A Survival Guide To Divorcing A Narcissist

by Lauren Cook-McKay | Last Updated: August 13, 2021

Narcissism Basics | Types of Narcissistic Spouses | Dealing with Narcissistic Rage | Seeking Therapy and Marriage Counseling | Recognizing Gaslighting | Financial Strategies | Negotiate with a Narcissist | Hiring a Divorce Attorney | Moving On

 

If you are reading this you most likely have a ‘narcissist’ in your life, right?

Perhaps you one of the many people that fell into their trap and married a narcissist and you are now looking for a way out.

Or how to help someone that is.

If so, we are going to break down what it’s like to not only love and be married to a narcissist but to also how to divorce a narcissist and come out on top with your dignity and sanity in place.

picture of a narcissistic man

Narcissism Basics

According to Psychology Today, narcissism is defined as “a grandiose sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy for others, a need for excessive admiration, and the belief that one is unique and deserving of special treatment.”

Narcissism can also be measured on a spectrum, indicating there are different levels of narcissism.

Narcissism indicates a hunger for attention and outward validation. Social media networks help enable these traits…and not for the better.

Types of Narcissistic Spouses

There are 7 types of narcissists according to BetterHelp.com and your spouse may be one of them.

  1. The Classic Narcissist – this type of narcissistic spouse loves being the center of attention and tends to thrive on the admiration and praise from other people. They will also have no problem using others for their goals or agenda, while becoming offended from anything that distracts from them or their goals.
  2. The Seductive Narcissist – this type of narcissist will be all about you, your needs and making you feel good. At first. Once they cast their spell on you they want to focus to become about them and their needs and goals. Once they are done with you, the charm will disappear or worse, they will no longer have a need for you at all.
  3. The Vulnerable Narcissist – don't think this type of narcissist is actually vulnerable, they just want you to think that they are. The pity you show them is only a form of manipulation that they seek. If you don't fall for their manipulative games, they will move on to another prey.
  4. The Covert Narcissist – this type of narcissist is very good at masking their manipulative behavior in order for you to not be able to detect it. They will use emotional manipulation on you that belittles or deprives you of emotional needs. Often very subtle at first and can increase in their boldness.
  5. The Grandiose Narcissist – this type of narcissist is very charismatic and driven by success, often times they seek the attention of others in order to fulfill their ego. They have a superiority complex, thinking that everyone else is beneath them because they are the most important person.
  6. The Malignant Narcissist – this type of narcissist is incapable of showing any compassion or empathy toward others. Sociopaths or psychopaths are typically this type of narcissist, which is very scary. In order to gain control over others they will often times enjoy watching or inflicting oppression and pain on to people, in order to play the hero and then repeat the process.
  7. The Vindictive Narcissist – this type of narcissist wants to turn people against you and destroy you. In a marriage, this spouse will be the one to try to turn the children and families against you. Be prepared to protect yourself and document everything if you are married to this destructive narcissist.

Personality traits to look for in narcissistic spouses

If you notice a correlation between your spouse and many of the below traits, you may be married to a narcissist.

They act superior.

Your spouse may in fact believe they are better than those around them. They may brag at their “accomplishments”…specifically to you.

Your opinion falls on deaf ears.

A narcissist will not be interested in hearing, valuing or accepting your opinion; especially if it differs from them. Even if they nod and show they do, odds are they are doing it to save face and will do what they want anyway.

They are controlling.

Slapping boundaries and limitations on what you can and cannot do is a telltale sign of a narcissist.

For example, controlling what clothes you chose to wear is a common red flag. “Those clothes are too tight on you” is a quick way to control what you do, perhaps in fear of people looking at you and you realize you may have other options.

Narcissists can operate based on trigger responses to their deepest fears and insecurities.

Passive-aggressiveness.

Some narcissists will show a semblance of interest in their spouses’ interests. However, they will not truly show a genuine interest in liking or participating in what the other enjoys or wants.

Extra charming.

When you first meet a narcissist, they turn on the charm. This is to lasso their victim with a false sense of safety.

picture of a narcissist man turning on the charm

They are resentful.

Narcissistic spouses can be withholding and resentful.

They may withhold their wants as a way to control playing the victim. They can play the “you never asked” card when in reality, they wanted their wants and interests to be known. This is a power and dominance move to look out for.

Large sense of entitlement.

To be entitled is to be smug. Narcissists have a huge sense of entitlement, and the conversation always dials back to themselves and their needs and wants.

Lack of empathy.

Spouses with narcissism lack empathy toward their spouse and others.

The spotlight always falls back on them and why that fact is acceptable. Don’t expect a narcissistic spouse to empathize with your plight; they cannot.

Hypersensitive.

Any sort of perceived criticism is met with a potential narcissistic rage.

Narcissists cannot handle a differing opinion from their own as they see it as a direct attack. This promotes a silencing and submissive effect on the other spouse and is incredibly dangerous.

Requires excessive admiration.

Narcissists need outward validation and attention from others is a defining trait in a narcissist.

If there is not an audience, a narcissist cannot flourish. Their selfish needs must be met by people telling them how great they are/how much better they are than others.

