What to Expect When You Divorce a Narcissist
Regardless of the presence of toxic behavior, divorce can be messy. Ending a marriage is life-altering. Many couples feel anxious about achieving a fair split in terms of assets and child custody. When you throw a narcissistic partner into the mix, it’s normal for emotions to skyrocket as anxiety transforms into terror.
How will a narcissistic spouse react to the news of divorce? Worse, how will they react when it’s time to face off in the courtroom? What does this mean for your future?
Concerns about narcissistic behavior during a divorce are certainly warranted. Anyone who has been in an intimate relationship with a narcissist knows that they can be extremely charming and likable when they want to be. What if the judge doesn’t see through to their true toxic self? What if they manage to turn the entire court against you?
Rest assured that there are things you can do to level the playing field and protect your own wellbeing while ending a marriage with a narcissist. Although it may be challenging to undergo the thick of the divorce proceedings with that person, it’s important to remember that you’re working towards a brighter, healthier future free of narcissistic behavior. Ending a relationship with an abusive spouse will be well worth it.
What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is 1 of 7 personality disorders recognized by psychology today. Males make up the majority of those affected by this particular condition. In a nutshell, narcissism is defined as having an inflated sense of self-importance and a lack of empathy toward others.
As you can imagine, this is often harmful and damaging to people around a narcissist and often leads to the affected person having troubled relationships with family, friends, and loved ones alike. Symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder include:
- Excessive sense of entitlement
- Disregard for others’ needs and feelings
- An expectation for special treatment
- Inability to take or process criticism
- A habit of taking advantage of others
- Arrogant and self-centered behavior
- A need to have “the best” of everything
- A habit of exaggerating achievements
- Self-perceived superiority
- A need for constant admiration and adoration
A narcissistic person can have all or some of these qualities, as the severity of NPD is commonly viewed as a spectrum of intensity. However, according to the DSM-5, a person must exhibit a minimum of 55% of the above traits to be considered a narcissistic person.
Narcissists in Marriage & Relationships
A narcissist in a relationship often exhibits certain behaviors that can be detrimental to both their partner and the partnership. One of the most dangerous narcissistic qualities is a narcissist's inability to perceive themselves as anything but the victim.
It’s very difficult for those affected by NPD to take responsibility for wrongdoings or even believe that they could be at fault in the first place. This internalized belief can lead to unhealthy behavior, such as:
- Major mood swings
- Difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
- Sudden and intense periods of rage
- Displaying impatience and anger when things don’t go their way
- A tendency to belittle, gaslight, and humiliate their partner
Why Is It So Difficult to Leave a Narcissist?
These descriptions might leave many people scratching their heads as they ask themselves: how can partners not see through to this toxic behavior? Why stay in a marriage with a narcissist in the first place? As evident as these personality traits may appear, it’s crucial to understand just how manipulative a narcissistic spouse can be.
Leaving a narcissist is difficult enough on its own. Surviving the split presents a new set of challenges that many people dread to face—and with good reason.
In the same way that narcissists can be contemptuous and combative, they are equally skilled at being charismatic and passionate. Many people affected by NPD can turn on the charm when needed, and behave in a way that’s very similar to flipping a switch. In many cases, it isn’t until a relationship becomes long-term that a narcissist’s true characteristics—the good, bad, and ugly—are revealed.
Many people find it difficult to leave narcissistic spouses because:
- They make us feel needed and special. Narcissists easily breed codependence through compliments, flattery, and emotional manipulation.
- We feel as if we’ll lose ourselves without them. Because narcissistic spouses feel the need to be in the spotlight at all times, it’s easy to forget who we are as individuals.
- Our self-esteem is reliant on them. Sadly, the narcissistic tendency to belittle, taunt, mock, humiliate, and scorn takes its toll on a person. Over time, it's easy to live for the narcissistic partner's approval, even on a subconscious level.
How Does a Narcissistic Spouse Handle Divorce?
Given the qualities discussed above, it’s no secret that a narcissistic spouse will react to divorce differently than the average partner. Here are some common ways that narcissists make an already stressful situation even harder for their spouse during the divorce proceedings.
