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Divorcing a Narcissist: How to Stay Sane Through The Process

Divorcing a Narcissist: How to Stay Sane Through The Process

The end of a marriage is an emotion-filled life passage.  Even if you are the one initiating the divorce, it is common to feel sadness, a sense of failure, and moments of doubt.  When the person you are divorcing is a narcissist, you can add anger and frustration to this mix of feelings.  Living with a person afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD, is enough of a challenge; divorcing him can be even more difficult.

It is important to be mindful that a person with NPD has a true disorder. He has developed this self-absorbed, dominating, controlling and non-empathetic personality as a response to something traumatic in his childhood.  It is the only way he knows how to deal with the world, and you cannot change that.  By the time you have made up your mind to divorce him, you already know that healing him is impossible.  So let’s look at some ways you can heal yourself and your family now that you are ready to say good-bye to the marriage.

Get ready for a paradigm shift

Your husband reeled you into the relationship using the typical lures of a narcissist:  he was charming, he showered you with compliments, and he made you feel loved liked no man had ever done before. But as time went on, you noticed that this normal, loving behavior gave way to a man who was controlling, did not listen nor value your opinions, made everything about himself, and frequently lied.  When you tried to address these relationship issues, he would promise you things would change.  They never did.

Now that you have come to realize that you cannot make him change, you need to prepare yourself for a shift in your dynamic.  Your narcissist soon-to-be-ex-husband will not take easily to you showing strength.  He will not accept that you have, in essence, turned your back on him.

You are going to need to gather a good team in order to stay strong and manage your divorce process.  First, enlist an expert attorney, one who is used to dealing with exes such as yours.  He will know what to watch out for and how to avoid the traps your ex will set.  Secondly, work with a mental health professional who can provide you with a safe space in which to express your frustrations and anger.  She will be able to help you remain strong and focused on your goal of getting out of this draining marriage and beginning a new life free of the narcissist.  

If you have good friends whom you know will be supportive during this life shift, lean on them.  If, however, they do not want to be “taking sides” or they are uncomfortable with your decision to leave your marriage, do not involve them in your circle of support.  

work on skills to stand up to narcissistic behavior

With your therapist, work on skills to stand up to narcissistic behavior

You can expect some revenge-like behavior from your husband.  Nothing angers the narcissist more than rejection.  His vengeance could include financial hardship towards you (removing you from any joint bank account or assets), pitting the children against you (lying about you to the children), gaslighting you (denying he said this or that, coming into the home when you aren’t there and removing things), not respecting your custody agreement (being late to pick up the children, not returning the children to your home at the agreed-upon time), and much more.

You will need to learn how to manage his reactions.  It is best not to engage in long discussions with a narcissist, as they do not have ability to participate in a normal, solution-oriented exchange.  They always have to be right.  Keep your conversations to a minimum with your ex.  “Please respect the custody agreement and pick up/drop off the children at the time we have agreed upon,” is more effective than saying “I can’t believe you’ve done this again!  It is totally unfair that you disrespect the time you are supposed to bring the kids back home.  I’ve been waiting two hours for them!”  This type of reaction will only give the narcissist pleasure, as one of his goals is to make sure you are miserable.  Don’t give him the satisfaction.  

A good way to deal with a narcissist is to ignore him.  But if you have children in common, that will be impossible.  So keep your verbal interactions with him short, emotion-free, and direct.  

Be prepared for a long, drawn out divorce procedure

Divorcing a narcissist is unlike divorcing a normal person, in that the narcissist will never understand his part in the unhappiness equation.  Since narcissists lack introspection and self-awareness, they cannot see how they could be responsible for the failure of a marriage.  To punish you, they will use their lawyer to slow down the divorce proceedings as much as possible.  Each time you sense you might be reaching an agreement on an important point, your ex will do something to back up, cease the forward movement, and grind things to a halt.  This is not because he wants to stay married to you (they really don’t feel love for anyone other than themselves), but because his instinct is to seek vengeance when anyone close defies him.  Unfortunately, that person is you.

Keep your eye on the goal

Your divorce will come through eventually and you will be free of this negative force.  But be prepared that your divorce will not be as smooth and quick as a divorce between people who are not affected by one of the partner’s NPD.  But it will be worth it.  Staying in a marriage with a narcissist is not only exhausting and debilitating for you, but harmful for children who are witness to this unbalanced and unhappy interaction between parents.  When you find yourself wondering if all this strife is worth it, visualize the happy, calm household you will have with your children.   You are doing this for yourself, and as importantly, for them.