When you’re divorcing a narcissist, the rules are different.
In a “normal” divorce (if there is such a thing), people get angry and then they get over it. They do stupid things, but then they feel sorry about it. Their divorce craziness is more like temporary insanity than a permanent mental illness.
Divorcing a narcissist is a whole different ball game.
When you’re divorcing a narcissist, they never get over it – even if getting divorced was their idea! They will consistently do what’s best for them, no matter who they hurt in the process – even if it’s their kids.
What’s worse, they never feel sorry for what they do. Never.
Are You Divorcing a Narcissist?
When you’re getting a divorce, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that your spouse is a raging narcissist. S/he no longer seems to care about you – at all! S/he does things on purpose just to hurt you. What’s more, your spouse seems to have turned into someone you no longer even recognize: selfish, childish, and totally oblivious to everyone else in the world – especially you!
Yet, there is a big difference between someone who displays narcissistic tendencies during a divorce, and someone who is a true, full-blown narcissist.
What is a Narcissist?
According to the DSM, narcissists have a grandiose sense of self-importance. They feel entitled to everything. They believe they are special. They have no problem taking advantage of anyone. They are often envious of others and they lack empathy.
On the surface, that definition could describe most of the people you find in divorce court.
The truth is, narcissism is what is known as a “spectrum disorder.” It exists on a continuum. You can have a few, mild narcissistic traits. (Most of us do!) You can have a full-blown narcissistic personality disorder. Or, you can fall somewhere in between.
Divorce rarely brings out the best in anyone. The stress and uncertainty of divorce can easily heighten any narcissistic tendencies your spouse may have. That’s why so many people going through a divorce seem to be narcissists.
Yet, true narcissists didn’t just start acting out during their divorce. They were acting out long before then. Divorce may have made their narcissistic behavior worse. But it didn’t fundamentally change their personality.
What Difference Does a Label Make?
While it’s tempting to want to demonize your spouse when you are going through a divorce, especially a hotly contested one, labelling your spouse as “a narcissist” probably isn’t going to help you much in your divorce. In fact, it could actually hurt you.
Judges and lawyers hear spouses call each other names all the time. So, calling your spouse a narcissist isn’t going to convince anyone that it’s true. It also diverts your attention away from the real issues in your divorce.
Think about it: would you rather spend your time and money resolving the issues in your divorce that matter (things like where your kids will live, when you will see them, how you will support them, etc.) Or would you rather spend your resources trying to prove your spouse is a narcissist? (Here’s a hint. Even if your spouse IS a narcissist, that probably won’t change the outcome of your divorce very much.)
The bottom line is that, trying to prove your spouse is a narcissist is the surest way to guarantee that you get sucked into his/her drama. If you want to avoid the drama, you’ve got to take a different approach.
10 Rules for Divorcing a Narcissist
1.Forget about having an amicable divorce.
If being married to a narcissist seemed like hell, divorcing a narcissist is hell on steroids! Separation and divorce trigger the narcissist’s deepest insecurities and fears of rejection and abandonment. While no sane person wants to spend years of their life and tens (or hundreds!) of thousands of dollars on legal fees in their divorce, narcissists are different.
For narcissists, divorce is not just the end of their marriage. It is a full-blown existential crisis. Don’t expect them to go down without a fight.
2.Don’t take the bait.
Narcissists feed on your emotions. They enjoy getting a reaction when they push your buttons. They LOVE drama! So, the more you act and react to what a narcissist says and does, the more the narcissist wins.
The only way you can come close to “winning” with a narcissist, is not to engage in their battle in the first place. If you fight, you will lose. Controlling your own emotions, and refusing to allow yourself to get sucked into the drama, is the only way you stand a chance at coming out of your divorce with your sanity and self-respect intact. (HINT: Get a therapist now. You’re going to need the support.)
3.Accept that everything is going to be your fault … at least according to your spouse.
