How to Divorce a Narcissist
By: Christine Hammond, LMHC
Divorcing a narcissist is grueling because they refuse to be on the receiving end of someone leaving them. Their superior narcissistic ego will not allow the possibility that there might be something wrong with them. So they try numerous push away abusive tactics followed by pull closer romantic methods to keep the spouse from separating. But, in contrast, if the narcissist decides to go then there is no stopping them.
Due to the exhausting nature of divorce, it takes careful planning on how a spouse goes about the divorce. Done well, the process will be much easier and met with far less resistance. Follow these steps before confronting a narcissist.
1. Recognize ending. There will be a point where enough is enough. Decide ahead of time what the boundary is and then have the courage to stick to it. For instance, a limitation could be multiple affairs. Once the second affair is discovered, consider this the point in time to end the relationship. This is not a boundary to be shared with a narcissistic spouse because they will come just close to the edge without actually going over it.
2. Keep quiet. Using the above boundary as an example, don’t confront the narcissist with “I’m going to divorce you.” This will only ignite into the push/pull maneuver described above to keep the spouse from leaving. Another favorite tactic is gaslighting which rewrites history to make the narcissist look like the hero and the spouse look like the villain. There will be plenty of time for confronting later after other things have been lined up first.
3. Discover evidence. The saying, “Where there is smoke, there is fire,” is especially true for a narcissist. They have an insatiable need for constant attention, approval, affection or affirmation. If they are not getting it at home, they will get it somewhere else. This could come in the form of affairs (physical or emotional), and/or addictions (drugs, alcohol, sex, spending, work or gambling). To discover the vices, follow the money. Look for excessive cash withdraws, hidden accounts, strange charges, and new credit cards.
4. Gather support. When looking for supportive friends and family, they must be 100% devoted to the spouse and not the narcissist. It is best to find a friend who sees the narcissism and has an accurate memory of past events. A person trying to remain neutral will not provide the needed support. There should only be a small handful of people in this circle who are capable of maintaining confidentiality and have been tested in the past. This is not the time to test or add new relationships. Be very leery of anyone wanting to become a fast close friend during this time, it could be a set-up.
5. Verify perspective. Spend some time one-on-one with this small group of friends to verify perspective. Ask questions and gather more information about examples of the narcissism and any abusive tactics. Make an actual list and/or timeline of events to bring even more clarity. The evidence acquired will be useful later in determining an effective strategy.
6. Stash funds. Typically once a narcissist smells the possibility of divorce, they cut off access to funds. It is important to have some money put aside for a temporary place to live and basic living expenses. Ideally, the money will not be needed but if it is, having it will keep options open rather than closed. The funds should be in an account separate from any current banking relationship. Have a couple of zero balance credit cards on hand as well.
7. Use professionals. Preferably, use professionals who are familiar with narcissism and have developed effective strategies. A therapist can provide wisdom, guidance for healing, and emotional support during the divorce process. An attorney will protect the spouse’s best interest instead of the narcissist. Do not rely on the narcissist to find professionals because they will choose only people who are fully supportive of them or are easily manipulated.
8. Remove emotion. It is normal to be emotional during a divorce as the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) are very similar to a death. However, too much emotion can cloud judgement and prohibit a person from making logical choices. Think of the divorce as a business transaction rather than an emotional divide. The narcissist is counting on and will try to incite the spouse into making rash fiery responses. They know the exact buttons to push and have no problem utilizing them.
9. Discern timing. Before confronting the narcissist about a divorce, make sure friends and professionals are lined up and agree with the timing. Don’t pull the trigger on this too soon or all of the hard work in preparing could be lost. The spouse should wait for the right moment when confidence is strong and the decision is final. There is no turning back.
10. Pull trigger. Now is the time to confront. Don’t do this in a private location where an abusive act can take place. Rather choose a quiet public location where it is difficult to raise a voice. Narcissists hate to be embarrassed so use that desire in the spouse’s favor. Have some friends on alert to check-in and see if everything is fine. Be non-emotion, very direct, and give extremely short responses to any attack. Resist the urge to defend a position or take on unnecessary blame. Do not engage in an argument, leave this for the attorney.