At The Micklin Law Group we know that living with a narcissist is challenging, to say the least. Divorcing one can be an even bigger challenge.
Experts estimate that about 5% of women and 8% of men have narcissistic personality disorder. Although not as common as other personality disorders, narcissists can make divorce an emotionally-exhausting uphill battle for all parties involved.
Ultimately, narcissists are only interested in protecting their own interests, and that mentality can make it exceptionally difficult to negotiate during a divorce.
Yes, divorcing a narcissist is never easy, but before you slap this label on your partner, it’s important to have a better understanding of what a narcissist is.
Is Your Partner a Narcissist?
Most people exhibit some narcissistic qualities, but true narcissistic personality disorder only affects a relatively small percentage of the population. How can you determine if your partner is just selfish, or a complete narcissist?
Narcissists are more than just boastful people. Sure, they value themselves above all else and are quite proud of their accomplishments. However, a person with full-blown narcissistic personality disorder lacks empathy, and is unable to connect emotionally with his or her partner or children.
Most partners don’t even realize that they’re involved with a narcissist until it’s too late. They’re highly seductive and charming, but when the fire settles, they find themselves in the midst of emotional warfare.
Psychologists define narcissists as people who lack empathy, and never hold themselves accountable for their actions. They orchestrate their world to make them the center of attention. Soon enough, their partners realize that they’re only serving the narcissist, and receiving nothing in return.
Here are a few signs that your partner is a narcissist:
- Conversations are all about your partner. Your views and feelings are rarely heard. When you do get a word in, your comments may be dismissed, ignored or redirected if they’re not in agreement with your partner.
- Your partner shows little concern for other people’s feelings, thoughts, and possessions. Narcissists have no problem borrowing items without asking, or routinely breaking promises. Little remorse is shown, and the victim is often to blame for the narcissist’s disrespect.
- Your partner attempts to impress other people by making themselves look great, either physically, materially, religiously, sexually, socially, romantically, intellectually or culturally. Accomplishments, objects and status are often exaggerated in hopes of displaying the message “I’m better than you.”
- Your partner feels entitled. Narcissists expect others to cater to their needs right away without giving any concern about the other person’s wants, needs or current obligations.
- Your partner is charming and incredibly persuasive. But once your partner’s wants or desires are fulfilled, they lose interest in you. When you have something he or she wants, you feel wanted and special.
- Your partner spews negative emotions. Narcissists get pleasure out of spreading negative emotions for the sake of gaining more attention and to feel more powerful. They may throw fits if their partners don’t agree with their viewpoint, or berate others for their opinions. Narcissists are quick to judge, blame and criticize others just to give their ego a boost.
These are a few of the many red flags you should be searching for when determining whether your partner is a narcissist. It’s important to remember that narcissists are largely unaware of how their actions affects others, so your partner may not be hurting you intentionally even if it feels that way.
How a Narcissist Treats Their Spouse
Narcissists pull their partners in with their charming qualities, but further on down the road, their true nature rears its ugly head.
Relationships with narcissist typically go through three essential stages:
- The chase. The beginning stages of the relationship are all about impressing you. Your partner is doing everything he/she can to woo you. All of the attention is on you. You’ve never felt more wanted by a person. But it’s not your glowing personality, your career, or your values that your partner loves; it’s all about how you make your partner look and what you can do for him/her.
- The transition phase. Once you move in together, get married or have children, your partner feels like there’s no need to make an effort. You’re now a part of your partner’s world; an extension of himself/herself. Everything goes well until you start expressing your own original ideas and feels. Verbal abuse, belittling and silent treatment are common at this stage.
- The victimization phase. At this point, your behavior changes. You don’t express your feelings because you know your partner can’t handle it. Intimacy disappears. You feel as if you need to continuously walk on eggshells just to avoid conflict. You realize that your perception of reality is far different from your partner’s, but your partner refuses to acknowledge this. At this stage, your partner is denying problems and casting the blame onto you.
Narcissists can be verbally abusive, though that’s not always the case. Typically, spouses feel as if their feelings are never acknowledged, and their partners simply have no respect or concern for others.
How Does A Narcissist Handle Divorce and React to It?
Being married to a narcissist can be a challenge, but divorcing one can be a nightmare, especially if there’s a history of emotional or financial abuse. Narcissists can be intimidating, harassing and abusive throughout the divorce process, which can make your marriage seem like a walk in the park.
Narcissists are often in disbelief that their spouse is asking for a divorce. They may not understand why you’re “doing this to them.” Commonly, we see narcissists exhibiting abusive behavior in two key areas during a divorce: financial and emotional.
The Financial Abuse Cases
In cases where there’s a history of financial abuse, this behavior may continue into the divorce. Divorce can be particularly challenging in this regard if the spouse was the primary income earner.
It’s not uncommon for narcissists to:
- Lie about their financial situation
- Be uncooperative during the discovery phase
- Intentionally hide or divert assets
- Seek alimony, or spousal support
- Refuse to pay alimony or child support, even if ordered to do so by the court
- Drag out the proceedings to intentionally drive up the cost of the divorce
When divorcing a narcissist, it’s important to choose your battles wisely. Know when to stand your ground, and when to avoid being dragged into an unnecessary fight. It’s also important to take court order violations seriously, and file contempt actions when appropriate. Punishment for failure to comply with court orders can include community service, fines and jail time.
The Emotional Abuse Cases
Narcissists can also be emotionally abusive during a divorce. They may threaten to take the kids away, or boldly assert that they will not pay you a dime in child support. They may even threaten to quit their job just so you are forced to pay alimony.
Threats are common with narcissists. They intimidate and harass, and often do so in front of the people who matter most. Yes, emotional and psychological abuse is the narcissist’s way of handling the divorce.
The key important thing here is to understand when to take action, and when to simply let it go. If there is a real threat to you and your children, then your divorce lawyer can get involved and a court order may be required. In some cases, you may file for a restraining order.
Final Thoughts on a Narcissist’s Handling and Reaction to a Divorce
Divorcing your narcissist spouse will require an incredible amount of patience, determination and courage on your part. Narcissists will not get over the divorce – not easily, anyway. But learning how to pick your battles and when to stand your ground can help you get through the proceedings without losing your emotional integrity.