How to Divorce a Narcissist – Tactics To Ensure You Win

by Lauren Cook-McKay | Last Updated: September 16, 2021

Preparing to Divorce a Narcissist | How to Tell a Narcissist You Want a Divorce | Negotiating a Divorce Settlement with a Narcissist | Life After Divorce with a Narcissist

 

So you got married and realize one day that you are not living the life you thought you signed up for.

You missed all the warning signs and married a narcissist.

1 in 200 people has Narcissistic Personality Disorder—so your odds of marrying one may be more likely than you think.

You have tried everything to make it work.

You have sacrificed yourself, your children, your friends, family and everything dear to you.

You have tried to change them—fix them—but nothing has worked.

You are officially in what's called a “toxic marriage“.

You are down and out and ready to give up. NOT TODAY!

Yes, divorcing a narcissist is as difficult as it sounds due to their manipulative, guilt-inducing behavior… but have no fear, it is very possible!

Below you will learn the necessary steps to take to begin planning your divorce, what steps you have to take and how to put your plan into action.

With these proven divorcing a narcissist tactics from divorce experts, you can successfully divorce your narcissist and win!

picture of a narcissistic man

Preparing to Divorce a Narcissist

Write It All Down

The first step is to write it all down.

What exactly?

EVERYTHING.

Document the lies, the insults, disparaging comments and criticisms, if you believe they are cheating on you—write them down.

Any form of gaslighting should also be documented as these manipulative tactics are used to control you!

Anything that showcases their horrific and abusive behavior toward you—write it down.

I know it will be difficult but writing things down can also be a form of therapy.

Good Therapy suggests writing improves your mental health conditions and creates awareness that elicits mental, spiritual, physical and emotional wellness.

This documentation will help you prove your claim in court that you were in fact married to an abusive narcissist.

Mental Preparation

Divorcing a narcissist is hard, so hard we wrote a survival guide about it.

Wait—who are we kidding?

Everything about being with a narcissist is hard!

From the self-absorption to the lack of empathy and care for others to the sense of grandiose and keeping up an image, narcissists can be awful to deal with.

Preparing yourself mentally for the uphill battle ahead is vital to surviving the divorce with any sanity left intact.

Begin to create a support team.

This can include your:

Having a “survival team” will make all the difference as you embark on getting divorced from a narcissist journey to freedom after a walk through hell.

Do not skip this step.

Financial Preparation

You don’t think a narcissist is going to make this easy for you, do you?

If your narcissistic spouse is in charge of the finances, this step will be one of the most crucial.

You must gain access to the essential financial paperwork and make a copy for yourself.

Here is an itemized list of financial preparation you must do:

Have funds ready

If you are ready to go to war, you must bring ammo and strategy to the fight.

Having funds on hand will help you retain an attorney in prep for the drawn-out battle that is sure to come next.

Narcissists can never be wrong and can never be “left”—so understand they consider you their “property”.

They won’t take you trying to leave too well so get those funds ready.

Open a “doomsday” account and stash that cash—you are going to need it.

Financial Paperwork

Your narcissistic spouse is going to do everything you can to make you pay for leaving them.

This includes withholding financial documentation.

You must get your finances in order before a divorce mentioning and proceeding happens.

This financial paperwork is comprised of your:

These are the most common financial documents you may need.

You can discuss any further documentation with your divorce attorney before you file a petition for divorce.

Safety Preparation

So you know how quickly your narcissistic spouse can blow up into a narcissistic rage.

This can include:

You must make every effort to avoid this situation at all costs while simultaneously not walking on eggshells (it is difficult but it can be done).

picture of a woman walking on egg shells around her narcissist husband

Therefore, creating a safety preparation guideline will protect you from a potentially dangerous situation.

Tell someone

Before you take the leap and tell your narcissistic partner you want a divorce, tell someone.

Do not go and tell every person you know as that may run the risk of a potential backdraft.

Instead, find a trusted source and contact them.

Tell them everything that has been happening and make them aware that you intend to leave your narcissistic spouse.

Having someone in your corner and aware of your situation can help keep you safe.

