As divorce attorneys, we often hear the word “narcissist,” typically used by our clients to describe their spouses. Usually the condemned partner is someone who is overly conceited or excessively self-centered, and not necessarily a narcissist. Although being particularly self-absorbed can come off as supercilious and arrogant, narcissism is much more than that. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a real psychological disorder exemplified by a need for admiration and lack of empathy for others. Generally, narcissists genuinely believe the world revolves around them.
It is no secret that going through a divorce is extraordinarily difficult. However, divorcing a narcissist increases the conflict and turmoil tenfold. While there is nothing one can do to fully eliminate the effect of a narcissist on the divorce process, there are certain actions that can help minimize the emotional toll on the non-narcissistic spouse.
- Become educated. There are two important items here. First, it is important to know exactly what a narcissist is, and what drives that person to act. For example, a narcissist will usually have a fear of abandonment; divorce activates this fear, which in turn threatens his or her self-worth. The result is anger and contempt, which permeates the entire process. Knowing this will equip the other spouse with the tools to counter the narcissist’s rage. Second, knowing what to expect throughout the divorce process will help when the narcissist becomes difficult or starts making threats. Consequently, it is imperative to become comfortable with the various issues involved in that particular divorce case, to the length of time of a typical divorce, and to the procedures of the local court system.
- Define goals. What it means to “win” for one person may be completely different than for another. For one spouse, the goal may be to obtain primary physical custody of the children, while another spouse may want to stay in the house the parties have lived in for 10 years, and yet another spouse may not care about any financial recovery and just want to get out of the marriage. It is important to define these goals at the outset, so as to develop a strategy to achieve them.
- Set reasonable expectations. If there is one item to take from this list, it is to set reasonable expectations. Divorcing a narcissist will be difficult, and the narcissist will do whatever it takes (including going bankrupt) to prevent his or her spouse from achieving their goals. Additionally, a narcissist wants his or her spouse to have an emotional reaction to everything; therefore, the narcissist will cause a disagreement on every small (or large) issue. It is easy to get sucked into this chaos, but it is impossible to beat a narcissist at his or her own game. In light of the foregoing, it is important to remember that a divorce case never goes perfectly, and it never goes exactly the way one spouse or the other wants. There will be ups and downs, and the person who understands this will be more emotionally equipped to deal with the downs, and will focus more on the ups.
- Get everything in writing. One characteristic of narcissism is manipulation, mostly because a narcissist believes he or she is entitled. A narcissist is also often a bully (both to spouse and children) who plays the role of a victim. While it is nearly impossible to productively communicate with someone like this, good communication throughout any divorce can be helpful, especially if that communication is in writing. This is particularly true when one spouse is narcissistic, as it is quite difficult to manipulate words in an email or a text message. If needed, this written communication can be used as evidence of bullying or in support of other important facts in the case. However, it should be expected that the narcissist will try to bait or induce the other spouse into a “war of words.” It should be expected that all written communication may be seen by a judge; therefore, it is important to stick with short and neutral (i.e. non-combative) messages.
- Gather financials ASAP. “Discovery” is one of the tools that attorneys have in their arsenal to effectively gather facts and documents from the other side. Discovery can include many things, but often includes requests for financial documents to be produced by the opposing spouse. More times than not, a narcissistic spouse will drag their feet in producing the requested documents. While the court can assist in eventually making sure the documents are turned over, it is advisable to gather pay stubs, tax returns, bank and credit card statements, investment and retirement account information, and any other relevant documents in an effort to save valuable resources.
- Don’t involve the children. It is highly unlikely that a narcissist will be an effective co-parent. To the contrary, the narcissist may use the children as pawns to achieve a desired result. The best way to combat this behavior is to segregate the children from the divorce. Have custody exchanges in public places. Refrain from arguing in front of the children. Obtain extra support in the form of therapy. Keep a journal of daily parenting activities, as well as interactions with the narcissistic spouse. All of these methods insulate children from the destructive nature of a divorce from a narcissist.
- Find a good attorney. The choice of attorney is very important in any divorce case, but it is critical when divorcing a narcissist. It goes without saying that it would not be smart to hire a narcissistic attorney. However, it also not a good idea to hire a “pit bull,” or someone who will feed into the narcissist’s game of all-out war. The best attorney in these cases is thorough and prepared, as well as a good problem-solver.
If you are facing the prospect of a divorce from a narcissist, be sure to consult with an experienced family law attorney. The divorce lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C. have years of experience in divorce cases involving parties suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.