Narcissists don’t accept responsibility for their own bad behavior. Ever. They are also hyper sensitive to criticism. That means that, at least as far as the narcissist is concerned, nothing bad is ever their fault. By default, that means that if something bad happened, it must be your fault.
If you get all tied up in knots trying to prove that you are “the good guy,” you will waste an enormous amount of time and energy. Nothing you can ever say or do will make the narcissist believe that s/he is wrong. What’s more, unless the “bad behavior” you are contesting is legally relevant, the judge probably doesn’t care about it either. (Sorry!)
4.Don’t even think about what’s “fair.”
In divorce, “Fair” is just another four letter word that starts with “F.” Nothing about divorcing a narcissist is going to be fair. Period. Full stop.
The more you focus on how unfair your situation is, the more miserable you will become.
It sounds corny, but your mindset makes an enormous difference in the amount of pain you feel while you are going through a divorce. In the long run, you will be much happier if you focus on your own goals, than you will be if you focus on all the crap that your spouse is “getting away with” in your divorce. (And your spouse will very likely get away with a lot. Again, sorry!)
5.Do your best to limit your court time.
The legal system is a narcissist’s Disneyland. They thrive on conflict and court room drama. The same legal hearing that has your stomach tied in knots for weeks in advance, gives them an emotional high. The problem is, none of the alternatives to going to court are going to work well when you’re divorcing a narcissist either. (Another, sorry!) Plus, they are all voluntary. So, no matter what you do, you’re likely to end up in court.
While you can’t stop your spouse from going to court every other day, you can work on dialing down the drama on your end. Don’t initiate court action unless you have no choice. When you do go to court, keep your cool.
6.Don’t assume that the judge will see through the narcissist’s B.S.
Narcissists, especially those who are attractive, successful and financially well-off, excel at charming people. Remember: they charmed you, too! They WILL charm the judge … at least at first.
The only way to show the judge your spouse’s true colors is with evidence. You will need to present the court with cold, hard facts. Making impassioned, emotional pleas to the judge only makes you look crazy. Plus, your spouse is probably doing his/her best to manipulate the judge into believing that YOU are the real bad guy! You’ll be much better off keeping your mouth shut until you can prove every word you say.
One of the narcissist’s most common tactics is known as “gaslighting.” S/he will purposely say or do things to make you question your own sanity. A narcissist will lie or “change the story” in order to manipulate you into believing what s/he wants.
What’s more, narcissists can be so convincing at doing this that eventually even you start doubting yourself on an epic scale.
The only way you stand a chance at combatting a narcissist’s manipulation of the truth is by documenting everything you can. Keep records of everything. If you have to talk to your spouse face-to-face, always do it when someone else is present. That way, there is always someone who can verify what your spouse really said. (NOTE: Do NOT use your children for this!)
8.Rally your troops around you as soon as you can.
Expect your spouse to try to separate you from your family and friends. S/he will play the victim to everyone, and will try to make everyone see you as the bad guy. What’s more, your spouse will try to get to your family and friends first, so that s/he can convince them that you are horrible, while s/he is innocent.
The sooner you can build your own divorce support group, the better off you will be. It doesn’t matter if some of your family and friends side with your spouse. All you need is a core group of people who know you, believe you, and can be there to emotionally support you as you go through your divorce. Plus, you are also going to need a good therapist, someone who understands narcissistic behavior, and can keep you from feeling like you’re the crazy one.
9.Minimize your face time.
Engaging in daily battles with your spouse will drain your energy and keep you from making forward progress on the things that really matter to you. Unfortunately, if you have kids, you are going to need to deal with your spouse all the time. You will have to communicate with your spouse, whether you want to or not.
Do your best to limit your communications to email and text. That serves two purposes: 1) it eliminates verbal confrontations every time you see your spouse; and 2) it creates a record of everything that each of you says. That eliminates a lot of the “he said/she said” battles in court. (There are a lot of really cool automated parenting apps that can help you manage your co-parenting communication. CLICK HERE to check out the most popular Co-Parenting Tools.)
10.Set boundaries and stick to them.
