Whether you’ve been married for five days or 50 years, it’s hard to imagine the person you’re divorcing today is the same person to whom you once pledged your eternal and undying love. As the saying goes, the very traits that caused you to fall in love with a person are the same traits that caused you to fall out of love at the end of the relationship. The legal, financial, and emotional uncoupling gets even more complicated when you’re tangled up with a narcissist. Divorcing someone with narcissistic personality disorder or even narcissistic features can be a long, drawn-out and arduous affair (no pun intended) if you allow yourself to get sucked into their vortex. Here are 8 healthy and sane steps you can take to divorce on your terms, not theirs.
#1. Determine If Your Ex is a Narcissist.
Your ex can be arrogant, heartless, mean-spirited or an egomaniac, but that doesn’t necessarily make him or her a narcissist. Narcissists are notable for lacking empathy and accepting no responsibility - not even a little bit. People who lack empathy don’t feel sorry for the kitten they ran over, or for the family that is now mourning the loss of its pet, or even for the child who witnessed the accident; they will blame the family for letting its kitten roam the neighborhood, the kitten for not getting out of the way, or they might even chastise the family for the inconvenience of needing to rinse the road kill off their wheels.
Now imagine asking the person who is at the center of his or her own universe for a divorce. Are they going to have any insight to care at all about what brought this on, or what behaviors of theirs led you to this decision? Probably not. Are they going to work with you to co-parent the children and make the children feel safe and secure with the changes and uncertainty in their lives? Probably not. Even if they cheated on you, they will blame you for making them cheat. Even if they physically or emotionally assaulted you, you’re the one who made them do it. They will portray themselves as the victim; they will try to make you pay.
Once you determine and accept the fact that you are dealing with a narcissist, your guard must be up and you must accept that they will be extraordinarily difficult to deal with in a divorce no matter whether it is a child at stake or the steak knives. You can kill them with kindness and they still will go after you.
#2. Save Rational Thoughts for The Right Audience.
Bringing rational thoughts into any conversation with a narcissist is like bringing a squirt gun to a knife fight. Rational thoughts are to the narcissist what vegetables are to a toddler, feed them as much as you want, they will just spit it out. As much as the toddler wants ice cream and will throw a tantrum to get it, the narcissist doesn’t want to hear you, they just want to win. They want vindication to show the world they were right! Their tantrums come in the form of deflections, designed to keep you off balance, distracted, and in defensive mode. You can state, “I want primary custody of the kids because you abuse alcohol.” The narcissist will reply, “I can’t trust you with the kids because you slept with our son’s soccer coach.” While you’re expending energy explaining that you never met the soccer coach and his accusation says nothing about your ability to parent, it’s too late, you’ve already taken the bait and are discussing his or her preferred topic (your inability to parent) versus yours (his or her ability to parent).
Instead of arguing with your ex, calmly and rationally talk to your lawyer and let them speak on your behalf. Which brings up the next point…
#3. Hire a Divorce Attorney That Specializes in Narcissists.
If you own a Tesla electric car, you’re not going to take it to a mechanic that specializes in combustion engines. The same logic applies to legal representation, not all divorce attorneys are created equal. Some are good negotiators. Others are loudmouthed, aggressive sharks. But it takes someone who’s well versed in the tactics that narcissists use in court to create a strategy that keeps your divorce and especially custody proceedings moving through the legal process.
#4. Know the Road Ahead.
If you have children, you will need to convince a variety of people, each with their own agendas and biases, that you are the parent best equipped to care for your children. Your audiences include counselors, therapists, and judges. At each step, the narcissist will try to prove you’re unbalanced, incompetent, and a threat to your children. Remember the old movie “Gaslight?” If you react emotionally to any accusation during these proceedings, no matter now ludicrous, you’re playing into the image of you they’ve manufactured. Expect the unexpected and the worst behavior from your ex and you can’t be knocked off balance or surprised.
#5. Document. Save. File. Share.
It’s relatively easy for an ex to edit a text message, e-mail, or voicemail you‘ve left before sending it to their attorney as evidence against you. The only way to counter their claims is by providing the original message that was sent – this includes screen shots from your phone, “sent messages” from your e-mail outbox, and audio recordings of everything you tell them. The best way of keeping track of this is by minimizing communication with your ex and avoiding all possibilities of him or her provoking you, such as the PTA meeting where witnesses can recall what you do and do not say.
If you see proof of their bad judgment, aggressive behavior, or abuse on social media; capture it before you file for divorce, otherwise your ex can delete the offending posts, or their accounts, in a matter of seconds.
#6. Have a Plan, Stick to It.
Your plan is to reasonably divide your assets and responsibilities so that you and your children can move forward with your lives. For your children, this plan probably includes time with your ex even if your ex is a first-class narcissist. For you, it includes as little as contact with your ex as possible. But the narcissist sees things differently. For them, its win or lose; all for them, none for you. Any allowance you’re given is seen as a personal defeat, so they will spare any expense to keep you from your goals. Even if they invest $50k in legal fees to keep you from getting a $25k car, and you still get the car, they will feel justified in their actions because they can blame the unfair judge and take no ownership in the final decision. In fact, the judge’s decision might fuel their martyr complex for years to come, which is a victory for the narcissist. As part of your plan, know what you’re willing to give up, but demand that everything gets divided equally when you first discuss settlement so the narcissist feels he or she denied you something you really wanted, when it was actually a concession any rational person would have made on Day #1.
#7. Circle the Wagons.
In the Wild West, a caravan could best defend all members against an attack by circling the wagons and fighting from all sides. When divorcing a narcissist, you can expect to be hit from all angles, and blindsided when you least expect it. By surrounding yourself with close family members, friends, and counselors, you won’t need to battle your ex alone.
#8. Forgive Yourself.
Coming back to where we began, it is hard to imagine why you ever married a narcissist. Well, forgive yourself. Narcissists, by nature, want to win at all costs. During your courtship, you were the prize – so he or she likely piled on the charm, the romance, the sex, and the affirmation to claim you as their own and prevent others from being with you. In fact, his or her confident, charming, can-do, “always close the sale” attitude might be part of what attracted you to him or her in the first place. It’s after the sale is made, the deal is done, the validation of winning your love has been given, that the narcissist changes – and often turns their attentions to other prizes and goals (from job promotions and gambling to sports cars and lovers). This cold and calculated shift will eventually lead you to asking for a divorce. It’s okay, you didn’t see it coming this time – but now you know what narcissistic behaviors to look out for next time if and when you’re ready to find a new and worthier partner.