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How to Divorce a Narcissist | Practical Tips and Strategies

Anna Khmara

Anna is a certified life transformation and relationship coach with an in-depth focus on positive psychology and transactional analysis. Using her 3+ years of experience, she helps her clients understand the essence of the problem, build self-esteem, establish healthy relationships, find harmony, and manifest their dreams into reality.

Narcissism can make marriage and divorce equally unbearable. A narcissistic husband or wife may single-handedly cause significant difficulties in the marriage dissolution process. So, if you are going through a divorce with a narcissist, you need to prepare your own winning strategy.

In this article, you’ll find out how to protect yourself from the tactics your spouse will use inside and outside the courtroom. Plus, you’ll learn the tips for surviving a divorce with a narcissist.

How to Tell if Your Spouse is a Narcissist?

Narcissism is relatively uncommon among U.S. citizens. Statistics show that there are 0.5% of people with this personality disorder in America. And 75% of them are men.

Spotting a narcissist is an arduous task. If identifying them was easy, there wouldn’t be so many people married to them.

How to Tell if Your Spouse is a Narcissist?

“Until you really get to know narcissists, you may think that they’re some of the most charming, compelling people you’ve ever met,” says Rokelle Lerner, a relationship speaker. That’s why they fool so many people and win their hearts and minds.

It’s important to understand that you alone cannot be sure that you are dealing with a 100% narcissist. Your spouse can have some of the narcissistic tendencies in their behavior rather than be entirely mentally ill.

Even therapists disagree on this matter when they inspect a person with a potential narcissistic personality disorder.

Signs you’re about to divorce a narcissist

So, how do you tell if you are dealing with a narcissist? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) provides several components of narcissistic behavior:

  • The abnormal sense of self-importance. Narcissistic people exaggerate their accomplishments, boast about everything, and devalue other people’s contributions. It is also the trait that distinguishes narcissism from borderline and antisocial personality disorders.
  • The need for admiration. Narcissists are self-centered and expect everyone around to praise them constantly.
  • The envy of other people’s achievements for which they got praise. Narcissists believe that any achievements are their prerogative.
  • The belief that they should be associated only with the best people. It’s also called the sense of entitlement. They are sure that they are entitled to communication, learning, etc., only from the best representatives of society. In their opinion, these are people with the highest positions.
  • Pathological lying. A narcissist lies about everything, even the most minor insignificant things.
  • The expectation of “special” treatment. Narcissists are sure of their superiority and believe that their needs are a priority for everyone around them.
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism. People with this personality disorder usually express rage and fight with the person who criticizes them.
  • Disregard other people’s emotional needs (lack of empathy). They tend to describe their problems in detail but never express any interest in what you have to say or interrupt you and continue talking about themselves.

The traits mentioned above are only tell-tale signs of a narcissistic personality disorder if they are always present and inflexible. Do not confuse lack of manners and selfishness with narcissism. For example, your spouse could be eccentric or ill-mannered but not narcissistic.

What to Expect from a Narcissistic Spouse During Divorce?

So, your husband or wife is a narcissist – now what? You probably already know that they are almost impossible to deal with in normal circumstances, let alone complicated ones such as divorce.

Luckily, their behavior is not entirely erratic and is more or less predictable.

Starting to deal with a narcissist during divorce, you need to understand that they won’t feel remorse because of the breakup. It’s not in their nature to miss someone. The narcissist’s lack of empathy won’t let them feel sorry for their misdeeds.

Therefore, don’t expect them to come to their senses. “The narcissistic personality is a deeply ingrained, fixed personality structure that most likely will never change,” says Linda Martinez-Lewi, a clinical expert on narcissism.

The likely narcissistic behavior you could expect when divorcing a narcissistic husband or wife would be as follows.


When divorcing a narcissist, get ready that they will try to intimidate and threaten you. Narcissists are very cunning, so they are usually aware of all your weaknesses and will use them to take away the things you love. For example, if you have children and express your desire to keep them after divorce, your narcissistic spouse will go beyond and above to take them from you.

Lying in court

During a divorce, a narcissistic husband or wife would want to punish you for defying them using the legal system. So they will lie in court to get what they want because they aim to win in every argument.

Lying in court

Playing the victim

Besides lying, typical narcissistic behavior includes blaming others and denying and hiding mistakes, according to Psychology Today.

Even if your narcissistic husband or wife wants a divorce and initiates it, they will always convince everybody around (friends, relatives, even judges) that they are the victims and you are the villain.

Unfortunately, many people will fall for that because narcissists are very skilled in being persuasive and charming.

Discarding and devaluation

“When you end up being no longer useful to the narcissist, they will devalue and discard you quicker than you can realize what’s going on,” writes Lauren Kozlowski in her book “Narcissistic Ex.” By wanting to divorce, you hurt their ego and caused a so-called “narcissistic injury,” and they won’t forgive that. As an act of revenge, they will try to discredit and accuse you of all kinds of things, such as dishonesty or lack of commitment.

Defying the court orders

If the narcissist doesn’t get a favorable outcome, they could act on their whim. For example, they won’t pay spousal or child support.

There are other tactics that a narcissist uses during divorce, but most of them include manipulation, lying, and bullying in one form or another.

They do all of it because when their relationship ends, the “narcissistic supply” (the energy they take from you) ends with it. So it makes them feel angry and offended.

How to Talk to a Narcissist about Divorce?

Before you tell a narcissist you want a divorce, make sure you have a backup plan if something goes wrong. Remember that they are emotionally unstable and prone to aggression, according to the American Psychological Association’s research. A narcissist’s reaction to divorce could also be violent, so keep a safe distance.

