Divorcing A Narcissist

Divorcing A Narcissist Heidi Dinning Certified Divorce Coaching

Divorcing A Narcissist

Divorce can be a very difficult legal procedure, and dealing with an uncooperative– or even narcissistic former spouse can drag out the process and make it even more difficult for you. If your spouse is a diagnosed narcissist or displaying narcissistic behavior traits, there are a few tools to use to make the divorce journey easier on yourself, such as keeping records of everything and doing your best to communicate solely through your divorce team.

Read on for more information and tips on divorcing a narcissist. 

What is a Narcissist?

A narcissist is often a term used lightly and colloquially, without a proper diagnosis. However, if a person is a true narcissist, they are defined as someone who exhibits a “pattern of need for admiration and lack of empathy for others”. If you are living with a narcissist, you may notice that they were originally charming and personable– perhaps they swept you off your feet in the beginning of your relationship. However, narcissists in relationships often begin to become controlling or manipulative, once they are certain that they “have you”. A narcissist also believes in their superiority, so they work hard to appear highly important and successful. Further on, we will discuss more of the narcissist’s typical behavioural traits. 

What are the Behavioural Traits of a Narcissist?

A narcissist believes intensely in their own superiority, and can also be very competitive– a narcissist has to “win” at any cost. A narcissist can also be manipulative and cruel, even resorting to abusive behaviour in order to get their way. When you first meet a narcissist, they are usually fun, sparkling, and charming, but any sign of conflict will get them on their guard. Their true colours are revealed when playing defence. A narcissist can easily become irrational, unreasonable, and unnecessarily defensive.

A common tactic of a person who has a narcissistic personality disorder is to play the blame game, projecting their perceived failings upon others, likely you, in order to shirk responsibility for this. Nothing is ever a narcissist’s fault. 

Narcissism is not a one size fits all type of personality disorder. Narcissism lies on a spectrum and covers different personality traits. Some of these traits are actually healthy traits– for example, confidence is one of them. Many of these personality traits, though, are negative and count among them the traits outlined previously– for example, exploitativeness.


How a Narcissist Reacts to Divorce

After reading up on narcissistic behaviour and the typical traits one may exhibit, you can probably guess how a narcissist reacts to divorce. A narcissist will usually place blame on either their spouse or children– or both– for the divorce instead of taking accountability for having any part of it. There will often be verbal and emotional abuse.

This is another instance of where a narcissist believes they must win at all costs– they believe they must “win” the divorce, and often try to do this in the most painful way possible for the other person. Due to this, it is difficult– if not impossible– to have an amicable divorce procedure when divorcing a narcissist. Divorces involving narcissists usually end up in court, as narcissists are stubborn and do not like to negotiate or compromise. 

When divorcing a narcissist, you may experience bullying, exploitative, manipulative or abusive behaviour. It is for this reason that it is advised that you have limited contact with your former spouse during the proceedings and only communicate when necessary.

Support with communicating is key, hiring a divorce coach can also support you as you navigate these murky waters. You will also likely require the support of a coach from a financial perspective as, your former spouse may refuse to provide financial records, obstruct or disregard court orders, refuse to settle, or simply be motivated to derail the divorce proceedings. 

Divorcing A Narcissist Heidi Dinning Certified Divorce Coaching (2)

How to Co-Parent with a Narcissist

Co-parenting can be tricky, especially if you are in conflict with your ex.

However, it is usually best for your children’s growth and well-being if things are kept as normal as possible and they are able to see both of their parents regularly, provided it is safe to do so. Having shared children can make the divorce process even longer, more emotionally draining, and much more stressful, as it is not only your well-being in question here. 

A narcissist may also attempt to use your child as a weapon against you. Unfortunately, the lack of empathy that is common in narcissistic personalities extends to their children as well.

Their self-interest does not allow for them to look at things with their children’s best interests at the forefront. Instead, they may see your children as another way to get what they want– or, at least, to look like they have won.

As hard as it is, absolutely avoid badmouthing your spouse to your children in any case, regardless of what they are saying about you to them.

Uphold stability in your household, providing the children with the love, safety and belonging they innately desire.

Putting your kids in the middle is not an option, as much as you want people on your side, so to speak.

Your narcissistic former spouse will likely not cooperate and continue to destabilize things, but the stability and routine you provide will greatly benefit your children. It may also be wise for your children to see a therapist during your divorce to help them cope and ensure their mental health is in check.

When Divorcing a Narcissist

If you are divorcing a narcissist, try to educate yourself, allowing you to be aware of their narcissistic traits or tactics and how to navigate them. Legal professionals and divorce coaches often see these types of divorces, so your team should be able to help you through this, and even help you to combat these behaviours before they come out. Strong legal counsel and support through a divorce coach is key to successfully divorcing a narcissist, whether the divorce happens in court or outside of it.

Narcissists tend to resort to manipulation or intimidation, you should prepare yourself for this and be confident about fighting for what is right, rather than giving in under the weight of this harassment. Preparing yourself for a long fight, both financially and emotionally is unfortunately necessary. Some of the behaviours that you can expect from a narcissist are:

  • Gaslighting to manipulate you and your feelings
  • Financial abuse or financial control, such as destroying your credit or hiding financial or legal documents and not paying child support
  • Intentionally drawing out the proceedings to rack up your legal bills
  • Obstructing or disregarding court orders, and not replying to your divorce attorney
  • Behaving vindictively towards you, your personal property, a family member or mutual friends
  • Failing to take any accountability and instead blaming others, including family or outsiders

Tactics for Divorcing a Narcissist

One of the most important things you can do in preparation of divorcing a narcissist is to educate yourself on this personality disorder. This will help you to understand what you are up against and know what curveballs might be thrown your way throughout your divorce journey. When conducting research, ensure you are looking at credible sources, rather than opinion pieces written by someone on the Internet. This is a real, diagnosable disorder (although most narcissists are rarely properly diagnosed because they believe nothing is wrong with them) so you will want to be sure to gather professional information.

