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Divorcing a Narcissist: How to Divorce a Narc

Sophia Merton
May 20, 2022

Getting divorced isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, but divorcing a narcissist is particularly unpleasant. While everyone displays some narcissistic tendencies from time to time, being married to and getting divorced from a narcissist is a whole other ball game.

Unfortunately, this is not a circumstance where you can expect to have a low-stress, uncontested divorce. If your spouse really is a narcissist, they will likely use all kinds of nasty tactics to make the process as difficult as possible and to ensure that they get their way.

One of the best ways to deal with this type of situation is to know what to expect ahead of time and to prepare before you file for divorce.

Let’s take a look at what you need to know about how to divorce a narc.

What Is a Narcissist?

narcissistic woman getting divorced
Everyone displays narcissistic tendencies from time to time, but someone with narcissistic personality disorder can be difficult if not impossible to be in a healthy relationship with.

People that have a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be difficult if not downright impossible to have a relationship with. This mental health condition can cause individuals to rely on other people for admiration, self-esteem, and praise in a way

that drives them to only form superficial relationships for their own personal benefit.

Narcissists act in ways that harm other people and their relationships. It isn’t uncommon for them to have an inflated view of themselves as being unique and superior to other people.

Before we get too deep into things here, it’s worth noting that narcissism can be a personality trait and everyone is guilty of displaying narcissistic tendencies from time to time. However, a full-blown, clinically diagnosable narcissist will be so self-involved that they fundamentally don’t understand the way that their behavior impacts other people.

Some of the primary personality traits associated with NPD are:

  • Grandiosity or a sense of superiority
  • Inflated sense of self-worth
  • Extreme self-focus
  • Strong need for recognition and praise
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Manipulative behavior
  • Lack of empathy
  • Arrogance

You might wonder to yourself: why would someone ever need to divorce a narcissist? How could someone in their right mind get into a relationship with a person like this in the first place?

Unfortunately, narcissists can also be incredibly charming. They are often highly skilled at winning the affection of others and the art of manipulation. This means that it’s sadly all too common for people to get into a relationship with a narcissistic person without being aware of the reality of their personality disorder.

What Are the Different Types of Narcissism?

In the DSM-5, there’s only one official diagnosis for NPD. However, there are different theories about how to further categorize the different types of narcissism as there can be quite a bit of variety in the personality traits of people with NPD. Some experts make a distinction between adaptive and maladaptive narcissism in addition to breaking down NPD into subcategories.

Overt Narcissism

overt narcissist in divorce
When we think of narcissists, overt narcissists are usually what come to mind.

An overt narcissist is the type of NPD that most people think of when they hear the term ‘narcissist.’ These people are completely and excessively preoccupied with the way that other people see them. It’s common for them to be hyper-focused on wealth, flattery, status, and power and they are often both deeply sensitive to criticism and high-achieving.

Covert Narcissism

Also referred to as vulnerable narcissism or closet narcissism, this is a harder form of NPD to spot. While these people also crave admiration and have an inflated sense of self-importance like overt narcissism, their negative behaviors might be much more subtle and passive.

These people might engage in emotional neglect, blaming, manipulation, and shaming rather than demanding respect or constantly showing off. It isn’t uncommon for covert narcissists to view themselves as a victim in life.

Antagonistic Narcissism

This type of narcissist is largely concerned with winning. Often willing to exploit others to get ahead, they are defined by a deep sense of competitiveness, rivalry, and arrogance. They also might try to appear dominant or gain the upper hand by starting arguments or putting other people down.

Communal Narcissism

Another less-apparent form of narcissism is communal narcissism. In these cases, individuals might actually come off as completely selfless to the point of being a martyr. However, they are actually motivated by the admiration and praise they receive from their “selflessness,” rather than a genuine drive to help other people.

These people see themselves as more caring, empathetic, or selfless than other people. Frequently running around displaying their moral outrage, it’s not uncommon to find these characters at the forefront of social causes.

Malignant Narcissism

Often considered one of the most potentially abusive and severe forms of narcissistic personality disorder, malignant narcissists have many of the classic traits of narcissism in addition to some traits that are associated with antisocial personality disorder. These include:

  • A lack of empathy
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia

In some instances, people with malignant narcissism can have a penchant for sadism.

Adaptive Narcissism Vs. Maladaptive Narcissism

older narcissistic couple in divorce
Many psychologists divide narcissism into two types: adaptive and maladaptive.

If you found yourself looking up “how to divorce a narc,” you likely already suspect that your spouse has narcissistic traits. Regardless, it’s important to understand that not all people with this disorder will look or act the same way. While it’s important to not run around diagnosing everyone you know with a serious mental disorder (again, we all display some of the traits of narcissism from time to time,) it’s also worth learning about how varied the outcomes can be for different people with NPD.

