How Does a Narcissist React to Divorce?

Last Updated on April 18, 2021 by Alexander Burgemeester

Dealing with a narcissistic person is a never-ending battle whether you are in or out of the relationship. If you add in divorce and custody issues, each day begins to feel like an endless battle for survival.

Anyone going through a divorce has many issues to cope with: worries about money, custody, legal issues, betrayal, abandonment and especially loss. But with a narcissist, you must not underestimate the power of stress in divorce—it can cause your ex-spouse to regress to a more primitive state and make him even more manipulative.

How the Narcissist Reacts to a Divorce

He was charming, handsome, and successful—and you truly thought that he loved you. The truth is, a narcissist only loves the fact that you loved him or he may have been in love with being in love.

But once they won you over, they started criticizing you for all your alleged faults. Criticism turned to insults and then continual verbal and emotional abuse (possibly physical as well). Every day was a battle and you married a man who needed to always win-no matter what.

Reading Suggestions: How to win a child custody case from a Narcissist?

Either you got tired of the incessant abuse or the abuse and probable affairs took a heavy toll on you which made you unattractive to him. One of you decides to divorce. Unfortunately, a narcissist tends to worsen with divorce, even if they leave you, because they hate the loss of control over you. Be prepared- he will be deceitful, self-serving, manipulative, and profoundly unfair.

a Narcissist Sees a Divorce as Your Fault

The narcissistic ex sees the divorce as your fault, a function of your flaws, so he will be totally unaffected by your history together. It will be as if all of the love and years you shared never happened and you are the enemy.

This attitude often extends to the children as well. It is a classic narcissistic move to completely cut ties with the children and no longer relate to them in any fashion. When they do have relationships with the children, it’s all about what the children can do for the narcissist. And, for a lot of spouses, this is difficult to accept.

Dr. Andrew Klafter states that for many narcissists, “passionate love turns to passionate hate.” The failed marriage wounds his already fragile feelings of self-worth and can set off narcissistic rage. Episodes of narcissistic rage can occur any time that the narcissist feels his idealized version of himself has been challenged.

Although he no longer “loves” you, he is still vulnerable to your anger or self-assertion (power). If you confront him, betray him or simply do what is right for you, a narcissist will want to make you pay. He will punish you repeatedly in unimaginable ways. Try not to allow them to cause fear in you; this will not be easy as you have been primed throughout your marriage to be afraid.

The narcissist cannot tolerate any show of strength or determination; he thrives on seeing your fear. He will most likely threaten you, directly or indirectly by not saying what they will do. The punishment may be physical, financial, or involve the custody of the children. The promise of harm can be enough to wear you down so that you give in to him.

You will mourn both the divorce and the fact that you have to deal with an exceptionally difficult ex. they will exhaust you if you let them try to keep yourself as physically fit as possible. Try to get enough rest and eat as healthy as you can. They will continue to try and wear you down until you are so exhausted you give in to what they want.

This is especially true if the divorce is not going the way they planned. They will be easy to get along with as long as he gets his way.

How to Deal with a Narcissist During Divorce?

The practical way to deal with a narcissistic ex during a divorce is to accept the fact that they will be thinking only about what is good for them—and plan your strategies from there. They may claim it’s about the children or even what is good for you, but it will always be about what is good or convenient for them. Although this may make you angry or sad, the best thing for yourself is to just let it go.

“Narcissists become particularly shameless during a divorce. They accuse the other spouse of neglecting the children when the reverse is true. They hide their assets long before the formal divorce proceedings begin.

They lie about their net worth so they don’t have to part with alimony or child support. Some narcissists, both male and female, abandon their families all together and start new lives with more attractive, adoring and compliant partners. Leaving the previous spouse and children in a state of financial and psychological chaos is of no consequence to them.

Many narcissists repeat these egregious patterns of behavior throughout their lives without shame or regret.” ~ Linda Martinez-Lewi Ph.D.

Keep in mind that a narcissist will almost always look good in public but infuriate you in private. If he humiliates you, resist any reactions of violence (or perceived violence) no matter how angry you become. An accomplished narcissist has a strong public presence and you will be the one who is blamed and made to look like the bad person. His public façade is so strong that your friends, sometimes even family, may think that you were a fool to leave him.

