice on how to do this and then send a follow up with a note or photo of how you put that advice into action.
Should your narcissist spouse begin to gossip about “the crazy ex” or “horrible parent” behind your back to these same people, they will know you well enough to see through the narcissist’s act and know these things aren’t true.
Watch the free webinar: 5 Strategies When Divorcing a Narcissist
Don’t give the narcissist what they want
A narcissist wants to stay emotionally engaged with you, even if he or she initiated the divorce. Allowing you to move on feels like a loss of control, something your ex can’t tolerate. In order to keep you engaged, a narcissist may pull nasty punches: barrage you with hostile texts, e-mails, and voice mails; bad-mouth you in front of the children and anyone else who will listen; make false allegations against you, and find any opportunity to make you feel crazy and incompetent.
It may be tempting for you to respond in kind with your own vitriol. But remember, doing this will just provide the narcissist with the hoped-for emotional response — and invite more drama.
Instead, try to disengage as quickly as you can the next time you’re baited.
You can get help from a trained counselor in specific techniques and coping skills to manage your emotions during interactions with your spouse. It’s also critical to make sure your family law attorney is aware of the personality dynamics in play in your divorce. As I will explain below, a formal agreement about limited communication or even filing for a restraining order may be appropriate.
Gather financial paperwork as soon as possible
As a means of control, a narcissist spouse may be more likely to drag their heels on providing financial paperwork needed for calculating alimony, child support and asset division. This includes pay stubs and tax returns, bank statements and credit card bills, stock portfolio and retirement account information, and more. In some cases, a narcissist may decide to hide assets as a means of revenge.
To head off this kind of behavior, as early as possible in the divorce process, or even before you file, collect as much financial paperwork as possible. If your narcissist spouse had most of the control over your marital finances, run a credit report to help identify financial accounts open in both your names. If you file your taxes jointly, you can request a copy of your tax return from the IRS. This information may establish a fuller financial picture or even give you clues about possible hidden assets.
Be prepared to litigate—but don’t immediately discount mediation
Using mediation to resolve a divorce can save considerable time and money. But mediation works best when two parties can discuss issues calmly face-to-face and entertain collaborative solutions. A high-conflict ex is simply not going to participate in that kind of process. On the other hand, because high-conflict personalities tend to feed on conflict, litigation with such a person often spirals out of control, resulting in a protracted, expensive, and emotionally draining court process.
However, there is a middle ground: Look for a mediator with experience implementing a highly structured process. This kind of mediator will help you stick to an agenda, will encourage frequent attorney consultations, and will caucus as necessary with each of you, reducing the emphasis on face-to-face interaction. Your family law attorney will be able to guide you in choosing the best process for your divorce.
Keep firm boundaries for safety’s sake
Narcissists believe that the only rules worth following are their own, while other people’s rules are meant to be broken. To maintain order and control in your life, you must be vigilant about setting and keeping firm boundaries. Unless there is a true time-sensitive issue, you really don’t need to respond to your ex’s texts and emails immediately. Stick to your court-ordered parenting time plan. Don’t let your former spouse manipulate you into inconveniencing yourself and your children just to suit his or her schedule.
Depending on your situation, you can explore with your attorney if getting these types of rules and boundaries written into your divorce agreement and/or custody order (specifically) would be appropriate in your case.
Also, be aware of the difference between a narcissist who is annoying and a narcissist who has crossed the line to harassment or stalking or physical violence. In these cases, legal remedies such as taking out a Temporary Restraining Order may be necessary to keep you and your children safe. When warranted, criminal charges may be appropriate.
Better days ahead
It’s absolutely not fair that you need to deal with all this in your divorce. You deserve safety, peace of mind and a fresh start. And the good news is that help is available to get you these things.
I also want you to keep in mind this silver lining…
All of the hard work you’re putting in now during your divorce to protect yourself and your kids from the narcissist’s conflict and drama can pay off greatly in the long run. You’ve created new boundaries and habits. Keep them up and get ready for many more peaceful days ahead.
Bari Weinberger is a family law expert, author, keynote speaker, and certified matrimonial attorney at Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group. In addition to the numerous awards she and her firm have received, and the decades of successful outcomes for families going through difficult times, Bari is a mom herself. She understands that your family law matter can leave you vulnerable and exposed at a time when you need protection, clarity and peace of mind. Finding the right legal counsel adds to the confusion, darkening your situation even more. Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group is the bright answer to safeguarding your rights, your children, and securing the promising new future you deserve.
Need help with your situation? Schedule a free initial consultation online at WLG.com or by calling (844) 280-2536.