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Successfully divorcing a narcissist: A comprehensive guide

Successfully divorcing a narcissist: A comprehensive guide

Divorcing a narcissist is a formidable challenge, marked by complexities and unique hurdles. Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or narcissistic personality traits often exhibit a distinct lack of empathy, and false beliefs in their grandiosity that can complicate the divorce process. This can add an intensity or venom to their behavior, due to the perceived damage to their ego.

In this comprehensive guide, we explore how to successfully navigate a divorce with a narcissist, from prioritizing your safety to understanding the intricacies of their behavior during this tumultuous period.

When Divorcing a Narcissist, What Can One Expect?

When served with divorce paperwork or informed that you, their partner, plan to leave the narcissistic relationship, a narcissist may: 

  • Threaten your safety verbally or physically: Safety should be your foremost concern when dealing with a narcissistic partner during a divorce with a narcissist. The unpredictability of the situation can make it essential to safeguard your well-being on various fronts, including financial, physical, and emotional aspects. A successful divorce begins with ensuring your safety—access the emergency hotlines listed here, or call 911 for immediate help.
  • Attempt to cut you off from your support system (friends and family in particular) by ruining your reputation: To safely divorce with a narcissist, having a reliable support system (which has been informed about your plans to leave the relationship) is paramount. Emotional support can provide solace during turbulent times. Your support network can bolster your resilience and provide the emotional sustenance you need—but be sure to give them a heads up before leaving the relationship.
  • Behave unpredictably: One hallmark of narcissism is unpredictability. Narcissists can react with big reactions, often lashing out, engaging in doxing, social slander, yelling, or even causing property damage. Their lack of empathy makes it difficult for them to comprehend the emotional impact of their actions on others.

How to Safely Divorce a Narcissist

You can safely divorce with a narcissist by checking off the following: 

  • Ensuring your financial independence. One crucial aspect of safeguarding yourself in a divorce with a narcissist is ensuring your financial independence. Have your own financial means of supporting yourself, reducing the risk of financial manipulation or control. By securing your financial well-being, you can gain autonomy and protect your interests.
  • Finding legal support and guidance. A competent attorney can guide you through the complex legal procedures, ensuring your rights and interests are protected. Engaging legal assistance is a must for a successful divorce.
  • Informing trusted friends and family about your decision to leave the relationship: Be sure to only inform those who will not notify your soon-to-be ex about your plans. If you share children with a narcissistic individual, know your legal rights and be sure to follow the law regarding custodial obligations.
  • Talking with a mental health professional: Therapy can be a valuable resource during a divorce with a narcissist. It can help you understand and distinguish reality from the distorted perceptions that narcissistic individuals often harbor. 

While narcissists may react with a lack of empathy and grandiosity, they also suffer from shame and fear, which can manifest unpredictably. Therapy can aid in managing these complexities and help you make informed decisions.

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How Does a Narcissist Act During Divorce?

By understanding their behavior, you can be better prepared for how a narcissist will act during a divorce. Begin by letting the following sink in:

  • Individuals with narcissistic personality traits often struggle with empathy
  • They don’t always understand how their actions affect others because they are so focused on themselves. 
  • When their ego is threatened, their reactions are often extremely harsh as a result.
  • Their difficulty in empathizing with others can lead to less understanding and togetherness during the divorce process. 
  • Their empathy gap can create a chasm that can be challenging to bridge, making effective communication with a narcissistic partner arduous.

Instead of “outsmarting” them, focus on securing your safety and establishing a plan of exit.

