At Beermann, we often find ourselves representing individuals who have spouses with narcissistic characteristics. If you are married to a narcissist, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone and there is help. With the right tools and education, you can successfully resolve your divorce on your terms.
As noted by Psychologist Dr. David Finn, “you cannot change others; you can only change your response and expectations.”
Managing your expectations, not those of the narcissist, is critical in successfully divorcing a narcissist. A fundamental mistake we see is a desire to change the narcissist instead of modifying the client’s expectations and reactions. This thinking can lead to additional problems such as emotional unrest, increased litigation costs/time, and familial discord.
Is your spouse a narcissist? In summary, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is defined as follows.
- Grandiose sense of self-importance.
- Preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, and/or beauty.
- Believes that he/she is “special.”
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Sense of entitlement.
- Takes advantage of others to achieve his/her own ends.
- Lacks empathy.
- Envious of others.
- Arrogant behaviors.
During divorce, Dr. Sol Rappaport comments “narcissists react with anger, while the spouse feels as though they have to cater to, build up, and ‘tip-toe’ around the narcissist.” The “classic” issue with narcissists is “(they) tend to blame others for relationship problems and avoid looking at their own contribution. They assume others will accept their point of view, and won’t hesitate to use coercion to achieve their goals.”
Our clients often report their spouse is a real charmer, but entirely different at home. Dr. Rappaport notes, “the first impressions of a narcissist tend to be: attractive, well-groomed, and successful. However, eventually, the narcissist proves to lack empathy, has an inability to relate to their partners in a mutually satisfying manner, and has difficulty maintaining close relationships.”
What comes next? Here are our Top 10 Tips for divorcing a narcissist:
- Consult a divorce attorney familiar with representing people divorcing narcissists for appropriate legal strategy and protection.
- Secure a mental health professional.
- Educate yourself on personality disorders.
- Temper your expectations.
- Do not measure your success by the outcome as determined by the narcissist.
- Begin sentences with ‘I’ rather than ‘you,’ to keep the focus off the narcissist. Avoid the concept of win-lose.
- Treat the narcissist how you want to be treated. Have confidence that you are acting in a true, respectable manner regardless of the narcissist’s actions and comments. Do not get frustrated.
- Even if you don’t mean it, build the narcissist up. Make him/her feel like they are right in their own mind.
- Trust your view of what is right or wrong.
- Own it and win. Be at peace with who you are, how you got here, and your ability to overcome the challenges in divorcing a narcissist.
It is essential to identify multiple factors that influence the outcome of a divorce and develop an individualized strategy for each client. This includes understanding mental health issues, child-related, financial, and/or complex business issues. Cases involving narcissists will often involve hotly-contested litigation. However, collaboration, cooperation, or even mediation may be a means to disarm the narcissist.
You can do this.