Tips for Divorcing a Narcissist

Christopher Sutton
By: Christopher Sutton
PublishedJul 10, 2023
7 minute read

Divorce is hard enough. Often overlooked is how who you’re divorcing can determine how much turmoil you’ll endure before the judge signs the final decree. If you’re leaving someone with a narcissistic personality, you’ve hit the misery jackpot. The traits that made your ex-spouse difficult to live with will make them a treacherous adversary during a divorce. Strengthen yourself with these incredibly helpful tips for divorcing a narcissist.

Don’t Hire Just Any Divorce Attorney

At Robinson & Henry, we get it. We know it can be impossible to work out anything with a narcissistic spouse during divorce proceedings. Our divorce attorneys have experience going against such spouses on behalf of our clients. We do everything in our power to achieve the desired outcome. When you’re dealing with a narcissistic spouse, it’s important to get the right divorce lawyer for the job. Call 303-688-0944 for your case assessment.

What You’re Up Against: Understanding the Narcissist 

What do cult leaders, third-world dictators, obnoxious celebrities, and certain United States ex-Presidents all have in common? Unregulated narcissism.

A narcissist is someone so self-involved that they ignore the needs and merits of others. A narcissist has an inflated sense of their own importance and a primal need for adoration and power. Their inability to submit to empathy, criticism, or even reality leads to destructive patterns of behavior once the narcissist’s grandiosity is called into question.

Now you’re divorcing one.

“While [narcissists] seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good.” — M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie

Divorcing a Narcissist 

Modern psychology recognizes two types of persons with Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD:

  • Vulnerable: This person’s narcissism is rooted in poor self-esteem, even as they appear to be outwardly confident and overbearing. They are thin-skinned, petty, and vindictive when slighted, but they can be calmed with sufficient ego stroking.
  • Grandiose: This person exhibits egotistical, entitled behavior because they believe they truly are better than others. This narcissist’s unreasonable expectations of power and admiration make them manipulative, exploitative, and cruel.

Unfortunately, both types of narcissist lack empathy, and neither will be cooperative during a divorce.

Even when a narcissist is the spouse who wants the divorce, going through a divorce excites their savage need to win at any cost while painting the other spouse as the villain or the loser.

Getting out of a marriage to a narcissist tends to be ugly, expensive, and both physically and emotionally exhausting. So, heed the following tips and always keep your eyes on the prize — never again having to live under the narcissist’s control.

Tip 1: Expect a Fight when Divorcing a Narcissist

If you thought the hard part was working up the nerve to leave, think again.

Many couples hobble into divorce proceedings hoping to reach an amicable settlement. That’s the first and possibly worst mistake you can make when divorcing a narcissist. It’s an easy misstep because the narcissist will use this opportunity to turn on the charm and lure you into “negotiations” just to feel you out and take advantage.

Resign yourself to the fact that your divorce will likely end up in court. Also understand that your spouse is not going to be reasonable, so limit interactions with them as much as you can.

Your Pre-Divorce Scouting Report 

Keep three points in mind as you enter divorce proceedings against a narcissistic spouse determined to punish, defeat, and humiliate you:

  1. Nothing’s Off Limits: The narcissist’s ultimate goal is to be proven right, and they’ll go to extraordinary lengths, even if it means lying on sworn documents, hurting the people you care about, or dragging the children into it.
  2. Obstruction: They will file endless motions and cause as many delays as they can to drag the process out, get under your skin, and weaken your resolve.
  3. Squeeze You Dry: They will run up your legal bills, further testing your resolve while punishing you for wanting out of the marriage.

Because of these three points, which are nearly universal in divorce cases involving narcissistic spouses, it’s extra important to follow the next tip.

Tip 2: Plan in Advance 

Don’t just expect a fight. Prepare for it in advance so that you’re able to ride out the storm over the grueling months ahead. If divorce proceedings are already underway, then do the best you can. But if you haven’t left or filed for divorce yet, here are some things you can do to strengthen your hand.

Gather Your Support Team Early

Do not underestimate the charms of the narcissist you once married and now are divorcing. Once you separate and your mutual friends must invariably pick a side, the narcissist won’t waste any time turning them against you. The narcissistic spouse will play the victim, lie, exaggerate, and twist the truth to weaken your relationships with friends and family you ordinarily would count on for support.

That mean, you have to get to your family and friends first — but only the ones you wouldn’t reasonably expect to choose the other spouse over you. You don’t want to tip them off if you haven’t filed for divorce yet.

Back up Important Assets and Documents

Some pre-divorce reconnaissance can go a long way toward limiting the damage the narcissist will try to inflict in the opening salvos of the war they think they’re in.

Make copies, or snap pictures, of all assets and important documents. This way you’ll have proof if certain assets or papers go missing. Here are some of the important documents you’ll want to safeguard:

  • bank accounts (shared and sole)
  • real property deeds and documents
  • mortgages and lines of credit
  • tax returns, at least the past 3 years
  • insurance papers
  • recent pay stubs (yours and his)
  • vehicle registrations and titles
  • valuable antiques, art, jewelry, keepsakes
  • investment and retirement accounts
  • birth certificates, marriage certificate, passports

Tip 3: Take Care of Yourself

Maybe this advice sounds hokey, but we intend it to be quite serious.

