How To Communicate When You’re Divorcing a Covert Narcissist
Note: This is part 2 of our 2-part series on covert narcissism. Find part 1 here: How to Spot a Covert Narcissist.
Unfortunately, covert narcissists don’t see that their self-absorbed, unreasonable behavior makes good communication almost impossible. You will forever be banging your head against the wall if you try to “talk sense” into your covert narcissist spouse or try to get him or her to see your point-of-view. So what can you do to cope with a communication-heavy process like divorce or co-parenting?
- Offer Empathy. The best way to disarm a CN is to validate them. You don’t have to agree with their feelings, but they, like you, are entitled to feel how they feel. Remember: they have a history of feeling that no one values them, so they’re thirsting for respect and recognition. If you can show them you care about their feelings, they won’t need to try so hard to be heard. Example: your spouse insists on having the kids all day on Christmas and accuses you of trying to ruin the holiday for them by spending part of it with you. Instead of retaliating by telling them how selfish and unreasonable they are, lead with a response that addresses their underlying feelings and needs: I understand that Christmas is your favorite holiday, and it’s really important to you to spend it with the kids.
- Think Strategically. We’ve all experienced the frustration of talking to someone who isn’t paying attention or doesn’t seem to be able to follow what we’re saying. In fact, this may be your experience with your CN spouse! Instead of responding in kind — why should I listen to him/her when they never listen to me?! — try thinking strategically. Your goal is to create an environment for effective communication. In order to do this, you need to show your CN spouse that you’re willing to listen. Example: I want to understand your concerns about the Christmas visitation schedule. Tell me what’s going on for you right now.
- Appreciate. When CNs don’t feel heard, they feel disrespected and devalued. This is likely what’s going on with them when they act like the world will blow up if they don’t get the entire Christmas holiday with the kids. You don’t need to agree with your CN spouse to communicate that their feelings and needs have inherent value. Once they feel respected, they are more likely to calm down. Example: I appreciate your efforts to work out a mutually agreeable holiday schedule with the kids.
Managing Your Own Emotions
A CN’s rigid, dramatic interactional style can be draining and offensive. You’re tired of feeling that everything’s about your spouse, and you’re sick of being treated like you’re inferior, incompetent, or dangerous. It’s easy to lose your temper or return the CN’s smugness with your own. But if you give your spouse the negative reaction he or she is unwittingly inviting, they’ll just ratchet up the conflict. Here are some tips for checking your emotions in check so you can keep the lines of communication open.
- Don’t take what your ex says or does personally. CNs don’t interpret people and situations accurately. They project their own flaws onto others and don’t see what they do to alienate those around them. Once you understand this, there is no reason to take what they say personally. How they act is much more about them than you.
- Don’t defend yourself. You’re entitled to your feelings and needs. Not only do you not need to justify your position, but you will most likely make things worse if you do. Your CN spouse will interpret your statements as threats, which will make them either withdraw or lash out. Be assertive and don’t explain yourself.
- Set limits. You don’t have to engage in long, drawn-out conversations. If, despite your efforts to treat your CN spouse with respect, he or she tries to keep you on the phone, or sends you copious, high-drama emails, you can choose to disengage. But make sure to disengage gracefully. Tell your spouse that you need a break and will get back to him or her when you’ve had a chance to think things over. Explain that you will be available to listen again when both of you have had a chance to cool down. Let your attorney take over communication. Remember: you’re under no obligation to respond to every text and email, nor should you! Wait till you feel calm before continuing the conversation.
As frustrating as your CN spouse’s behavior may be, try to remember that he or she is doing the best they can. The divorce is traumatic and they’re having a hard time managing their fear, sadness, and loss. You probably are too! If you can understand that you and your ex have something in common, it will be easier for you to stay calm and communicate effectively.
Are you dealing with a covert narcissist in your divorce? Before their “undercover” self-centered derails the process, learn how to protect yourself by formulating a clear legal strategy. We can help. To get answers to all your questions about divorcing your narcissist ex, including parenting time and parental alienation concerns, please contact us to schedule your initial attorney consultation. Take the first step towards securing your future. Call us today: 888-888-0919.