Get an experienced attorney and make sure you know your rights about money, custody and visitation. You will have to scrutinize your financial situation because a true narcissist will not feel an obligation to be honest. Ask your lawyer how you can best watch out for yourself. Setting strict limits is important. During visitation, make sure he keeps to the letter of the agreement as he may well take advantage of any ambiguities—and always with a “good” reason.

Tragically, some narcissists do become dangerous when challenged. Narcissists hate to be criticized, so imagine the stings a divorce can bring. They’re angry that you are disturbing their brittle equilibrium and may feel the need to inflict damage. Some will hold onto the rage for a long time, poisoning your children and friends against you, and they will take advantage whenever they can. You will need to calmly set limits again and again; do not give them more ammunition (like acting out of control in public) as that will be used against you. If you are concerned about your safety- get an order of protection, even if you feel these orders are of questionable value.

Time is Your friend

A narcissistic ex may have difficulty letting go of their anger and sense of injustice. You may have to live with this burden for quite a while. Be prepared to deal with the fact that you are still a source of narcissistic supply. Even if he is in a relationship with someone else, he may frequently return to you to harass you- long after the divorce is over- in order to get his “fix”. That is because it is generally easier to go back to the original source of supply than it is to train a new victim.

The good news is that over time most narcissists do move on to other relationships and are able to get their supply from a more compliant source or have someone else to harass.

You will not only get a reprieve, but your relationship may actually improve dramatically as you are no longer the center of their resentment. If the narcissistic behavior was a result of regression due to the divorce, it’s not unusual to see the behavior completely disappear after a year or two.

Thankfully, this is the most common ending.

Written by Alexander Burgemeester on

Alexander Burgemeester has a Master in Neuropsychology. He studied at the University of Amsterdam and has a bachelor's in Clinical Psychology. Want to know more? Read my author bio page.

17 thoughts on “How Does a Narcissist React to Divorce?”

  1. Thanks for your blog. I am reading my life. I didn’t know I was married to a narcessist until he abandoned me and our son. Throughout my marriage I look back and see I was a puppet on a string, all of his merely players. The pathological lying, withholding sex and affection, no remorse for not seeing his other child from a previous relationship, no empathy when he fired people at work, used people at work, used people and then discarding them like trash, financial abuse and control, irresponsibility, secrets, pretending to be someone he wasn’t, lying about hidden assets and fake debt, Belittling, envying, jealousy, rage, callous, lack of no empathy, pretending to have empathy sometimes, cruelty, mocking people, criticising, emotional neglect, body conscious, OCD, addicted to computer games completely addicted, eating disorder, bored easily, calculating, debvious, he would make me doubt what I heard or saw gas lighting me, very manipulative etc….
    The red flags were all there. He told our marital therapist he wants to be in control and feels everything is out of control. She said well try to control the things you can, few weeks later he bullies me and our 5 month old son out of our home, so I flew back to UK, as I just wanted to be with my family in that time, controlled me financially, emptied the accounts, got rid of our dog, was having an affair, sold my things, trashed his babies things on thanksgiving day, the day he put me in a flight and made sure I could never return as he his girlfriend and him left the marital home and I have no idea where he is. So there you have it. Idealised me (made me feel so special), devalued me and the finally discarded.
    I understand my faults in the marriage but nothing that could make a marriage break and I am devasted by it all. I kept blaming myself for so long and then I realised he made me feel guilty all the time….years I felt guilt and apologetic for things that didn’t need to be prolonged. His parents were just as bad and promoted his behaviour but I know he lied to them too. I know where he gets it from but he is worse than his parents.
    I am devastated that my ex husband doesn’t care about his son and has erased us from his lives completely, like it never happened!

    • This article and Christina just described my life/marriage…..puppet on a string! Every word is my life right down to being abandoned and erased. It was a struggle trying to understand how someone could cut out their children, but he did. I have come to believe it is a blessing….hope and pray that therapy and love will bring the kids through this.
      Looking forward to not being the source of resentment. The divorce has been over for years and he is still after me in one way or another. The legal bills are drowning me and the constant harassment weighs me down….I have escaped by moving 1000 miles away. He went berserk…we are safe and that is something.

