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What to expect when divorcing a narcissist

On Behalf of | Oct 18, 2023 | Family Law And Divorce |

It’s hard to tell when you’ve encountered a narcissist – unless maybe you’re married to one.

It’s estimated that up to 5% of the U.S. population has a narcissistic personality disorder, and many of them don’t show their true colors to their spouses until after their unhappily wed. If you’ve had enough and want out of your marriage, however, it pays to understand what you can expect.

Narcissists don’t like to let go

One of the most important things to understand about a narcissist is that, underneath all of their bluster and grandiosity, they actually have a very fragile ego. They struggle to connect with other people on a true emotional level, and they desperately need external validation.

When you seek a divorce, it will disrupt the illusion they try to create for themselves, so they may do just about anything to regain their balance. You can expect:

  • High-conflict proceedings: Some narcissists thrive on conflict, and they don’t mind using prolonged, contentious legal battles to maintain control or seek revenge. Be prepared for disputes over assets, child custody and even trivial issues.
  • Manipulation and gaslighting: Narcissists are skilled at manipulating and distorting reality to make themselves look like victims. They can’t conceive of a divorce where nobody is the “bad guy,” so expect to be portrayed in the worst possible light to everybody they know. Outright lying isn’t beyond the possibilities.
  • Emotional abuse: Expect emotional abuse to intensify during the divorce process. They may belittle, threaten and demean you, possibly just to hurt you.
  • Boundary violations: You have to set boundaries early in a divorce, but expect a narcissistic spouse to immediately try to trample all over them. It can help to route all your communications through formal channels.

Because it can be so difficult to go through a divorce with a narcissist, it’s wise to get your plans together before you make your intentions known. That means things like making copies of all your financial paperwork, figuring out where you intend to live and getting a good support system, including legal guidance, in place.