Are You Divorcing a Narcissist?

Divorce challenges every couple; no one likes to go through the end of a marriage. While both spouses may hope that the process goes smoothly with as little conflict as possible, that often ends up not being the case. In this post, we discuss the peculiar difficulties when one of the parties is a narcissist.

We should begin with an understanding of the characteristics of a narcissist. Derived from the Greek myth about a hunter in love with his own beauty, a narcissist is much more than someone highly self-absorbed. Rather, the pathology begins when the degree of focus on the self blocks out the ability to see the impact on others. Consequently, narcissists often exhibit overblown senses of grandeur or victimhood, show little empathy for others, and can even derive joy from causing others pain out of a sense of a just conclusion to the narcissist’s grievance.

This personality type poses significant problems throughout a divorce.

First, the narcissist typically will drag out the process.

Every requirement imposed by the court – from discovery onward, becomes a challenge to win. Documents will not be disclosed or even doctored; false pleadings will be filed, often with malicious intent and seeking sanctions; money and assets may be withheld and court orders ignored. All these outcomes result from the narcissist feeling a sense of importance above all the other participants and not realizing that these negative behaviors could cost the narcissist in the end.

Second, negotiation can be a lost cause because a narcissist will think all or nothing, and that a compromise represents a loss.

The hope is that the narcissist will outspend and outwork the other spouse until that spouse caves under pressure. Do not expect a narcissistic spouse to cooperate or go away quietly. During a divorce, narcissists can be manipulative and exploitative, feeling neurotically entitled to get whatever they want. Narcissists blame everyone else for their problems. Because they are so self-centered, narcissists often perceive themselves to be victims even while bullying their spouses. True narcissists believe they are above the law and feel that rules do not apply to them, making them notoriously difficult to deal with. It is common during a divorce for narcissists to refuse to (a) provide financial information and documents;(b) negotiate; (c) listen to their own lawyer; (d) follow court orders; and (e) keep their children out of the middle of their divorce. Also, the narcissist will be threatened by his or her loss of control over you and focus on the person taking away that control – your lawyer. A narcissistic spouse will pull out all of the stops to destroy your attorney-client relationship. You will be told that “your lawyer is incompetent” or “your lawyer is just trying to run up your bill.” Don’t buy into this line of fiction. The narcissist will find losing influence over your life hard to accept and attempt to find ways to control you while the divorce is pending. A narcissist will repeatedly attempt to control you by not paying maintenance or child support, failing to follow the custody schedule, and making co-parenting decisions without your input. Aspects of divorce proceedings that naturally motivate most spouses to negotiate earnestly toward settlement are completely lost on the narcissist. Believing in his or her superiority while claiming the role of victim, a narcissist may experience power and control by dragging you through endless, exhausting court proceedings. Divorce brings out the worst in the narcissist.

Third, narcissists will get personal.

You should expect an avalanche of personal attacks on your character and be put on the defensive to justify the obvious. This may extend to your children, with their well-being used as a pawn in this fight. It is possible that a narcissist can also get violent if feeling particularly cornered or threatened. Another favorite tactic of the narcissist is turning people against you as the divorce is proceeding. You should expect it and you should plan for it. Your narcissistic spouse will attempt to turn people against you by: (a) saying terrible things about you to those in your circle such as parents, siblings, friends, coworkers, employers, priests, pastors, or rabbis; and (b) by sharing inappropriate things in your personal life that should never be shared publicly. If you share a confidence or family secret with a narcissistic spouse, then he or she may use your words to turn people away from you and hurt you. The narcissist weaponizes the secret once shared during a divorce.

So, how does a narcissistic spouse pull all of this off? By using charm, charisma, generosity, deceit, and manipulation. By characterizing himself or herself as “the good spouse” in the marriage, he or she generates sympathy for themselves. This strategy is intended to weaken support for you and strengthen support for themselves. It’s about gaining power and winning. It’s about taking allies away from you and moving them to the narcissist’s side of the game board.  Building your emotional and financial support team is important, but be careful in whom you place trust and confide. Understand, your family members and closest friends may share information with a narcissistic spouse out of compassion. This happens far more often in divorces than one might think. Using other people makes the narcissist feel important and in control. Some people do the narcissist’s dirty work out of self-preservation while others unwittingly carry out the narcissist’s campaign by spreading misinformation. Narcissists frequently use people as pawns to shore up their positions, weaken the other spouse, inflict additional emotional abuse, and ultimately win the game. 

If you feel your spouse fits the description of a narcissist, you need to inform your attorney and develop appropriate strategies to become proactive and avoid a protracted conflict as best as possible. If necessary, your attorney can help you assure your safety and how to protect assets or secure financial support during the divorce.

Should you need the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney in Creve Coeur and O’Fallon or have questions about your divorce situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those questions with you. 

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