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13 Essential Tips if You Are Divorcing a Narcissist

About the narcissist

Let’s start with why the narcissist—despite all the real reasons any sensible person would be highly motivated to stay out of court—is very likely to end up in it.

1. He or she is in it to win it.

Even though there aren’t real “winners” in divorce—with luck, there’s some equitable splitting of responsibilities and assets—that’s not the narcissist’s point of view. He or she is likely to see himself or herself as a victim, regardless of the facts, and has no intention of meeting in the middle, so you can forget negotiation or mediation. Being proven right is the ultimate goal, and the narcissist will do whatever it takes to make that happen. “One of my clients,” Malkin says, “went through hell with a man who’d enjoyed three affairs in the course of his marriage, and regularly spent their vacation money on his trysts. He tried to convince the judge my client was having an affair (she wasn’t), all the while sending, long pleading letters, asking, ‘why are you doing this to me?’ For many narcissists, truth isn’t just relative. It’s optional.”

2. He or she is a game player.

Studies show this to be the narcissist’s relational pattern—maintaining power and an edge by keeping others off-balance—and he or she isn’t going to change just because you’re going to court. Gaming the system will be the first line of defense and, as we’ll see, the family court system can be gamed. “This is especially dangerous when your narcissistic ex is the extraverted, charming type with lots of money to burn,” Malkin says. “They’re apt to file endless motions, making empty (false) accusations about ‘neglectful parenting’ for example, wasting everyone’s time. It’s often an attempt to wear you down.”

3. He or she doesn’t tally emotional losses.

Impaired empathy is one of the hallmarks of pathological narcissism, and what that translates into here is the narcissist’s total disregard of how anyone—including his or her spouse and, more important, children—might be hurt by the game-playing or other behaviors. It literally doesn’t occur to the narcissist because the focus is solely on him or her; nothing else really matters except satisfying personal needs and wants. Unfortunately, what keeps most of us on the relatively straight and narrow in stressful situations like divorce and tends to keep us out of court is our worry about other people—how they might be affected or hurt, what they will think of our behaviors, and how it will affect our future relationships. Not the narcissist. He or he is likely to indulge in what military strategists call a scorched-earth policy—leave nothing standing in his or her wake. This, unfortunately, often includes the children of the marriage, who become unwitting pawns in the narcissist’s strategizing. As discussed below, the gender of the narcissist actually comes into play here, especially if there is no agreement on custody or child support.


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