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Specialty tag(s): High-Conflict Divorce, Divorce

How Does a Narcissist Behave During a Divorce?

Thomas A. Greenwald | July 10, 2023

woman looking into distance

Divorce can be challenging especially when dealing with a narcissistic spouse. Anticipating a narcissist’s behavior will help you to develop a strategy for a successful resolution of your divorce case.  Divorcing a narcissist brings additional challenges and uncertainties that you and your lawyer must navigate carefully. Narcissists can be relentless in their effort to achieve the outcome they feel entitled to and rarely care about who their actions affect along the way.

Characteristics of a Narcissist During Divorce

Predicting exactly what a narcissist will do during a divorce can be difficult because narcissism can vary so much from one person to another. Some may be willing to go to more extreme lengths than others to get what they want. However, there are common characteristics associated with narcissists that you will likely be able to recognize in your spouse.

  • Lack of Empathy: Narcissists have difficulty recognizing how others may feel. This lack of empathy can lead them to make decisions during a divorce without regard for how their actions may affect you or your children.
  • Sense of Entitlement: Narcissists often feel entitled to whatever they want. In a divorce, this may mean valuable assets, money, or custody of the children.
  • Need for Control: Narcissists will likely attempt to control every aspect of the divorce. This behavior can make it incredibly difficult for couples to compromise on even unimportant issues. The narcissist’s need to “win” often outweighs what makes the most sense in a particular situation.
  • Manipulative Behavior: Narcissists may use manipulative tactics such as gaslighting or guilt-tripping to get what they want from the divorce.
  • Projection of Blame: Narcissists avoid admitting to anything that reflects negatively on themselves. This behavior can manifest as a narcissist blaming their spouse for everything or projecting their own negative behavior onto their spouse.

Common Narcissistic Tactics During a Divorce

When dealing with a narcissist, you never know what they might do during a divorce. They may turn to any one of several different tactics to get what they feel entitled to in the divorce. These behaviors range from lying to tampering with documents to help prove their case. Understanding the potential tactics that they may use can help you better protect yourself and your children during the divorce.

  • Gaslighting: Gaslighting is a type of manipulation that makes you question your judgment or perceptions by using phrases like “You made me do that” or “You’re just being paranoid.” Narcissists may attempt to gaslight their spouse in a divorce to force them into questioning their feelings or memories.
  • Financial Abuse: Narcissists often use their control over finances to manipulate their spouse by making it difficult for them to get by financially both during and after a divorce.
  • Using Children as Pawns: It’s not uncommon for narcissists to use their children as bargaining chips. They may attempt to use potential custody agreements to manipulate their spouse into making certain decisions.
  • False Accusations: Many narcissists are not afraid to make false accusations about their partner during a divorce to paint themselves in a better light.
  • Delaying Tactics: Narcissists may attempt to delay a divorce by refusing to negotiate, filing frivolous legal motions, or stalling to retain control.

Strategies for Handling Narcissistic Behavior in a Divorce

Knowing how a narcissist may behave in a divorce can help you to form a strategy to get through this process. Divorce is a trying time, but divorcing a narcissist can be harmful to your emotional stability and physical wellbeing. Below is a list of coping strategies on how to deal with a narcissistic spouse during a divorce:

  • Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries early in the divorce to protect your emotional and financial well-being.
  • Speak With a Therapist: A therapist or counselor can help you develop effective ways of communication with a narcissistic spouse. They can also help you manage your emotions throughout the divorce.
  • Resist Calling Out Their Behavior: Narcissists don’t respond well to criticism. Calling attention to their behavior during the divorce may only make things worse and encourage them to retaliate.
  • Education Yourself: An experienced attorney can provide you with other useful resources so you can educate yourself on how best to prepare to divorce a narcissist.
  • Measured Communication: Keep your communication with a narcissist brief, informative, friendly, and firm.

Get Help With Your Divorce

The skilled divorce attorneys at Goranson Bain Ausley have extensive experience dealing with narcissistic partners and high-conflict divorces, and can guide you through this difficult process as painlessly as possible. Our compassionate attorneys will always put your best interests before all else and work diligently to develop a comprehensive strategy for dealing with an uncooperative or difficult spouse. Contact our offices in AustinDallasFort WorthGranbury, or Plano today to learn more.

Learn More

Tom Greenwald is an experienced trial lawyer with more than 30 years of family law experience. He has been named Best Lawyers© Family Law “Lawyer of the Year” in Dallas/Fort Worth by Best Lawyers and named “Best Lawyers in Dallas: Family Law” by D Magazine six times, including 2022. Tom brings specialized expertise to complex divorces, including complicated compensation structures, property division, dealing with private business interests, separate property claims, business valuation, and child custody. His goal is to help clients find efficient and constructive solutions that will enable them to save money and maintain good working relationships in the future.

To learn more, contact Tom Greenwald at GBA’s Plano Family Law Office.

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