Separating is never easy. Separating from a spouse with a personality disorder even less so. As lawyers, some of the most difficult separations that we see are those where one spouse suffers from narcissistic personality disorder.
What is narcissistic personality disorder? Read more in our blog, “The Narcissistic Spouse: It’s not just Selfishness”.
What can you do to make sure that you don’t get dragged down into a world of conflict when separating from a person who has narcissistic personality disorder?
1. Get a lawyer
Getting a lawyer to help you through a high-conflict divorce is the best first step that you can take when dealing with a narcissistic spouse. A lawyer is the best person to advise you on how to approach your legal dispute, or whether you want to enter into a legal battle in the first place (see Tip 2 below). As well, your ex-partner is likely to make a lot of accusations and many demands. Consulting a lawyer will keep you on track and informed of your legal rights and remedies. A lawyer can also act as a buffer between you and your ex-partner.
2. Ask yourself early on: do I want this fight?
Individuals who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder can be vindictive and highly uncooperative. This makes it difficult to negotiate and often leads to lengthy – and expensive – legal battles over family law disputes. You will want to make sure that it is financially and emotionally worth it for you to fight for what you may be legally entitled to (such as, for example, spousal support). It is important to speak to your lawyer about these issues. If you don’t want the fight, there may be ways that your lawyer can protect you while minimizing the conflict with your spouse.
3. Set boundaries and stay firm
Think of your ex-partner, who has a narcissistic personality disorder, as a child constantly pulling temper tantrums when he or she does not get his or her way. The more that you give into this individual, the more they learn that their bullying tactics work on you and the more they will continue to use these tactics. For example, if you and your ex-partner have agreed to you paying $1,000 a month in spousal support, do not let your ex-partner bully you into paying $1,200 – otherwise, next month, the demand might be for $1,400. It is important to set clear boundaries at the outset, in consultation with your lawyer, and stick to these boundaries, in order to avoid escalation after escalation.
4. Get it in writing
Some ex-partners work very well together and may be able to arrange for a flexible solution to working out parenting schedules and other family law issues on a day-to-day basis. This is almost definitely not the case if one partner has narcissistic personality disorder. Because this partner is only able to act from an extremely self-centered point of view, healthy cooperation is not in his or her nature. You should aim to obtain a court order or written agreement that specifies how your family law issues will be resolved, and which clearly states how these obligations will be enforced. If you have children, you should have an enforceable agreement or court order specifying in detail the custody arrangements and access schedule. Again, a lawyer is invaluable in helping you to obtain this.
5. Set up your support network
Like anyone who has been in an abusive or high-conflict relationship, you are likely feeling hurt and exhausted. As well, your ex-partner may try to control you, scare you and/or guilt you in order to get his or her way. Surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family will help to keep you in a healthy headspace and can counteract some of the negative talk that you are getting from your ex-partner. Moreover, these individuals can act as additional witnesses to your ex-partner’s bullying behaviour, which may be valuable evidence for court but will also help to keep you from feeling isolated in your struggle. You should also consider counselling as a tool to work through the emotional issues arising out of your relationship and separation, so you can try to move on.
If your ex-partner is suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, he or she will likely try to manipulate you into feeling that you are a bad person for following your lawyer’s advice and standing up for your legal rights. It is important to remember that you are taking the right steps to help you through a very difficult time in your life.