divorcing a narcissist

10 Tips for Divorcing a Narcissist in Illinois

Going through a divorce is never easy. It often takes a huge emotional and financial toll on both parties and their families. However, when your soon-to-be-ex is a narcissist, it can be even harder.

Narcissism is a personality disorder that often manifests in a lack of empathy, attention-seeking behavior, and an inflated sense of self-importance. Divorcing a narcissist can be especially challenging because they hate to lose – and will often react in anger when they don’t get what they want. A skilled Barrington divorce attorney can guide you through the process, using their knowledge of Illinois law to protect your interests.

At Manassa Law, we understand that divorcing a narcissist isn’t easy. We will work with you to help you understand common narcissist divorce tactics, how you can protect yourself, and ways to resolve issues that may arise. Reach out today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team.

Common Narcissist Divorce Tactics

When you decide to divorce a narcissist, you may already have a good understanding of the types of things that they do to protect their fragile self-esteem. In a divorce, however, they may bring out a whole arsenal of dirty tricks that you never expected. Being aware of the kinds of things that they may do can help you handle these issues as they arise.

Common narcissist divorce tactics may include:

  • Playing the blame game: a narcissist is often incapable of admitting fault for anything. Throughout the divorce process, they may insist that you are solely responsible for the dissolution of your marriage.
  • Hiding assets: narcissists don’t like to lose. To avoid a full and fair distribution of marital property, they may not be completely honest or even hide assets. This often occurs during a high net worth divorce, although a narcissist might attempt it even when there are few assets to divide.
  • Dragging it out: during a divorce, a narcissist may be more motivated by revenge than anything else (including common sense or what is best for the kids). To that end, they may refuse to negotiate, stall, or delay to drag the divorce out as long as possible.
  • Gaslighting: because narcissists don’t like to lose, they will often do whatever it takes to feel like they are “winning” in a divorce. This may include gaslighting, a form of emotional abuse where they try to make you question your own feelings, thoughts, and sanity.
  • Threats and anger: narcissists often explode in rage when they aren’t getting what they want. This may occur during a divorce, particularly if you are the one who files.
  • Lying: in order to control you or drag out the proceedings, a narcissist may lie to you. For example, they may tell you that they want to go to mediation or have a collaborative divorce – only to back out after you have committed time and effort towards the process.

You cannot prevent a narcissist from doing any of these things. The only thing that you can control is your own response – and how you protect yourself. The best way to do so is to hire an experienced Barrington divorce lawyer and to come up with a plan together of how you will handle these and other tactics.

15 Tips for Divorcing a Narcissist

As family law attorneys, we have seen our share of messy divorces. More often than not, these cases involve a narcissistic spouse. Over time, we have developed a number of tips for how you can get through a divorce with a narcissist.

