What to Expect When Divorcing a Narcissist
Divorce is anything but easy. Even couples who are fortunate enough to end on amicable terms can struggle to navigate the complexities of divorce proceedings, not to mention cope with the financial and emotional fallout that comes with ending a marriage.
Divorcing a narcissistic spouse can demand even greater degrees of resilience and courage. Preparing to leave a narcissist can feel like preparing to reach a mountain whose summit is lost high in the clouds. How can one mentally prepare to divorce a person with narcissistic tendencies?
Fortunately, there are various ways to brace yourself for the upcoming divorce proceedings to make the process as manageable as possible. Keep reading to learn more about what to expect when divorcing a narcissist.
What Is a Narcissist?
The term “narcissist” is often used colloquially to describe someone who is overly self-involved or self-centered. However, it’s crucial to understand that narcissism falls on a spectrum pertaining to a legitimate mental health condition known as narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is one of ten personality disorders recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines the condition as “a pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy.”
Common symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder include:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- An overblown sense of entitlement
- Exhibiting manipulative or gaslighting behaviors
- Exaggerating their accomplishments
- Taking advantage of or exploiting others
- Refusing to recognize or empathize with the feelings of others
- Refusing to take responsibility for their actions
Living with a narcissistic person can be a nightmare. While any relationship with a narcissist can be challenging, being married to a narcissist can raise the stakes considerably, as such. marriages often entail concerning levels of control and emotional abuse.
Narcissists in Marriage & Relationships
For many, being married to a narcissistic partner can feel like a revolving door of being manipulated and controlled, only to be drawn in again by their charm, grace, and in extreme cases, remorse. This ebb and flow of emotional annihilation and affection can have worsening effects on spouses over time, often leading to a gnawing suspicion that they are “going crazy.”
Initially, narcissists can be incredibly charming and endearing. The intensity of their self-perceived superiority can make narcissistic people skilled performers, and they tend to behave with the sole intent of garnering the admiration and adoration of others. While this
While a narcissist’s true colors are often less obvious or even invisible in early interactions, many of these characteristics arise after the narcissist develops a romantic connection with someone. In relationships, narcissistic people are prone to emotionally abusive behaviors in an effort to control and isolate their partner.
When a narcissist suspects that they're at risk of losing something or someone important to them, they tend to dig their heels in. Generally, narcissistic partners are relentless in their pursuit to retain control of the people they’re close to (like a spouse or loved one). As you can imagine, this can make it especially difficult to break free from a narcissistic spouse.
Why Is It So Hard to Divorce a Narcissist?
Many are surprised to learn that leaving a narcissistic partnership can be extremely difficult to make, even when the person is fully aware that ending the relationship is necessary for their safety and wellbeing. The challenge of cutting ties with a narcissist can be difficult to put into words.
It’s important to remember that, more often than not, a narcissist’s true colors don’t surface for months or even years. This means that their partners often get to know them as compassionate, charismatic, and endearing individuals who respect and protect them.
Because narcissists have perfected the balance of enforced control and compassionate persuasion to lure partners back in, it’s easy for victims of narcissistic abuse to experience confusion and uncertainty, leading them to question if they’re somehow at fault for the breakdown in the relationship. Some even come to question their own feelings and experiences.
Narcissists tend to have this effect on married partners because:
They fight to stay in the spotlight.
Being married to someone who prefers to be front and center at all times can lead us to question our worth and forget our own identity in the relationship, often without our knowledge. Once repeatedly conditioned to view themselves as less important, it’s unsurprising that many victims of narcissistic abuse come to prioritize their partner over themselves—especially considering that this is the narcissist’s default perspective.
They condition you to rely on them for all needs.
Narcissists are pros at isolating partners from other sources of influence in their lives, including families, friends, and even professional circles.
Narcissistic spouses are known to exert their control over a partner until the other person comes to rely on the narcissist for everything, whether it be food, shelter, companionship, medical care, financial stability, and other needs. This can increase the victim’s dependence on the narcissistic partner and make it more difficult to leave the relationship.
They make you forget who you are or who you could be outside of the relationship.
The narcissistic tendency to take center stage in relationships can repress the other partner’s sense of self. Many victims can automatically reduce their identity to accommodate the narcissist’s ego, not to mention their incessant need for admiration and validation.