More times than not, these are based on looks, accomplishments and achievements—not on things such as morals, values and selflessness.

A great example is someone who posts about their charity and volunteer work with the focus being that they actually did it versus the wonderful results of lending a helping hand.

Read More: HELP! I Think I’m Married To a Narcissist? 55 Warning Signs To Lookout For

Dealing with Narcissistic Rage

If you’re married to a narcissist, you know the fallout from narcissistic rage and asking for a divorce can trigger this rage in them.

Narcissistic rage is when there is a perceived threat to the narcissist’s image and self-worth. The result? A violent outburst—or oddly enough, even complete silence.

Certain triggers cause a narcissist to spiral out of control—and typically against you.

Here are several proven ways to deal with narcissistic rage:

Don’t fall victim.

You know an extreme outburst when you see one, so when you see the narcissist dig for attention, repel it. Narcissists crave attention so if you deny them of it, you are protecting yourself.

Do not be baited into an argument; especially in public. If you must physically remove yourself from the situation for your safety, do it.

Do not accept the blame.

It is easy for a narcissist to point fingers at everyone else; they cannot easily accept the blame themselves if it is their fault. No longer allow yourself to be an easy target for them to unload the blame.

picture of a woman thinking on the couch after being blamed by a narcissist

Create and hold your boundaries.

Narcissists despise being held accountable and therefore, despise boundaries that hold them accountable. This may be difficult, but you can do it.

Create and stick to your boundaries, no matter how hard it may get. The “teach people how to treat you” protects yourself, your mind and your sanity.

Stay kind.

It is easy to want to fight back and blow up too. Adding fuel to the fire is the quickest way to set everything ablaze—leaving no winners. Take a step back and show compassion and kindness.

You will undoubtedly receive the upper hand, even if they do not see it that way. This disengages the argument from brewing in addition to allowing you to try and understand how they work.

Allow yourself to be heard.

You deserve to have your feelings heard too.

You must remember to also care for yourself as you do your partner—if not more so. You must validate your own feelings of self-worth and self-esteem to stay healthy both emotionally and physically.

This is the quickest way to achieve security within yourself and stability within your life.

Seeking Therapy and Marriage Counseling

Being married to a narcissist is no easy feat. They can cause extreme emotional and spiritual damage in addition to codependency issues.

Therapy with a narcissist can ultimately lead to a worse situation.

To some narcissists, therapy is merely a manipulation game. Some therapists can also fall victim to a narcissist’s charm and convince you that you are in the wrong.

If you have been withholding your truth and feel safer speaking with a therapist present, this may also lead you to a worse situation with the narcissist.

Personal criticism is the ultimate trigger to a narcissist, and with an audience? This is a disaster waiting to happen.

Narcissistic rage may be on the horizon. And you’re the target.

There is a huge chance that nothing will change after marriage counseling with a narcissist. Narcissists lack empathy and the ability to see their wrongdoings. This may cause you to feel even more frustrated as therapy is typically used as a last resort.

Pro Tip: The information above is specific to seeking therapy or couples counseling with your narcissistic spouse. If you for any reason feel that you need or would benefit from individual counceling, then you should seek the treatment you need. Please don't delay or minimize the importance of proper mental health, especially if another person is manipulating your mental health in a negative way.

 

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Recognizing Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a narcissist's best friend. Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a narcissist causes the recipient to question their own thoughts, reality, sanity and memories.

In other words, gaslighting makes you feel like you are crazy and that what they are experiencing isn’t really happening.

Narcissistic spouses use this technique to alleviate responsibility and accountability to their partners. If they can convince you that it didn’t really happen and that you don’t really feel that way—they are in the clear.

This is also a huge form of manipulation—another trait narcissists are famous for.

Narcissists use this form of abuse to distort the facts and may even lie about the events that occurred; thus promoting their spouse to second-guess themselves and what they recall.

picture of a woman deep in thought from a narcissist

The false image projection also comes into play here when the spouse may “disrupt” the image of how the narcissist wants to be portrayed and how they portray themselves i.e. power, successful, envy-worthy.

This hides their inner insecurities and if you should reveal them to the world, there will be hell to pay.

Signs of a Narcissist Gaslighting You Include:

Financial Strategies

If you are planning on divorcing a narcissist, there is a plan of attack you must create before you pull the trigger.

Prepare for the divorce to be long and drawn out. Narcissists aim to punish those who go against them.

Also, many narcissistic spouses believe you to be their “property” so do not expect them to be so willing to “release” you without proper punishment.

Narcissistic spouses will try to hurt you during a divorce including:

Be ready because you are in for a hell of a ride. But have no fear—there are ways to make this work.

First and foremost, when getting prepared, have a good amount of liquid cash on hand for the upcoming battle. Divorcing a narcissist can be very expensive.

Next, collect and prepare as much financial paperwork as possible. Odds are your spouse will not be so willing to hand them over to you after the intent to divorce is revealed.

Financial paperwork to roundup when divorcing a narcissist include:

Pro Tip: If you seek counseling and hire a therapist, you will want to document the time spent in therapy an keep receipts of the expense you incured as a result.

