Relationships are hard work. They take effort, time, compromise, and patience. A relationship with a narcissist is even more difficult, but ending the marriage with one can prove downright exhausting. Here is what you need to know about narcissism and divorce:
The narcissistic spouse, and how to identify their traits;
When divorcing a narcissist, there are ways to handle the nastiness; And
Co-parenting with a narcissistic personality, succeeding for a healthy and happy childhood.
Are You Dealing with a Narcissist?
Maintaining a healthy relationship, whether it be a married one or just long-term, is difficult since two people are trying to cultivate a shared life. We are all different, and our personalities may conflict at times. However, there is a personality that makes life and relationships extremely difficult…narcissists.
To start, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, NPD, is a recognized mental health condition where those afflicted have an inflated ego, a need for attention and admiration, lack of empathy, and a history of troubled relationships.
Then some have narcissistic tendencies. These people do not necessarily qualify for a diagnosis of NPD but display several of the traits that define the disorder. Generally, those who show a few of the narcissist's attributes are not full-blown narcissistic (let's be honest, we can all be a tad selfish at times). You're a little vain, or you crave approval and attention for the work you do. It's nice to have your ego stroked occasionally, and it makes us feel good to be appreciated.
Extreme sense of self-importance – exaggerates accomplishments, talents and expects to be recognized as superior.
Fantasies of power, success, beauty, or the ideal relationship absorb their consciousness.
Believes they are unique and special and only understood by others deemed special.
They need extreme recognition or admiration.
Sense of entitlement – expects better treatment than others.
Does not recognize the needs or feelings of others, lacks empathy.
Highly envious of others or believes others are envious of them.
Display arrogant and snobbish behaviors and attitudes.
Having five or more of the above traits could lead to a psychiatrist's clinical diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But, most NPD sufferers rarely seek treatment since they are perfect and everything, so the likelihood of you knowing your significant other is afflicted with NPD is low.
We may have some of the nine characteristics, but not a number that would qualify for NPD. Meaning, you may be dealing with someone who has narcissistic tendencies and not NPD.
If there is no clinical diagnosis and only a gut feeling, be prepared for a fight when the relationship ends.
Divorce and Narcissism Do Not Mix, But There Are Ways to Handle It
They say that the only thing harder than being married to a narcissist is divorcing one. The narcissist is in it to win it at all costs, even your sanity.
When dealing with a narcissist in divorce or separation, you need to think strategically, not emotionally.
First, gather as much info about finances and assets before hiring your attorney. That way, you'll have the info needed to prove if anything goes "missing." Information to gather should include:
Bank accounts, both individual and joint;
Mortgages and lines of credit, again individual and joint;
Few years of tax returns;
Investment and retirement accounts;
Birth certificate, marriage certificate, Passport;
Documents about real estate or other valuable assets; And
Next, hire a superb lawyer. It is the best investment you can make for your future, one without the narcissist. Do not cheap out and go bargain basement with your attorney. Choose one who has the experience, know-how, and wherewithal to outlast and outwit the narcissist and their tactics.
Our team of seasoned family attorneys at JC Law deals with high-conflict and messy divorces all the time. We know what it takes to handle a narcissistic personality. The narcissist will make plenty of promises and try to keep lawyers out of it, but do yourself a favor and hire one because words are only words until they are in a contract.
Finally, know that it is not your fault your spouse is a narcissist, that is their problem, and if they refuse to seek help for their issue, you need to know when to throw in the towel and seek a divorce.
Some couples have successfully made it work between a narcissist and a non-narcissist (they are not all bad people, just a bit grandiose). Some signs show you it's time to leave, and they range from verbal and emotional abuse to manipulation, isolation, and control.
If you have children with a narcissist, you are attached to them until your kids become adults. You will have to co-parent with the narcissist. Children make life after divorce a bit more complicated, although there are ways to deal with your narcissistic ex.
How to Successfully Co-Parent with a Narcissistic Personality
Co-parenting with a narcissist won't be easy, but you can take steps to make the parenting arrangement manageable. By following these basic strategies co-parenting with a narcissist is possible:
Devise a comprehensive parenting plan – leave no stone unturned as the narcissist may exploit any area left unmentioned. It would be best if you are very specific with the plan. The more details there are, the less there is to fight about and fuel narcissism.
Create strict boundaries and keep them – once the divorce is final, it will be up to you to enforce the plan you both agreed to; remember the old phrase, "give an inch, and they'll take a mile?" Yeah, a narcissist will take the mile and more if you don't hold firm on the boundaries set.
Document everything – seriously, keep detailed notes and documentation of every conversation, drop-off, pick-up, tardiness, or schedule change. Mundane details often end up showing patterns of behavior.
Expect challenges – remember, you are dealing with a narcissist so expect protest. By reframing the expectations, you are less likely to be shocked or stressed out when an issue does arise. You'll be pleasantly surprised when things DO go easy.
Keep communication businesslike and straightforward – use email or text messaging to communicate. Try not to use emotional words, so you can both try a clear discussion without triggers. Email and text also allow you to absorb and think about appropriately responding rather than being reactionary, which verbal conversations tend to lean towards. There are even parenting apps, like TalkingParents or AppClose, that can centralize all of your communication.
Lead by example and be the best parent YOU can be – don't go trash-talking the narcissist to your kids (even though they are doing that to you) or engage in their tactics. At least one parent must provide a good role model for the children. Be the parent that shows their kids what a normal, healthy reaction to a problematic situation looks like. Exemplify the moral code you want the kids to live by.
A relationship with both parents is always best, so keep these strategies in mind as you wade through the difficulties of dealing with narcissism in divorce and child custody matters.
Although it is best for both parents to be involved in a child's life, there are times when the non-narcissist parent needs to seek full custody of the kids to keep them safe. Instances where a parent is denied their time with the child, the child is afraid of the other parent, or if the other parent is violent are points that could validate full custodial rights.
Dealing with a narcissist during divorce will be messy; it will take a fight, and it will take an enormous amount of restraint on your part to get through it. We at JC Law are ready to go round for round with your narcissistic ex to end the marriage. Be warned that if kids are involved, you will be dealing with the narcissist for some time afterward, but there are tools at your disposal to create a manageable co-parenting arrangement.