Get into therapy

Before you tell your spouse it is time to part ways, seek out the help of a therapist.

Find a local or online trauma therapist who specializes in narcissistic victim abuse.

They can help you learn to set healthy boundaries for others as well as yourself.

For this divorce to work, you must first know yourself to know how to move forward.

You will need the confidence to keep yourself afloat in the rough waters ahead.

 

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Have a shelter in place

Should things go sour, you are going to need a place for you—and your children if you have any—to retreat to.

Safety is of the utmost importance for both your mental and physical well-being.

Ask a loved one or friend if they can home you for a short time should things go south.

Your safety is important and your house can quickly become a prison—more so than it already has been.

If you do not have a safe place you can go, do not give up!

You can contact a Domestic Violence Support Service in the event you are in immediate danger and need shelter.

They also home children so you and your family will be safe.

How to Tell a Narcissist You Want a Divorce

When To Have “the Talk”

The first thing you need to focus on is: Are your ducks in a row?

If the answer is no, you are not ready.

Once you have your support and a legal team ready, your finances and funds in hand and have discussed coping skills with a therapist, you are ready to have the conversation.

You must stand firm in your stance.

The narcissist will be waiting to pounce on you emotionally and undermine your feelings.

This is called gaslighting.

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting is a slow form of brainwashing that convinces the victim they do not live in the reality in which they perceive.

Gaslighting is the highest form of manipulation and is practiced to gain control and make you question your sanity.

They will be waiting to do this…so make sure you set firm boundaries while you reveal your intent to file for divorce.

The most essential factor is to ensure you have thought of everything they could possibly use against you—and block it from being used against you.

AKA checkmate.

Another tip?

Do not have this conversation when your children are present.

Have a trusted source or loved one remove the children from the home or area in which you choose to say the magic words: “I want a divorce.”

picture of a couple having the divorce talk

Where To Have “the Talk”

Okay, the time has come.

It is time to reveal you want a divorce.

But listen—you cannot have this conversation just anywhere or any way.

Being in an isolated area—this can even include your home—is never a good idea.

Narcissists can flip on a dime and if your spouse has never been physically abusive before, this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Also, make sure you have uninterrupted time with no children, cellphones tv, etc. as a distraction.

You mean business.

Notify someone close to you of the day you intend to say you want a divorce.

When it is about to happen, ensure they are either present or within a short distance away should you find yourself in danger.

A PUBLIC PLACE is your best bet for telling your spouse it is over.

There is lesser of a chance they will break their public image or try to harm you if other people are around.

You may even want to share the news in front of a therapist.

Make sure you both arrive separately so if things become too heated, one or both of you can freely leave.

IMPORTANT: When you tell them it’s over, make sure you have somewhere to go and that your bags are already packed. (This only applies if you believe there is a chance they will not leave your shared home willingly.)

You do not want to end up having to go back home into isolation—where harm may await you.

How To Have “the Talk”

When you are ready to tell your narcissistic partner that it is over, consider carefully what it is you want to say.

You have a limited timeframe to get it out before the manipulation intensifies tenfold.

For starters, be calm.

Do not let your emotions control you; let your strategy lead the way.

State your wishes firmly and be straightforward.

Practicing kindness and respect will also go a long way here as well.

DO NOT PLACE BLAME.

The worst thing you can do is to point the finger.

This is not the time to list off all their contributions as to why you want to divorce them.

Your main goal is to share you want a divorce and to keep calm.

Do not let yourself be manipulated or abused—stand tall and stand strong.

There may be anger or there may be tears.

Either way, your decision has been made, and you must state it as such.

This is also not the time for negotiations.

Keep it short, direct and simple.

“You should go stay with your mother”

or

“I am going to keep the kids here with me until we can figure out further arrangements.”

These areas are non-negotiable.

Period.

Your attorney will handle the in-depth negotiations at a later time so do not let your almost ex-spouse dictate what is going to happen next.

FURTHER READING: How To Ask For A Divorce – When You're Nervous But Ready.

Common Narcissist Reactions

So you’ve dropped the D-bomb.