 

Learning How to Negotiate with a Narcissist

Negotiations and narcissism are an oxymoron.

Narcissistic spouses have to be right and will gaslight you until you believe they are—or inevitably are beaten into submission. But there are ways to learn how to negotiate with a narcissist.

The first step is to get your tools ready.

Keep emotions out of it.

Keep it factual and neutral when beginning negotiations. Narcissists will feed off of your emotions so if you block them, they cannot use your emotions against you.

Know the law.

You and your divorce team must be prepared to pull all the stops when divorcing a narcissist. Learn about dividing marital real estate and joint property in your state as well.

Set a reasonable timeline when negotiations must end.

This will curb the narcissist to understand that you mean business and will hold them accountable, regardless of the outcome on their end. You are in it for yourself now.

They will quickly learn that to try and stall the process will not be to their benefit if there is an end date.

Do not focus on their hidden intentions.

Fear is a typical learned response of an abused party from a narcissist. This is the time to throw that fear away and not focus on what they intend to do next.

You must focus on yourself and the task at hand—successfully divorcing this narcissist. Set aside all the things you cannot control and focus on the things you can.

Know the next step if negotiations fail.

Court will be the next step, so get your divorce team ready. Temporary orders can be served to protect you and your children if necessary until the court sessions have concluded.

Preparations are a sure-fire way to not get lost in the mix of chaos when divorcing a narcissist.

You must know your opening offer, the amount of flexibility with your negotiations and where it is appropriate to offer compromises versus where to stand your ground.

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Hiring a Divorce Attorney

Hiring the right divorce team can make the experience of divorcing a narcissist that much more bearable. This is going to be a rough road so the right team can ease the impact of the inevitable speed bumps that lie ahead.

Reputable, compassionate divorce attorneys can ease your mind as they properly organize the necessary divorce proceeding strategies that provide you with the closure and lifestyle setup you deserve.

Ensure you find an expert divorce attorney who specializes in matrimonial/family law and divorce financial planning.

Their training and deep knowledge of the law and assessing the financial implications of many different settlement possibilities with your narcissistic spouse will help you land the best possible financial security for the rest of your life.

Moving On After Divorcing a Narcissist

The number one thing to focus on after divorcing a narcissist is YOURSELF.

This will be difficult at first as you are conditioned to put the spotlight and your ex-spouse’s needs but over time, it will become easier. You will begin to untangle yourself from the grasp of your abuser.

This can also trigger feelings of PTSD as you reflect on your abusive journey with your ex.

Take one thing at a time as you begin to move on and the storm begins to calm. Finding a local group of others who have experienced similar marriages is a great place to start.

Contacting a therapist and practicing self-help such as meditation and a gratitude journal will help you re-realize your self-worth.

DO NOT keep in contact with your ex after the divorce is over.

They are sure to attempt to contact you after it is done to reel you back in. They are master manipulators and play the victim at an expert level.

Do not blame yourself for the divorce.

Narcissists latch on to people with GOOD qualities so consider yourself a good egg—because you are.

You did not deserve the abuse you received and no longer have to endure it. You are free.

picture of a confident woman raising her fist

Trauma-bonding occurs when they suck the life out of you and make you feel responsible for their happiness, life and everything in between.

Your natural caregiving abilities were not in vain as you now realize you are worth more than being responsible for someone else’s ‘happy’.

Allow yourself time to heal from the betrayal, financial implications and the entirely new life you have laid out before you.

This is a time of healthy, healing change that will bring your self-confidence and quality of life back on the table.

You must allow yourself to let go. No contact allows you to deprogram the normalized trauma and abuse.

Use this time to educate yourself on what healthy looks like, both in yourself and in relationships.

This teaches you boundaries of what you will no longer accept as you move forward in life and possibly another relationship in the future. Self-reflection and education will prevent you from falling into the trap of another narcissist.

Final Thoughts

Divorcing a narcissist may inevitably bring you through hell and back. With the proper recognition of the facts and appropriate preparation, you can ease the impact to pave the path to a healthier future—a healthier you.

Not everyone is a narcissist, codependent and bring toxicity into relationships, so rest assure you will not have to relive the hell you’ve endured. Educating oneself of what is healthy and what is unhealthy is a vital step to achieving a healthy life with a healthy partner.

There are professionals on-call to assist you through your divorce so do not fear taking the necessary step of removing yourself from a narcissist’s life.

You do not have to endure it alone.

Teaching yourself the laws that are there to protect you will also ease your mind during the divorce process.

Self-love is of the utmost importance so remember that your feelings are also valid, and you do have a voice.

You do not have to tolerate the manipulation, gaslighting, abuse and codependency from a narcissistic spouse. Give yourself time to heal and learn to love yourself again.

You have choices, so remember to choose yourself.

Pro Tip: Don't forget to check out Rebecca Zung's valuable course and learn how to take back control in your divorce with your narcissistic spouse.

 
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Lauren Cook-McKay is the Director of Marketing & Content at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She strongly believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure.