In a perfect world, all marriages would be based on the idea that spouses would be completely generous with their time, their emotional output and their commitment to the husband or wife. If you know anyone with a great marriage then those people likely are likely to think of their spouse before themselves in most contexts. “How is this going to affect my spouse?” “What can I do to help my spouse?” These are the sort of questions that go through a person’s mind who is in a strong marriage.
Unfortunately, it is easier said than done to find yourself in a marriage like this. It does not come naturally to people for us to think like this. It takes time and effort to begin to put other's need first and the fact is you may have found your spouse when it was too late in the game for him or her to ever develop this trait. If you find yourself in a marriage where your spouse thinks primarily of themselves and struggles to ever consider your needs, then you may be married to a narcissist.
Many people will throw around the term “narcissist” nowadays but it is the unfortunate truth that there are a lot of people in our world who are honest to goodness narcissists. These people see themselves as the center of the universe. Their needs come before the needs of anyone else. Many times, or even most of the time, the person isn’t choosing to think this way. It’s in their nature to disregard others and place themselves at the center of everything.
Having a relationship with this kind of person- even a simple friendship or business relationship- would appear to be less than advantageous for the non-narcissist. If that describes you it may be your goal to want to divorce your spouse in hopes of achieving a happier life as a single person. Attempts to save the marriage may have been unsuccessful or you may have had problems even having your spouse admit to there being a problem in the first place.
Getting a divorce from a narcissist can be a challenge. I’m not a doctor trained in psychology or psychiatry, but I have been able to see a wide range of people go through divorces in my years as a family law attorney. Divorces are difficult enough as it is and when you add in the variable of a person who can think of nobody but themselves it stands to make the process even more difficult.
What characteristics do narcissists share?
At this point in reading today's blog post, you may be asking yourself whether you are married to a narcissist. Let's go over some of the characteristics that I have observed most if not all narcissists to share. Your spouse may not exhibit all of these characteristics but many of them may be relevant to your marriage.
Narcissists tend to have a very inflated sense of their importance. Whether it’s refusing to back down from their position in an argument or putting their job, their goals, their wants ahead of yours, a narcissist is almost unable to understand that he or she is not the center of the universe. It is not a stretch, therefore, to think that since the universe revolves around them that your marriage does as well. The idea that you would want to end the marriage may be inconceivable to a narcissist. If anyone is going to end the marriage it is the narcissist, he or she may be thinking. Besides, why would anyone want to divorce him or her? They're the best thing since sliced bread, after all.
In addition to putting themselves at the center of their and your universe, the narcissist also tends to do whatever it takes to achieve whatever desired outcome that they have envisioned for themselves. Whether professionally or personally, the people who come into contact with a narcissist are there to be used to the advantage of the narcissist. If you think that you are the exception to this rule because you are married to that person, I’d recommend you think again.
What characteristics of a narcissist are especially problematic in a divorce?
When it comes to divorcing a narcissist, you are likely to find that your spouse does not feel much compassion for your needs or the position that you are in. In their mind, you are lucky to be married to him or her no matter what. As a result, your feelings and emotions surrounding the failure of your marriage are not something that your spouse is likely able to consider on any meaningful level. He or she may be putting you through a really difficult time but that doesn't matter to them.
The most frustrating part of divorcing a narcissist from an immediate standpoint is that narcissists are almost always very arrogant people. Their ideas are the best and anyone that challenges those ideas is wrong. What they want comes first and if you try to stand up for yourself and assert your rights that are likely to be met with a fair amount of anger and hostility. That you would even challenge that person's perception of reality may be something that causes anger.
Finally, the truly frustrating part of divorcing a narcissist is that this type of person will expect you to go out of your way to placate and give favors to him or her. This is true even if doing so wouldn't make any sense from your perspective. Again, in that person's mind, it only makes sense that you would show him or her honor by going out of your way to do something "nice" for him or her. Remember- this is the person that you are trying to negotiate a divorce settlement with.