Spending an extended period of time praising and nurturing someone else’s needs can lead us to neglect our own. Moreover, it can make it hard to remember who you were prior to the relationship, not to mention who you once aspired to be before shrinking yourself to let a narcissistic partner shine.
5 Behaviors to Expect from a Narcissist in a Divorce
While an amicable divorce is probably out of the question when divorcing a narcissist, rest assured that there are still various ways to assert yourself in court without compromising your safety.
Narcissists tend to put up a strong fight and view divorce as a competition they must win. This adversarial attitude can result in bullying, exploitative behavior, and a refusal to negotiate rationally. Narcissistic people have also been known to resort to abusive behavior when they sense they are “losing” or not getting their way.
When divorcing a narcissist, you can likely expect the person to:
- Refuse to provide financial records
- Refuse to cooperate with you and your legal team
- Act vindictively or out of spite
- Blame others for their actions
- Obstruct or ignore court orders
Given the chance, many couples prefer to settle their divorce out of court or in mediation, as this can offer families a sense of privacy and help them cut back on legal expenses. However, it’s relatively safe to assume that neither a "DIY divorce" nor mediated divorce is out of the question when divorcing a narcissist.
Many divorces involving narcissists require couples to undergo divorce litigation, meaning that they must appear in court. This is because narcissists are notorious for their refusal to compromise or negotiate. Rather than wanting to keep conflict to a minimum, narcissists prefer to stir the pot whenever the opportunity presents itself.
When faced with divorce, it's not uncommon for narcissistic spouses to drag out the process for as long as they possibly can, often forcing their spouses to go to court as a means to maintain control and power over them.
Many narcissists will stop at nothing to accomplish this, even to their own detriment, such as refusing to hire legal representation or refusing to settle. This is largely because, knowingly or otherwise, narcissistic partners understand all too well that once the divorce is over, their reign of power and control over their spouse will come to an end—the ultimate unlivable reality for a narcissist.
Divorcing a Narcissist with Children
If you share a child with a narcissistic spouse, divorce can be even more fraught. While family disputes involving child custody and child support are already major points of contention for most divorcing parents, determining the future and wellbeing of your children in court can be all the more terrifying when your coparent is a narcissist.
Heartbreakingly, a narcissistic partner’s lack of empathy often extends to their children, and narcissists are not above using their children as pawns in a grander scheme. Because of their self-centered perspective and egotistical nature, narcissists rarely consider what is best for the children in question and are only focused on either the appearance of winning or getting what they want.
Protecting your children while divorcing a narcissist can feel like an impossible task. However, there are things you can do to help protect and shield your children during the process. When children ask questions about the divorce, it is recommended that you discuss things with them in as neutral a tone as possible and do your best to remain calm.
It may also be a good idea to maintain stability in your household by developing consistent routines and rules, even if your former spouse doesn’t cooperate. Many clients also report that working with a therapist helped their children cope with divorce. Here we offer other helpful tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with your children during and after a divorce.
What to Do When Divorcing a Narcissist in Orange County
When facing divorce, narcissists are known to stoop to intimidation, manipulation, and gaslighting. Financial abuse is common, as narcissists are not above trying to destroy an ex’s credit, hide or withhold important financial and legal documents, and intentionally draw out the divorce process just to run up their ex’s legal bills.
When divorcing a narcissist, you should do all you can to secure yourself financially and be emotionally prepared for a long battle. We know that the prospect of a long and acrimonious divorce process can be daunting, but you don’t have to go to war alone. Having the right legal team in your corner can make a huge difference both in and out of the courtroom, making it all the more important to secure strong representation from a trusted family lawyer.
In addition to providing the legal support you need to protect yourself and your loved ones, your attorney can help maintain your confidence—and your sanity—while fighting for your rights in court. Since 1978, our compassionate team at Sullivan Law & Associates has passionately advocated for families in need throughout Orange County. As the area’s premier family law firm, our firm is here to prioritize your safety and restore your freedom.
Mentally preparing to divorce a narcissist can feel impossible. Call (949) 565-2793 or contact us online to discuss your case with an Orange County divorce attorney.