I was reading a quote the other day that said that the best thing you can do for a narcissist is to give him a child. That was it – that was the end of the quote – but it really did get me thinking. It probably is the best thing you can do, because not only does it give him continued control over you, it gives him the option to exercise control over a new little person as well. What more could a narcissist want?
But that quote is difficult to read, too, because, for many women, the children are already born. What do you do when you’ve had a child already and suspect that your child’s father is a narcissist? How do you begin to move forward with your divorce, separation, or break up?
It’s not an easy time for any woman, but that’s especially true in a case involving a narcissist. Of course, they’re not all narcissists, but to listen to most of my clients talk, you might think that’s the case. At the end of the day, it may not matter (to you) whether he’s clinically diagnosed as a narcissist; if you see enough of the behavior traits, regardless of whether he has a diagnosis (or even whether he’s actually a narcissist), you already know that you’re in for a particularly difficult break up.
Is he a narcissist? Well, I’d ask another question: does it actually matter?
I’m not a therapist or a doctor of any kind, and am therefore unable to diagnose anyone with anything. But, if it looks like a duck, smells like a duck, and quacks like a duck, well, chances are pretty good that he’s a duck. You know? Or maybe he isn’t, technically, but that might not matter one teensy little bit, given all that you’ve had to deal with.
The way I see it, you have a couple of options if you’re breaking up with or divorcing a narcissist and you share children in common.
1. Enlist the support of a therapist.
You’re not crazy, but you may feel like you’re crazy. You’re going to need some extra help – professional help – to navigate this situation.
There’s a whole lot of hard things going on here: dealing with him (which, in a way, will never stop, because you share children in common), breaking up/divorcing him, coparenting, setting boundaries, and avoiding making similar mistakes in the future.
You’ll want to heal from this relationship, set up a successful coparenting/parallel parenting situation, successfully extricate yourself, and take the time to do the work to make sure you don’t fall into a similar trap next time.
It’s not you – it’s him. But it’s still hard work, and you’ll be much more successful and mentally strong if you have effective psychological help in place.
While you’re at it, you may want to hire an attorney for your child(ren) too, if they’re old enough.
2. Hire an attorney.
One of the most important things to a narcissist is maintaining control. That means that you’re probably not going to have a nice, easy, quick uncontested divorce. You may have an uncontested divorce eventually, but in a lot of cases where narcissists are involved, I find that you have to at least start out playing hardball. By hardball, I mean litigation.
I mean, normally I talk about being amicable and reaching an agreement and trying to keep cases out of court to keep costs down, but that goes for cases where narcissists aren’t involved. Court is definitely, in my opinion, a last resort – but that’s kind of where you tend to want to start in a case that’s all about control.
You go in too soft, trying to negotiate and keep things out of court, and he’ll play it like he always has – to his own advantage. You go in strong, show him that you’re confident and in control (and you’ve hired a strong, confident attorney to represent you, too), and things will progress a little more differently. Will he still be himself? Yes; honestly, I’ve yet to find a legal course of action that means that a soon-to-be ex somehow becomes a different person. But will he also know that he has to take this seriously? Yes.
3. Make good decisions in the meantime.
When you’re coming out of years in a toxic, unhealthy, abusive relationship with a narcissist, it’s tempting to react.
Whether you start dating (learn more about adultery and spousal support here, and custody and visitation here), start partying, start trash talking him on social media, or something else, you should probably just pump the brakes a little.
Don’t make rash decisions. See point #1, and talk to your therapist, and point #2, and talk to your attorney, before you make any big decisions. Don’t share anything questionable on social media. Don’t start dating someone else.
Consider the advantages and disadvantages of any choice you might make – both to your own recovery and to your legal case – before committing.
You’re not wrong. You’re normal to feel the way you’re feeling, and when you come out from under the thumb of a narcissist, it can feel really liberating – but by falling into that trap, you can put control back into the narcissist’s hands. He won’t hesitate to save whatever information he can gather and enter into a public mudslinging contest, and that’s not where you want to be.
We’ve written a fair amount about divorce and custody cases where there are narcissists involved, so you may want to brush up. In any case, you’ll definitely want an attorney. Wondering where to get started? You can download a copy of our divorce or custody book and attend a monthly divorce seminar to begin to get the information you need about the divorce process.
For more information or to schedule a consultation give our office a call at 757-425-5200.