Narcissists have no boundaries. They have an extreme sense of entitlement. They believe they deserve everything they want. Other people, including their kids, exist simply to serve their needs.
What’s more, because they lack empathy, they can’t even understand that anyone else has needs.
If you don’t set firm boundaries with a narcissist, you will forever be a pawn in their own private chess game. You need to establish what you will and will not tolerate. When you make agreements, you need to put them in writing and make them as detailed as possible. Then you need to enforce your agreements all the time.
Thank you for your knowledge of the Narc and taking the time to put this together. Knowledge is power so will use all of your information for my benefit.
You’re welcome. I wish you the best.
Great information and true
All I can say is WOW. How did you know this?! Spot on….and very sad. My wife is displaying all of this.
I’ve been doing this a long time. 🙂
Hope this helped!
I have to say Ms. Covy I have really appreciated your knowledge and wisdom i’m just starting the divorce process and the information you provide has been invaluable. Thank you so much I really look forward to reading them. ????????
I’m a psychologist as well by education but I spent 30 years as a state law enforcement officer and I not only seen many different aspects of narcissism In every socioeconomic and racially diverse family there are but I have lived through it myself for the last ten years.
Seeing how the people in the judicial system, that I was so used to being around, handle divorces after going though my own made me sick. How little they know or understand what they are doing and what especially in today’s world men and fathers are having to deal with, when the ex wife has oversight to turn too when the father misses a child support or alimony or whatever else financially the court has ordered them to pay, they just go see a representative at DHR and they have automatic insurance the father isn’t being allowed to see, visit, or even speak to the children he has to hire an attorney and here we go again.
Our judicial process needs to be reorganized especially those that are planning on practicing in family courts to undertake mandatory psychological and sociology classes, marriage and the family was one of my favorites, so they will better understand how to represent their client and recognize signs of psychological disorders. At least this way we can get a finger hold into the entire void of a psychological problematic situation and maybe start to improve adults and their children’s lives instead of just seeing it as a money making opportunity. I’ve even spoken to some of my best friends who are attorneys they have no idea about these issues and what they do to a mother, father or child and most don’t care. But when you start tagging sanctions into their practice they sit up and play the game fairly often with the professionalism they should be using to begin with. The best way to get an attorney attention is get into their pocket book.
There is so much that goes into a divorce I absolutely hate the term quickie divorce or smooth divorce there are no such things and never will be in my professional opinion. It’s a divorce for a reason and no it doesn’t take two people to ruin it especially if one is versed in the ways I’ve just mentioned. We have looked at this for so long in the same manner that we have begun to believe it is the only way and it most definitely is not.
I agree that our divorce system is far from perfect. You’re also right that divorce is never smooth or easy. That’s why educating yourself and being prepared are so important. Doing that still won’t make your divorce all sunshine and rainbows, but it will at least give you a fighting chance of managing your divorce a little bit better.
As for the system, unfortunately if you want that to change, you’ll have to talk to your local legislature. Meanwhile, all we can do is try our best to work within the system we’ve got.
I agree with this article 100%. My ex kept suing post divorce. Vitamin B Complex can help you not take the bait and remain calm. Proof keeps a narc accountable. Don’t expect fair but do expect to get out the best you can. Instead of coparenting try parallel parenting. And use no contact or gray rock method, eventually they get board at your lack of emotions. It took 8 years of divorce and post divorce battles but he did eventually move on. And I have healed and I am happy. Great article. I would know from experience- the hard way – she gives sound advice.
Glad you liked the article! Thanks for the tip about Vitamin B Complex. I didn’t know that!
This article is excellent and very informative. I’m dealing with this situation currently. So basically, it sounds to me (and this is what I’m experiencing) that any hope for mediation/settlement with a narcissist is unrealistic. Court/trial is the only real option when dealing with such a person, is that fair?
Mediation is not likely to go well with a true narcissist, but Collaborative Divorce can. If you have a strong professional team, it might be possible. But, I would talk to your Collaborative Attorney about your situation honestly and see what s/he says.
