Too often we are told that divorce is taking the easy way out. If you’ve been through a divorce you probably know that is the furthest from the truth. If you’ve had a divorce with children involved then you know that divorce changes everything. If you are divorcing a Narcissist then you probably have walked through hell to get to the finalization. Kids and a narcissist well you better be prepared to fight harder and longer and to be smarter and more patient during this process. You will be guarding and advocating for yourself, your rights, and for your kids. Divorce is difficult and can be emotionally taxing even in amicable proceedings. If you are divorcing a narcissist you’ve most likely endured varying psychological, physical, and/or financial abuse within your marriage. Making a plan and executing that plan in order to get out of the marriage was the first step towards a better life for yourself and for your children. You may not be aware that the abuse doesn’t end the day you walk out the door. A narcissist will continue to find ways to punish you for leaving. You will be on guard and continue to have to fight for your freedom, your healing, and your right to happiness through out the divorce. Leaving is hard, navigating the next year or more of your new life is harder. Be prepared for the challenges you may face by starting therapy as soon as possible, finding an attorney who is both honest with you and willing to fight for you, and seek support from the people around you. You will need a trusted and safe place to vent your frustrations. It’s the only way you will be able to remain calm and civil in your dealings with the narcissist.
The following is my account of my personal experience dealing with divorcing a narcissist. Not every piece of my story will match yours as we are all dealing with aspects that are unique to our family dynamic and our toxic cycle with the narcissist. This is not intended to replace legal advice or to serve as legal counsel. This content may be triggering.
If you can plan your exit strategy before you leave that is your best bet. It’s much harder to stay gone when there is not a plan in place on how you will escape. Making your mind up that you are done for good is step one. You must be done and be able to accept that no amount of counseling, effort, money or whatever would be enough to change your mind. If you haven’t decided this is what you want and need then you are not ready to leave. Empty threats won’t change a narcissist it will possibly trigger retaliation or a promise to change, but the love bombing and future faking will never last long.
I had decided months prior to having the conversation about separation that I was done. I began detaching emotionally. I had to plan. The following were steps I took when I was preparing my exit:
- Find a therapist for self and for children
- Have a way to support yourself and your family
- Meet with a lawyer for advice and consultation
- Talk to a trusted family member or friend, be careful who you give information to.
- Will you leave the marital residence or will your spouse? Where will you go?
- What assets and debts do you share? Make a list.
- Document everything you recall up until present. Continue documenting and keeping records moving forward.
- Be firm in your decision. Don’t be swayed by love bombing, future faking, or empty promises.
- Be prepared for the conversation about separation.
- Identify and notice the toxic patterns you both perpetuate in your relationship and communication.
Prepare for battle:
The first mistake I made was showing my hand and letting emotions rule my reactions. I allowed the toxicity to continue even after I had left because I didn’t see the full picture. I didn’t see the game. I still wanted to believe that there was a person capable of empathy and love behind the anger that was displayed. I didn’t even know what a narcissist was when I left. I just thought my ex was miserable and wanted me miserable too. After all misery does love company. He would push my buttons, he knew what would make me get upset and what to say for me to lash out. Not only did I give him the upper hand and fed into his narcissistic behaviors, I allowed him to be the one to control my mood and the mood of my threefold. We were anxious and tense and overwhelmed on “switch out” days. We would sit on pins and needles and it would take hours if not a full day for us to settle down after the interactions. It was awful. I made the mistake of agreeing to couple’s counseling as a way to coparent and communicate with him at the onset of the separation. In those sessions I felt safe to express my feelings and thoughts. After a few sessions this was enough to make him so angry he stormed out of the session, caused a scene, and left him on the defensive. It was only a day later that he had cleaned out our savings account and left me scrambling for reserves. A few days after that he filed for divorce, before I could. He filed for full custody of my threefold and charged me with inappropriate marital conduct. I was livid. A few days after that he had my threefold sit me down and tell me they wanted to live with him full time and have visitation with me. I was floored. I was reactive, emotional, hurt, scared and I was pissed. I had never been so angry in my life. It was time to fight, and if he was going to fight dirty then I was going to fight clean just to show I was the bigger person. I did nothing that he expected me to from that moment forward. I would fight for my threefold and fight with the truth. I didn’t need to manipulate my girls. They just needed a reminder of who had always been the parent and who always would be there. It wasn’t a show, a game. They weren’t pawns to hurt him, and I knew that there was no way that he had their best interests at heart. I did and I was ready to show them that I would be there for them regardless of where they lived or who they lived with.
