How To Manage Divorcing a Narcissist

Couple fighting

Being married to a narcissistic personality is hard and often unbearable. Divorcing a narcissist can be extremely difficult for all of those same reasons, but you can get through it with the right support system, the right self-care, and the right expectations.

Know Thyself

It’s not uncommon for people going through a divorceincluding a divorce that wasn’t their fault and one they did everything reasonably possible to prevent—to suffer from low feelings of self-worth. That’s human. It’s also one of the lies that our brains can tell us at low points in our life.

The reality is that narcissists tend to be attracted by people who are impressive, loyal, and compassionate. The narcissist wants to look good in a public setting and being married to you clearly did that for them. They need a spouse who is intensely loyal. And they need a spouse who has a compassionate heart, one that will see the narcissist’s good qualities and hope that those qualities will be what eventually wins out.

Simply because those qualities were turned against you by the narcissist doesn’t make them any less admirable. It just means that the person divorcing a narcissist needs a good plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again in the divorce settlement.

Manage Expectations

A divorce negotiation can be a real legal battleground. While we always hope for the settlement process to be amicable and reasonable, it’s best not to count on that being the case when you divorce a narcissist.

Narcissists are, generally speaking, driven by a belief that the world owes them something and they are willing to use whatever personal manipulation is necessary to get it. Any amicable behavior they show has to be presumed to be driven by this self-serving agenda.

There is nothing wrong with the spouse acknowledging that they cannot win this battle with the narcissist on their own. One of the challenges is that you, as the spouse, know the narcissist has genuinely good qualities. You saw that up close and personal. You worked with all your heart to bring them out. While you may have finally given up, it’s reasonable to think that generous tendency will come back if the narcissist exhibits some superficially pleasant behavior in the settlement negotiations.

The real question to ask is not whether the narcissist has good qualities—of course they do. All human beings do. The right question is to ask whether that small ray of light is what’s going to drive their behavior in any negotiation for the financial future and custody of the children. Or are the narcissistic qualities that they show on a far more routine basis what is going to drive behavior in the settlement talks?

It's best to presume the latter. The narcissist wants the validation of looking good via the child custody arrangement. The narcissistic belief that one is owed something by the world will drive their attitudes in the property division.

Ways Narcissism Might Manifest

Florida is a state that uses the principle of equitable distribution in a property division. This does not require that each spouse get half of everything. A 50/50 split might be a starting point for discussion, but “equitable” is an intangible concept, one that will ultimately be settled by the judge. This gray area leaves the narcissist room to try and manipulate negotiations in their favor.

Let’s say that you moved into the house they owned after the marriage. The narcissist may simply assume the home is theirs and that no corresponding tradeoff need be made in the settlement. To a certain extent that’s true, but there are other questions that have to be asked.

For example, was any renovation work done after you got married? The increase in the value of the home belongs at least partially to you. All mortgage payments made during the time you were married got them closer to being debt-free—and that was done with money that at least partially belonged to you. This is true even if the narcissist had a higher income. All the money and assets accumulated during the marriage belong equally to both spouses.

It’s common practice in settlement talks for all of this to be considered. The original homeowner—the narcissist—usually does keep the house under this scenario, but the other spouse (you) is entitled to an overall settlement that reflects their own contributions to the value of a home—investments you will not be around to reap the fruits of.

Do you think it’s likely the narcissist will see it this way? Or will they act like they were owed something—in this case, the investments in the house. Everyone is different, but it’s smart to assume the worst.

Another example might be where you and the narcissistic spouse combined your investment portfolios after getting married. Now, that portfolio has to be unwound. Perhaps they had a larger sum of money invested at the time of the marriage. That may be true, but their compound interest return benefitted a great deal from the influx of assets you provided. That deserves to be taken into consideration.

Again, considering all of this is standard practice for any property settlement. And it’s at least possible that the self-consumed, entitled narcissistic spouse will put up a bigger fuss than most over it.

A family court judge may not be moved by the narcissist’s arguments if the settlement goes to litigation. But family courts are also loathe to overturn settlements privately negotiated by the spouses. It’s natural for anyone going through a divorce to desire to avoid the conflict that comes with a courtroom.

But the narcissist is not “anyone”. They like drama and a courtroom venue provides that. They may be far more willing than you are to go to court—and perfectly willing to exploit that fact to push you towards a settlement that provides less than what you deserve under Florida law.

The Right Support System

What all of this means is that it’s imperative not to go into this legal battle alone. Start with hiring a good divorce lawyer. Your attorney is there to make sure negotiations stay on the legal nuts and bolts of the settlement and steer clear of drama. If there’s anything that can flummox the drama-loving narcissist, it’s a clinical, business-like focus on what meets the standard of equitable distribution.

You may already be seeing a therapist. If so, keep up with this counselor during the divorce. Lean on them for guidance. You’re here because you are a loyal and compassionate person. It’s simply time to stop letting your narcissistic spouse be the beneficiary of those qualities. Therapists are trained at helping us set boundaries in emotionally difficult situations. Being able to ask for help is a sign of strength and wisdom.

It's also important to rely on your friends. As negotiations get intense, the narcissist may increase their manipulative tactics, aimed at undercutting your self-worth and distorting the image you have of yourself. Let your friends restore your self-image based on the truth.

Finally, implement good self-care protocols. Eat right, exercise and sleep well. The more structured and healthier your lifestyle is, the more manageable the stress that inevitably comes with a divorce settlement can be.

Family First Legal Group is built on the foundation of helping to re-establish healthy structures for those who have had to endure the pain of a divorce. While we can’t take the pain away, what we can do is be the ones who are on the front lines for you, dealing with the hard issues of divorce settlement talks, protecting your interests, those of your children and helping create the space you need to recover.

Reach out to us today at (239) 319-4441 or contact us online to set up an initial consultation.

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