According to the Mayo Clinic, a narcissist is a person who has “an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” Divorce is challenging in any relationship, but the process can become incredibly difficult when your spouse is a narcissist.
Determining if Your Spouse is a Narcissist
While only a therapist or psychiatrist can diagnose someone as a narcissist, there are some clear behaviors you may have noticed in your spouse that may indicate they suffer from narcissism:
- They are manipulative
- They behave in an arrogant manner
- They believe they are special and cannot be easily understood by others
- They desperately need admiration and praise
- They do not easily experience or apply empathy
- They exploit people without guilt
- They feel entitled to better treatment than everyone else
- They idealize people and blame others when they do not live up to their fantasies
- They must always be right
- They see themselves as the victim in any situation that does not go according to their plans
- They seek social status and recognition
- They support their inflated opinion of themselves by making other people feel inferior
- They think that they (and their achievements) are better than everyone else’s
It’s important to note that narcissists are frequently charming and personable, particularly when you first get to know them, but their true selves gradually begin to come out the longer you know them.
How Narcissism Manifests in Divorce
It’s not a surprise then that when you mix these traits with the intense pressure, turmoil, and pain of a divorce that the narcissist makes things excessively difficult. You can expect your narcissist spouse to:
- Seek only to win instead of settling or finding a solution that works best for the family
- Refuse to negotiate or settle because they believe they are right
- Refuse to give full financial disclosure or be honest throughout the process
- Manipulate their children throughout the process
- Ignore their own legal team because they think they know more
- Enjoy conflict and adversity throughout the divorce
- Believe they are above the law or that special exceptions are owed to them
- Be unable to stop trying to control their spouse by any means possible
8 Tips for Dealing with a Narcissistic Spouse
Clearly, a narcissist is difficult to deal with in a divorce. However, there are some strategies you can leverage to get through the situation:
- Plan ahead. It is a good idea to keep your plans to file for divorce a secret. Your spouse will likely be furious when they find out and may spring into action, cutting you off from funds, the home, and even your children when they learn about it. Meet with your attorney and create a plan for moving out, securing funds, protecting your children, and creating distance so that you can put it into motion when the time is right.
- Set up a support system. You absolutely cannot get through this divorce without several people supporting you. You need friends and family to talk to and support you, but you also need the help of professionals. Find a therapist who can help you protect yourself and understand your spouse’s behavior. If you have children, they also should see a therapist to get them through this process and protect them from the narcissist’s manipulation. You also must have a very confident and skilled attorney who can stand up for your rights, insist that you get what you are entitled to, and step in to handle all communications with your spouse.
- Understand your rights. If you and your spouse have had any discussions about divorce, you can be certain that anything they told you is wrong. They likely tried to make it seem they could leave you penniless without your children. Don’t believe anything they have told you. Get your legal information only from your attorney. Find out exactly what you are entitled to when it comes to asset division, spousal support, child support, and child custody.
- Set boundaries. The only way to get through a divorce from a narcissist is to separate yourself from them physically, emotionally, and mentally. You must decide that you will not be treated in certain ways and refuse to give in. This requires a drastic behavior change in your own life.
- Don’t attempt to reason with them. Narcissists cannot be reasoned with. They do not rely on logical thinking when protecting themselves and their ego. It is not worth your time or effort to try.
- Remove yourself from conflict. Your narcissistic spouse will relish embroiling you in conflict. Do not engage with them. If this is hard to do, talk to your attorney and have them state that all communication must come through them via your spouse’s attorney. If necessary, you can obtain a protective order prohibiting your spouse from calling, texting, or emailing you. If you have children, it can be harder to stop all contact, but you can request that someone else handle the exchange of the children (such as a nanny, assistant, or sitter) so that you need not have in-person contact. Your attorney can manage visitation schedules.
- Document everything. A narcissist will lie about everything to protect themselves. They are not above destroying documents, hiding facts, and concealing the truth to further their case. Therefore, you need to keep copies of all financial records, keep a parenting log concerning your children, and take copious notes about absolutely everything that happens so that you have a record. Talk with your attorney about your state’s laws regarding audio or videotaping your spouse without their knowledge if you would like to create recordings.
- Assume you will go to trial. Narcissists do not like to settle. They want to fight for everything they believe they are entitled to. Settlement talks will likely not be fruitful, and if they are, it is a sign you have given in and let them have exactly what they want. If you want a fair outcome, you will likely need to go to trial.
With a good support team, you can get through your divorce and get everything you are entitled to.