If you believe your husband is suffering from a personality disorder – like narcissism – you’re not alone. In fact, one of the more common things we deal with in our practice is narcissism, both of the diagnosed and undiagnosed variety.
Narcissistic husbands are more likely to be difficult during the divorce process; they tend to see their wives as property belonging to them, or at least as an extension of themselves, and one that they are quite keen to control better. Their actions throughout the divorce process, from everything like how to divide retirement accounts and even how to parent the children, seem carefully calculated to exact control over their spouses at every single turn. There’s no question it’s difficult, and you’ll want an attorney who is experienced in negotiating the ups and downs of dealing with narcissism on the other side. There’s no question that all of our attorneys (by virtue of the fact that we represent women only in divorce and custody cases here in Virginia) have a lot of experience with narcissistic husbands; in fact, I’d say it’s one of the most common types of cases we handle.
You might not think that there’s THAT many narcissists out there, but I’m here to tell you that there are. They pop up all over the place! (And, to be fair, since I’m not a therapist, I can say that I’m not sure that they’re all diagnosed, but I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that there’s something very, very wrong with them.)
If your husband is a narcissist (or you suspect he might be), you’ll want to tread carefully. Take care to plan your steps ahead of time to avoid bumping into some of the more difficult aspects of his personality, and make sure, at the barest minimum, that you’re getting the help you need to weather the storm.
There’s no question that, when you’re dealing with narcissism, it’s harder than the typical divorce; there’s also probably, in your mind at least, no question that you can’t continue to live this way. 4 must remember facts for women facing divorcing narcissistic husbands
1. You don’t need to talk to your narcissistic husband during the divorce.
He probably calls, texts, and emails you all the time. He probably uses every charming and creative and manipulative tool at his disposal (and there are lots of them) to try to force you into a corner and make you back down. Remember, though: you don’t have to (or need to) talk to him at all. Once you’ve hired an attorney, you can let your attorney do the communicating for you. What we see happening in a lot of these cases is that the spouse with less bargaining power (you know—the spouse who isn’t a narcissist) ends up stressed out, frustrated, in tears, or panicky. And not just for a short period of time, either—for the entire divorce process.
You do not have to talk to him. In fact, there’s probably very little to be gained from talking to him. Let your attorney do the communicating, and you’ll lower your blood pressure points and increase your likelihood of getting a settlement that looks the way you want it to look.
What can be gained from talking to him? At the end of the day, very little.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you give away control of your case to our attorney; in our firm, each attorney works with each client to come up with a custom tailored course of action specifically designed to address the goals in that particular case. We always discuss our options, and figure out what we plan to do together—and then, at every single part of the process, the client is involved. When we’re drafting a letter, for example, the client proofreads it before it goes out. When we receive correspondence, we scan it and share it with the client immediately. At every single stage, you’re involved—so why talk to him yourself? It just makes it harder on you, and what’s the point of that?
2. Hire an attorney experienced in dealing with narcissistic husbands.
I touched on this already, but it’s important to deal with someone who understands the demands of dealing with a narcissistic husband. It’s a fairly common issue in our practice, and one that we’re up against all the time, but it’s not that way with every single attorney. The last thing you want is someone who has no experience at all and will be surprised or at a disadvantage when your husband shows his true colors—which, let’s be honest, he will. There are lots of things you need to know if you’re going to handle a divorce with a narcissistic husband. For more information about what to expect (and to learn what we know about how divorces tend to go with narcissism on one side), click here.
3. Refuse to allow the kids to become pawns.
When your husband realizes that he can’t control you anymore, he’s going to turn to your children instead. It’s mostly an attempt to get to you, but it’s also an attempt to control—like any other attempt—and most narcissists don’t care who they’re controlling, just so long as they have someone to control.
Why not the kids? After all, a narcissist is never going to be the type of parent who puts his children’s needs first; if he were, he wouldn’t be a narcissist. Remember how I said earlier that there’s no reason to talk to him? Well, there’s not—unless, of course, you have kids in common. Then, you probably will have to talk to him, at least some.
Still, that doesn’t mean he can just have at you whenever he wants. Most of the time, in cases like this, we recommend that you communicate exclusively by text or email (so that we always have a written record of exactly what took place during your conversation) and only as it relates to the kids. As it relates to the divorce or any other issue, you can let the attorneys handle it. If he starts to attack, blame, or belittle you, ignore it. Only respond to the portion of his email that deals with the children, and do it in as perfunctory a way as possible. If he sends a rant, respond with, “I’ll pick the children up on Tuesday at 5 from daycare.” Don’t give him extra attention or ammunition; that will only prolong his bad behavior. Always keep the kids at the forefront, and you’ll manage the situation as well as possible. Don’t give into his attention seeking antics!
4. Get help yourself.
Dealing with all of this is hard; don’t think for a second that we don’t understand what you’re going through! Part of making sure that you deal with this as productively as possible is by enlisting the support of a therapist or other professional who can help you get through this. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help; it’s more of a sign of weakness if you don’t. Especially when you’re dealing with narcissism, you’ll want all the help you can get. A therapist can give you helpful pointers for how to deal with what you’re experiencing in a way that sets you up for as much success as possible (and, by extension, your children, too). It’s important to know when to ask for help, and when you’re dealing with narcissism and divorce is a perfect time to ask for help. For more information about narcissism and divorce or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.