Divorcing Your Narcissist
Updated: Feb 21
So, you’ve finally figured out you're being emotionally abused by a narcissist. Or, maybe you aren’t sure. Heck, it took me a few years post-divorce and a lot of therapy to realize I was abused, he is a narcissist and emotional abuse is domestic abuse. I knew something was wrong with him but I could never put my finger on it.
It wasn’t until he became violent with his new girlfriend that things started to become clear. The majority of abusive people, whether physical or emotional, are narcissists. My narcissist was so good at wearing his mask that even when I read the definition of narcissism, I didn’t think he was one. But after more education on abuse, my entire experience and marriage all made sense.
But boy do I wish I had realized this before I went through a divorce with him. Divorcing your narcissist is hard work. It’s not a normal divorce. Once your narcissist knows you’ve pulled off their mask (which, you leaving them is the tell), they will do everything in their power to make you look like the bad guy. And that’s putting things lightly. Let me be more clear…
Once you’ve decided to divorce your narcissist, quietly start planning your exit. And I mean quietly. You have to get your ducks in a row without them knowing. Why? You know why. Just imagine how they would react if they knew you had seen an attorney, gotten a new checking account, found an apartment. When you are married to a narcissist, there are no moments of sitting down to have an honest conversation about the state of the marriage. They are unable to do this. Stop expecting closure.
You will have no resolution to this relationship. All you have is one hell of a war.
Here are some things I wish I’d known before I started divorcing my narcissist:
(I use the pronoun he/him often but there are plenty of female narcissists, too, so just replace the pronoun as needed for your situation)
They will make up crazy lies. Even if it seems like they’ve never done that before. You haven’t seen your narcissist in action until now. Once the mask is lifted, all bets are off. It’s going to get ugly. You may be shocked by the things they will start saying about you. I was shocked. I was shocked he even had the ability to lie so much. But I had no idea what I was dealing with yet. You’ll find yourself on the defense all the time. It will be emotional and is very much intended to make you lose balance. Also, these will happen (or come to light) when you least expect them.
They will accuse you of stealing, swindling and cheating them out of money. Even when things are agreed to in front of attorneys. Even if things are listed, written and stated. All heads nod and the judge signs off. Your narcissist will still yell from the rooftops how you stole from him.
They will refuse to mediate, and if they have to go anyway, they will dig their heels in on ridiculous demands to drag things out and cost everyone money. They would rather lose all your money to attorney’s than for either of you to get any, if it means you also get some.
They will blindside you with emotional things or just plain craziness. You’ll receive random messages that are meant to either a) disarm you by professing love and change; b) provoke you; or c) just plain crazy.
An example of blindside crazy is like the night before we closed the sale on our house, my ex started calling all of the attorneys (there were 4 firms involved - long story), telling them all we weren’t going to close – that we were getting back together and moving back in.
If you’ve ever sold a house before and it’s just hours before the closing, then you realize how crazy this is. I ended up on the phone with him that night and asked why he was doing that (and btw, the attorneys all agreed he was nuts). His answer was, “Because we should be getting back together.”
After two years of contentiousness, I can’t even tell you how simply insane that sounded. And completely out of the blue. And that entire night, I laid awake wondering if we were going to be able to close (because he had to sign and he was refusing). I still didn’t know that morning how it would all go. I was running around in emergency meetings with realtors and attorneys.
He finally did what he was supposed to do. My nerves were shot and I was so angry. Then, after the closing, on my way home, he had the nerve to call me and ask me to lunch. He pretended like everything was fine and we should just get together for an exhale on the house. I was so incited by his nonchalance. I screamed at him on the phone and hung up.
And that 24-hour emotional roller coaster that he had just put me on? Was completely intentional. And it worked. He got me. I was a mess. He was probably laughing. This is the sort of thing your narcissist will pull. If you are ready for these kinds of things ahead of time, you’ll be better prepared to deal with it. And this is why I’m writing a warning to you.
They will weaponize the children. You never would have thought that they would berate you to the children or make up lies or try to scare them. But they will. It’s absolutely terrible. I’m still trying to undo some of the things he said to my son. They will turn the children into narcissists, too, if you can’t stop it. This is a much larger topic. All I want to do right here is warn you that this will happen and don’t be surprised by it. Our poor children caught in the middle of this. All I kept thinking was, if I can teach my son the right way to treat people when I have him, maybe I can undo his time with his father every other weekend. I tried to never say a bad word about his father, even though I knew his father was relentlessly bad-mouthing me. I’m working on some research for something I’m calling But What About the Children? …for families who come out of abusive households. How do we heal our children? Stay tuned.
They will slander you to family and friends, both in person and on social media. This is so disheartening. I lost friends who believed him. And, that’s okay. Protect your heart and let the rest go. One day, they will probably all see the truth. And if they don’t? Well, don’t look back. Keep going down the path to healing. You know in your heart what is right, and that’s all you need.
I also had to have my attorney send his attorney a back-off notice after he had a two day argument with my cousin on Facebook, where all kinds of things were said about me (I wasn't involved at all - had blocked him). And do you know what the dummy did then? He put the attorney's exchange online and laughed at it. The next day, the entire thing was gone. This is the kind of stuff that will happen. I was minding my own business at work, getting random screen shots from people. Unbelievable.
