By: David Marquardt
David Marquardt focuses his practice on all aspects of divorce and family law, and is licensed in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. He has extensive experience handling every type of family law matter in each jurisdiction, including divorce, division of property, alimony, child custody and support cases. Mr. Marquardt prides himself on exploring every potential issue in the cases he handles and in seeking creative solutions that are in the best interest of his clients. To learn more about Mr. Marquardt, click here.
Seven Tips to Keep in Mind When Divorcing a Narcissist
Going through a divorce is never simple, even when you and your spouse are on amicable terms or when it is uncontested. Divorcing a narcissist makes it that much more difficult. A narcissist does not like to lose and will fight every issue, which will make the divorce process exhausting and traumatic. However, knowing what to expect when divorcing a narcissist can make things a little bit easier.
As an experienced divorce attorney, I often hear people tell me that their spouse is a narcissist, but not every mean-spirited or malevolent person really is one. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a specifically defined mental disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and characterized by the following traits: (i) a grandiose sense of self-importance; (ii) an exaggerated sense of entitlement; (iii) manipulative behaviors; (iv) lack of empathy; (v) refusing to take responsibility.
After the initial honeymoon period, living with a narcissist tends to be a nightmare. But what about divorcing a narcissist? The following seven tips will help you with one of the most difficult situations you will ever encounter in your life:
1) Expect a significant amount of conflict.
Narcissists create drama. They don’t just get over things, even if they are the ones that started the separation process. This is especially inflated during a divorce when you are a constant reminder that something in their life has failed. According to the narcissist, you will always be the one who ruined the marriage, messed up the children, caused financial hardship, etc.
As a result, the narcissist will attempt to punish you by dragging on the divorce process. Every issue will become a big issue that they will need to “win at all costs.” In other words, you can expect a high conflict divorce.
2) Prepare for parental alienation.
When you are divorcing a narcissist, you can expect that your spouse will attempt to drive a wedge between you and your children. According to the narcissist, you will always be a bad parent, while they will always be a good parent. Consequently, it will also be difficult to co-parent.
Of course, all this does is hurt the kids. It may be a good idea, in some situations, to look into therapy for your kids, which can help them through the process.
3) Don’t defend yourself.
While the narcissist will try their best to create drama and arguments with you, it does not benefit you to respond and defend yourself. The narcissist lacks conflict resolution skills and thinks that they are correct all the time. If you defend yourself from every attack, they will take that as a sign that their tactics are working and will become more argumentative and aggressive.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t respond at all, but you should respond by restating the facts, not their distorted rendition of the facts. You should create a conflict-free communication style that does not rely on sarcasm or anger. Finally, you do not need to respond immediately to every email, text, and phone call from your spouse. Set predictable boundaries for when you are going to respond and stick to those boundaries.
4) Document everything.
Narcissists tend to lie a lot, as this allows them to fit everything into their narrative. To combat this lying, you need to keep excellent records. It is important to maintain written notes of interactions with your spouse. It is equally important to maintain copies of important documents. If you ever need to appear in front of a Judge, you will then have the information prepared to reveal the narcissist’s lies.
5) Exercise self-care.
You will be exhausted going through a divorce with a narcissist, as something will come up nearly every day, whether real or fabricated by your spouse. While it is important all the time, it is especially important to take care of yourself during this difficult period. Exercise, eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, and surround yourself with good friends and family. If you need it, think about getting therapy for yourself. All these things help.
6) Don’t listen to friends and family.
While it is a good idea to surround yourself with good friends and family, they probably don’t know much about the divorce process. Of course, your friends and family mean well, but they won’t understand the madhouse of divorcing a narcissist. Even if they went through a divorce, it most likely was not as contentious as your divorce, as your spouse will not behave like a rational human being. Instead, just let your friends and family know that you do not want to discuss the specifics of your divorce.
7) Hire an excellent divorce attorney.
When seeking a divorce attorney, look for one who has ample experience dealing with a narcissistic personality disorder. Your attorney should have a strategy for how to respond to conflict, keep your legal fees down, and resolve your case successfully.