    • Wow that sounds so much like what I’m going through with my soon to be ex husband, he is the one that left but so much of it seems similar.

    • gang stalking. Organized group stalking. You are a targeted individual Sheba. Please please look it up. When I read what you wrote I couldn’t believe you said everything I know this horrific sick game to be.

    • So sorry for what you’ve gone through. I recommend therapy. It is devastating for your son but instead of feeling sad for him, be strong for him and he will be fine. This is not your fault – you are a victim of abuse.

    • Dear Christina i can copy and paste my marriage to yours! I’m totally stressed I’ve lived a lie for 16 years ! I’ve recently only learnt about narcissism and worse that I’m married to one ! Reading your life made me realize I’m not alone ! I just pray to God I find the strength to leave! Thank you over and over again I see the light

  2. I also lived through a relationship like this. I thought I was happy. We were together for a total of almost 20 years. I never put the abuse together and when things started to turn south he almost had me convinced I was the crazy one. I started reading about emotional abuse. We went to a marriage counselor. He would get upset with the counselor because the counselor started focusing on him. I was eventually strong enough to move to my moms. It took me 8 months to finally have the strength confidence to stand up to him. Its true they take your confidence. Once the divorce started he was enraged over and over. He still wanted all the control. He now wanted to spend time with the kids often keeping them from me. He left me with the financial bills never helped pay anything. Now I am erased like I didn’t exist. Recently I started looking up personality disorders and he fits the profile. He turned my family against me and any other person he could. I am still in an uphill battle as the parenting plan is more fair now but he’s drowning me with my finances. It’s been almost 2 years and he doesn’t want to give me a dime. I left the home with nothing but my clothes. We have been bumped from court dates and I don’t see an end near.
    My word to everyone out there is there’s no changing them. There’s no logic nor will there ever be. Your dealing with someone who can’t see them self. Don’t give up and keep on trucking.

  3. I agree with this description. I am going through divorce and i can see that how she want to control, manipulate me. some point of time, she is victim and next she is abuser. she is trying everything to make me angry and to get under my skin. My experience of past 2 years was nothing sort of nightmare. Simply telling her that you gotta be careful what you speak in front of people, gets her so angry to jump off car, walk in woods in middle of nowhere and shouting like she seen a ghost. I always was confused with her behavior why somebody is never happy.In our marital counseling, i realized that she has Malignant NPD. she still doesnt believe that anything wrong with her.

    she always has drama before any big trip- cancelled our overseas trip on last hour( good that i had insurance), never want to get anywhere on time, everything is about her. I am just there to listen and agree with her.
    Like it is described – she is being shameless in divorce. she doesnt want to sell house and doesnt want to keep house. telling me she wont resolved house matter for as long as she can and make my life miserable for next 6 months.

    I hope i can get this over with and start living my life with narcissist rage.

  4. The emotional vampires are shameless and will come at you with everything once they realise they are losing control over your life. I know this because I was once his obedient puppet. When I left, he still abused me from afar. He has dragged out the divorce, five years later we are still on separation and am exhausted. I am disgusted by his presence. There isn’t a day that goes by that I wish he could just drop dead for no good reason. God forgive me for saying that but I have grown weary. He is dating other people throughout this period and he thinks I don’t know then he tells the whole world that he still loves me very much that’s why he won’t divorce me and whenever I want to go back to him, I can. It’s just a fasard, pretending that he is such a patient husband with a very unreasonable wife who is stupid enough to leave such a wonderful and rare soul. In reality, he is punishing me, it’s his way of causing me so much pain. Delaying my moving on and erasing him coz Lord knows and he knows too that immediately the divorce is final, this woman is gone for good. Stay strong people, these people are truly evil.