Any move you make to try to protect yourself or the children will become a way that you are abusing him. He will become the victim and you the abuser. Be ready for this. Very often I didn’t pay it any attention. I blinked twice and moved on, because in my heart I knew it was the other way around. He couldn’t convince me otherwise.
They will accuse you of demonizing them. And they will reject anything you say. If you remind them of their actions or recite something they’ve said, they’ll deny ever saying it. If they do remember, they’ll tell you it wasn’t that bad. They’ll tell you you’re making things up or making things sound worse than they were. They’ll have you nearly believe that they are the victim and you are being unreasonable.
They will make every attempt to get a reaction from you by gas-lighting, taunting, bullying, intimidation, and lying. And, it will work - privately. When you see or hear these things, you will absolutely lose it. But, don’t let them see it. Have your meltdown in private or with a loved one. In time, you’ll begin to recognize their disorder-in-action and will be able to almost laugh at it. Once you become accustomed to these moves as part of his narcissism, they’ll have less of an impact on you.
On the other hand, also be forewarned that you have become so accustomed to their abuse that you may not recognize it. I once had an attorney yank me out of a mediation and tell me I was being bullied from across the table. Just the way my ex would look at me, smirk and condescend. My attorney had enough of it and asked me to stay silent (in other words, every time I responded, I gave my narcissist more fuel). My attorney could see all of it. I couldn’t. I really had no idea.
They want to have all of the control, even if it means sabotaging their own case. Instead of a healthy negotiation, they would rather go all the way to the judge and let him decide. This way they don’t have to take responsibility for the outcome. They can blame the judge. Whereas, if they agreed to a negotiation, then they have to accept responsibility for half of the outcome, and therefore can’t blame others for anything. While this may sound like they are giving up control. No. They are very much in control. Similarly, when people are physically abusive, some may say, “He just lost control.” Nope. Completely in control – even if they appear out of control.
Example: After beating up his girlfriend in front of our son, when we got to the hearing where I was asking to revoke all visitation and shared custody, my ex didn’t show up. He knew he had a losing case, and instead of losing, he decided that he would make the decision to let his son go. He sent a message, “Never mind. I’ll see him when he’s 18.” This way he didn’t lose. It was his decision. Follow?
Afterwards, he texted me asking for visitation. So, he didn’t really mean it. But if he can circumvent the court, he will. But I won’t. Your narcissist will do whatever he has to so he can make up the rules himself. He wants to pull all the strings. But the courts really don't like that (when it comes to abusive behavior) and it will look poorly on you if you allow him to manipulate you by setting up his own terms. Be prepared for these little unexpected twists and turns. Once you start to decode the personality, they can become predictable.
They will never be a cooperative co-parent. They will counter-parent. This is a whole ‘nother subject. But don’t think that once your divorce is final, you’ll ever be friends and have a cooperative co-parenting situation. That’s just never going to happen. Make sure your terms are lock solid, and I mean solid. Your narcissist will play games with visitations if every detail isn’t explicitly outlined. It must have specific pick up and drop off times and locations, even on holidays. You cannot leave anything written “as mutually agreed.” Hear me on this – be very specific when writing your divorce decree. Any place it reads, “as mutually agreed,” ask to make clarity on it before signing.
They will continue to abuse you over text messages and emails. You wouldn’t have expected anything less, right? But as smart as these guys are, they can also be very dumb. They will put the most abusive things in texts and email. Hit Print. Hand to Attorney. And, assume that everything you write in return will be read aloud in court. Give them no opportunity to make you look bad. As hard as it my be to resist a heated response, keep replies factual, emotionless, and reasonable. Mine actually put in writing once, “I found out you deserved any abuse I ever gave you.” Thank you. Print.
If all of this sounds just totally insane and you don’t think your narcissist would do these things, then you haven’t read enough. You aren’t prepared. Do your homework and get your ducks in a row before you even breathe a word of divorce to your narcissist.
They will surprise you in the most horrifying ways.
The items above may discourage you from even going through divorce. I mean, it’s absolutely exhausting. Your confidence has already plummeted from being married to this person. And it seems… why bother when, if you have kids, you still have to communicate with them but they will be more abusive than ever? Because believe me when I tell you that your life will be better. Far, far better. The other side is brighter, I promise. You’ll learn how to communicate with zero emotion and only facts. You’ll learn to dismiss their attempts to emotionally provoke you. And you’ll get those kids mostly away from them.
One more thing, try to find an attorney who has experience dealing with narcissistic abusers. This will go a long way!
Want to hear the hardest truths?
Did my narcissist ever really love me? No, they wore a mask.
That’s not true, I know they really loved me deep down at some point. No, they wore a mask.
Does my narcissist really hate me now? Yes, and they’ll do everything they can do undermine you.
Do not fall for the narcissist’s charms any longer.
And by the way, narcissism is a personality disorder, not a mental illness. A lot of people get that mixed up and I want you to sound educated when you venture down these roads. Good luck, my dear friends! A whole bunch of us before you have survived this and you will, too. You got this.