Divorcing a Narcissistic Spouse

Narcissism vs. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Divorcing is always a difficult process, but it can be even more challenging when you are married to a narcissist or someone with narcissistic tendencies. In recent years, the term “narcissist” has been colloquially applied to people who are selfish or self-focused to an extreme degree, the term can also refer to a real personality disorder. As with many personality classifications, narcissism represents a spectrum of personality traits, and not everyone who is a narcissist is mentally ill. Furthermore, just because someone has narcissistic tendencies or personality traits doesn’t mean they have a personality disorder.

Common personality traits and behaviors associated with narcissism include:

  • A strong sense of entitlement and self-centeredness
  • A tendency to exaggerate or fabricate their accomplishments
  • A constant need for attention, admiration, and external validation
  • An unreasonable expectation of special treatment from others
  • A lack of empathy and a tendency to take advantage of others
  • A strong drive to maintain control over a situation or to retain power over someone

Narcissists can also be quick to anger when they are challenged or criticized. They may overreact to and misinterpret situations, especially situations that challenge their inflated self-image or sense of importance. This can be very difficult for a partner or spouse to deal with, and consequently, narcissists do not often have long-term relationships.

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

At the far end of the spectrum is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), characterized by an excessive need for attention or admiration, an overinflated sense of self-worth or importance, and a lack of empathy for other people. While people with NPD may present themselves as incredibly confident and self-assured, underneath this often lie deeply rooted self-esteem issues and a fragile ego.

People diagnosed with NPD or who have narcissistic tendencies often struggle in personal and professional relationships. Often described as initially charming, this façade can wear thin over time. Once they believe they are secure in a relationship, they often drop the superficial veneer they originally had. It is then when some of their more negative personality traits emerge.

It’s important to note that only a psychiatrist (or clinical psychologist) can diagnose someone with NPD. Though someone displays narcissistic characteristics, this does not mean that they necessarily have or will be diagnosed with a personality disorder.

Prepare for a Contested Divorce

If you are divorcing a narcissist, you need to prepare for a difficult process. It is not uncommon for narcissists to take on a win/lose attitude when it comes to divorce, and they often see themselves as the victim in the situation. This frequently leads to them intentionally making the process more difficult by contesting everything they can and refusing to cooperate. This is often done as a means to retain control over the situation, especially if they were not the ones to initiate the divorce.

Issues often contested in a divorce include:

  • Property division
  • Debt division
  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Spousal support

Keep reading for more information on how to prepare for divorcing a narcissistic husband or wife.

Prepare for the Process to Take a Long Time

In Florida, an uncontested divorce can take as little as two months to be resolved. However, contested divorces typically take much longer. It is not unheard of for a contested divorce to take up to a year. When a couple can’t agree on divorce terms, they will need to negotiate with each other, which takes time. Depending on your situation, negotiation may also involve meeting with mediators and trying other alternative dispute resolution tactics.

Preparing for and negotiating contested divorce matters can be time-consuming and expensive. It is not uncommon for a narcissist to do this on purpose to get back at their former spouse. Dragging out the divorce process, refusing to cooperate, and intentionally driving up the cost of the divorce for their spouse are all frequent tactics used by narcissists when going through a divorce.

Prepare to Go to Court

While many divorcing couples struggle to agree on divorce terms, many can work things out in mediation or through collaborative divorce methods. However, when divorcing a narcissist, you should prepare for your divorce to be litigated in court. Because many narcissists refuse to cooperate, no matter what, contested issues will likely have to be brought to court for a judge to decide on.

Litigation can be a stressful process, but it may be your best option. Depending on your situation, you may wish to forgo the time and expense of mediation and go straight to divorce litigation. Speak with your attorney to discuss what is the best option for your case.

Prepare for a Contentious Co-Parenting Relationship

Co-parenting with a narcissist can be just as hard, if not harder, than divorcing one. Though drawn out, your divorce will eventually end. When you have shared custody of your children, you will need to find a way to effectively co-parent with them indefinitely. If you co-parent with a narcissist, they may use similar tactics to those they used during your divorce, intentionally making you and your children’s lives difficult.

When this happens, don’t feel obligated to force a traditional co-parenting relationship. Instead, focus on finding the methods that work best for your family. The media often portrays the ideal co-parenting relationship as one that involves extensive teamwork and near-constant communication with your child’s other parent. This may be both unrealistic and impossible for your situation.

Instead, you may find that a parallel parenting method works better for your family. With this method, communication between parents is limited to only that which is necessary, and both parents establish their own rules and parenting styles for when the children are with them. Though some people worry that this can create instability for the children, the opposite is often true. In high conflict situations, parallel parenting can reduce fighting and animosity between parents and help children know what to expect when they are with each parent.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

If you are in the process of divorcing a narcissist, do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Your attorney is an invaluable resource, and the sooner you secure legal representation, the better. Even if you are only considering divorce, it is a good idea to speak with an attorney. An experienced lawyer can provide you with guidance regarding your personal situation, and should you decide to proceed with the divorce, can represent you throughout the process.

Similarly, divorcing a narcissist can be incredibly difficult emotionally. Many people report that working with a therapist was highly beneficial before, during, and after their divorce. If you have children, you may also wish to work with a family counselor or have them meet with a therapist experienced in working with children. Your mental health and the mental health of your children are important. You deserve support during this challenging time.

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