A narcissist will twist your words and exaggerate.
If you have ever been in a relationship with a person who has NPD, you know this to be true: Hell hath no fury like a narcissist scorned. A narcissistic partner will resort to any strategy under the sun to get what they want.
If they feel themselves losing ground or losing a battle, they dig in their heels even more. Most of the time, a narcissist who fears losing will resort to immature strategies such as exaggerating stories, putting words in your mouth, and even outright lying.
In these instances, do your best to maintain composure—even when your spouse does not. This will not go unnoticed by the court and can help you maintain your sense of sanity throughout the proceedings.
Better yet, your success in doing so will likely drive your partner insane and even give the judge a taste of their true self.
A narcissist will make you doubt yourself and your memory.
When a narcissist feels themselves slipping, they’ll attack the person they have the best chance of manipulating: you.
Having a relationship history with a narcissistic partner can make you especially susceptible to abusive behavior. It's okay to feel rattled when your spouse attempts to make you question yourself and your memories, so give yourself space to feel whatever emotion you need to. The important thing is what you decide to do afterward.
Try to remind yourself that this behavior is nothing new. Stand strong (even when you don’t feel strong) and remember the reasons behind the narcissist’s behavior. The more extreme lengths your spouse takes to disprove you, the more unsettled they are about their odds of winning. Oftentimes, this just goes to show that your victory is on the near horizon.
A narcissist will cast blame on everyone but themselves.
As mentioned above, a narcissist is always the hero of their own story. In many cases, someone with NPD isn’t capable of taking responsibility…even if they wanted to. At the end of the day, the blame always comes down on you.
Be prepared to have some unfair accusations hurled your way. A narcissistic spouse won’t hesitate to accuse you of a variety of absurd things, from lying to cheating to behaving like a total “psycho.” Regardless of the insults, it’s important to carry yourself as the mature (and emotionally stable) adult you are. This will undoubtedly prove to the court that the narcissist’s true intentions aren’t as noble as your partner wants them to seem.
A narcissist will refuse to cooperate.
A narcissistic spouse plays by their own rules in both marriage and divorce. If things don’t go their way, it’s only a matter of time before they dig in their heels. It’s common for narcissistic partners to “make a scene” and prioritize their own wants and needs over civility.
From disobeying court orders to insulting your legal team, there’s no such thing as going “too far” for someone with NPD. They’ll stop at nothing to get the results they want and will place their own inflated self-importance over other requests.
Regardless of the tactics they resort to, it’s important to be the bigger person. Make sure you take time to document inappropriate behavior and instances when your spouse disregards court orders, as this will help you defeat them in the long run and reveal their true colors to the judge.
A narcissist will drag out the divorce.
Why on earth would anyone want to prolong a divorce? For a narcissist, it’s a no-brainer. The longer the legal proceedings, the more time they have to squeeze in final jabs, accusations, and hurtful words. Moreover, most narcissists won’t want the divorce to happen in the first place.
Given their erratic behavior, this might be hard to believe…but at the end of the day, narcissists are often preoccupied with maintaining a perfect, shiny image. They also rely on your codependence to uphold their ego, confidence, and sense of self. Without emotional fuel, a narcissist can't continue to support their inflated sense of power, making them all the more motivated to keep their claws hooked in you.
You Can Rely on Our Firm to Protect Your Wellbeing
Divorce is rarely easy. While divorcing a narcissist certainly isn’t painless, securing the help of a skilled divorce attorney can help soften what is already a rough transition. Those who are courageous enough to end a marriage with a narcissistic spouse deserve the peace of mind and support that their soon-to-be ex never gave them, and our team is here to provide that for you.
At Burch Shepard Family Law Group, we're here to be your rock. We can help neutralize potentially hostile situations while working our hardest to ensure the court sees your spouse's true colors. Don't let yourself fall victim to a narcissist's unfair and manipulative strategies. Our experienced attorneys can help you maintain your strength, confidence, and composure throughout each stage of the divorce proceedings.
Anxious about divorcing a narcissistic partner? You’re not alone. Don’t settle for less than fierce and compassionate legal support. Call (949) 565-4158 to request your free consultation today.