For example, a person with NPD might be a high-achieving, well-dressed, and charming person. They might work hard to curate a specific image of themselves that they present to others, and other people might largely see the individual in the way that they want to be seen.

On the other hand, another person with NPD might set low expectations for themselves and be an underachiever because they strongly believe that they are entitled to what they want in life.

The former case might be referred to by some experts as an “adaptive narcissist.” These people can actually be assisted by their narcissism in their pursuit of success in their education, their career, or their finances.

The latter example, on the other hand, is an example of “maladaptive narcissism.” With traits like condescension, exploitativeness, and aggression, these individuals are affected negatively by their narcissistic traits as they neither serve themselves or the people around them.

Divorcing a Narcissist: What to Expect

narcissist using child in divorce to get what they want
A narcissist might use your family, your friends, and your children against you to get what they want in a divorce.

Now that we’ve explored the wide variety of ways that narcissism can show its ugly head in a person with this particular personality disorder, we can talk about what you should expect when you begin the process of divorcing a narcissist.

At every step along the way, you can expect that your spouse will fight. In general, a narcissist believes that they never make mistakes and they never fail. They will likely place all of the blame on your shoulders and use just about any resource they have at their disposal to protect their ego.

This means that a narcissist might use your family, your friends, and your children against you. It also means that they will be brutal in the way they fight to divide property and assets.

You should not expect that your narcissistic spouse will magically act differently in the divorce process than they did as a part of the marriage. Even if they are highly skilled in the art of manipulation and have convinced you that this process will be smooth and fast, you should be highly skeptical of this claim. If your spouse is truly narcissistic and it seems like they are being oddly amicable during the process, it is likely for the purposes of manipulating you into giving them what they want.

Is Mediation a Good Idea When You’re Divorcing a Narcissist?

In short, mediation is likely not a reasonable option if you are getting divorced from a narcissist. People with diagnosable NPD or that exist somewhere on the spectrum won’t be able to see things from any perspective other than their own. They won’t believe that they could have had any fault in the dissolution of the marriage, and they will do everything in their power to protect their ego. Compromises are often viewed as failure in the eyes of a narcissist.

For this reason, mediation will likely be a dead end and might just end up providing more opportunities for you to be at the receiving end of their harmful behavior.

How to Divorce a Narc

In some cases, people can get divorced amicably and go through the process together. When you’re dealing with a spouse that is a narcissist, however, you’ll need to go about things differently.

Get Your Ducks in a Row Ahead of Time

First and foremost, you don’t want to alert your spouse that you plan on getting divorced until you have hired lawyers and gotten your ducks in a row. Before your formally file for divorce, there are a number of issues you’ll have to deal with including documenting your financial records.

If you let your spouse know that you are planning on leaving them, it gives them the opportunity to hide assets or otherwise strategize to make the divorce process as difficult as possible.

Of course, it’s worth noting that everyone’s circumstance is different, and that in this type of situation it’s highly advisable to seek the counsel of an experienced attorney. They will be able to direct you on the best course of action and when the appropriate time is to tell your spouse that you are filing for divorce.

If your spouse has a history of being deceitful, you might want to make copies or take photographs of important financial documents and records of assets. This way, if the assets mysteriously go missing before the divorce trial, you have prove that they belonged to your marital property not too long ago.

Some of the things you might want to document include:

  • Investment accounts
  • Valuable antiques, jewelry, and art
  • Retirement accounts
  • Birth certificates, your passport, marriage certificate
  • Insurance paperwork
  • Recent pay stubs
  • Tax returns for at least the past three years
  • Joint and sole bank accounts
  • Documents regarding real property
  • Lines of credit and mortgages

If you’re getting divorced in Texas, you can find a guide to the legal forms you’ll need in this article. By understanding what documents you’ll need as a part of your divorce, you can get all of your ducks in a row before alerting your spouse to the fact that you’re planning on filing for divorce.

Build an Emergency Fund

If you are going to be divorcing a narcissist, you can expect that they will do everything they can to “win” in the divorce proceeding. They might try to cut you off from money when they learn that you are pursuing a divorce and “smoke you out” or try a number of other nasty divorce tactics. In general, it’s a good idea to build an emergency fund over time as you prepare for divorce to ensure that your financial needs are met even if things get dicey for a little while.

Hire an Experienced Lawyer

In some instances, hiring a lawyer might not be necessary for a divorce. If you’re getting divorced from a full-blown narcissist, though, you’ll want to get the best lawyer you can. If possible, try to find an attorney who has experience in this type of divorce case where one party has NPD.