Any divorce brings stress, exhaustion, and emotional upheaval. Divorcing a narcissist brings all that in addition to the daily reminders that this isn’t just a dissolution of marriage, but a petty, drawn-out war of attrition.

Maintain Your Physical Health 

Get your sleep. Eat healthy foods. Exercise regularly. Also, be extremely cautious with your lifestyle choices during the divorce process. Drink less alcohol, stay away from drugs, and when you do go out to blow off steam, do your best to avoid unnecessary drama.

Not only can poor lifestyle choices make this time in your life harder, but your spouse will undoubtedly use any unflattering incidents against you.

Protect Your Mental Health 

Hire a therapist and attend regular counseling sessions. This is good advice for anyone going through a divorce, but it might as well be mandatory for anyone divorcing a narcissist, a process that can make every day feel heavier.

A therapist can lighten the load by giving you a place to dump and sort the junk accumulating inside your mind. Even better, a therapist who has experience dealing with narcissistic personalities can provide insight and tactics that literally can save your sanity.

Tip 4: Pick Your Battles 

Spend any amount of time in a marriage, and your spouse will know soon enough what your weaknesses are; what riles you up, what scares you, what you’re not good at, and even the most painful secrets you only shared with them.

In a divorce, these are just arrows in your narcissist’s quiver. They can be fired at random to unsettle you or saved for the moment in the proceedings when they’ll hit the mark and hurt the most.

Therefore …

Pick Your Battles Early

Once you file for divorce, identify your main objectives and don’t get sidetracked. You will be attacked and tempted to respond in kind over issues and accusations that don’t matter to your objectives. Write down the outcomes you’re willing to fight over, and set your boundaries around them.

Stick to Your Objectives 

Expect the attacks but don’t take the bait. If it helps, understand that not responding to obvious distractions will unsettle your adversary more than any rejoinder. Remember, the narcissist wants the drama. You want a divorce.

Tip 5: Document Everything 

Here’s a rule of thumb for communicating while divorcing a narcissist: If they didn’t record it or put it in writing, they never said it.

That’s not your rule, but theirs. A narcissist has no problem lying. They see the truth as a malleable commodity they can bend to their convenience and delight in making you waste your time trying to rescue one truth while they stack up more lies.

This is a game to the narcissist. Don’t play it. Limit communication with your spouse to email and texts as much as possible, and don’t participate in interactions that cannot be documented.

When it’s time to go to court, your documents will trump the narcissist’s lies.

Tip 6: Use Your Spouse’s Narcissism Against Them

Just as a martial artist uses their opponent’s own weight against them, you can turn your spouse’s personality disorder to your advantage.

Give them Some Wins

If a narcissist has one dependable handicap, it’s the urge to coast on ‘triumphs’ that turn out to be meaningless. With a deft touch, you let the narcissist maneuver you into fights where you put up token resistance and grudgingly concede. The more often the narcissist feels the rush of such a ‘win,’ the more satisfied they become with the momentum, allowing the divorce to proceed more smoothly.

The key is to never give ground on your top objectives. Give the impression that they are winning all the big battles, and how you never realized they could dominate you like this while chuckling quietly to yourself.

Tip 7: Get a Formidable Divorce Attorney 

The outcome of your divorce will have a lasting impact on nearly every part of your life going forward. This is no time to go bargain hunting.

More than 95 percent of divorces settle out of court to minimize damage and financial costs. Therefore, while it’s easy to find a lawyer to represent your interests, it might be harder to get the right one to take on a narcissist seeking to maximize damage and financial costs.

Don’t Hire a ‘Pit Bull’

You’re divorcing an entitled bully. You need a lawyer who can stand up to them, but you must resist the urge to hire a combative ‘pit bull.’

A narcissist craves drama and conflict. The last thing you need is an attorney who likes the drama just as much. He or she would play right into the narcissist’s hands, bogging down your divorce and costing more money than necessary.

Steady and Strong 

Your best bet is a seasoned, no-nonsense attorney who will neither run from a fight nor create extra ones while you’re footing the bill. It is most helpful if the lawyer has faced narcissists in divorce court before and can effectively counter strategies of obstruction, distraction, dishonesty, and delay.

Beware of attorneys who don’t understand narcissism or who tell you you’re being paranoid. If you’re already stuck with one and worried about the potential outcome, you should consider replacing them.

The Right Divorce Attorney Means Peace of Mind

If you’re divorcing a person with strong narcissistic tendencies or narcissistic personality disorder, they’re in it to win it, and they’ll do everything they can to game the system so you suffer. The experienced divorce attorneys at Robinson & Henry are in it for you. We know divorce is stressful and complex. That’s why we work tirelessly to achieve the outcome you deserve, no matter how difficult the other spouse tries to make it. We understand narcissism, and we know how to take it on. Call 303-688-0944 to begin your case assessment.

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