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 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.
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 he won you over, he 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. 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 narcissistic ex tends to worsen with divorce, even if he leaves you, because he hates the loss of control over you. Be prepared- he will be deceitful, self serving, manipulative and profoundly unfair.
It Will Not Be Easy
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. He will exhaust you if you let him-try to keep yourself as physically fit as possible. Try to get enough rest and eat as healthy as you can. He 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 he planned. He will be easy to get along with as long as he gets his way.
The practical way to deal with a narcissistic ex during a divorce is to accept the fact that he will be thinking only about what is good for him—and plan your strategies from there. He 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 him. 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.
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.