Divorcing a narcissist is far more challenging than divorcing a “regular person.” Are you locked in a battle with a combative ex? Here are some important tips and tools you can use to keep conflict in your divorce to a minimum.
Why is divorcing a narcissist so difficult? The Narcissist’s core personality traits – lack of empathy, interpersonal exploitation, thirst for attention – go into overdrive as he tries to defend against the shame of a failed marriage. Because the Narcissist feels entitled to do anything to “win,” you must learn what to expect and develop strategies to protect yourself and your children.
Divorcing a Narcissist: What to Expect
1. Narcissists don’t “get over it.” Even if they initiated the divorce, have a new significant other, a new baby, or otherwise appear to be living the life of Riley. You are, and will always be, a reminder that something in their life failed. The only way a Narcissist can tolerate failure is to punish you for tarnishing their image. Expect litigation to go on and on…and on.
2. When you’re divorcing a narcissist, expect your spouse to use the kids as pawns. The Narcissist will try to hurt you by obstructing your relationship with your children. In their black-and-white worldview, they are The Good Parent and you are The Bad Parent. Minor parenting snafus will be conflated into allegations of child abuse and neglect. The Narcissist will never recognize that the kids suffer when they’re pressured to take sides, so attempts to amicably co-parent will most likely fail.
3. Narcissists create drama. The Narcissist’s relentless need for attention and “anything to win” philosophy means that you’re probably heading for a high-conflict divorce. Some classic high-conflict moves include: bad-mouthing, cyber-bullying, threats, interfering with your visitation time, turning molehills into mountains.
Narcissists blame everything on you. The Narcissist’s grandiosity prevents her from owning her part in problems. That means you are the one who ruined the marriage, you are the one who’s screwing up the children, and you are the one who’s responsible for anything in her life that’s less than perfect. Expect that you will always be the fall guy and don’t try to prove your innocence.
4. Narcissists lack conflict resolution skills. Resolving conflict requires recognizing that other people have basic rights, are entitled to their own point-of-view, and that there is more than one way to solve a problem. Narcissists lack the self-awareness and flexible thinking to do any of these things, which is why mediation often fails.
Divorcing a Narcissist: Tips
Conventional divorce wisdom often doesn’t apply to divorce with a Narcissist, and can even make things worse. Remember: your ex doesn’t recognize rights and boundaries, so advice to “compromise” will just turn you into the human doormat he thinks you are. Here are some tips for surviving divorce from a Narcissist.
1. Don’t defend yourself. Narcissists love to engage you in arguments, so don’t take the bait! Defending yourself against their claims of your shoddy personhood or unfit parenting will just invite more attacks. When communicating, don’t apologize or justify your position; just stick to the facts.
2. Maintain boundaries. Narcissists will steamroll over others to get what they want, so you must be vigilant about enforcing your boundaries. Refer to court orders, don’t respond immediately to texts and e-mails, and don’t allow your ex to intrude on your visitation time with frequent calls and texts to your children.
3. It’s okay to tell your kids your side of the story. This doesn’t mean you tell your kids what a nightmare your ex is, but it does mean you can and should counter outrageous lies and defamation of character with the facts. When speaking with your kids, keep the emotional charge out of your voice. If they have problems or concerns about you, advise them to speak to you directly instead of getting your ex involved.
4. Don’t take what your ex says about you personally. Narcissists tend to project their own flaws onto others, so don’t waste time being wounded. If you find yourself reeling after yet another hostile e-mail listing your many transgressions, silently repeat this mantra: “what my ex thinks about me is none of my business.”
5. Don’t listen to advice from friends and family. They mean well, but they probably don’t understand that garden-variety divorce wisdom doesn’t apply to your crazy situation. Your ex isn’t going to get over it, put the kids first, or otherwise behave like a rational human being. So the next time your friends reassure you that your ex can’t be “that unreasonable,” or will one day “come around and do what’s right for the kids,” thank them for their concern and say you’d rather not discuss your divorce.
Divorcing a Narcissist: Tools
1. Hire a attorneys who has a strategy for dealing with Narcissists. Ask your attorney how he will settle your case with an ex who wants to engage you in perpetual battle and run up your legal fees. Aggressive family law attorneys tend to exacerbate conflict, not resolve it. You want a lawyer who does not respond to every crazy allegation, generate mountains of paperwork, or advise you to go to court over minor issues.
2. Document everything. Narcissists lie, so keep careful records and make copies of important documents. You never know when you will be hauled into court, so be prepared! Judges don’t like being deceived, so exposing your ex’s lies could get the judge to rule in your favor.
3. Develop a drama-free communication style. Although it may be tempting to respond to your ex’s hostility with sarcasm, rage, or defensiveness, resist the urge! Remember: your ex wants to engage you in battle, so the best way to disengage is to separate your feelings from the information that needs to be exchanged. If you don’t think you can open your ex’s e-mail without blowing a gasket, ask a friend to read it for you. Then cool off before responding.
4. Practice self-care. Divorcing a Narcissist is exhausting, so make sure you take care of yourself: exercise, eat regularly, sleep, see friends, get therapy and take medication if needed.
Set boundaries on the time you spend dealing with your divorce. You do not need to respond to every text or e-mail from your ex; once a day is sufficient. Get a good night’s sleep by avoiding divorce “work” – documentation, responding to correspondence – just before bedtime. Take regular “divorce vacations.” This means that you refrain from talking about your Narcissist ex when you’re out with friends, or on a date. Taking time away from divorce will help you recharge your batteries and enjoy the good things in your life.
Are you dealing with a narcissist in your divorce? Our attorneys have the experience and skills required to minimize conflict. Please contact us today to schedule your initial attorney consultation.