Family & Divorce

How a narcissistic spouse makes divorce even harder

Divorce is tough, but what makes it harder is if your former partner is a narcissist – intent on dragging out the process and being a roadblock to progress and your own freedom. TGB family law partner Jane Miller  discusses the impact a narcissist can have on the divorce process and some tell-tale signs to look out for.

Intense divorces that drag on for years and incur extensive legal costs often have one thing in common: a narcissistic spouse.

Narcissism is a pe rsonality disorder and according to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders” used by mental health professionals, it can include traits such as:

  • Lack of empathy and remorse towards others;
  • Overinflated sense of self;
  • Unwillingness to see own faults and to accept responsibility for own behavior;
  • Excessive need for admiration from the greater community;
  • Disproportionate hostility and anger in response to minor insults and slights;
  • Unreasonably high standards of self and others;

as well as many other traits in varying degrees.

Narcissistic behaviours can fly under the radar. Often it takes many years, sometimes decades, to realise your spouse has a narcissistic personality disorder.  What is worse is that given their need for public admiration, narcissistic people often seem wonderful and highly successful to the wider world and yet they show a different side to their own family when in private.

Many of my clients have spoken of the “light bulb” moment when they have read information on narcissism and immediately identified that it sounds just like their own marriage.  Unfortunately for these clients, knowing they have been married to a narcissist doesn’t mean they can instantly free themselves from those difficulties.  In fact, the lawyer’s office and the courtroom often become new weapons for a narcissistic person to attempt to overpower their former spouse during a divorce.

Some common behaviours shown by narcissistic spouses during divorce include:

  • Using “smoke and mirror” tactics to conceal information: Narcissistic people will mask details about income, expenses, assets and debts.  Sometimes they will use complicated trust structures to do this, or unilateral transactions of money between numerous accounts.  This can give rise to feeling that you only know what your narcissistic spouse wants you to know, with the truth being hidden like a “needle in the hay stack”.
  • Diverting attention away from themselves so they can deceptively further their own position: A narcissistic spouse will often make baseless allegations about their ex and belligerently demand explanations, all the while diverting the attention away from their own dishonest conduct and appearing blameless through out.
  • An arrogance and disregard for the Court, lawyers and the judicial system as a whole: Given the tendency to have an overinflated sense of self, a narcissist’s “God-like complex” can lead them to stubbornly believe they will outwit everyone else.
  • Believing that the rules don’t apply to them: Narcissists often think that the legal system doesn’t apply to them, and instead want to run their matter using rules they invent themselves. Even though they may be receiving accurate legal advice they may be unwilling to act upon it, making the whole process more drawn out than necessary.  In fact, a narcissist will often want to wear their ex down over time and cause them over-inflated legal fees, so that they submit to their position.
  • Trying to call the shots during negotiations: A narcissist will usually want to control the agenda, the timeframe and the process.  If they don’t feel in control of the situation they are likely to become withdrawn and non-responsive, making any negotiations ineffective.

Of course, not every divorce featuring these behaviours necessarily involve a narcissist.  However, if these elements do feel familiar to you, you may find some comfort in speaking to a psychologist about your former spouse’s personality and behaviours as they may have narcissistic personality disorder.

Whilst receiving counseling about your former spouse’s narcissistic tendencies will not cure the problem, it is useful to have the support of a counselor to help cope with your ex’s behaviour during divorce. Furthermore, it is vital to have an experienced, sympathetic family lawyer to help you through your divorce and fight for you, as there is a high chance that arriving at a fair settlement will not be easy.  Getting the right advice will help you choose your battles wisely, and foster the best strategy to deal with the legal problems at hand.

Although divorcing a narcissist can get ugly, the pain and problems will not last forever.  As the saying goes, “This too will pass”.  Even though your family law matter might prove more difficult and drawn out than most, there will come a time that you will be freed of your narcissistic ex, and you can move on with your life.

Tindall Gask Bentley are experts in family law and can guide you through the divorce process. Doing so can ease the stress on you and your family during a turbulent time. Make an appointment with your nearest TGB office here or register your details here and we’ll be in touch soon.