    • I am in the same situation. I have been separated 15 years, we reconnected two years ago and I been hell. He is very emotionally abusive but if I talk about divorce he saids he is going to sue me for cruel and unusual punishment. He has taped all my conversations without me knowing. He has me hostage but sees other women but when they leave he comes back. He has a lot of money. I think he has bipolar and is narcissistic. He also drinks. It’s terrible.

  5. The signs were there from the beginning, but I found this “intriguing.” Meeting on a trip, he flirted and withdrew numerous times over the week. I then learned he had a girlfriend. Later he invited me to stop by their house–she was very irritated with him and when I left he followed me outside away from her sight and quickly kissed me. I immediately thought of how nasty she was to him without understanding his part. I learned the hard way when we came together a couple of years later. My kids were nearly grown and I was determined to be committed to the relationship. He hooked me and then systematically demeaned me through routine abandonment, “constructive” criticism, blatant lying and so much more. I tried so often to communicate with him–he refused, detracted, gaslighted, or just left long enough to avoid. Pressure inside me built. Sometimes I would become upset to the point of tears. He would take pictures of me crying some of these times. I would ask him what he was doing and to get rid of the pictures, but I am sure he used them to discredit me when he could, because it would aid is quest for new supply. He told me to be careful what I said, it would be used against me, and I thought he was talking about other people, not him. He created drama and blamed me. He stonewalled, I drank, he stonewalled, I yelled, and in the end he attacked me physically. Of course he had at least one other “stable” supply source set up by then, so the surprise he gave me by actually leaving for good was especially sweet for him. All of the lies leading up to that moment slowly began to unfold. His seething anger for my “forcing” him to lose his otherwise uncanny composure brought me to the brink through his excessive cruelty. I wasn’t the only one who suffered. There is a long list, but no one wants to see what I refused to see for so long, even though he walked away leaving a path of destruction in his wake.It is a family disease, and I fear for others he seduces. May they be more aware and able to walk away early. The evil can only be undone by ambivalence to it, making it powerless.

  6. I describe my avoidance in life as a turtle hiding in its shell when life gets too big it’s safe and no one can get to me it’s my comfort zone. But I couldn’t continue living in the shell. I had to stretch out my neck and face him head on and It was way uncomfortable when I started standing up for myself.
    To anyone going through divorce, I just wanted to encourage anyone going through divorce to breathe, stay calm, go after what you want ( I filed a year ago and not even close to any resolution ) here’s my life in a short version
    I used to be a people pleaser to keep peace. I used to care what others thought of me and their reactions intimidated me I now realize I don’t have to rely on others opinions to live day to day. If I want an opinion I will ask for it
    I filed for divorce 15 months ago. He begged pleaded talked me into counseling. I got railroaded by he and the counselor. I quit going. We have recently started setting up parent schedule and he is adamant we have 50/50! Bottom line he doesn’t want to pay child support let alone give me a dime for maintenance. He’s trying to weasel his way out of my getting kids two weekends a month. He bought a new vehicle with the money he moved out of our joint accounts. He never interacted with the kids til we separated ( I moved out) he’s trying to financially kill me off. He told me twice while I lived at the house he was thinking of walking away from kids and I. All his false threats, lies ,demands, jekyl n Hyde verbal and a little physical abuse almost got to me. I sought professional help ( psychiatrist / therapist) and realized I am NOT the one at fault. I don’t regret moving out. I regret not doing it earlier. I am an a avoidance of confrontations person. He is a punisher, puppet master , a lion who ripped out my heart and dangles it in front of me and paws at it as bait. Along with my being a doll taken out of its box, played with and when he was done having his way, was laughed at and put back in the box!
    Nothing normal about him!!! I now realize the influence I was under. NO MORE I refuse to lower my standards let alone be formed into his mold.