And here it comes…the narcissist’s reaction!

Since it is a never-ending battle with a narcissist, your assumption that there will be a fallout is correct.

Narcissists can react in a variety of ways; especially to divorce.

Their manipulative, abusive behaviors will rear their ugly heads—whether it be to guilt you into giving them a second chance or to punish you for ‘trying’ to leave them.

Here are some of the most common narcissistic reactions to divorce:

It Is Your Fault

No matter what you say or do, the end result is that you are at fault for the divorce.

A narcissistic will point the finger at your flaws, your choices and try their best to shift the accountability onto you.

As you know, narcissists can never be held responsible; they are too perfect for that.

picture of a narcissist blaming their spouse for getting a divorce

Cold Shoulder

At first, the narcissist may have a punk attack and cut you off.

They will enable the silent treatment to punish you.

What makes matters worse is that it can extend to your children.

The narcissist may even go as far as cutting off ties with the children.

If they should keep the ties intact with the children, they will begin to use them to their advantage.

Narcissistic Rage

As previously mentioned, the narcissistic spouse may erupt into a rage.

This is the absolute danger zone you want to steer clear of.

They may try to punish you in the form of mental, physical, financial or emotional.

Their mission?

To wear you down into thinking that you ‘need’ them. Here’s a tip: You don’t.

Now let’s dive even deeper into the reactions of the narcissist in terms of the D-word.

After you say it’s over, the narcissist will begin to plot.

Whether it is to destroy you or get you back into their possession, their brains go into the “No one leaves me” mentality—and this can be detrimental to you.

A narcissist cannot lose.

This is why having your affairs in order is so important!

Once the divorce proceedings have commenced, your narcissistic spouse may:

For the most part, all divorces with narcissists end up in court.

They simply cannot be the ones to blame, will not be left without a fight and they sure as hell will not let you taint their image as a perfect spouse.

The fight is on.

Negotiating a Divorce Settlement with a Narcissist

1. Hire an Experienced Attorney

In order to have a smooth (or the smoothest possible) divorce from a narcissist, you must first hire an experienced attorney.

There are many attorneys for hire who specialize in divorces with narcissists.

Narcissistic Abuse Support states that divorcing a narcissist can be considered a “high conflict divorce”—in essence, an insane amount of turmoil is to be expected.

Narcissists cannot be in a ‘losing’ position; therefore, they are going to fight like hell to make sure they ‘win’ and that you, unfortunately, suffer.

They will be just fine using you as collateral damage as long as they come out on top.

Attorneys experienced with these types of divorce will have proven strategies on how to approach the divorce.

Their negotiation tactics will leverage your position where you can successfully divorce your narcissistic spouse with minimal damage to you—because you certainly do not need any more of that.

A reputable attorney will deeply understand the narcissistic personality disorder and empathize with your situation.

Their main job is protecting you both legally and emotionally as you take this major step toward freedom.

2. Filing for Divorce

When you select the right divorce attorney for you, there are a series of questions you must ask before you begin the filing for divorce.

These are some common questions that will be of use to you:

The answers to the above questions will give you peace of mind as you prepare yourself for the battle ahead.

The next step is to begin your plan and strategy of how the divorce filing will go.

Your attorney will draw out the essential steps to begin the divorce process and it is different in each state.

Be sure your attorney understands the need to be forceful in their demands.

Do not think that your narcissistic spouse won’t hire the most ravenous shark of a lawyer on the planet to go against you—they will.

If you have children, a plan will need to be in place to determine visitation rights with your almost-ex spouse or if you are seeking sole custody due to the potential dangers that may lie up ahead.

Read More: Understanding the Psychological Effects on Children

3. Serving Your Narcissist Divorce Papers

The time has come—your narcissistic spouse is being served the divorce papers.

picture of a woman getting served divorce papers

IMPORTANT: Be sure your children are NOT AROUND when the papers are served.

They may become victims of the wrath your spouse may unleash.

Prepare yourself for the incessant texts and calls that will likely come your way.

The messages will convey one of two things—either they will be of threatening, vile nature or they will be begging for you back and not go through with this.

