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What to Expect When Divorcing a Narcissist

Recognizing You are Married to a Narcissist

According to the Mayo Clinic, narcissistic personality disorder is “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

While you may already believe your spouse is a narcissist based on that description alone, a narcissistic partner may:

  • Insist they have the best of everything—from offices and cars to clothes and experiences
  • Believe they should be recognized as superior because of their inflated view of self and/or sense of entitlement
  • Be unable or unwilling to acknowledge other people’s needs, wants, and/or feelings
  • Be perceived as pretentious or vain because of their condescending or arrogant behaviors and mannerisms
  • Believe that others are often envious of them
  • Take advantage of others (via manipulation, gaslighting, etc.) for personal gain or amusement
  • Not interact well with others as they dominate conversations, look down on and belittle others, and/or act superior
  • Limit their social circle to those they view as equally special
  • Fixate on dreams of power, fame, success, beauty, and/or an ideal partner
  • Exaggerate their talents, accomplishments, and more

Whether what someone says was meant as a criticism or not, a narcissist will struggle to receive it well. In response to perceived criticism or when they don’t receive special treatment, they may:

  • Act out by becoming impatient, snippy, or angry
  • Struggle with interpersonal relationships
  • Not handle stress or change very well
  • Try to make themselves feel superior by patronizing the other person
  • Be unable to properly control their emotions or responses
  • Become depressed or moody
  • Harbor feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and humiliation

Difficulties Associated with Divorcing a Narcissist

Narcissism can be born out of a person’s genetic characteristics, neurobiology, or childhood environment. As mentioned, they often struggle with relationships at school, work, and home. When you divorce a narcissist, they may:

  • Attempt to delay divorce proceedings
  • Behave vindictively by acting out or treating you poorly
  • Not cooperate with your or your attorney
  • Work to isolate you from others (such as those in your support network)
  • Manipulate your children or use them as pawns
  • Try to destroy your reputation

How Can My Soon-To-Be-Ex Delay the Divorce Process?

An amicable, uncontested divorce is likely not in the cards. A narcissistic partner may engage in delaying tactics, such as:

  • Refusing to respond to the divorce notice, messages, and/or calls
  • Refusing to share financial records
  • Changing attorneys repeatedly
  • Filing motions or asking for continuances unnecessarily
  • Backing out of previously made agreements (like telling you they will agree to certain property division terms and then reneging)
  • Obstructing or ignoring court orders

If you believe your soon-to-be-ex is delaying your divorce, you can combat these tactics.

  • If the Sheriff cannot locate your spouse to serve divorce papers, you may be able to have a special process server appointed to serve your spouse.
  • If your partner violates court orders, you can file a motion to find the other party in contempt of court. If found in violation of the order, they may face serious consequences.
  • If your spouse is trying to intimidate or gaslight you, you can allow your attorney to serve as the mainline of communication, by your attorney contacting your spouse’s attorney. Dealing with a narcissist’s manipulation and games can be exhausting. You should tell your attorney about your partner’s narcissism as well as any communication between the two of you.

Dealing with a Narcissist After Divorce

The immediate aftermath of divorcing a narcissist is difficult terrain. There are a number of reasons you might still interact with your narcissist ex-spouse after the divorce is finalized. It's likely your ex will want to demonstrate how well they’re doing relative to you, and to that end, they may seek petty opportunities to get time alone with you. For example, an ex may text you to figure out what you want to do with unwanted items that ended up in their possession and offer to drop them off when you’re around (even when you clearly don’t want them to).

Here are a few ways to protect yourself from a narcissist after divorce:

  • Don’t react to outrageous comments: Narcissists (especially narcissists who have bruised egos post-divorce) will behave to get a reaction out of you, which soothes their ego while exhausting you. 
  • Set firm boundaries: Once the divorce is over, your boundaries can be as strict as you like; feel free to end or filter contact as you see fit.
  • Deal with retaliatory behavior through a lawyer: If you depend on a narcissistic ex for alimony, they may threaten to cut you off when they feel rejected or ignored; any threats like this ought to be immediately addressed by your attorney. Trying to resolve it yourself plays into their hands.
  • Bring a supportive friend or relative to any meet-ups: If you find yourself needing to meet with your ex-spouse for any reason, bring a friend. Narcissists’ methods are less effective when you’re surrounded by people who know their game.

Knowing what to expect from a narcissist in the aftermath of divorce can help you conserve your energy while protecting your sense of well-being. 

Divorcing a Narcissist and Co-Parenting

Divorce can be hard on children involved as well. Children can also be victims of a narcissist’s behavior and attitude. During and/or after your divorce, you may have to co-parent with the narcissistic party. Here are a few tips for co-parenting with a narcissist.

  • Try to avoid conflict. As mentioned, narcissists like playing games. Don’t let them rope you into a fight or hostile situation. While it is hard to always have to be the bigger person, sometimes you can decide to not engage or stoop to their level. Keep your communication brief if at all possible. If you have a disagreement, avoid fighting in front of the kids. Arguing in front of them can put them in the middle or influence their opinion of either parent.
  • Maintain your parenting schedule. Routine is important for everyone. You should set up a detailed parenting plan as soon as possible and stick to it. If your partner tries to deviate from the court-ordered arrangement, you can pursue legal action.
  • Prioritize your kids. While your ex’s behavior may negatively affect your kids, simply take note of your concerns to share with your attorney and be the best parent you can be.

Tips for Divorcing a Narcissistic Spouse

If you plan to leave and divorce a narcissistic spouse, there are a few things you can do to help ease any stress.

  • Go to therapy/counseling. Getting divorced is already an emotionally draining process. Divorcing a narcissist is even more taxing, which is why you may benefit from counseling.
  • Lean on your support system. While your partner may have isolated you, you should start to find your community. Reach out to family and friends—or make new friends as you can benefit from support throughout the divorce proceedings. Be aware your spouse may try to slander you as well, so prepare yourself and others for the possibility of “trash talking.”
  • Pick and choose your battles. Narcissists like to win and will manipulate others for their benefit. You may consider ways that you can allow your spouse to feel as if they’ve won while still protecting your interests. You also should try to avoid using all your energy to fight with your soon-to-be-ex. Decide what fights are worth your time and energy.
  • Set and maintain boundaries. While you may not have been able to have healthy boundaries in your marriage, you can now try to establish boundaries. Just like with your battles, you can set the tone for what you will allow or disallow going forward.
  • Engage in self-care activities. As we’ve said, getting divorced is stressful. You should take time to care for yourself and even have some fun.
  • Contact an experienced divorce attorney. An attorney can be a valuable resource for those divorcing narcissists. Retaining a lawyer can help you feel more supported and confident. They can even handle some of the communication for you so you don’t have to worry about unnecessary fights or arguments.

Our Divorce Law Firm

At Galmiche Law Firm, P.C., our legal team has over 35 years of combined experience. We know how hard it can be to leave a narcissistic partner. We would be happy to offer you legal support as we have helped countless clients navigate their divorces.

If you’re struggling to divorce a narcissist, please reach out to us at (636) 552-4841 or online. Our attorneys know how to handle bullies in and out of the courtroom. 

Visit our divorce lawyer reviews to see why clients choose our law firm when they are divorcing a narcissistic spouse.

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