  1. Accept that your divorce will be contentious – and don’t believe that you can make the process easier if you’re nice and give your ex what they want.
  2. Get a therapist. Dealing with a narcissist both in a marriage and as it breaks up can be very emotionally challenging. Having a therapist to talk to can help you deal with these issues as they arise.
  3. Put together a support team that can have your back, including family, friends, and maybe even co-workers. Narcissists are great at making you doubt yourself. Your support team can help you see that you aren’t at fault – and you’re not crazy.
  4. Get everything in writing. Narcissists will often lie and scheme to get what they want, which means that unless you have something in writing, you can’t believe what they say. Communicating exclusively over text or email is the best way to protect yourself during a divorce. It may even help to reduce arguments.
  5. Limit contact as much as possible. While this may be difficult if you are co-parenting, there may be ways to arrange drop-offs and pick-ups so that you don’t have to see your ex. Narcissists often react in anger when their spouse decides to divorce them. Limiting in-person contact can help to reduce any fall-out from their rage.
  6. Prepare for gaslighting and manipulation. During your marriage, your spouse probably used gaslighting to wear you down and get their way. Now that you’re wise to their tactics, you can prepare for it. You might consider “gray rocking,” which is a strategy that involves disengaging and not giving an emotional response to someone who is narcissistic and/or abusive. This can be hard to do – which is why it is important to go to therapy!
  7. Accept that your spouse will not play fair. Understanding this can help you to not respond emotionally when they do something like lie, try to hide assets, or engage in delay tactics.
  8. Be prepared for a drawn-out process. While it isn’t fair, narcissists often use the court system as a way to lash out and/or control their spouse. An attorney can help to move the divorce along, but it may help to accept from the start that your divorce will probably be expensive and take a long time to finalize.
  9. Don’t let yourself be baited into arguments. This is part of the gray rock strategy – your ex wants to get a response from you. If it’s an angry or emotional response, that is even better because they can use it against you. Do your best to ignore their provocations, and focus on your end goal.
  10. Keep logs of the time that both you and your spouse spend with the children. Narcissists may brag about how much they love their kids and how much time they spend with them, but the reality is often very different. Keeping notes can help your attorney make the case for custody.
  11. Choose your battles. A narcissist will happily fight you over each and every little detail of your divorce. The best way to avoid getting dragged into the muck with them is to figure out what is really important to you. Once you know which battles you are willing to fight, you can devote your energy to those issues.
  12. Find ways to let your ex “win.” When you know what matters most to you, you can strategically let your ex think that they won something with the stuff that you don’t care about as much. Remember – narcissists love to win, so finding ways to let them think that they won can help smooth the process.
  13. Set boundaries early, and enforce them consistently. When you were married, you probably got used to putting your spouse’s needs ahead of yours and to accepting abusive behavior. Now that you are divorcing, it is important to set boundaries and let them know that you won’t accept mistreatment or abuse.
  14. Choose your lawyer carefully. When you are divorcing a narcissist, you need a strong, effective lawyer – but also one who understands what narcissists are like. Narcissists thrive on drama, so avoid lawyers who seem to engage in that type of behavior. 
  15. Seek a restraining order if necessary. As discussed above, narcissists often react in anger when they feel like they are losing. If your ex has made threats, is abusive, or if you are afraid about what they might do, talk to your attorney about getting a protective order for yourself and/or your kids.

Why Having a Lawyer Is So Important When Divorcing a Narcissist

Any divorce can be difficult – but when you are divorcing a narcissist, you are almost guaranteed to have an acrimonious process. One of the best ways to protect yourself is by retaining a seasoned divorce attorney who understands how to handle a narcissist – and who can use Illinois law to your benefit.

A family lawyer can give you a realistic idea of what the divorce process will look like for you. In many cases, divorcing a narcissist will mean going to court – as narcissists are rarely willing to resolve a case collaboratively through mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution. They can help you understand what that will mean for you in terms of time and cost.

Your attorney can also shield you from your soon-to-be-ex in a number of ways. If your spouse is verbally abusing or gaslighting you, all communications can go through the lawyers to cut down on this type of abuse. If they are threatening you, then your lawyer may help you obtain a restraining order.

At the same time, your attorney will work to ensure that your spouse isn’t hiding assets or engaging in other typical narcissistic tactics designed to make sure that they “win.” They can help you come up with a strategy that focuses on what is important to you while letting your spouse feel like they are winning. A Barrington divorce lawyer who has experience negotiating settlements can come up with a strategy that allows you to protect your peace – while accomplishing your ultimate goals in the divorce.

Because narcissists thrive on conflict and drama, a good lawyer will work to minimize these aspects of the divorce – which might allow you to resolve the case more quickly. They will work with you to understand the types of things your ex is likely to do during the divorce and put together a plan to minimize the impact on you and the process.

Divorcing a narcissist is different than most divorces. It may not be possible to resolve the case amicably, but with the right divorce attorney by your side, you can get the best possible outcome for yourself and your family.

How We Can Help

Deciding to divorce a narcissistic spouse is a monumental decision – one that many people make knowing that their ex will be furious and will lash out at them. While there isn’t much you can do about your spouse’s reaction to the divorce, you CAN prepare yourself and protect yourself for what comes next. Retaining skilled legal representation is a great first step.

Manassa Law represents individuals and families in all types of family law cases, including divorce, child custody, and property division. We have decades of combined experience in the field and are knowledgeable about all types of divorce – including those involving narcissists. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, give our law office a call at 847-221-5511 or fill out our online contact form.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Separation vs. Divorce

Larry Manassa