When you’re going through a divorce with a narcissist, there are many challenges and tactics you will endure. Disregard the previous sentence, when you’re divorcing a narcissist, buckle up because you’re in for a hell of a ride! If you find yourself being dragged into a custody case, the game becomes far more serious. You will experience a whole new level of “hell” and that is putting it mildly. There is no “winning” or “beating them” in these scenarios, however, you can learn to cope and manage your interactions with them, which trust me is the goal. Your ex will be your co-parent for years to come, therefore, it’s imperative to educate yourself on this topic as much as you can.
Unfortunately, parents find themselves on a steep learning curve, since constant changes and demands are a big part of these scenarios. More than anything, the narcissist wants control, and they will attempt to use the child and the court proceedings to get it.
Regardless of the status of your custody case, expect the narcissist to deliberately provoke you and attempt to use your child and the legal proceedings to do it. I recommend that you tell your attorney what you believe the other parent will claim you have done, whether it’s true or not.
You have two goals when trying to co-parent with a narcissist:
The first goal is to stay out of court.
The second goal is to keep your sanity!
Here are a few tips to help you accomplish both.
- Accept that you are not a parenting team. Ordinary people learn to co-parent their children for the sake of their children. But narcissists are not ordinary people. Narcissists are incapable of co-parenting. They will disagree on every point to get a reaction, to be contrary, just to create drama. Accept what you’re unable to change and aim to manage your situation day-to-day by doing the best you can. I say day-to-day because things will change constantly with this type of co-parent.
- Defend against false accusations of parental alienation. Some narcissistic parents make false accusations of parental alienation against the responsible parent. Reality does not matter to the narcissist. Despite a demonstrable track record of primary caregiving, a common tactic for a narcissist is to point the finger at the other parent and play the “victim.” For example, a client last year was dealing with this situation. His spouse was never involved with their son’s academics. She never communicated with any of his teachers, attend a parent-teacher conference, etc. In court, she claimed she never received the teacher’s email address, conference dates, or any school information. Outrageous? Absolutely! My advice is to flip that script. Provide the narcissistic parent with all information and copies of documentation of your child along with all the necessary login access to the school’s website, schedules, sports coach contact information, and the like. Inform the narcissist parent about every doctor and dentist visit. If the narcissist starts attending, great! Smile and act as though everything is just great.
- Minimize communication with the narcissistic parent. Co-parenting requires regular communication with the narcissistic parent. You can and should control the method of communication and limit interactions during parenting time. Use a co-parenting app such as “OurFamilyWizard.” Generally, these apps allow parents to communicate, document events, time and date stamp all entries, schedule visitation, and calendar every aspect of custody and parenting time. Use an app to communicate so that every message is date-and-time stamped.
- Have an efficient filing system. Documentation is essential. Never stop documenting events. Let me repeat that, never stop documenting events. Make sure to keep your parenting journal up to date. Narcissists never stop, so neither can you. Keep copies of every paper, communiqué, journal entry, receipt, and so on. For the sake of efficiency, and preserving your sanity, set up a filing system that makes retrieval easy. You can never know with certainty what might be important in your case.
- Choose your battles wisely. Buckley up! You’re in this for the long haul. The court has continuing jurisdiction over the custody case until your youngest child emancipates or turns 18 (possibly age 19 depending on high school graduation). Pace yourself and focus on what is most important, but never let your guard down.
- Consider hiring a divorce coach. Find someone who can advise you on how to circumnavigate the narcissist’s inevitable baiting. Unbiased advice can be a lifesaver. Consider hiring a divorce coach who knows how narcissistic individuals are likely to behave during the many stages of divorce. This can be very helpful in dealing with the narcissist’s tactics. Be mindful, not emotional, or reactive. Learn the skill of responding vs. reacting!
- Establish boundaries. Limit interaction with the narcissistic parent during your parenting time. When your child is with the other parent and calls you, avoid being pulled into a tug-of-war with the narcissist. Unless it’s an emergency, stay away from and out of the narcissist’s home.
- Be businesslike with the narcissistic parent. Make co-parenting with the narcissist a business matter and nothing more. Be efficient, be direct, and be businesslike. Just as you would be at the workplace. For example, always dissect the narcissist’s email messages and respond only to those questions that require an answer. Skim the email, skip all the nasty hurtful stuff, and identify the pertinent questions posed. Respond to those questions only and ignore everything else. Likewise, never use email to convey how you feel to the narcissist. No emojis either. Doing so provides a narcissistic supply and invites more abuse. Narcissists feed on attention – positive or negative. If you give it, then the narcissistic parent will come back for more. This need for attention can never be satisfied.
- Adhere to the parenting plan agreement. Always comply with the terms of your parenting plan agreement. No matter what the narcissistic parent tries to finagle out of you, point to the relevant provision of the parenting agreement and stick to it! There is no co-parenting with a narcissist, and unfortunately being the model of good behavior for your child, will have to come only from you. Be the stable, nurturing parent your child always turns to. Your stability will help counter the bad, reactive, controlling behavior coming from the narcissistic parent. Teach your child what healthy behavior is and is not, and always take the high road!