Whether you are the exhausted spouse of a narcissist and filed for divorce or your spouse decided to end the marriage, one thing is for sure and that is once involved in a divorce the emotional abuse will get worse. Narcissists will pull out all the stops to “win” the divorce at any cost. In other words, don’t expect your narcissist spouse to cooperate or go away quietly. However, a narcissistic spouse’s behavior is somewhat predictable in a divorce, which allows you to plan strategic responses.
During a divorce, narcissists tend to feel neurotically entitled to get whatever they want due to believing they are above the law and rules do not apply to them. Let’s look at how a narcissist behaves during a divorce and what you can expect.
How will a narcissist behave during a divorce?
Narcissists blame everyone else for their problems and are incredibly self-centered. They also like to perceive themselves to be the “victims” in the divorce even if they are the abuser. Rather than attempting to negotiate or settle, they love feeling power or control and will delay or drag their spouse through countless court hearings.
The behavior you can expect from a narcissist:
- Refuse or delay providing financial information and documents
- Ignore deadlines and defy court orders
- Refuse to negotiate
- Use their children as pawns
- Do not listen to advice from their attorney
One common tactic used by a narcist is dragging out the divorce. Why? Simple, narcissists thrive on taking charge, and since they prefer the adversarial nature of the family court system, it’s more likely they are not going to be successful in a collaborative process. Playing the role of victim by accusing their spouse of cheating, abusive, lying and mentally unstable feeds into manipulating their attorney and possibly the judge, into coming across as likable.
Try to keep in mind, dragging the divorce process out is only a tactic. Planning a strategy with an attorney who is experienced in dealing with narcissists is a good idea. Here are a few suggestions to discuss:
- Is time on your side? Sometimes, there may be a financial advantage to taking your time and not moving quickly.
- Settlement? Knowing what you want along with having all the required documents in place, you may want to have your attorney draft a settlement offer. Keep in mind, this is most likely going to be the first draft of possibly several, but that’s ok. This is something you can do and it’s in your control.
- File a motion for a scheduling order. Even if you don’t want a trial, it’s good to be proactive and seek to set a trial date. This is an attempt to put the narcissist on a time clock.
Another common tactic to expect is their attempt at turning people against you. Whether it’s saying horrible things about you to family, friends, co-workers, etc., or sharing inappropriate things in your personal life, these are most likely going to occur so plan for it. Using their charm and manipulation, they will generate sympathy for themselves while using lies and secrets as weapons.
Divorcing the covert narcissist may be even more toxic than the overtly narcissistic spouse. Passive, quiet, and reserved from the outside. Playing the role of being fragile is common. But never underestimate their passive-aggressive ability to attempt to destroy you during your divorce. Therefore, it’s best to expect gaslighting is going to take place. Don’t allow this to convince you that you’re the crazy one in the marriage and that you’re going to lose everything. It’s merely a tactic to destabilize your sense of reality, nothing more.
Strategies for divorcing the Narcissist spouse
- Hire the right attorney! When going to consultations, be clear that your spouse is a narcissist so there are no surprises. Most family law attorneys who have been practicing for years are very likely to have experience with this, however, some are not comfortable with conflict. Try to find an attorney who has had specialized training on narcissistic behavior through seminars or reading family law publications.
- Family court? Unfortunately, narcissists view settling as “losing” which explains why they enjoy going to court. If you find yourself unable to settle with your spouse, you may find yourself before a judge to resolve the divorce. Instead of feeling intimidated, I say plan to win. With a little creativity and determination, you can destabilize the narcissist just enough to tip the scales in your favor.
My advice to clients is, don’t react to provocation. I realize this is easier said than done, however, you must do your best to stay calm. Once a narcissistic spouse realizes you’ll take the bait, they will expand on that tactic. You do not have to be the victim of your narcissistic spouse. There are steps you can take to protect your rights while you go through the process of ending your marriage. Seeking support from others and gaining an understanding of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is key to your success in going through your divorce.
Hayley Lisa, The Divorce Coach for Men