If your spouse is a narcissist, you shouldn’t take their word for it if they promise that they’re interested in a fair outcome after the divorce. You’ve likely heard many promises through your marriage that were never upheld, so don’t get tricked into thinking that things will be different this time.

Are you wondering what it entails to get divorced without a lawyer in Texas? If so, check out this article.

Seek Outside Support From Professionals

Getting divorced from a narcissist and starting a new life is an incredibly difficult thing to go through, both materially and emotionally. For this reason, don’t hesitate to go out of your way to find a good therapist, spiritual advisor, or another professional that you feel comfortable talking to. It can be easy to blame yourself for having gotten into a relationship with someone that is so selfish and destructive in the first place, and having someone to help you work through these emotions can help you go through the emotional healing you need.

Wait to Date Until the Divorce Is Final

Starting to date before a divorce is final can complicate things sometimes anyway, but it can be a particularly bad idea when you’re getting divorced from a narcissist. If they find out that you’re seeing someone else, they could take things to the next level in terms of trying to make the divorce process (not to mention your life) a living nightmare.

Understand the Nature of Gaslighting

A common tactic used by narcissists is known as gaslighting. When a person gaslights you, they will try and wear you down through a number of different methods, including:

  • Projecting their own thinking or actions onto you
  • Acting in a way that doesn’t match their words
  • Blatantly lying
  • Using the things closest to you as ammunition against you
  • Denying that they ever did or said something even if you can prove it
  • Telling you or other people that you’re crazy
  • Try and pit other people against you
  • Trying to convince you that the other people you’re close to think you’re crazy (breaking down your trust)
  • Complimenting you or using positive reinforcement after a bad act
  • Trying to convince you that everyone else you know is lying to you

It’s possible that a narcissistic spouse will try and gaslight you during a divorce. They might not just lie to you, but also judges, lawyers, your children, mediators, and child custody evaluators.

If agreements aren’t in writing, you shouldn’t expect that a narcissist will uphold them. They might try to revoke or deny oral agreements that you’ve made. For this reason, it’s essential to get everything in writing when it comes to any type of divorce-related communication.

You should expect that your spouse will use these types of behaviors at just about ever turn in your divorce. This can help to reduce the effect of feeling confused or surprised every time they claim that a phone call never happened even though you know it did.

Build Your Boundaries But Don’t Advertise Them

As a part of having been married to a narcissist, you will need to begin the process of rebuilding healthy boundaries in your life. This will take time and deliberate work. It won’t always be easy, but it will significantly improve your life.

However, it’s not usually worth it to try and communicate your new boundaries or advertise them to your spouse. You’re ultimately just giving them more valuable information about where your weak points are and you can expect that a severe narcissist will use this as fuel in their next attack.

Protect Your Children

If you have children, one of your primary goals during the divorce process should be to protect them. A narcissistic spouse will gladly use children as a part of their divorce strategy to get what they want. They might even try and pit your children against you in order to hurt you or win custody.

Narcissists are often experts at manipulation and a lot of times are quite charming. This means that children can frequently be fooled by them, not to mention adults. It’s important to understand that one of the common tactics that narcissists use as a part of divorce is parental alienation. By understanding the possibility of this occurring, you can prepare yourself and come up with a plan.

Document Every Encounter

It is ideal to only communicate with your spouse in writing when you are getting divorced from a narcissist. If it isn’t possible to do this, keep a log of every encounter you have and every telephone call. In the log, you’ll want to include the date, time, subject, and other people who were present at the time.

Here are some of the other things you’ll want to document:

  • Keep logs of the time that both you and your spouse spend with your children if you have them
  • Make sure to note every time you are denied access to your kids if your spouse has primary custody
  • Build a list of witnesses to give to your attorney

Additionally, it’s important that you don’t let yourself get baited into fights with your spouse. Though it can be difficult and feel completely unnatural, it’s best to stay calm when you’re interacting with them during the divorce process.

Are You Getting Divorced in Texas?

If you’re getting divorced from a narcissist, you have our deepest sympathy. While it might not be an easy road, you are likely doing what is best for you and for your children. One of the best things you can do when you are facing a difficult divorce is find experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel that can help you navigate the process.

At the same time, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about the family laws in your state. This can help you understand what your rights and responsibilities are under the law, which can resolve any concerns or worries you have about the ability of your narcissistic spouse to leave you and your children out in the cold.

If you’re getting divorced in Texas, we have a growing library of resources here to assist you in your endeavors. Be sure to check out TexasDivorceLaws.org for tons of articles to answer all of your questions about divorce in the Lone Star State.


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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is a researcher and writer that aims to help make the complexities of the legal system understandable to the layperson. Believing that people can be empowered by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, Sophia aims to offer accurate and well-researched information in straightforward and easy-to-digest legal articles.

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