Divorcing a Narcissist photo of couple on couch

To an individual who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder -a narcissist – a divorce is the ultimate injury to their perceived value and esteem – even more so if the spouse left them, which is what typically happens. Most spouses married to a narcissist feel lonely, anxious, or depressed in the marriage, and do not realize they are married to a narcissist until they seek individual therapy. Only then do they realize the extent of the gaslighting, the isolation and personal attacks and gain the courage to file for divorce.

For a narcissist, divorce is so catastrophic to their self-centered world view that they suffer deep emotional scars. Despite this, narcissists are seldom receptive to individual or couples therapy unless that therapy is focused on their spouse’s perceived inadequacies.

Prepare For Scorched Earth Tactics. When faced with a divorce, the narcissist will attempt to destroy their perceived enemy – you. Common tactics include undermining your relationships with family and friends, spreading false information about you to your employer (without a job you are less likely to fight back) and harassing anyone helping you through the divorce. Narcissists are extremely litigious, and regularly threaten court appointed mental health professionals, opposing counsel, and family members. Narcissist can be intimidating, harassing and threatening to those who are not on their side and will attempt to “burn them down” if they dare to oppose the narcissist’s world view. Many professionals are reluctant to engage in a divorce with a narcissist for this reason.

If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you already know how it feels to be gaslighted. Gaslighting is a popular defense tactic used by the Narcissist, and this behavior continues to play out in a divorce. We will be addressing Gaslighting in another post, so please check back.

Things You Need to Know about Divorcing a Narcissist:

There is no middle ground. You already know that you never win an argument with a narcissist. You either give in immediately, they convince you that you were wrong all along, or they exhaust you until you simply can’t fight anymore. This dynamic does not change during a divorce. Your divorce will end when you give up or give in, typically after you have exhausted all of your emotional and financial resources.

California law entitles both spouses to an equal division of assets and, in many cases some type of financial support for the lower earning spouse. Many women initiate a divorce from their narcissist husband so they can finally have some control over their own finances, children and lives. So, despite how terrible divorce is, divorce may often be the only path to equality or freedom left open by the narcissistic spouse. But the Narcissist thinks you don’t deserve a fair share. While most divorces end with a settlement, the Narcissist does not want to settle unless the settlement gives them everything and leaves you nothing.

3 Tips for Divorcing a Narcissist:

  1. Destroying You Is More Important Than Preserving Their Own Assets or Relationships. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you have seen how they will battle any perceived foe – the neighbor who leaves their trash out too long, the dog owner who does not control their dog in the manner the narcissist deems appropriate, the co-worker who dares to excel. You have seen this destructive behavior throughout the relationship, you just never thought they would do it to you. Now, you are enemy number one.Because narcissists generally do not understand how their behavior impacts others, they are not concerned that endless fights about the assets or the children are destructive both emotionally and financially. In fact, your financial destruction is part of the point of the continued fighting, even if this means that their own children and finances suffer.
  2. They are the Victim and You Need to Be Punished For That. Narcissists see themselves as the victims who are entitled to punish you for causing them harm. It doesn’t matter if you actually did anything wrong, the narcissist will frequently accuse you of doing all sorts of things you didn’t do to anyone who will listen. Lying or misrepresenting the facts of what actually happened is so commonplace and frequent, it is to be expected.Making false statements to the court are also commonplace. This serves two ends – it costs you more to fight these false accusations, and it perpetuates their “victim” identity. It doesn’t matter how transparent their claims are, the fact that you now have to counter their allegations is part of the game.
  3. Fighting Is A Way to Continue The Relationship Against Your Will. The narcissist will fight until there is nothing left to fight about. It is important to understand that even after the divorce is final, a narcissist will still want to fight about custody, property, your wrongdoing in dividing the assets, or any other wrong – real or imagined. The thought of paying attorneys to fight endless court battles is much easier to accept than giving that money to you. Giving you anything without being forced to is seen as giving in to their victimizer.Forcing you to court is also one way to they continue to feel power over you – they continue to control you and how you spend your time and money while also making them look like the superior spouse and the victim of your decisions.

Divorcing a narcissist will be a challenge.  You will need an attorney who has experience handling divorces involving narcissists can advise you on how best to avoid falling into the continuous litigation trap, and how to prepare yourself before you file for divorce.

For additional insights and further reading: please see:

Wendy Behary’s wonderful book Disarming the Narcissist, and website, which includes useful links and support group information: https://disarmingthenarcissist.com.

Other useful links: Psychology Today