Dealing with a divorce is a painful thing for many people, and it can be even more challenging when you discover that the person you married is not who you thought they were. This something that goes deeper than just a realization that you and your spouse could not live together and goes into realizing something fundamentally wrong with the person you married–namely, that they are a narcissist. Even after you have made the decision to end the marriage, divorcing a narcissist has a set of challenges all its own.
The general traits of narcissism are a strong sense of self-importance and exaggeration of their own talents and abilities. It’s common for people to think of the narcissist as an extremely dramatic person, whose negative qualities are often on display. But that’s not always the case–a person can be a covert narcissist, and their ability to slide under the radar, so to speak, can make both the marriage and the divorce hard on their spouse.
The Narcissist in a Divorce: 3 Traits & 3 Tips
If you're divorcing a covert narcissist, there are three personality characteristics in particular likely to be relevant…
- Your spouse is likely to believe that the world owes them something—and in a divorce settlement, “the world” is going to be you.
- They will be willing to exploit others to get what they want. Again, in a divorce, you are the one subject to exploitation.
- They will lack empathy–the ability to connect with someone else’s pain. That means telling them how much something hurts you isn’t going to dissuade them, even if they can put on an act that suggests otherwise.
By reaching the stage of divorce, you may well have already come to grips with these traits. But knowing something and dealing with it are two different things. Here are some tips to help you get through the divorce proceedings…
Don’t Do This Alone: Dealing with a covert narcissist under any circumstances is hard. Dealing with one that you once loved is even harder and can result in internal conflicts between what you know to be the case today (your spouse’s covert narcissism) and what you once believed to be the case (the facade they use to fool the world).
There is absolutely nothing wrong with admitting that you need help in dealing with your spouse. This means confiding in friends. It may mean seeking a counselor to talk through things with. Above all, it means being willing to trust their judgment. It’s quite common for people looking at a situation from the outside to have clearer vision than those on the inside.
So, surround yourself with people whose integrity and judgment you can trust, and listen to them.
Accept Your Limits: One of the reasons it’s so hard for the victimized spouse to go through this is that you, more than anyone, knows the genuinely good qualities your spouse has. You were the one who could see the goodness shine through the narcissism on occasion. You may have even stayed in the marriage longer than most people thought you should have, believing that if your spouse just got help, things could be different.
That can all be true, but one reality remains–you can’t change your spouse. Neither can anyone else. In a divorce, you have to be ready to see their worst side and accept that you can’t fix it.
Set Firm Boundaries: This is good advice at any time for all relationships, but it’s especially imperative when divorcing a covert narcissist. You’re negotiating for your future financial well-being and perhaps for your children. The best way to approach this is to adopt a very business-like mindset. You and your spouse have business to discuss–property division, child custody and visitation. That’s it.
This is where your lawyer can and should play an invaluable role. If your spouse has questions, direct them to your attorney. If your spouse has a proposal they want to make, direct them to your attorney. A divorce lawyer is there precisely for the reason of keeping everything “strictly business”.
At Fenchel Family Law PC, we know how hard divorce is. We can’t take away the emotional pain and sense of betrayal that people can feel when divorcing a narcissist. What we can do is be there on the front lines of the settlement negotiations, fighting for their best interests and helping them start a new life. That’s what we do for our clients, and we can do the same for you. Reach out to us today at (415) 650-1112 or contact us online to set up your initial consultation .