Chances are, you’re going to end up in court. (Sorry.)
My husband down to a T…..the lengths he has gone to is baffling to me…the way he paints me to anyone who will listen is shocking…can’t believe this is the same person I loved so many years ago….its all frightening.
I’m so sorry. Hang in there!
I am going through this currently as well. I am amazed daily at the lengths he goes through to ruin my life even at the expense of our children. Thanks for this article – I need reminding on not focusing on fairness.
You’re welcome. Hang in there!
Excellent article! A very clear, and straight-forward explanation of how to “navigate” divorcing someone with this type of personality (disorder). Too often the legal professionals involved in the type of divorce described tend to, either unknowingly or purposefully become “negative advocates”, which contributes to the high degree of conflict…The parties in the divorce may not be able to control the behavior of those around them, however, they can certainly use the suggests highlighted in this article to impact their own behavior and responses…
I just filed my third divorce petition with my state because my husband refused to do anything with the first two. This article hits the nail on the head with my current situation and it was uplifting to read because I could connect and not feel alone in this matter. I truly hope I can come out of this marriage sooner than later. Thank you again for your article!
(Hopefully the third petition will now go through!)
I am living every word of this and doing research on my husband. He is a full blown Narc and the behaviors are true to this disorder. Thanks for all your advice; it’s very helpful!
This is amazing. Popped up on twitter yesterday after the 7th hearing in my divorce from a 1-1/2 year marriage to a woman who suffers serious personality disorder.
This is so spot on… try to avoid the courts indeed, but good luck. I am appealing for a trial by jury. I hear it is possible, but we live in a tiny town in AZ and the judge and her lawyer are drinking buddies. She could afford the only good lawyer in town because she drained the accounts completely… -$688 to be exact. I feel awful for anyone having to deal with this, and I am sorry I am not the only one.
No, you’re definitely not the only one. Sorry you had to join this crowd!
It blew my mind to see Kelly Jones, ExWife of INFOwars is dealing with this too! If that maniac has access to his children at all, you know something is broken Hahahaha. Seriously, I don’t know what else to do. I want to just post all of the evidence on social media. It might help me keep a shred of sanity to share my whole story. She lied so much my lawyer could not keep up with it all… it was just brutal.
Thank you for this article and your website!
I have just realised that I am going through this… No divorce yet, just the shock, the pain, the panick, the sadness… all at once! My wife has been torturing me for so long that I completely lost me ability to trust myself, I lost my self-worth, I judge myself through her eyes all the time and the worst part is that I can see what she is doing to our children. She has all these things: massive sense of entitlement, zero empathy, no boundaries, never takes responsibility, always blames me for everything, uses our children to make herself look good, completely distorting reality all the time, endless manipulations… To make things worse, my friends and relatives live so far away that I am isolated completely. She is the only adult around me.
I need to stop her and the damage she is causing to our children and me somehow ASAP!!!
I’m so sorry to hear what you’re going through. Honestly, to keep yourself sane, I strongly recommend that you start working with a therapist while you’re going through your divorce.
A good therapist can help you see reality more clearly. S/he can keep you from doubting yourself all the time (which you’re probably used to doing … a lot!). S/he can also help you start building your own confidence and your trust in yourself.
As for how to stop a narcissist’s damage, the best you can do there is to work on becoming stronger yourself. It will also help to have a good lawyer. You don’t necessarily want a pit bull. That kind of lawyer can make the fighting worse. But you also don’t want someone who will be a pushover either.
You need someone who will be both strong and reasonable.
This article has been very helpful. My official process is over, but every step has been pulling teeth to get done, and the children have been totally alienated. I keep pushing ahead, and my new life is coming along better and better. Articles like this really help in that process, as has support in a variety of ways.
I’m glad this article helped! I hope things continue to go better for you!
