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Divorcing a Narcissist: Tips, Tools, and What to Expect

divorcing a narcissist

Protecting Your Children

A narcissist wants to win at any cost. Unfortunately, that means your ex might be willing to use your children as pawns during the divorce process. They may try to alienate you from your children or fool the children into believing lies. This can be extremely difficult for both you and your children.

There are some ways to help protect your children during your divorce process:

  • Consult a therapist. A licensed therapist can help your children navigate the emotions they may be feeling during your divorce. Your child needs a safe outlet where they can voice any concerns in an age-appropriate way.
  • Take ownership. A narcissist will blame you instead of taking accountability, and that includes highlighting your faults to your children. Don’t accept blame and don’t apologize for something that is not your fault, but be able to accept and take ownership of what belongs to you.
  • Teach your children to value themselves. Make sure your children understand that their parents’ issues don’t define them and the mistakes of their parents are not their own. Your child needs to know that this divorce has nothing to do with them.
  • Have an emotional outlet. Your children should not be your emotional support or your confidante throughout the divorce process. That will only add stress and drama to their lives. Find a friend, family member, or therapist who you can lean on when you need support.
  • Be honest but calm. While you don’t want to use your children as emotional support, kids are smart. They will likely notice that you look upset or angry and may ask you about it. There is no need to lie and pretend everything is okay, but make sure to speak to your child in a neutral, factual way when discussing what is bothering you.
  • Avoid disagreements in front of your children. This one can be very hard, especially since your ex may instigate disputes when your children are around, especially if the dispute has something to do with the child (such as visitation). Stay calm, and don’t be combative. Do your best to diffuse the situation at the moment and have a calm discussion after the fact with your child to help them navigate what they experienced.

Pursuing Mediation

Unfortunately, narcissists generally aren’t amenable to pursuing mediation. They believe that they have done everything right, and compromising is admitting defeat. Your ex also lacks sympathy and empathy, so they won’t be receptive to your needs and requests.

If you are interested in mediation or settling, retain an experienced attorney.

Your ex is a master manipulator, so it’s critical you have your attorney present anytime you attempt to negotiate.

Pursuing Litigation

Even with the best intentions, you and your ex will likely end up going to court for a possibly lengthy and drama-filled battle. This may include testifying about some of the worst moments in your relationship and confronting your ex’s high-conflict personality.

To make this as easy as possible:

  • Communicate with your attorney. Everything that can come out during the divorce will likely come out. Make sure to be 100 percent transparent with your attorney, even if the truth paints you in an unflattering light. If your attorney knows all the facts, they’ll be better able to advocate for you and deflect attacks coming in from your ex.
  • Don’t engage unless necessary. As mentioned above, it’s best to let your attorney handle all communications. If you must communicate about shared child custody, always do so in writing and avoid any arguments.
  • Keep the receipts. Document everything. Even things you think may not matter. Narcissists thrive on your confusion and self-doubt and always look to trap you in a “lie” to get you to change your story. Have evidence of your facts. Print out bank statements and invoices. Save photos or videos you have. Screenshot chats, text messages, and emails. Mark important dates on a calendar. If you ever interact with your ex in person or via phone – for example, when exchanging children – keep a journal of everything that happened and what they said. Let your divorce attorney know about your documentation and be ready to provide it to them when needed.

In addition to making sure you’re doing everything you can to help yourself, be aware that your ex will do anything possible to use this litigation to bully you.

Narcissists generally believe they’re above the law and the rules of courts don’t apply to them, and they won’t hesitate to abuse the legal system to get what they want by:

  • Filing frivolous lawsuits and senseless motions. Narcissists love attention, so your ex will want to drag this process out as long as possible by filing motions, hearings, postponements, and maybe even a secondary lawsuit. Their goal is to drive up your legal bills and exhaust you with a steady stream of litigation in family court.
  • False accusations. Your ex may try to beat you to the punch by falsely accusing you of what you planned to accuse them of, put you on the defensive immediately, and cause doubt in the court system when you later bring the same charge.
  • Lying. A narcissist is not above lying, even if it’s in a court of law. They tend to lie about small details and matters that are overall inconsequential to the case at hand but that will likely cause anger and frustration and may result in lengthier testimonies and fact-finding.

Malicious compliance. Don’t be surprised if your ex follows laws exactly, to the point where it goes against the purpose behind the law. For example, your ex may not allow your child to speak to you when it’s their time. While the parenting arrangement may provide specific times for each of you, the spirit of parenting laws is to protect the best interest of the child and if a child misses a parent, they should have permission to contact them.

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