Divorcing a Narcissist with a Child

Divorcing a narcissist when you share a child with them can be exceptionally challenging. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Consult with an attorney: First and foremost, hire an experienced family law attorney who understands the complexities of divorcing a narcissist. They can guide you through the legal process and help protect your rights and your child’s well-being.
  • Gather documentation: Collect all necessary documents related to your child, such as birth certificates, school records, medical records, and any evidence that might be relevant to the divorce or child custody.
  • Establish boundaries: Set clear boundaries with the narcissistic ex-spouse. Communicate in writing or through a neutral third party whenever possible. Keep records of all interactions.
  • Focus on your child’s best interests: In court, the primary consideration is your child’s best interests. Be prepared to demonstrate how your child’s well-being is your top priority.
  • Seek mediation: If possible, consider mediation as an alternative to court. A skilled mediator can help facilitate productive discussions and agreements between you and the narcissistic parent.
  • Document everything: Keep a detailed record of any interaction with the narcissistic ex-spouse, especially any behavior that might affect your child’s safety or well-being. This documentation can be valuable in court.
  • Stay calm and composed: During interactions, stay calm and composed. Narcissists often try to provoke emotional responses. Avoid engaging in unnecessary conflicts.
  • Consult with a child psychologist: If your child is struggling due to the divorce or the narcissistic parent’s behavior, consider consulting with a child psychologist or therapist to provide the necessary support.
  • Follow court orders: Comply with court orders, and ensure that your child does as well. This demonstrates your commitment to a cooperative co-parenting arrangement.

Remember that divorcing a narcissist is a challenging process under the best of circumstances, and it’s essential to have a strong support system and legal representation. Your child’s well-being should be the central focus during this difficult time.

What Will a Narcissist Do at the End of a Marriage?

This can vary and can really be situational, but at the end of a marriage, it’s common for both partners, narcissistic or not, to engage in extreme measures of self-preservation and self-protection. But for the narcissist, they might significantly increase their engagement in self-protective behaviors and can seem arrogant.

They’re going to become a lot more self-absorbed as a way to both protect themselves and maintain control and also to soothe their damaged ego. In fact, many of the behaviors that drove you to want to end the relationships will become intensified now that they see that there’s no reason to continue the facade.

Will a Narcissist Settle in a Divorce?

The answer to this question is complex and variable. Divorce proceedings with a narcissist can be highly unpredictable and intense, making it challenging to forecast the outcome. Even without NPD, divorce is a formidable task.

Legal professionals are equipped to handle the complexities of such divorces, ensuring that your rights are safeguarded. Legal counsel is your ally in navigating the intricate legal procedures.

Divorcing a narcissist is an arduous journey that requires prioritizing your safety, seeking emotional support, securing your finances, and engaging legal counsel. Understanding the unpredictable dynamics of a narcissist’s behavior during a divorce is vital for a successful outcome. 

Remember that true narcissism (known clinically as NPD) is not present in every individual who acts in a self-centered manner and attempts to exert control and emotional manipulation over others. It’s also helpful to keep in mind that narcissism is often the result of severe childhood trauma—and a potent form of self-sabotage for the narcissist. 

Be prepared for the complexities that may arise during and after the divorce process.

  • Medical writer
  • Editorial writer
  • Clinical reviewer
  • 2 sources
  • Update history
Kate Hanselman, PMHNP in New Haven, CT
Kate Hanselman, PMHNP-BCBoard-Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
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Kate Hanselman is a board-certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC). She specializes in family conflict, transgender issues, grief, sexual orientation issues, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, behavioral issues, and women’s issues.

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Alexandra “Alex” Cromer is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who has 4 years of experience partnering with adults, families, adolescents, and couples seeking help with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and trauma-related disorders.

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Jason CrosbyMental Health Writer

Jason Crosby is a Senior Copywriter at Thriveworks. He received his BA in English Writing from Montana State University with a minor in English Literature. Previously, Jason was a freelance writer for publications based in Seattle, WA, and Austin, TX.

We only use authoritative, trusted, and current sources in our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our efforts to deliver factual, trustworthy information.

  • Biolcati, R., & Passini, S. (2018, February 15). Narcissism and self-esteem: Different motivations for selfie posting behaviors. Taylor & Francis Online. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23311908.2018.1437012/

  • Vrabel, J. K. Et al. (2019, June). Narcissism and perceived power in romantic relationships. Just a moment… https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0265407519858685

We update our content on a regular basis to ensure it reflects the most up-to-date, relevant, and valuable information. When we make a significant change, we summarize the updates and list the date on which they occurred. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  • Originally published April 6th, 2023

    Author: Jason Crosby

    Reviewer: Christine Ridley, LCSW

  • Published on: Apr 6, 2023

    Updated: September 29th, 2023

    Reviewer: Kate Hanselman, PMHNP

    Author: Jason Crosby

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