Thanks for the article. Living with a narcissistic husband for 30 years has been difficult. Trying to get out is hard ! That’s what I’m still in in after 32 years ???? someone mentioned bit B they ashwagandha it’s been a life saver for me . The Expression s**** hit the fan the same day I started a new job . And I lived through it . Hang in there and know your not along . Everyone has some kind of problem. Just be humble and kind ???? what ever your dealing with will past . I know this for sure
Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom.
should I go ahead an file or get him to agree on divorce terms. He asks like he is fine going ahead but asked for me to wait until after the holidays. I know he won’t agree on the financial arrangement part. what to do?
I can’t tell you what to do since I don’t know either you or your husband. If he asked you to wait until after the holidays and you don’t, he’ll probably be upset and won’t agree to anything. If you do wait, he still might be upset and not agree to anything.
So it all comes down to whether you want to start now or later. If you start now, you’ll be dealing with this through the holidays. If you don’t, you won’t. But, if you start later, you’ll likely end later too.
Ultimately, you’re the only one who can choose.
I haven’t yet started anything but am close to wanting to change my situation. We’ve been married for almost 17 years and together for 21. I am so afraid of what he will do, especially since I am not financially independent. But I need for something to change. I can’t let my boys live this and think that it’s normal behavior and treat their partners the same way when they are older. Not sure when and how to begin but hoping that my therapist will help with that. It’s just sad that things have to be this way and my kids have to go through it as well. I have finally accepted that this is the person that I chose and it’s okay that I made a mistake. God help all of us. Never in my dreams did I expect my life to turn this way.
I’m so sorry. Seeing your life turn out differently than what you wanted or expected is hard. It’s a big part of what makes divorce so difficult.
Kudos to you for getting a therapist. That’s a good first step towards understanding yourself and deciding whether (and when) to change. You might also want to take whatever steps you need to become financially independent. As long as you have to depend on someone else, they have power over you. By being able to support yourself, you take control over your own destiny.
Hang in there! You’re going to be okay.
Mine cheated and lied. She even lied about why she didn’t want to be married anymore (because of midlife crisis, menopause and low libido) then turned around and engaged in being promiscuous with her secret fwb. She handles all the financial aspects
in our marriage. I’m afraid she’s hiding assets or dissipating marital funds. How do I proceed to protect myself but avoid trial. BTW, I live in Oregon.
How you “protect yourself” and avoid trial in Oregon is a question for an Oregon divorce lawyer. The answer involves legal issues and I can’t give legal advice online. Sorry.
Totally my husband, every definition except for he has not been able to keep a job for more than a month or too cause he is also an alcoholic so that exasperates everything. If the plan for the day does not go exactly as planned he loses his mind. Ranting and raving that I am a liar and I never do anything the way I am supposed to. It is very emotionally draining.
I’m so sorry. I strongly encourage you to get some support. A good therapist or support group can make what you’re going through just a tiny bit easier. (Nothing will make things great, but having support will at least help you feel like you’re not so alone.)
I’ve been married 42 years to a Narc. I did not realize this until I was thinking of filing in October 2017 and I started going to therapy (which is great advice). I made the mistake of letting my husband handle all our finances through the years. He lost so much money through risky investments while telling me we were struggling financially. I go to mediation tomorrow but am not hopeful. We own our own company and the forensic accountant valued it at $1.7 million whereas my husband’s accountant says $250,000. That’s an awful big gap to breach.
That is a VERY big gap to bridge. I hope things went well for you.
THANK YOU so much for this article!!!! I am in, I guess you would say, the pre-beginning stages of a divorce. My wife said since our dating days that her twin sister & mother were narcissists. I thought I had found the cream of the crop!! She was AWESOME! Always doing something nice for my daughter and constantly telling me how awesome a person I am and how my ex-wife was crazy for leaving me 7 years earlier. About a year into the marriage, I began to notice that I was expected to report to her when I left work and if I had to go anywhere, I HAD TO LET HER KNOW IN ADVANCE. Then, she gained total control of our bank account!!! Now, I have been literally saving change for over a year because she goes thru my billfold and take anything over a $10. It doesn’t help that she has an Ed.S. in Psychology and is a licensed counselor in several fields. She has a big laugh when divorce comes up. She says, “I will let your attorney pick a counselor for me to go to! In thirty minutes time I will have him or her 100% convinced YOU are completely the problem! Hahaha, I bet I will have more carts. than they do. HA! I will probably have more education than they do!!!
