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divorcing a narcissist

Divorcing a Narcissist: What You Should Know

Separating from a partner is never easy. However, separating from a partner who has narcissistic tendencies or has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) can be even harder. People with a narcissistic personality (NP) can be characterized by two main traits: grandiosity and lack of empathy. Because people with NPD do not show empathy, it is hard to show any in return during tumultuous situations such as divorce.

Nevertheless, there are a few things to have awareness towards as you and your spouse struggle with the decision to stay married or get divorced.

Understanding a Narcissist

The mind of individuals with NP is fragmented and fragile. While your spouse may appear loud and strong on the outside, usually what is going on internally tells a different story.

Narcissism, while often generic, can also be because of negative childhood experiences such as poor parenting, overindulging caregivers, parental harshness or criticalness often in the form of physical or emotional abuse, and more.

Internally, people with NP often feel alienated, empty, powerless, and as though life lacks meaning. While it is imperative to understand the mind of a person with NPD, that does not mean their behaviors or destructive tendencies should be excused. Although it can be difficult to understand, someone with NPD doesn’t usually choose to  have the characteristics of NP.

If you’re uncertain about whether or not your partner has narcissistic tendencies or NPD, here are a few common traits:

  • Self-absorbed – Has a grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates achievements and talents.
  • Power hungry – Dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. Tactics may include bragging, refocusing topics of conversation, talking loudly, and showing disinterest by “glazing over” when others speak.
  • Controlling – Has a tremendous need to control their partners or others and the situation.
  • Superiority complex – Believes they are special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions.
  • Exploitative – Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends.
  • Apathetic – Lacks empathy for the feelings and needs of others.
  • Defensive – Becomes angry when rejected or if they perceive criticism, often overreacting to small slights and punishing those who don’t support their grandiose image of themselves.

Managing the Divorce

While challenging, it is not impossible to divorce a spouse with NPD even when times get really tough. Spouses with narcissistic tendencies may use different tactics to feel as though they are in control or are “winning” the divorce.

Schemes to pay attention to are your spouse lying to you, an attorney or mediator, a judge, or even children involved or refusing to follow any agreements that have been made, especially if they are not in writing.

Take note of the following behaviors to keep in mind and recognize as narcissistic tendencies and ways to deal with them.

Recognizing Lies

It’s of no surprise that partners with NPD likely lie – and often. Individuals with NP tend to deny conversations or events that you know happened or invent things that never occurred.

When starting mediation, spouses with NP may try to deny or revoke oral agreements that have been made over the phone or even over email. It’s surprising how easy it is to edit an email, text or even voicemail in order for them to manipulate what was said or gaslight you. To avoid any compilation that comes with lying, insist that all divorce-related communications and agreements are made in writing with the inclusion of a mediator or lawyer on all correspondences.

Even if a mediator or lawyer is included in all communication, take screenshots on a phone, save the original email, and store any audio messages that are exchanged. The best way to keep track of all the things you say to one another and agree on is to avoid having individual conversations with your spouse and instead interacting only when there are others around or involved to bear witness to the conversation.

Avoiding Arguments

It’s likely that there is constant tension and arguments in the relationship. As disagreements escalate, they can quickly turn into yelling matches and often end up with someone getting hurt.

Due to individuals with NP’s unrelenting need to be right and critical of the actions of others, engaging in arguments will get you nowhere. Even though what they say during an argument is untrue, their inability to see how their words and actions may impact your life or your children’s lives in a really painful way.

Instead of subjecting yourself to this experience, better outcomes will come from calmly and rationally speaking with a mediator or lawyer about what you want your spouse to understand so that they can relay the message on your behalf.

Making an Agreement

The goal when separating is to reasonably divide any assets and responsibilities so that you and your children can move forward with your lives.

Oftentimes this agreement will include time with your spouse for your children and as little contact as possible with your spouse for you. When drawing up an agreement, be as specific as possible to outline how you want to move forward with arranging time with the children and what you want communication post-divorce to look like.

But, before reaching the point of drawing up an agreement and agreeing on terms, collect any information and important documents related to the accounts and assets you’re looking to divide.

A partner with NP may lie and say assets that you know to exist have never existed or “have gone missing”. This type of scenario can morph into the blame game so in order to avoid that, begin collecting any and all documents or proof of assets that are available. Make copies, take pictures, save them, and share them directly with the mediator or lawyer.

Some documents to have prepared and saved include:

  • Bank accounts (joint and sole)
  • Documents pertaining to real property
  • Mortgages and lines of credit
  • Recent pay stubs
  • Tax returns – past 3 years minimum
  • Insurance paperwork
  • Vehicle registrations/title
  • Valuable antiques/art/jewelry
  • Investment accounts
  • Retirement accounts
  • Birth certificates, marriage certificate, passports

Compromising

When going into mediation, know what you’re willing to compromise on in advance and don’t necessarily put those compromises on the table until further on in the process. At first, make it known that you want everything divided equally so that your spouse believes that they will have to put in a good fight for their demands to be met.

People with narcissistic personalities desire to make things go their way and seek to have control over any situation and the people involved. As mediation proceeds, begin to address the items you’re willing to compromise on at that point even though you knew from the start that those were issues that were not as important to you. Your spouse will be left feeling victorious and so will you.

Taking Care of Yourself

As the divorce process unfolds, feelings of anxiety and dread can bubble up when dealing with a partner with NP. You never know what they might do next or what type of curveball may come your way. It is natural to experience stress, so it is crucial to tap into your support system.

Whether that be a mediator, a friend, or a fitness instructor, know who to lean on when dealing with a partner with NP becomes a little too much to handle. You do not have to go through the divorce alone and a mediator can often serve as one of the best supports throughout the process.

Although you may be dreading divorcing your partner who has displayed narcissistic personality traits, finding a strong mediator who is well versed in personality disorders or high-conflict personalities can be extremely helpful.

As you search for a mediator, ask questions about what type of people they have worked with in the past and how they can best support you in managing the behaviors that often accompany narcissistic personalities if your spouse has NPD.

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