Your best bet?

Do not engage.

If you must, keep it short and to the point.

Do not share any information with them on the next steps you plan to take.

NOTHING.

You are no longer available to be an audience or cast member in their toxic show.

Remember that you want this divorce, no matter what manipulating promises they will make to you and your children—they are simply not true.

Do not allow yourself to feel guilty. You are saving yourself and your children.

4. Negotiating For What You Deserve

In general, negotiating with a narcissist is an impossibility.

This is why it is so important to have a plan of action in place with your attorney.

Your main job is to play to your strengths and on their weakness.

Their main goal is going to be to win, so make sure all of your information is ready.

Assets and Debt

You must assume your spouse is going to lie.

Remember that financial paperwork you prepared before you told your spouse you are filing for divorce?

This is when it is going to come in handy.

The judge will need to see all paperwork to dispute any lies your spouse may spill.

They are not going to want you to have any gain in the matter, so you and your attorney must be set to defend the finances you deserve and need to survive.

If you have not been in control of the finances, share with the judge that you have been manipulated and ostracized from the finances from day one.

You must get the settlement you need for you and your children to survive and live well, no matter what it takes.

Don’t forget that your legal team must be informed of every aspect of your assets, finances, etc. to get you the win.

If the debt was accrued by your spouse, have that paperwork on hand to show you have no liability regarding those matters.

The judge will need to see every piece of evidence to remove you from being responsible for debt that you did not accrue.

Spousal Support or Alimony

If you are going for spousal support or alimony, your financial paperwork showing what income is brought in by your spouse is vital.

You must prove to the courts that you deserve to live the same lifestyle after you leave your abusive, toxic marriage.

If you bring no money into the home, you must receive this money to pay the bills and keep a roof over your head.

If you were faithful and a dedicated partner and lived above a certain means, it is essential for you to keep a similar situation even after your divorce; especially if you did not have an income during your marriage.

If your spouse offers a low-ball number, refuse to settle.

Know your worth and refuse to negotiate.

You and your legal team must have the specific number you need so do not allow for a lower amount.

5. Child Custody and Support

Now, this is where it may get ugly.

You must get child custody and support for your minor children.

Again, the narcissist will attempt to low-ball.

Do not give in.

These are your children, and children are expensive.

They will already be feeling the emotional turmoil of their parents divorcing so make sure you have the funding necessary to not add to their suffering.

Be sure to have the calculations from your legal team ready and do not be willing to negotiate.

Your children’s future depends on it.

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6. Finalizing the Divorce Settlement

In the end, divorcing a narcissist is going to be hard—very hard.

But the results will leave you free of toxic abuse and able to live a healthy, happy life.

When the courts finalize the divorce settlement, there are a few things to remember:

Prioritize Your Needs and Choose Your Battles Wisely

Your needs must be met so ensure your legal team keeps you on track to achieving your goals.

In the interim, remember to choose your battles wisely.

The narcissist is going to throw anything at you to see what sticks so don’t fall for it.

Keep your eye on the prize and avoid fighting over every little thing.

This will only make the cost of the divorce go up and tax your emotional health even more.

If they need to win a few things here in there, that is the better route to take.

Your goal is to win by getting what you need to survive and set yourself up to thrive on your own.

Utilize Your Support System

You are going to need your support system to keep them close.

Keep them posted on the happenings so there is no surprise.

This can be your friends, family, loved ones and even a therapist (highly recommended!).

The divorce process is draining for couples without a narcissistic partner—so it is even worse for those who are married to one.

There are no timeframes for how long a divorce can last so you may need them on speed-dial throughout the process.

Put Boundaries Down for Communication

A manipulative tactic your almost-ex will try to pull is to harass you.

They will play the ‘poor me’ card and try to guilt-trip you into the ground.

Or they will incessantly blow up your phone with veiled threats to try to intimidate and control you.

The beauty of this situation is that you no longer have to be a victim of their abuse.

Matter-of-factly tell them that unless it is something regarding the children or an emergency, there is no reason to communicate with one another without the presence of an attorney.

