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Divorcing a Narcissist: Strategies for Regaining Your Sanity

By Lisa Brick


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Being married to a narcissist undermines your happiness, your ability to discern what is true, your ability to parent according to your values, your relationships beyond the marriage, and any confidence in yourself that you once had.  Somewhere in the relationship you began considering what was going on in your spouse’s head more than in your own and how to keep on his/her “good” side so as to avoid his/her wrath. Basically what you feel, think, and do have all been directed to try to avoid your spouse's psychological attacks on your sanity and on your childrens’ self-worth.  

You have recognized the price you are paying staying married to this person and are ready to get out, yet how do you do so knowing the attacks, the undermining, the manipulating that will escalate in the meanwhile? How do you begin a marathon while being depleted from the years of challenges in your marriage?  There are ways.  

You can begin by observing how you interact with your soon-to-be-ex (STBX), learn and experiment with different approaches, identify which changes bring you positive results, practice the productive approaches, and then utilize them to leave this marriage, regain your confidence, and build a new and healthier life.   

An example is defending yourself against verbal accusations.  What is the outcome when you defend your choice of action? Does your significant other say, “I am so glad you shared your logic with me.  Now I understand your actions and see the wisdom in them” or “I appreciate you sharing your logic with me. I am sorry it did not turn out the way you wanted it to.  What do you think you would do differently next time around?” Probably not.  

Instead of defending yourself you can acknowledge his/her emotions, without agreeing or disagreeing, “You sound upset by the choice I made. What would you have done?”  You are acknowledging his/her emotions and changing the subject from you to him/her. Narcissists LOVE being the authority so without saying you will do what he/she would have done you stroke his/her ego and get the glaring spotlight off you. It may be a smooth transition to another subject or a different room by saying, “Thanks for sharing that.”  You have not agreed that you were wrong or that he/she was right. You simply utilized how his/her mind works to dismiss the abuse. This or many other approaches using a similar understanding of the narcissist brain can lead you to a much more peaceful transition out of the marriage. Arguing gets you more arguing. Defending gets you more lecturing and insults.  

Your path to freedom has been traveled by many before you. Those who break through experience an immense growth and healing. You are not the first to fall into the web of a charming narcissist and you will not be the first to break out of the sticky strands that have kept you stuck. Using the successful strategies of those who have achieved freedom from the co-dependent lair of the narcissistic relationship is a sure road to freedom for you too.

There are certain changes that are imperative for you to make if you are to regain your sanity on this journey.  Yes, you can regain it and you can regain it now. You need not wait until you are divorced. You cannot wait or you will not be able to get out.  

Notice that these are changes about YOU.  YOUR NARCISSIST PARTNER DOES NOT HAVE THE CAPACITY FOR CHANGE. He/she is psychologically unable to alter his/her pathology.

The changes YOU can make:

  • Acknowledge that your STBX is not now and will never be a logical, rational human being.  You are married to a human being who, while seemingly rational, is not. No amount of logic will sway him/her to see a situation any way other than how it serves him/her.  The narcissist has a distorted view of reality. He/she is completely driven by needing to have his/her needs met and will attempt to twist every situation towards that end regardless of whatever you say or do.  

  • Step back from verbal engagement with your soon to be ex (STBX).  Understand that he/she engages in verbal debate to exhaust you. He/she listens only to figure out what to use against you to make you doubt yourself and to forward his/her agenda.  Remember the first change, your STBX is not a logical, rational human being. 

  • Use responses that reassure your STBX that you understand his/her point when you are unable to avoid a verbal interaction. Understanding is not agreeing. Stay clear of explaining or defending. Give yourself space to process what you are hearing in private, when you can think clearly without his/her influence.

  • Create a personal divorce support team ASAP.  An effective divorce support team includes two or three friends or family members who can be supportive and keep your confidentialities, a divorce coach, a therapist, a well vetted attorney experienced with high conflict divorces, and at some point if deemed necessary, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst.  

  • Avoid people who tell you what to do rather than help you to figure that out yourself.  Unless the person is experienced with high-conflict personalities and you see they have been very effective in working with such personalities, they do not know what you are dealing with or how best to advise you! 

  • Allow yourself to feel your emotions yet DO NOT ACT OUT OF THEM.  Take a time out when you are triggered until you can begin to think strategically. Stepping back, grounding yourself and only then constructing an intentional strategic response before reengaging is a learned response. You are the only one who can train yourself to respond rather than react.  Change reactions to responses and you transform the dynamic between you and your STBX to your advantage.  

  • Seriously consider and determine what your major or overall aim is regarding leaving this marriage.  Without knowing what your end game is there is no way to strategically navigate towards it. The Oxford Online Dictionary defines strategy as “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.” It is time to look into yourself, remind yourself why you are leaving this marriage and what kind of a life you want once your divorce papers are in hand. 

  • Be patient and loving with yourself.  The journey ahead is formidable and accomplishable.  You have what it takes to live a healthier life IF you begin meeting yourself with understanding, compassion, and love.  After all of these years of being told how inadequate you are, it is up to you to begin changing the message from the inside.   The freedom to encourage and empower yourself is one of the most important of the many freedoms ahead of you.

  • Know that divorcing a narcissist cannot be an amicable and cooperative process. Divorcing a narcissist is, by definition, a high conflict undertaking.  If you need to use the courts to adjudicate your divorce it is because your STBX will never agree to a fair and equitable distribution of assets and/or parenting time unless he/she is backed against a wall or legally ordered to.  That is why the court system, as flawed as it may be, exists.

While your spouse will frame divorce as a win or lose situation, divorce is not a competition.  

Divorce is a process that is bound by laws that are intended to ensure that negotiations end with a “fair” and “equitable” agreement that neither of you are particularly happy with but that at least you can live with. Your STBX will threaten, accuse, demean, all of the tricks he/she always pulls out of the bag to get what he/she wants.  Now that you have representation, now that his/her tricks will be out in the open for professionals to observe, it’s a different situation.  

You’re newly trained ability to respond rather than react, to remain calm and collected, to keep the focus on what you think and what you want destroys a narcissist's strategy.  The more often you show up calm and collected the less you or anyone else will see yourself as the irrational, emotional, irresponsible one he has painted you as.  

If you deeply desire the changes we recommend in this article but are struggling to get there on your own, Book a Free Rapid Relief Call

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