Starting a divorce with a narcissistic spouse
So now we can get to the point in our discussion where we list out some tips and tricks that you can use to make it through a divorce with a narcissistic spouse. Keep in mind that if you were married to this person for any length of time, the fact that you are now making moves to end the relationship is a good thing in and of itself. While you are likely not excited about getting a divorce, the fact that you have taken the first step towards ending the relationship is a good thing for you and your family in all likelihood.
Why do narcissists make divorce so hard?
Given that narcissists are always of the opinion that they are right and that you are likely wrong if you disagree with him or her, your divorce will be off to a rougher than normal start. Do not be surprised if your spouse moves to attack the things in your life that are the most important to you. Maybe you value the home that you live in more than anything else. Do not be surprised if your spouse makes a hard push to remain in the house and to have you leave. The same goes for your children. If you want more than anything else to be the primary conservator of your children then you can expect your spouse to try to do the same thing.
This doesn't mean that your spouse has had a change of heart and now wants the best for your kids- no matter what it means as far as a change to his or her schedule or lifestyle. He or she will want to do this if for no other reason than to spite you and attempt to take from you something important to you. To exert control over the situation and you as an individual, your spouse will attack you where you are the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, your children can be caught in the middle of all of this.
Do not speak poorly about your spouse in front of your children
This piece of advice is one that will likely turn out to be the most difficult for you. You are going to be experiencing a range of emotions in connection with your divorce- most of them negative. The source of those negative emotions is going to be your spouse in all likelihood. It would be the most normal thing in the world to attempt to make yourself feel better by venting about your spouse to anyone who is around you.
However, the fact that the people most likely to be around you the most during your divorce are your children means you should hold off on criticism. Your older children are likely more than capable of making their assessments about their spouse. If you are concerned about what your spouse is telling your children about you, it is best to not pile on top of him. Be charitable with your spouse when talking to your kids.
If your spouse is behaving the way that many narcissists do during a divorce, he is likely telling your children false or misleading pieces of information about you to control the thoughts and behavior of your kids. This is enough to make any parent upset but it is not worth it trying to fight a battle with your spouse through your children. They are already in an awkward and unenviable position. They will respect and appreciate you all the more for being civil and respectful in a difficult time.
A word about parental alienation
This is a concern for many parents as they head into a divorce. It happens all the time that the parents attempt to win favor with their kids by pitting the other parent against them. The end goal would be to have your children lose respect for you. This is not usually done out of any love for the kids, but out of a desire to exert control over the situation and to knock you down a few pegs.
Alienation of a parent by the other parent in a divorce is something that divorce judges do not look favorably upon and will do whatever they can to prevent from happening. If you suspect that your narcissistic spouse is engaging in this type of behavior you should let the judge know immediately. Going down the same road as your spouse and bad-mouthing him or she just strengthens their position that you are a bad person or parent.
The bottom line is that you need to be careful what you say to your spouse during a divorce. I will tell clients to limit what they talk to their spouse about because it may be used in ways that you could not foresee. Never underestimate the manipulative or underhanded ways that a person can act to harm their spouse in a divorce.
If you can, choose to communicate about changes in schedules, updates about your kids and anything else that is necessary for the written form. Text messaging can be long and tedious, but email or online co-parenting websites like Our Family Wizard are suggestions. As long as you can be civil and in control of what you type, having a written record of your conversations is a good idea.
More tips on divorcing a narcissist will be posted in tomorrow’s blog post
Thank you for joining us today as we introduced a topic that I will be writing about for the next few days. If you have any questions regarding this topic or any other in Texas family law please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity for you to learn more about our office and to receive direct feedback about your particular circumstances.
We represent clients across southeast Texas and do so with a great deal of pride. The results that we can achieve for our clients are possible because we value communication with our clients as well as putting off their goals first in all situations.