Email is best as it allows more time to respond without heavy emotion.

Another rule of thumb is to wait at least 24 hours before you respond to an email.

You can also easily keep track of everything said in the event you end up in court again.

If anything comes up concerning the divorce settlement, refer the communications to your attorney so you don't put finalizing your divorce in jeopardy.

Life After Divorce with a Narcissist

Now that the divorce is over, there are a couple of things you should expect.

Coparenting

This is one of the toughest parts in the aftermath of a divorce from a narcissist—they are still there in some form.

They will undoubtedly use your children as leverage against you; especially if they pay the bills.

Be ready to end up back in court time and time again.

They will continue to play the game of not sharing the schedule, not dropping them off in time, etc.

Just because you are no longer married does not mean they will stop trying to make your life a living hell.

Your children are the perfect way to try and drive you crazy but you are stronger than that.

Stick to your guns and honor the parameters of the child support agreement.

If it ends up not working out, you can always prove that case in court—again.

Get Ready for a Smear Campaign

Psychology Today states that one of the first things your ex narcissistic spouse will do is to ‘paint you black’.

They will do anything and everything to stain your name and play the victim.

They are master manipulators and try and turn anyone who will listen against you.

Expect your support circle to shrink dramatically for some may believe them—and some may want to stay completely out of the drama.

Back to Court? What to Do When a Narcissist Won’t Comply With Divorce Terms

When an ex won’t comply with divorce terms, you automatically have an “affirmative defense”.

This states your ex-spouse is in direct violation of the court.

You must support this defense with ample evidence.

If they have a job and are choosing to not pay alimony or child support, the judge will see the vindictive nature.

Your ex may face serious consequences and be in contempt of court.

After your affirmative defense is proven, your legal team can file an “enforcement motion” on your behalf.

This asks the court to force your ex-spouse to comply with the terms of the divorce settlement.

This can get ugly quickly but in the end, your ex will receive the notice and hopefully comply.

If not, there are multiple civil and criminal penalties they may face.

Healing and Recovery

So it’s over—you’re free.

Now the healing can begin.

picture of a woman healing after divorce

The first step is to rid yourself of anything that triggers you into a bad place.

Pictures, old gifts, anything that reminds you of them.

This is vital to the healing process.

Other important steps are:

Forgive Yourself

You must forgive yourself for falling for the manipulation of a narcissist.

It was not your fault.

Self-healing begins with acknowledging the facts and removing blame from yourself.

Blame-placing keeps you in a bad place so you must find it within yourself to forgive so you can move on.

 

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If you are in need of therapy with both privacy and convenience, we recommend Online-Therapy.com. Their incredible service gives you access to instant professional help, on any device, wherever you are in the world.

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Set New Boundaries

Marriage.com suggests setting new boundaries after the divorce.

For so long you have been used to your boundaries being disrespected and violated.

No more.

Set healthy boundaries that keep your mental, physical and spiritual well-being protected.

These boundaries must be for yourself and other people in your life, not just your ex.

Take Time For Yourself

During your marriage, odds are you forgot about yourself.

What did you use to like to do?

It is time to revisit old friends' past, old and new hobbies and things that make you happy.

Use this time to reconnect with yourself, the things you love and your loved ones.

Write a “Remember Them” List

You will have pulls to contact your ex again, as crazy as that may sound.

Write down a list of “remember them” facts that will keep you in reality.

Yes, you may miss them in the beginning so this list is essential to remind you why you left them in the first place.

Seek Assistance

If you have not already, reach out for help.

A licensed psychiatrist can do wonders for your mind as you piece your life back together.

They provide you with healing tools you can apply to your daily life as you get back on your feet.

One of the most important things to remember is to GIVE YOURSELF TIME.

You just went through a harrowing ordeal, so proper time allows for proper healing.

You made the best decision to divorce your narcissistic spouse.

Now you can focus on yourself, your children, your life, your loved ones, your hopes, dreams, and getting joy out of every day again.

Best of luck to you and stay strong.

 
Lauren Cook-McKay is the Vice President of Marketing 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. Connect with Lauren on LinkedIn here.