Narcissists like to win – be aware of these behaviours during divorce
If you’re married to a narcissist, you are already aware of the classic narcissistic behaviour traits. If you’re considering divorce from a narcissist, you’ve probably reached the end of your tether. But be aware that filing for divorce from a narcissist is not the end. It is the beginning of the end. You have to navigate the divorce process before you are free of the narcissist’s clutches. In that process, they will probably employ a number of tactics designed to wear you down and possibly even motivate you to reconsider. Let’s look at narcissists and divorce behaviours and what you can do about them.
What is a narcissist?
If you’re not sure if your spouse is a narcissist, ask yourself if they exhibit these traits:
- Lack of empathy
- Manipulative behaviour
- A conviction that they are successful, powerful, and attractive
- Sense of entitlement and social importance
- Arrogance and contempt towards others
- Belief that others are envious of them
While this list is by no means exhaustive and there are many examples of narcissistic behaviour, and different types of narcissist (i.e., grandiose vs. covert), in general terms someone is said to suffer from narcissistic personality disorder or narcissism if they have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a constant craving to be recognised for their achievements and successes. Living with a narcissist can be exhausting because they want to be in control and can leave their partner feeling insecure, inadequate and isolated. Divorcing a narcissist takes courage and a good support network. Hopefully you have family and friends who can help but, at SD Law, we have a lot of experience with narcissistic behaviour during divorce, and we will support you through the legal proceedings with compassion as well as technical expertise.
A narcissist’s response to divorce proceedings
Narcissists are not the world’s best negotiators. Narcissists want to win, and this can make negotiations around finance, property, and children lengthy, messy and unpleasant. It is not in the narcissist’s DNA to seek a workable compromise or a win-win solution. Inevitably it will be a high-conflict divorce. In particular, the narcissist will be unwilling to participate in full financial disclosure, as they like to be in control. Revealing details of assets (which may be stealthily hidden) and income will be disagreeable to them. If disclosure is made voluntarily, treat it with suspicion and be aware there may be details missing. A good forensic accountant will help you analyse the information to ensure an accurate financial picture.
Full disclosure can be requested by your divorce attorney but can only be required by a judge. For this reason, and to maintain control, the narcissist may seek to delay proceedings so they can conduct matters on their own terms. They may also try to frustrate negotiations and draw out the process to manipulate you into giving in to their demands or even abandoning the divorce altogether. Along the way, there is a wide variety of tactics the narcissist might engage.
Narcissistic behaviour during divorce proceedings
Narcissists typically refuse to take responsibility for their actions, and so they are likely to shift the blame for the divorce onto their spouse. They are unlikely to accept any negative consequences of the divorce, such as restricted access to their children, and may continue to deny their role in the relationship breakdown or blame the other person for everything that happens subsequently. Conversely, they may play the victim, painting a picture of unfair treatment in an attempt to gain attention and sympathy from family and friends and, importantly, the court. Narcissists don’t like to be rejected and therefore they may react to the divorce with aggression. Be prepared for false accusations and provocation.
In any divorce, children suffer. But children of a narcissistic parent have more to contend with than most. The narcissist may use the children to manipulate or punish the other spouse. They may even attempt to alienate the children against the other parent. Arriving at a co-parenting agreement with a narcissist will be a painful process.
Another tactic is called “hoovering” – this is an attempt to draw you back into the relationship, either via guilt over the children or by recreating the early days of the relationship – indulging in the love bombing and adoration they used to woo you. They are hoping to rekindle your emotional attachment. When this doesn’t work, they may instead badmouth you to your family and friends and try to damage your reputation. This is an attempt to regain control and superiority. At the same time, they will curate their own social presence by pretending to be unaffected by the divorce or emotionally in control, soaking up the admiration of others.
How you can stay sane in the face of narcissistic onslaught
Narcissistic behaviour will wear you down, but you can withstand it. However difficult it feels, it’s important to keep a cool head and remember “it’s not you, it’s them”. The narcissist will constantly try to undermine you and sow seeds of self-doubt, so be aware of this intention and don’t succumb to it. More specifically, here are some tips that might help. There is no off-the-shelf solution. You are an individual and so is the narcissist. But having a strategy will help you navigate a high-conflict divorce and arrive at a more peaceful future.
- Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries with your ex-spouse. Limit your engagement to matters directly related to the divorce and any shared responsibilities, such as parenting. Communicate in writing whenever possible, as this provides documented evidence of any agreements (or disagreements) between you.
- Maintain a support network: Don’t be afraid to rely on your network of friends, family, and professionals who can support you emotionally. People in your life who understand your situation can help you stay grounded and provide perspective, particularly if your ex tries to “gaslight” you (i.e., makes you question your own sanity or reasoning).
- Document everything: This is tedious, but it’s important to keep a detailed record of all interaction with your ex-spouse. It may help in legal proceedings.
- Focus on your wellbeing: Look after your mental and emotional health. Keep up with your favourite activities, manage your stress with stress-reduction techniques and, if possible, seek counselling to help you cope with the challenges you’re facing.
- Limit contact with your ex: As much as possible, avoid direct interaction, particularly in private. Use intermediaries to communicate on important matters to reduce the potential for conflict.
- Secure your finances: Depending on your matrimonial property regime and your current circumstances (e.g., joint bank account or separate accounts), take whatever steps you can to protect your financial assets and interests. Even before you are divorced, a financial adviser can help you make informed decisions which may also improve the final outcome of your divorce.
- Consult a parenting coordinator: In a high-conflict divorce, where parents struggle to reach agreement, the court will generally appoint a parenting coordinator to help parents make workable parenting arrangements and protect children from being the victim of parents’ animosity. Even if a parenting coordinator is not mandated, you will benefit from a facilitated process. The guidance of a professional will ensure a more structured and peaceful parenting plan.
Arm your battle stations!
Even if you make use of all these tips, be prepared for a battle. Because the narcissist likes to win and is not a natural compromiser, a legal battle is likely. Your attorney will help you develop a sound legal strategy and will prepare you for potential challenges in court. Be open and honest with your divorce lawyer so they have all the facts they need to manage your case.
Seek the guidance of an expert divorce attorney
SD Law & Associates are experts in divorce and family law and have dealt with many cases of narcissistic control in intimate relationships. If you are in a high-conflict relationship and considering divorce, or just want to discuss your options, we can guide you through the process with compassion and dignity. Contact attorney Simon Dippenaar on 086 099 5146 or email email@example.com.
- Parenting Coordination – When parents can’t agree, on anything
- Parenting coordinators/facilitators – sphere of responsibility
- Children and divorce – 5 ways to reduce the emotional harm of divorce
- Dealing with a narcissist
- Covert narcissism
The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.