How to Divorce a Narcissist With Smart Tactics

Updated May 13, 2020
Lawyer is encouraging the client

Divorcing an individual with narcissistic personality disorder can be extremely tricky and drain you emotionally and financially. Being as prepared as possible can help you move through this challenging process with a bit more understanding as to what may happen.

Divorcing a Narcissistic Partner

Divorcing a partner with narcissistic traits can feel incredibly difficult. You may feel like you were betrayed by the person you thought you married as their true colors can take quite a while to come out. They may have come across as charming, loving, powerful, and successful during the courting phase of your relationship, which can make ending the relationship feel even more heartbreaking. You may long for the days when you felt safe with them and could trust them. It's important to keep in mind that your experience of their personality disorder in full force is the reality and the charming phase was a luring tactic.

Understand How Narcissists View Divorce

People with narcissistic personality disorder have most likely experienced early childhood trauma which may include physical abuse, emotional abuse, attachment related issues, abandonment, a parent or parents with substance abuse disorders and/or alcoholism, as well as a parent or parents with personality disorders. Narcissistic traits develop to ensure that minimal pain is felt and expressed, despite reality. When you go through a divorce, you are no longer their spouse; you are their rejecting parent(s) or caregiver that they never felt good/lovable enough for. You are now their enemy and in order to protect their ego, they must exude an even grander facade of high self-worth, power, and control. These are all features that they are severely lacking and in order to mask their pain, they will shift the blame to you so they can reinforce their unconscious story of being victimized (because as a child they probably were).

Cultivate Empathy

Although it may seem counterintuitive, try to imagine your ex-spouse as a small child. Being able to view them in a child state and feeling empathy for them can help you better understand their mindset as an adult. Think of it this way:

  • Individuals with this disorder tend to be stuck in an emotionally stunted early childhood state where appropriate coping skills weren't developed.
  • This means that they will most likely tantrum, use trickery, and lie to get what they want and elicit a reaction from you. These extreme and toddler-like behaviors are most likely how they got their basic needs (food, shelter, water, warmth) met by their parents.
  • If you react in an unhealthy way, you are helping them play out their early childhood trauma, but instead of spouse you are unconsciously internalized as their parent or caregiver, thus strengthening their core belief system.
couple and their lawyers

When you develop empathy, you are less likely to react and more likely to address the many baited situations you will face in a calm, adult like manner. Your healthy, non-reactive responses to them chip away at their unconscious notion of what relationship interactions look like forcing them to move on to another tactic and thus protecting you from getting sucked into the distractions that they are planting.

Prepare for the Long Haul

Those with narcissistic traits may lash out in punishing and vindictive ways and aim to drag out the divorce process. In their mind, the divorce is still somewhat of a connection to you. Divorce can be an extremely triggering event for your ex-partner that could bring up feelings of shame, rejection, and abandonment. This can lead them to use any means necessary to continue their connection to you because to them, having a connection is better than not. Again, this relates back to early childhood attachment issues that are unconsciously motivating their unhealthy behaviors. This can be one of the most debilitating aspect of the divorce process, so try to maintain your strength and mentally prepare for a long, drawn out process.

Keep Detailed Records

Keeping extremely detailed records that your ex-partner can't access is highly important. Chances are fairly high that your ex will lie and manipulate others around you to make you look as bad as possible. They do so to protect themselves from the perceived rejection and abandonment and to put the ownership on the dissolved relationship on you. For you this means keeping track of interactions, having loads of character witnesses, and surrounding yourself with trustworthy people as your ex may attempt to set you up and trap you into looking badly in the eyes of the court. To do so:

  • Keep several copies of password protected interactions with your ex noting the time, date, and exact words exchanged. You may opt to keep all interactions written via email or text. Just be sure to save them afterwards.
  • Note when you spoke, for how long, and the nature of the discussion if it was in person. If possible, try to speak with them only when a witness is present that can vouch for what was said.
  • If anything abusive happens, note the nature of the abuse, take pictures of the injuries, and note actions taken to remove yourself and your children (if you have children) from the situation.

Basically think of these records as evidence that support your healthy, appropriate behavior that can be used in court or mediation.

