How to Divorce a Narcissist, Part 1

Divorce is rarely a pleasant experience, but there are few divorces that are more painful to watch than those that involve one relatively normal, down-to-earth person and one massive, overbearing narcissist. Keeping in mind that a narcissist has little regard for facts, needs to be proven ‘right’ even if it means burning everything they ought to care about to the ground in order to force a capitulation, and has exactly zero concept of the idea that their spouse or children might be hurt by what they’re doing, how do you go about divorcing a narcissist without getting destroyed in the process?

Step 1: Recognize the Problem
It’s hard to recognize, at times, that you’re in a relationship with a narcissist. For one thing, clinically speaking, narcissism isn’t necessarily a life-long state of being: it’s possible for someone to become a narcissist because of events in their lives — including, unfortunately, the events of “getting married” or “having kids”. But in general, if your partner simultaneously displays three traits, you’ve probably got a narcissist on your hands:

  1. They assume everyone wants them to achieve the highest status they can achieve, no matter what it takes to get to the next level (whatever that may be). Any other goal, priority, want, or need another person might have is ignored — or never noticed at all.
  2. They believe that they should only associate with people (or groups) who are just as uniquely high-status as they are. If you aren’t one of those high-status people, you are by definition either an obstacle to be crushed or a tool to be used to maintain high status.
  3. They react in completely irrational ways to anything they interpret as criticism — whether it’s bursts of rage, completely ignoring it and changing the subject, or outright lying, they will do literally anything other than acknowledge any sort of deficiency or failure on their part.

If you see those three traits in your spouse, you’re about to divorce a narcissist. Get ready for a knock-down, drag-out, streetfight of a divorce. (Step 1b: Tell your lawyer your spouse is a narcissist. Just do it meekly, because accusing others of narcissism is one of the favorite tools of the narcissist.)

Step 2: Be Suspicious of Everything, and Refuse to Engage
Remember point 1, above. Literally everything a true narcissist does is to enhance their status in their own eyes, no matter how well they couch their moves in terms of concern, endearment, or even concession. You exist only to validate them, and the moment you stop validating them, they only have two paths forward — the first one of which is to do everything in their power to trick or force you into validating them some more. (The second one appears in Part II of this post.)

This is one of those games where the only way to win is to not play at all. So the moment your narcissist spouse realizes you’re filing for divorce is the moment that you have to stop communicating with them entirely outside of necessary logistical planning. Think of literally every communication they make toward you as bait, and don’t rise to it. The single most destructive thing you can do to a narcissist is ignore them, so get a head-start on it and break off all communication as early as possible.

 

Of course, there’s more — much more — but you must start by completely disengaging from the narcissist if you intend to be able to get any further along this path. So get that done; we’ll be back in a few days to fill you in on the rest.

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