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Divorcing a Narcissist: How to Successfully Navigate the Process

You have been blamed, manipulated, and bullied, and you’ve decided it’s finally time to break free from the narcissist in your life. However, that may seem easier said than done due to the volatile pushback you know you’ll receive when you file for divorce.

Is there a way you can start a new life without causing further emotional trauma to yourself or your children? If you are married to a true narcissist, this might prove difficult. However, there are some steps to take that can make the process easier.

Common Signs of a Narcissist

If your spouse exhibits narcissistic traits, it can be difficult to acknowledge and identify them as such. After all, this is somebody you love and you’ve likely spent a significant amount of time trapped in the cycle of their behaviors, which usually include routine self-blame for their actions.

From an objective perspective, here are telltale signs of narcissism:

  • Extreme self-entitlement
  • Manipulative behavior
  • A sense of self-importance that seems particularly grandiose
  • An exaggeration of accomplishments
  • Taking advantage of other people
  • Refusing to take responsibility for their actions and/or recognize the feelings of others

How Does a Narcissist React to Divorce?

A narcissist will often react negatively to the prospect of divorce because it triggers toxic responses within them due to the perceived loss of control. Since a narcissist has an extreme desire to “win” and be emotionally dominant over others, an amicable divorce is rare. If you are filing for divorce against a narcissist, prepare for a fight. They do not give in easily and can quickly escalate into abusive behavior if they do not get their way and sense the reality of someone important walking away from them.

During the divorce process, a narcissistic spouse might:

  • Refuse to cooperate with divorce proceedings, including ignoring court orders
  • Behave vindictively toward you and even your children
  • Blame others for the divorce and cast their own behaviors in a good light

​In many instances, a narcissist will require a divorce case to go to court due to their refusal to settle.

Get Into Therapy

A professional therapist is a tool that some couples find to be effective, whether the end goal is to save the marriage or expedite dissolving it. Narcissists tend to lack a realistic sense of guilt or remorse, which makes it difficult for a divorce to be amicable without a strong third-party perspective. A mental health counselor will have tools to attempt to provide this important perspective and to help bring some peace and resolution to the situation.

If your narcissistic spouse is unwilling to listen to a therapist (or even go), you should still take the time to find one for yourself. Having a stronger support system as you navigate through the divorce proceedings is important, and you might also discover ways to avoid additional conflict by modifying your own responses and expectations.

Understand Gaslighting

One of the most telltale signs of a narcissist is gaslighting, which is a form of manipulation used to gain power over others and cause them to question their own sense of reality. You may be experiencing gaslighting if you find your spouse:

  • Telling obvious lies
  • Denying they said or did something, even when presented with proof
  • Using what you love against you
  • Projecting their own thoughts or actions onto you
  • Attempting to pull family members or friends over to “their side” by painting you as “crazy”
  • Complimenting or flattering you after an argument to win you over

Gaslighting can be overwhelming and disorienting—learn to recognize these behaviors to save yourself further heartache.

Steps to Take to Prepare for Divorce

There are things you can do to make the divorce process a bit easier. Leaving a narcissist requires you to be on top of your game and always prepared to defend yourself in practical, rational ways. These might include:

Document every encounter and communicate with your spouse only in writing as much as possible.

Log telephone conversations and face-to-face encounters, including the date and time.

Prepare financially.

A narcissist will often drag on a divorce, making the process lengthy and expensive.

Log the amount of time your spouse spends with your children.

They might attempt to exaggerate time spent in order to win custody. On the other hand, if your spouse has primary custody, note every time you are denied access to your children.

Remain calm.

Arguing and ramping up your own emotions will only charge up a narcissist. Allow your lawyer to defend you.

When is it time to get a lawyer? When dealing with a narcissist, it is a good idea to contact a divorce attorney right away. The battle ahead can be long and traumatic, and an experienced professional can help you navigate through the process.

Do You Need To Speak To A Virginia Divorce Attorney?

If you are considering divorce you need to speak with an experienced Virginia divorce attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Fairfax, Virginia law office at 703.277.2811 to schedule your free consultation. We help clients throughout Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia and look forward to helping you.

Related Links:

  • Divorcing a Narcissist Isn’t Easy

  • When Should You Protect Your Parenting Time?

  • Facilitating All Steps of the Divorce Process