There’s no away around it, divorce is traumatic and unpleasant. But dealing with a soon-to-be ex spouse who’s also a narcissist can compound the nastiness of the experience. While most folks who decide to divorce will try to put the best interests of their children first, a narcissist will view a divorce as an opportunity to manipulate the situation to their benefit. Sadly, children suffer the most. Divorcing a narcissist doesn’t have to be such a painful process. This article outlines some tips to follow.
While a narcissists’ behavior can be baffling to those unlucky enough to marry one, learning a little about what drives this type of personality can give the other spouse a leg up when going through a divorce.
What is Narcissism?
Narcissism is a personality disorder outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, a publication of the American Psychiatry Association. In very general terms, the disorder is characterized by the following traits:
- An impaired ability to identify with the feelings of others
- Feelings of entitlement, and self-centeredness
- A primary interest in personal gain
- Preoccupation with gaining approval from others
- Excessive attempts to be the focus of attention of others
While these character traits might not seem particularly menacing, a narcissist can be an incredibly unpleasant person to be around. And a divorce situation involving judges, lawyers, children and community property, can provide the narcissist with a circus-like environment to grab the spotlight.
In a podcast published on the American Psychological Association’s website, Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a psychologist who focuses on personality disorders, explained some of the motivations behind a narcissist’s behavior.
She said that while people with this disorder experience a sense of grandiosity, entitlement and a lack of empathy, they also experience an inability to regulate their self-esteem. As a result, the narcissist is always “peddling faster to get the regard of other people.”
In the early stages of a romantic relationship, a narcissist will often go overboard in an attempt to impress and charm potential mates. But by the time the relationship is established, the narcissist’s superficial façade melts away and what is left is a person with no compassion who is prone to patterns of lying, deceit and manipulation. In some cases, the narcissist will have violent outbursts.
Oftentimes unwitting spouses will try to make the relationship it work, but inevitably it becomes unsustainable. Unfortunately, the charm that a narcissist uses to attract unwitting mates can also be turned on attorneys, judges and other persons of authority. This can make for a complicated and protracted divorce proceeding.
What It’s Like To Divorce A Narcissist
While there is a litany of factors that affect the complexity of a divorce case — the number of children, the amount of property, debt, etc.— a good general description of a divorce situation involving a narcissist is detailed in an article written for Psychology Today by Dr. Karyl McBride.
The story chronicles the divorce of Mark and Marcy who were parents to two children. During the marriage, Mark developed no emotional connection with his kids and was emotionally abusive to Marcy.
When Marcy decided she had enough and filed for divorce, Mark became incredulous and refused to take responsibility for his bad behavior. Suddenly he was indignant and began making demands — “these are my children, this is my money, I want my parenting time.”
A person with such a mindset can easily complicate a divorce proceeding — fighting with righteous indignation for things that weren’t important to them before divorce papers were filed. Rather than acting in a rational manner, a person with such a mindset will be inclined to manipulate the situation for personal gain.
For the spouse of a narcissist, a long road lies ahead.
“The danger here is that the children’s best interest may not be served if narcissism is not understood in the case,” McBride writes. “It is true that one person who is narcissistic can unilaterally cause serious conflict that causes the other parent to go into defense mode to protect themselves and the children.”
In other words, a divorce involving a narcissist could manifest in a drawn out legal battle in which the narcissist provokes emotional outbursts from the ex spouse. If the abused spouse reacts to the narcissists’ manipulation (no matter how justified the reaction may be), the court might perceive the victim as mentally unstable and part of the problem.
Some Tips to Consider When Divorcing a Narcissist
If you are married to or divorcing a narcissist, it’s important to accept the fact that he or she will likely never change. This has nothing to do with you or your value as a parent.
A person involved in a divorce with a narcissist should examine their own feelings and guard against any attempts by the narcissist to manipulate, or intimidate. Simply put, don’t stoop to the narcissist’s level.
While such advice is always easier said that done, if followed with discipline, it will pay off. Cooler heads will win the day. If possible, seek the guidance of a qualified therapist.
To those who don’t understand the narcissist mindset, such a person can seem incredibly charming at first. Narcissists are capable of misleading loved ones, psychologists, and even judges. That’s why it’s important when this type of abuser shows his or her true colors, that you document it.
The opportunity to do this can arise in the form of nasty text messages, emails and voicemails. However, photographic evidence of cuts or bruises inflicted by the narcissist might also prove helpful. In addition, it would be wise to keep a list of potential witness names and dates. Such witnesses could include neighbors, family and friends.
If you are attempting to divorce a narcissist, we highly recommended you retain the services of a qualified divorce attorney. This doesn’t mean running out and finding the lawyer with the most aggressive internet ads. Take time to interview a couple potential candidates, and be sure to explain to the attorney the type of person you are dealing with.
When in doubt, refer to earlier suggestions about cooler heads prevailing. A calm and focused lawyer could make a huge difference, not only in the courtroom, but also with your peace of mind.
During the divorce process there are a number of options an attorney can seek that can prove useful when dealing with a narcissistic personality such as non-disparagement clauses, and monitored visits with the children.
Finally, don’t lose sight of the things that are important in your life. When people hurt us, a common instinct is to hurt them back. Avoid this trap, and focus on where you want to be when the narcissist is out of your life. Remember what’s important — children, home, happiness, career. These things are your future. It might take a lot of effort, but with focus and support, the narcissist can become part of your past.