Divorcing a Narcissist: Navigating the Process for Yourself and Your Children

 Posted on September 07, 2023 in Divorce

Shutterstock_511166536-min.jpgIf you are married to a person who displays strong signs of narcissism, likely you will find yourself in a divorce proceeding at some point in your marriage.  Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition in which is diagnosed by evaluating the nine criteria enumerated by the DSM-5, the American Psychiatry Association’s manual regarding mental disorders.  The criteria include: (1) inflated sense of self-importance; (2) preoccupation with power, brilliance, beauty or success; (3) belief they are “special” and “unique”; (4) desire to be admired excessively; (5) sense of entitlement and unreasonable expectations; (6) Interpersonally exploitative; (7) Lacks empathy; (8) Arrogant; and (9) Envious of others or believes others are envious of them.  Displaying only one of these characteristics does not necessarily make someone a narcissist, though it is not required that a person display all of these characteristics to be a narcissist either. 

When divorcing someone with symptoms of narcissism, it is important to step back and ask yourself whether this person actually fits the criteria for NPD or whether you are viewing them in that manner due to your current relationship difficulties.  You need to ask yourself whether you thought these things about this person BEFORE you underwent the breakdown in your marriage or relationship.  If not, it is possible that you could be improperly classifying them due to the inherent bias that comes along with divorce.  However, if you believe they have always displayed these patterns, and particularly, if other independent neutral parties also believe they demonstrate these behaviors, then it is likely, or at least very possible, that you are married to a narcissist. 

Narcissists can make the divorce process more difficult than it needs to be.  They can make it emotionally draining for you by gaslighting you, playing victim, and being persistent with their unreasonable expectations.  They often think they are smarter than the professionals, including psychiatrists, attorneys, and even the judge, making settlement challenging.  They also can prolong the divorce by continuing to fight battles that are effectively over.  This can often leave you feeling hopeless and financially strained. 

If you have children with a narcissist, it is important to analyze how their mental health could impact the children.  If the narcissist is difficult to co-parent with due to their grandiose behaviors and manipulative conduct, your children may be at risk.  In these situations, you may have to fight for the other parent to have reduced or restricted parenting time and for you to be the sole decision-maker in the major areas of healthcare, religion, education and extra-curricular activities.  It may even be necessary to pursue counseling or other therapeutic treatment for your spouse, yourself, and/or children.  The process likely will require the involvement of experts including a guardian ad litem (GAL) for your children and/or a clinical psychologist to do an evaluation of your spouse or a parenting evaluation of the two of you.  Unfortunately, these steps can cause your divorce to take much longer than you probably hoped and be substantially more costly.

There is no denying that divorcing a narcissist is challenging, and therefore, it will require that you hold your ground through difficult times and that you stay strong in your convictions.  This is not an easy task.  You may need to obtain therapy for yourself to deal with these inevitable issues.  Other things that you can do to help yourself in the process including the following:

  • Keep detailed and thorough records, documenting as much as you can;
  • Communicate with the narcissist only in writing (text, email, etc.) or follow up any phone/in-person contacts with a summary in writing;
  • Stay connected with a good support network of friends and family; and
  • Develop tools for staying calm during frustrating times (i.e. yoga, meditation, journaling, etc.)

Narcissism is not always easy to see at first, particularly since many narcissists can initially appear to be charming and charismatic.  Thus, you may have to be patient so that others can see your spouse in the way that you do.  You may feel frustrated at the onset that people do not believe you or see things the way you do.  However, with time, inevitably the narcissist will show their true colors and even if not, a professional psychologist can help assess their mental health and why it is relevant to your case. 

To navigate divorce with a narcissist, you will need an experienced and aggressive attorney.  The attorneys at McSwain Nagle Giese & Rapp, P.C. have the knowledge and background to advocate on your behalf and obtain the best outcome possible.  We can be contacted at 630-407-1200 for a free initial consultation.   

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