Another tactic is finding a coach and/or therapist, to help you to cope with the stress and emotional toll the divorce proceedings will take on you.

A therapist is well-versed in personality disorders, and a coach will support you in the moment, helping you find the right tools for you to cope with your former spouse’s behaviour, and minimizing having an emotional reaction. Look for a support team that have experience with narcissistic disorders.

It is equally important that you record everything that is communicated. All communication should be done in writing so that your spouse is not able to turn around and deny things later. Without a paper trail to refer to, nothing can be proven, so even if you had agreed on something verbally, for example, your spouse could deny it or change their mind with no repercussions. Additionally, missed appointments and other such bad behaviour should be recorded and reported to your legal counsel.

As gaslighting is a common tool in a narcissist’s toolbox, you should prepare yourself for this before every face to face meeting or conversation. Even with lawyers present, it is very likely that a narcissist will try and resort to this. One of the reasons for this is because they are trying to make you doubt yourself or trying to avoid responsibility or fault. Narcissists also thrive off of your reactions, so you should prepare yourself for this and learn how to manage your emotions. If you prepare for this, the gaslighting is less likely to catch you off guard and fluster you, which may cause you to react rashly. You cannot let this type of behaviour shake you, though it may be difficult,  because that is a narcissist’s goal. Gaslighting is a method that wears a person down over time, so you may also need to discuss this behaviour with your therapist or coach in order to cope properly.

Divorcing A Narcissist Heidi Dinning Certified Divorce Coaching (1)

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a narcissist do when you try to leave them?

When you try to leave or divorce a narcissist, they will not make it easy for you. At first, they might promise you that they will change, or even threaten that you will never be as well off without them. They may also get aggressive, abusive, or manipulative in order to get their way and to gain power.

You should not listen to these threats or insinuations, as this is simply their way of trying to bully you into backing down. You will need support for your mental health during this time, it is important to remain calm, and not get dragged into the manipulation or lies.

Why don’t narcissists want a divorce?

Besides the most simple explanation that they want to maintain control, controlling the situation, their image and their superiority of getting to divorce first. Narcissists have mental health issues as well and it is important to know that they need help. Empathy will keep you strong, but you will also need to protect yourself.

How does a narcissist behave during a divorce?

During a divorce, a narcissist will likely act out. For example, they may refuse to cooperate with their spouse, coach, counselors, or legal counsel. A narcissist will likely also behave vindictively and blame others for their own poor actions and behaviour, and also likely disregard or obstruct court orders. 

How do narcissists react to divorce?

Since narcissists do not take responsibility for their own actions, they will blame you for the divorce as well as the current state of the relationship. They may also try to blame you or your children for their perceived shortcomings instead.

How do you beat a narcissist in a divorce?

There are some key tips for dealing with a narcissist during a divorce. Definitely do your best to steer clear of mudslinging and the blame game, regardless of how they try to bait you. Ensure you also keep records of everything, and consider only communicating through your divorce team to avoid any unnecessary nastiness. 

Is it best to divorce a narcissist?

If your marriage was toxic, it is best to remove yourself from this situation, even though the ensuing divorce can be draining and difficult. If divorcing a narcissist, you should seek our a divorce coach and legal counsel in order to prepare yourself for this– it is often emotionally taxing and stressful.

How do narcissists treat their exes?

Your narcissistic spouse will be vindictive and manipulative  during divorce proceedings, and may continue to act this way after the divorce has been finalized. However, they may also try to keep in contact with you after the divorce in order to have you “at their convenience”. Narcissists like to keep people close so that they have people to use for various purposes, such as attention, at any time.

How do you permanently detach from a narcissist?

Leaving a narcissist can be difficult, especially when it comes to divorce, as they aim to make it as painful and lengthy as possible. To detach from a narcissistic spouse, either during or after the divorce process, you should limit communication, have a contingency plan, and find support if necessary– such as the support of a coach, therapist or counsellor. If communication is still necessary, due to co-parenting or divorce proceedings, try to limit communication as much as you can. Get help with communication only when you need to.

Additional Resources

Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself

A highly illuminating examination of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and this book covers the complete experience of encountering, surviving, and healing from an emotional terrorist. Ahead of her time, she has forged the way for us its insidiously traumatic impact on family members and partners. Packed with insight, compassion, and practical strategies for recovery, this is a must-read for survivors and clinicians alike.

The Narcissist in Your Life: Recognizing the Patterns and Learning to Break Free

A highly illuminating examination of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and its insidiously traumatic impact on family members and partners. Packed with insight, compassion, and practical strategies for recovery, this is a must-read for survivors and clinicians alike.


Heidi Dinning Divorce Coaching – Get One on One Help

If you or someone you know is facing separation or divorce and don’t know where to begin, that’s where I can help. I act as emotional support, thinking partner and guide for you, so you can retain your dignity, find clarity and feel hopeful for the future. To learn more, visit our certified divorce coaching page. 

For more blog’s related to divorce support, relationship communication and co-parenting topics, visit our Blog Page

8 thoughts on “Divorcing A Narcissist”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *