Imagine for a moment that you’re married. Your spouse was fascinating when you first met, with incredible stories and strong charisma. They seemed entirely focused on you at first, winning you over easily.
However, sometime after you got married, things changed. They no longer use that charisma on you. Instead, they seem to thrive on putting you down. They don’t listen when you have problems or needs. If you criticize them or do anything they don’t like, they throw a tantrum, give you the silent treatment, or otherwise make your life difficult. Worst of all, they don’t see anything wrong with this behavior and are completely blindsided when you ask for a divorce.
Many people don’t need to imagine the situation above. It’s their daily life. If that’s the case for you, you may be married to a narcissist. The behavior described above is probably a significant part of why you decided to file for divorce in the first place.
Getting divorced is one of the best things you can do for yourself if your spouse is an unrepentant narcissist. However, many narcissists lash out during dissolution proceedings, which may complicate things. Here’s how to keep your divorce on schedule when divorcing a narcissist.
The term narcissism is used to refer to a wide variety of behavior. Different people use it to refer to anyone, from someone who is a little self-centered to someone with severe narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). It is often people on the latter end of the spectrum who make divorces difficult.
The Mayo Clinic lists some of the symptoms of NPD as:
- A constant need for attention and admiration
- A habit of criticizing others for perceived failures
- An unwillingness to recognize others’ needs and feelings
- A tendency to take advantage of others to get what they want
- Strong negative reactions to perceived criticism
- Difficulty managing their emotional responses to stress
- A tendency to lash out if they feel like they have failed or if someone else has slighted them
While NPD can be treated with therapy, the person with the disorder must admit that they have a problem and want to get better. The nature of NPD makes this extremely difficult. Many people find it simpler to leave partners with NPD rather than wait for them to change.
How Narcissists Can Make Divorce Complicated
If your spouse displays the symptoms above, you probably expect them to react poorly to a divorce. If you file for a split, your spouse may feel like you are attacking them. Spousal narcissism may cause them to try to “punish” you or “win” the divorce by doing things like:
- Refusing to engage with the process: Some narcissists will not respond to your communication about the divorce due to denial or petulance.
- Disputing everything you do: Your spouse may file petty disputes to drag out the process.
- Fighting for assets you want to keep: Some people with NPD see pursuing ownership of the family pet or a beloved heirloom as a fight to win the divorce.
- Demanding full custody of your children: Similarly, if your partner believes it will hurt you, they may fight for complete control of your kids to prevent you from having access to them.
- Lying to their attorney, the judge, and your family and friends about the circumstances: If your spouse thinks they can get away with it, they may make false accusations of abuse to create bias against you.
Keeping Your Divorce on Schedule Despite Your Narcissistic Spouse
While the issues above can make resolving your divorce more difficult, nothing your spouse can do will prevent you from eventually getting the divorce you need. In the meantime, you can protect yourself from your spouse’s misbehavior and keep your divorce on track.
Save every communication your spouse sends you. Talk to them over text alone if possible. Many narcissists will boast about what they are doing to “win” the divorce. Presenting that in court can help unravel any lies about abuse they might have told to hurt you. It also provides valuable evidence if your partner tries to gaslight you about what you agreed to do about child custody or assets.
Hold Them Accountable
Avoid making informal agreements with a narcissist whenever possible. Instead, get them in writing, then hold your spouse to those terms and the penalties you set if they violate them. This includes everything from personal boundaries to agreements about your divorce settlement.
Plan for the Worst
No matter how your spouse behaved before you married, they are no longer that person. Do not expect them to start acting responsibly and politely, especially if you’re in the midst of a divorce.
Instead, prepare yourself for them to behave poorly. They will do their best to make you look like the “bad guy” in your split, so it’s your responsibility not to rise to the bait. Remain calm during any communication so they can’t point to a moment of temper as a sign that you’re a terrible person.
Protect Your Property
Similarly, many people with NPD may try to hurt you financially and prevent you from getting your fair share of marital assets. Having a financial cushion that your spouse can’t access before filing for divorce is worthwhile. Similarly, consider moving beloved keepsakes or pets somewhere your spouse cannot harm them.
Get Professional Legal Counsel for Spousal Narcissism
Finally, do not try to divorce a narcissist without help. People with NPD are often very good at manipulating people who do not know them well. It is in your best interest to consult with an experienced divorce attorney to protect yourself and your future from anything your partner may do to try to harm you. At CC LawGroup, we are dedicated to helping our clients resolve divorces quickly and effectively, regardless of the circumstances. Learn more about how we can streamline the divorce process despite spousal narcissism by scheduling your consultation.