Narcissists and the Drama Triangle in Virginia Divorce

Posted on Oct 29, 2018 by Katie Carter

I recently read a really interesting article that really helps to explain some of the ways a narcissistic husband will try to manipulate a situation to their advantage. For their spouse, the behavior is toxic, damaging, and, oftentimes, really difficult to separate themselves from.

Partially, it’s just the way we’re built. You know, psychologically. They say that men get their sense of self worth from external things, like the job they have or the money they earn. Women, on the other hand, tend to value themselves by the strength of their relationships. When a marriage is crumbling, women are more inclined to think themselves failures. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to feel that way if they lose their job.

By that same logic, it’s also women who initiate divorce the bulk of the time. Because we’re relationship driven, when we’re unhappy, we want to take steps to change the situation. A man generally has a broader range of tolerance for unhappiness in a marriage.

For women married to narcissists, whether actually clinically diagnosed or only strongly suspected, divorce is a minefield. Narcissists employ specific tactics designed to make you continually question yourself. One of the tactics that narcissists employ is the “drama triangle.” I read about it in this article, but it really rang true to me based on my experience dealing with abused clients.

Why do you talk so much about narcissists?

Ultimately, I hope that with awareness, more and more women will be able to say no earlier, ending the cycle of abuse, and limiting the risk of damage to themselves. More and more often I see women, in cases like this, dealing with after effects long after their relationship has ended. I hear about PTSD, depression, and anxiety diagnoses, specifically, and I have to wonder.. Was all of this avoidable? If she had had a name to use to attribute to his behavior, would she have been able to call it quits sooner, and protect herself and her children better?

In many cases, the answer is probably no. After all, you married him or had kids with him, or both. You love(d) him. You see (or saw) good in him. And, if you’re like most women, you need to see it through to the end before you can really feel good about ending things. You need to have tried everything to fix your marriage before you can end it, whether or not that causes further damage to you.

In other cases, though, maybe the answer is yes. Maybe seeing through that behavior to the causes that created it make it easier for some women to walk away.

Whether you’re the former or the latter type, having more information is a good thing. Having a better vocabulary to discuss your issues or a deeper awareness of the things that he is doing (and the impact that his behavior has on you and your children) can only help. That’s part of why I think it’s so important to talk about mental illness in my divorce-related discussions.

What’s the drama triangle, and how does a narcissist use it to maintain control?

A drama triangle is a major tool narcissists use to create stress. It happens when a person is a victim, an abuser, and a hero all at the same time; narcissists tend to oscillate between all of these things, leaving you wondering whether it was you who contributed to the creation of the problem.

They like the attention, and they like tension they can create. When they go between all three of those things, it’s distracting and confusing for the abused person.

One of the paragraphs I liked best in the article (link above), is this one:

“This is often a result of the “love bombing” that happened at the beginning of the relationship. It’s a manipulative tactic abusers use to suck in their targets where they shower them with affection, compliments, and gifts, and then they take it all away. The victim is left wondering what they did wrong, and focuses the blame internally.”

I see a lot of this kind of behavior, and I hear about it from my clients even more often. It’s alarming and it can cause my clients to distrust their own judgment. They want to focus on the nice things that their spouse has done for them, too, rather than the subtle ways that their husband’s behavior has brought them almost to the breaking point.

Does it matter if he’s a narcissist?

Of course, you also have to ask yourself, “Does it even matter?” Psychologically, it certainly matters. But divorce wise? Maybe not.

This is where it’s a good idea to talk to a licensed, experienced Virginia divorce attorney. Start with a picture of where you want to end up, and work backwards from there. Sure, if your husband is a narcissist, you probably COULD use fault based grounds for divorce, and allege cruelty, constructive desertion, abandonment, or apprehension of bodily hurt. You can – but should you? That’s a deeper question.

In many cases (though certainly not all), it’s better to avoid a potential fault-based divorce. You have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages – specifically, the significantly increased cost and time spent working on your divorce – with the results you ultimately hope to achieve. Though your husband’s behavior has obviously led you to the point where you are now, at some point, the question becomes more about you than about him. What do you need? Where do you want to see yourself? How do you get from where you are now to your happily ever after? That may or may not include a litigated fault based divorce. The primary concerns should always be you and your future.

I’m not saying that you should ignore his narcissism in your divorce, but I am saying that you should have an open and honest discussion about what you hope to achieve in your divorce. That may include raising the issue of his narcissism in a courtroom, but it may not. Be open to any possibilities that help you achieve your ultimate goals, which, I can only assume, include freedom from your abuser and the best new start possible.

For more information about divorcing a narcissist or how we can help, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.