    My advice, stay strong, you did nothing “wrong” to be treated like a puppet! I’ve learned to not allow him to walk all over me I had to go outside of my comfort zone to become stronger! Stand up for yourself. STOP living your life the way THEY want you to and Start living your life the way YOU want to! It may feel weird to begin with and it’s ok. The more you start living the more you may realize it’s going to be better than ok. Push your way through the weak spots and realize your inner strength will guide you through the hard times. No one can live your life for you. It’s up to each one of us to live beyond our potential !! Be done with the narcs!
    Be healthy in mind soul and spirit. Exercise eat healthy and exercise your rights. One of them being you have every right to be happy!
    You are special

  7. I have spent many years learning ,and still am, about narcissists. What I have learned is this: they know what they are doing and they enjoy causing other people pain. Do not be naive. They lie. They put you at risk of getting STDs and don’t care about you. They are charming and have studied you enough to know what will get to you. Don’t let them. At least distance yourself and have no contact. Only then you will begin to understand who they really are. They can trick anyone. They are smart. They depend on people not calling them out and seeing through the facade. Once you have do not wait for them to change like they will promise. Get out and stay away. They will not change. They get worse with time and become more bold in their humiliation of you. Respect and love yourself. It is better to be alone than to be with someone who hates you despite what they may say yes they hate you. It’s hard to accept. I know. I was married to one for 16 years. He would not communicate with our son because I made him move out after he was having an open affair with someone. Luckily for me he was in jail and I divorced easily with full custody. After two years he wants to see our son. I do not talk to him but I allow our son to text and call because I have a good relationship with my son and always communicate with him so he knows I am always there for him. I teach him to not believe negative things his father says and I never say negative things about his father. My son can see who the better person is. Actions speak louder than words. Be a good role model. Do not fall for your ex narcs traps that he will lay out for you. Set boundaries. He cannot control you anymore. Stay away from his ugly soul.

      • Im in the same boat too. I finially filed for divorce since i also found out hes addicted to live sex rooms and porn. Im getting a double wammy. I still livevwith him , and its a nightmare. My 28byear daughter and mt 5 year old granddaughter live with us also. Im trying to rent a 3 bedroom house for us , but its impossible. As soon as their listed , their rented. And im on disability. So its gonna be a little hard on my daughter for a couple month until i take from him what he robbed from me over 11 years. I have $117 ,000.00 invested in that house , he let it go into forclusure 4 times , i believe its in forclousure now. Idk he hides everything. We well he , since im not on the mortgage but paid half the mort anyway , owes 100k more than what he bought it for 11 years ago. Wheres all my money ? Say a prayer , we have to get out. I can see him starting to act a little different towards my granddaughter too. He tild ne the other night right in front of her ” she needs a bath , she smells “. Really ? I could have put him through a wall , but i wont argue with her around. Shes already traumatized from all the fighting. I feel so bad , im trying so hard to get ys out , but i just keep hitting dead ends. Prayers for us pleasr.

  8. I think this blog explains all that I am going through. In addition to that he is a lawyer and has the property given by my parents as dowry in his title. I got very sick out of his physical and mental torture and lost my job. I am facing difficulty bringing up kids and to meet all expenses, which I used to do like a single parent all these years without any contribution from his part. Apart from this, he was like a parasite dependent on me for everything, I used to give everything free to him without him doing anything for us or giving any money. Now that I got sick and I don’t have money to support him, he made a narcissistic group who always harass me with their words and deeds. Since I am not well enough to go to office and work, I was working from home. These people of his narcissistic group used to shout around my house and made my life miserable. they spread all sorts of cooked-up stories about me and will not let me get out of my house. I could not go even to the church. I was really scared to live in the house given as dowry and since I was not well with no money left and nobody to take care of, my mother told me to stay with her. Nearly one month after me and my kids moved to my mother’s house, she passed away. She had leukemia and could live only 3 months after the diagnosis, and we were left with nobody to lean on. After my mother’s death, it was quite easy for my husband to harass me with his narcissistic group. now that financially we are in a really bad situation, I am planning to file a case to get my maternal property back from him. I don’t think I can tolerate him and his group anymore. He is the one who is responsible for my father’s death and I think if people support him like this, one day he will become the cause of my death. I am scared of those narcissistic voices shouting around me incessantly. Since catholic church always supports men in matters like this and is against divorce, I never filed a divorce case or child maintenance case against him. Now that my children says they cant suffer any more because of their father who made their lives a hell and I need to sell the property to get money, I am forced to file a divorce case.


Leave a Comment