She has laid a good foundation for herself. I found out, after she had spread it all over the county, that she had been working on destroying my character for over two years!!!
I have made the very mistake you earn NOT to make with her many times. She knows what to say and how to say it to get a response out of me. Then she hits record on her iPhone. She was bragging just last night about how there was no way I could divorce her! I don’t have the money to hire an attorney for one thing. If I by some miracle got an attorney to represent me, she would have half the county as character witnesses for her and destroying me at the same time. Then she showed me her long list of recordings she has of me. Best I could tell, she has about 5 hours of me saying things like, “you are literally CRAZY!!!” or “you are going to end up alone, by yourself! Your kids won’t even talk to you when you get older, JUST LIKE YOUR MOM!!” but this is her favorite… she had guided me in to saying what she wanted several times and like a fool, I ok the bait, hook, line, and sinker! Everything is usually quiet. Our 14 year old is in her room listening to music. I am usually in the den watching a ballgame of some sort (I taught high school history and coached high school baseball & football until I had to take early retirement due to delayed onset T.B.I. from concussions.) She will walk in, stand iffy in front of the tv, look me in the eye and say, “want to know what’s funny? You say you know I have cheated on you 4 times. You tear up and act all pitiful and ask me about it. Have I ever admitted it? NO! So, PROVE IT!!!! You f*cking piss me off and there might be one of those men you think I screwed catch you sleeping and you never wake up! I will tell you this much…you won’t find a man that will tell you we have been messing around!!! Everyone feels bad for me for having to put up with your a**!!! Now, cut the tv off, come back here and do your husbandly deed for the night!” She is always quiet for a few seconds and then she says, (she hits record on her phone) “I just want to lay close to you and have a little alone time together.”
That’s where I pop off, “There isn’t enough money in the world for me to have sex with you! (she stops recording) For one thing, I don’t care to be in a position o think about my wife and another man. For another, I don’t want an STD!!!”
I am just about convinced she is right and I can’t divorce her because I would lose my daughter all but 4 days a month, not to mention by the time she finishes subtly making me look bad, would be lucky to get to take my clothes when she gets the house! I wish I had read this last year at this time!!!
Thank you though!!! This article at least let me know that she isn’t right completely. It isn’t all my fault. (She has told me, she despises me because I tremor from head to toe like I have Parkinson’s and I can’t work. Then, if I don’t have the house cleaned, supper cooked, laundry done, folded, ironed and put away, yard mowed (if it’s spring or summer) and pool chems adjusted when she comes home from work, I get to hear about how sorry and lazy I am for a couple hours at least.
I’m glad the article helped. I also think you could use a little more help, given the situation that you’re in.
I STRONGLY suggest that you start working with a counselor, preferably someone who understands narcissism really well. Your wife will probably make fun of you, or berate you, for going to therapy. Don’t listen to her. You need to start doing what’s best for YOU and making yourself stronger. Therapy will be a good step in that direction.
I also suggest that, when you’re ready, you talk to a lawyer, or perhaps explore The Divorce Road Map Program. You need to educate yourself on the truth about divorce. My suspicion is that a LOT of what she’s telling you probably isn’t true. But, because you don’t know that, what she says scares you.
As the saying goes, “Knowledge is Power.” Once you know the truth, you won’t be nearly as scared by the things she says that aren’t true.
Finally, take your time. Be kind to yourself. Changing your life will take time. But it will be totally worth it.
I wish you the best.
This breaks my heart. Please get a therapist talk to friends. Get an Attorney. She’s full of it full blown narcissist. Read blogs or listen to pod casts on Narcissists so you can see the tactics and manipulation they use so you can empower yourself ❤️ This may be an old post but I hope you are well