Watch What You Say

Keep in mind that because the divorce can trigger so many early childhood abandonment issues for your ex-partner that you will most likely be villainized in their eyes. This is because this event forces them to confront uncomfortable feelings that they have worked so hard to displace into their unconscious. Because of this, whatever you say and do can be used against you during the divorce process. Your words and actions may be twisted and misconstrued. They may even go as far as blatantly lying about you, despite contradicting evidence. Your ex will most likely try to bait you into situations where they know you'll react in an inappropriate way, so always err on the side of being tight-lipped and extra thoughtful about what you're going to say. Reacting from an emotional place will not work in your favor in these circumstances.

Get a Lawyer Experienced Dealing With Narcissists

During the divorce process, you may feel like you're going crazy, may question your reality, and may feel like you can't move forward any longer. It's critical to find a lawyer who has worked with individuals divorcing those with narcissistic traits so they understand what it's like for you and can help you in terms of appropriate strategy. Not having a lawyer who knows how to work with this particular situation can put you at a severe disadvantage.

Find Appropriate Support

It can also be helpful to find a therapist who specializes in working with those entangled in a divorce with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder. A therapist can support you, offer you advice, and help you better understand how to manage this potentially volatile situation. It also offers you a safe place to vent and reflect on your own thoughts and behaviors during this challenging time.

Manage Your Expectations

Keep in mind that what you experience as reality may be vastly different from what your soon to be ex experiences. In this sense it's important to remember that the divorce process is likely to bring up a lot of stress for your spouse, which can trigger even worse and more intense unhealthy behavior. They may also view the divorces process as a way for them to win and shine positive light on themselves while most likely highlighting any and every mistake you've ever made whether there's truth to them or not. Being prepared to see an increase in their unhealthy behavior may help you feel less surprised when their intensity increases.

couple getting divorced in lawyers office

Understand Your Triggers

It's critical to spend some time looking at yourself and better understanding why you were drawn to this type of person. Keep in mind that your first impressions of them are most likely what the court, mediators, and lawyers will experience. You reacting in an overly frustrated, angry, and irate way shines the light on you. Your goal during this time is to be the calm, rational, and thoughtful spouse, and most likely your spouse will build up contradicting evidence against themselves. Think about what types of their behaviors get under your skin the most. Be sure to visualize them doing these behaviors and how you can calmly respond to them.

Protect Your Kids

If you have a child or children with your spouse, it's important to prioritize their safety. Your soon to be ex spouse may attempt to use the children to get to you and try to turn the kids against you. Don't feed into your ex-partner's hurtful and highly inappropriate behavior. Know that your children will figure out what your ex is doing eventually. For now, it's your job to be the consistent, loving parent, who doesn't speak poorly about your ex-partner.

Seek Help if You Feel in Danger

If your child or children are in imminent danger because your ex-partner is abusing them or you in front of them, it's important to physically remove the kids from the situation immediately. Not doing so continues to put all of you in extreme risk of serious harm or death. Those who abuse others tend to escalate the volatility of their behavior over time, so it's extremely important to act fast if you notice anything that crosses the line, especially when it comes to the safety of your children.

What to do if Your Partner Abuses Alcohol

Co-occurring disorders are quite common for those who have personality disorders in general, which makes sense because most of the time they've experienced early traumas that have subsequently impacted their whole being. Issues with drugs and alcohol may be something that your soon to be ex is using to help cope with uncomfortable mental health symptoms. This can exacerbate their behavior and create potentially dangerous situations. If you notice a shift in their behavior that triggers some red flags, make sure that you meet with them only when someone else is present, and preferably in public spaces, and limit your contact with them as much as you are able to when divorcing an alcoholic narcissist. Your safety and the safety of your children must come first.

Taking Care of Yourself

Deciding to go forward with a divorce with someone who has narcissistic traits may be one of the most difficult experiences you go through. Preparing yourself as much as you possibly can and surrounding yourself with experts who know how to support you appropriately can make a world of difference during this time. Even though it can feel almost impossible not to react to their unhealthy and at times incessant tactics, remember you need to be the calm, assertive, and healthy adult in this situation.

How to Divorce a Narcissist With Smart Tactics