divorcing a narcissist

Many factors can complicate a divorce, but the goal of both spouses is usually to get through the process with as little stress and drama as possible. That’s why roughly 95% of divorces settle; people would prefer to avoid an ugly court battle (and save their money for life after divorce). Unfortunately, when you’re divorcing a narcissist, a high-conflict divorce is virtually guaranteed; for a narcissist, drama and conflict are the point. Divorcing a narcissist is stressful, exhausting, and expensive—and often, necessary. After all, the alternative is to live with him or her for the rest of your lives.

The term “narcissist” gets thrown around a lot, but it is not always used accurately. People often suggest that someone else is a narcissist if they are vain or behave selfishly. Those are textbook traits of a narcissist. But narcissism goes well beyond mere vanity and selfishness.

Signs You are Married to a Narcissist

Narcissists often are not diagnosed as such, because that would require them to go to a psychiatrist and acknowledge that they have a problem. But to the narcissist, the problem is with everyone else—not with them.

If that sounds familiar, read on. You may be married to a narcissist if your spouse:

  • Has an outsized sense of entitlement
  • Has an inflated, grandiose sense of self
  • Believes they know more about everything than actual experts
  • “Gaslights” or tries to convince you of things that are not true, even when you experienced the events and/or have solid evidence to the contrary
  • Lacks empathy
  • Always turns the conversation back to themselves
  • Doesn’t respect others’ personal boundaries
  • Holds grudges and frequently reopens disputes you thought were resolved
  • Embellishes accomplishments
  • Needs constant admiration
  • Lies frequently and easily
  • Is envious of others, or believes that others are envious of them
  • Is manipulative and uses others as “pawns” to get what they want
  • Is impatient
  • Often breaks promises, perhaps denying they ever made them (see “gaslighting” above)
  • Knows how to charm others and put on a good public face
  • Rarely or never makes you feel genuinely loved and safe

Many of us engage in a few of these behaviors from time to time. But a narcissist will exhibit most of them consistently. Chances are that if you are reading this blog post, you already suspect you are married to a narcissist, you don’t want to be, and you’re wondering what to do next. Read on—and buckle up.

How to Divorce a Narcissist and Win

“Winning” in a divorce from a narcissist means getting out with your mental health (and your children’s) intact and having the financial resources you need to start the next chapter of your life. Unfortunately, your narcissist husband or wife has a different definition of winning, one that is at odds with yours. A narcissistic spouse wants to make you hurt, make you pay, and make you give up. And it’s not exaggerating to say that they don’t care what rules they have to break or whom they hurt—including your children—to do that.

In fact, because you almost certainly care more for the well-being of your children than your narcissistic wife or husband, they will use the children to manipulate you, knowing that you will probably do whatever is necessary to protect them. They may file frivolous motions in court accusing you of being an unfit parent. That accomplishes a number of their goals: threatens your access to the children, threatens your reputation, makes them feel virtuous, and runs up your legal bills, increasing the chances you’ll give in to their demands to avoid further litigation.

That’s a key point: as we mentioned above, most couples are motivated to settle. But a narcissist thrives on the drama and conflict of litigation. They are not interested in settling the case short of your complete capitulation. In fact, going to trial and letting a judge make the decision absolves them of any responsibility for the outcome. And because narcissists are often charming and manipulative, there is no guarantee the judge will see your spouse the way you do.

Strategies for Divorcing a Narcissist

Nothing will make the process of divorcing a narcissist easy. But there are some strategies that will make it more bearable:

  • Document everything. Get copies of all financial documents and records and keep them in a safe place, if possible before the divorce process begins.
  • Get therapy. Yes, your spouse may claim the fact that you are in counseling is evidence that “you’re the crazy one.” Tune that out. Therapy offers a confidential listening ear, coping mechanisms, and a much-needed reality check against a gaslighting spouse.
  • Set aside money. Divorcing a narcissist, as we’ve discussed, is expensive. As soon as you can, begin setting aside as much money as you reasonably can to finance your escape. You will eventually have to disclose those funds in the divorce. But you will have them for essential expenses in case your spouse tries to manipulate you by withholding funds.
  • Get a good attorney. An attorney is helpful in a typical divorce; in a divorce from a narcissist, a good attorney is an absolute necessity. Ask attorneys you interview about their experience opposing narcissists. Get an experienced divorce attorney, not someone who might be naive or easily manipulated.
  • Get everything in writing. Narcissists lie, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Narcissists break promises. Narcissists reopen closed disputes. For all of these reasons, do not rely on anything a narcissist has “agreed” to unless it is in writing—and even then, assume they will try to move the goalposts.
  • Avoid direct interaction with the narcissist. Your spouse thrives on keeping you off balance, so it’s best to minimize direct interaction whenever possible. Use of an electronic co-parenting tool will both allow you to avoid dealing with your spouse in person, AND documents your time-stamped online interactions, which can be useful as evidence in an eventual trial.

For more guidance on narcissists and divorce, we invite you to contact Mundahl Law to schedule a consultation in Maple Grove.