Also, try to predict possible scenarios of what your spouse could do. For example, if you only consider filing for divorce and tell your narcissistic spouse, they could try to get ahead of you and file first.

Then, they could take children and go to another state. In any case, seek legal advice before mentioning anything to your spouse.

Preparing to talk to a narcissist about divorce, outline the main points and remember to stay calm during the conversation. And, perhaps, you should speak with them around other people or on the phone if you’re afraid for your safety.

In many cases, the best way to inform your spouse of the breakup is to serve them with a legal notion using a process server.

How to Prepare for Divorce from a Narcissistic Spouse?

It’s improbable that you can peacefully divorce a narcissistic spouse. They are not the people who would make concessions. In most cases, you need to get ready for a full-scale war.

How to Prepare for Divorce from a Narcissistic Spouse?

How can you prepare for it? Your priority is to protect your physical and mental health and those of your children. The following strategies for divorcing a narcissist can help you get through the divorce process with minimal losses.

Keep your cool

Dealing with a narcissistic husband in divorce proceedings often resembles the futile attempts to negotiate with a capricious kid. However, not everyone will see it straight away.

Narcissists may hide their bad habits for a while during the court hearings and be very successful in doing it. But if they don’t get what they want, they will eventually show their true nature.

And what a narcissistic husband or wife wants in a divorce is to get you down, humiliate you, and throw you off balance to make you look hysterical. So don’t give them the pleasure.

Don’t react too emotionally and remain calm during the entire divorce process. It’s the only way to win in a divorce with a narcissist.

Note that restraining your feelings and emotions doesn’t mean staying passive. Instead, defend yourself when necessary but keep calm.

Stash some cash

Set aside some money when preparing to divorce a narcissist. You will need to hire an attorney, pay the legal fees, and support your family (you and your children) during the divorce process.

If you have several joint bank accounts with your spouse, you risk being left cashless when your spouse finds out about your intentions. They could withdraw the money or freeze the account. So, create a separate bank account. Alternatively, ask friends and relatives for a loan.

Note that if you take all the money from your joint accounts, the judge won’t appreciate it. So consult a lawyer before you take any financial action.

Document every tiny detail

If you go to court with an adversarial case, you will need all the evidence you can get to protect yourself and respond to false allegations. You can start documenting things even before filing for divorce with your narcissistic wife or husband. Make it a habit.

Note the time and place of the event the same day it happened because the narcissist will object to everything and deny conversations you know you had.

Record information about “parenting behavior (yours and the other parent’s), abusive behaviors, threatening statements made,” says Bill Eddy, a lawyer and the creator of “high conflict personality” theory.

Also, remember to present factual information without emotional components. Objective, emotionless statements sound more credible to the judge than your interpretations of the events.

Gather financial information

The courts expect divorcing spouses to provide information as a part of financial disclosure. But don’t rely on your spouse’s decency. The narcissist will try to hide everything they can to gain power over the circumstances.

So, collect important documents in advance. For example, you may need the following papers for both spouses:

  • Bank account statements;
  • Tax returns;
  • Retirement plans;
  • Debt and loans information;
  • Documents reflecting income;
  • Life and health insurance plans, etc.

Hire a divorce lawyer

Start looking for a lawyer before you reveal your plans to end a marriage to your spouse. Your best investment is a divorce lawyer who handles similar cases or understands what type of person they will deal with.

Your spouse will probably hire an attorney with the most aggressive tactics they could find. Then, they will gather a group of advocates among friends and relatives and convince them of their innocence (and your fault).

And they will try to do the same with the court officials and persuade them that you are on the guilty side, not them. That’s why it is essential to have a strong defense system of your own when divorcing a narcissist.

Don’t tell a judge your spouse is a narcissist

The temptation to reveal your spouse’s true colors is immense. However, it will have negative consequences in the long run.

The first impression you make on the judge in your case is essential. For example, if you enter the courtroom and start labeling your spouse, the judge won’t likely believe your words but rather think you are emotionally unstable.

Narcissism is not grounds for divorce, but cruelty or adultery is. And as research shows, there is a strong link between narcissism and aggressive behavior, including physical and emotional abuse.

So, show the evidence of misbehavior to the judge and let them see for themselves who your spouse really is.

Facts and honesty are your only power. So admit in court when you make a mistake regarding children, family finances, etc., right away. Otherwise, you risk losing credibility.

Change passwords

One of the crucial tips for divorcing a narcissist is to protect your email, social media accounts, and everything else your narcissistic spouse can access. They will try to search for information to use against you. Even an innocent photo or post can be misinterpreted.

Plus, they can make a piece of new evidence using your name, e.g., send themselves a discrediting letter. Therefore, change passwords frequently, even after divorce.

How to Get Over a Divorce From a Narcissist

If you got rid of your narcissistic ex for good, consider yourself lucky. When you’re finally alone, it’s time to heal your psychological wounds and start a new life.

Use the following few tips for recovering after a divorce from a narcissist:

  • Cut the contact with your ex. No more meetings or calls.
  • Get rid of feelings of fault and injustice.
  • See a therapist if you experience anxiety, depression, or sleep problems.
  • Reach out to friends and relatives for emotional support.
  • Practice self-soothing techniques (yoga, meditation, journaling, etc.).

Unfortunately, if you have children together, you will never be entirely free from your narcissistic ex. However, you can minimize their role in your life.

What you could do is restrict your future relationships to child-related matters. As for your emotional wellbeing, set boundaries and decide that you won’t react emotionally to what your ex-spouse would do.

Final Words

Divorcing a narcissist can be overwhelming, but it’s not impossible. To win this battle, you need to be prepared to respond to your spouse’s extreme behavior.

Thus, a solid strategy, professional support, and keeping your emotions under control will eventually bring you long-awaited freedom.


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