Giving him the opportunity to file for divorce first was my mistake. He was allowed to claim whatever he wanted. He was allowed to file for full custody. It gave him the power in the divorce. It left me with the burden to prove that my threefold were best cared for by me. It left me to show that I had always been their primary caretaker. It made me fight for my rights to be their mother. I was reasonable and decided to contest the divorce, but I contested not with full custody in my counter petition. I countered with 50/50 joint custody and shared holidays. I didn’t retaliate but tried to negotiate the best interest of the girls. I was trying to show good faith, civility, and reasonable expectations. It didn’t work.
- File first, but file fair
- Don’t use or allow your kids to be used as pawns.
- Future faking and manipulation are techniques used by the narcissist to sway you and the children.
- Respond without reacting or retaliating.
- Your children come first. Their best interest is the only thing the court cares about.
- Document everything. Keep records, timelines, text messages, phone logs, and any interactions together.
- Be as civil and cordial as possible in all interactions regardless of their attempts to make you angry or hurt you.
Mediation is Required
Mediation is required as the first step in most contested divorces. I made the mistake that this would be the day where things were finalized. I went in ready to fight for equal parenting time and birthdays. I wanted Christmas and I wanted to make medical decisions. I wanted to be the primary residential parent and have final say on education. I was ready to plead my case. I had a home and was in a great school district. I had made and taken the girls to every appointment for therapy, medication, physicals, sick visits, and dentist appointments. I was the one helping with school. I was the one that they counted on to be stable and they relied on for everything. I had already had one child full time refusing to live with him. My middle daughter, 2, refused to stay there after they had fought and it got nasty a few months prior. She rarely wanted to visit him. I supported her decision but didn’t expect the other children to do that too. Mediation was brutal. It was not the fight I expected. It was hard not to get emotionally charged. He agreed to everything with the kids, but it came down to money. He wanted part of my retirement a job I had only began 6 months prior to our separation. He wanted my vehicle even after he had my new car, but refused to make payments on it and it was repossessed while he had it. He wanted me held responsible for paying him for damages done at the apartment he wanted to keep and forced me to move out of, but refused to take my name off the lease. He wanted all of the possessions and would not budge on the smallest of settlements to resolve these issues. He also wanted me to acquire all the marital debt. He expected me to not file for child support and he did not want to pay arrears for the seven months prior. I should also take less than the state minimum for support and should not make it enforceable for three months so he could find employment because he was let go from his job. I was livid. I gave him everything he asked for except my vehicle and my retirement, but he refused to settle. I was angry and incredibly frustrated. I didn’t understand how he could think he had anything to gain by going to court. I was willing to do just about anything to not make my threefold go through a nasty court battle.
- Mediation is not the end and is only for the courts.
- Don’t go in with expectations of settlement.
- Before you go to mediation decide what your bottom line is. What are you willing to and not willing to budge on.
- Have an accurate accounting of all debts and assets.
- Decide if you are holding on to something to be petty or because you truly believe it is rightfully yours.
- Don’t agree to anything you feel uncomfortable with.
- If you settle that’s it. You don’t get to revise your agreement after.
- Don’t be a martyr and don’t sell yourself short.
- Don’t show all of your cards. Hold some things until you see what they want.
- Be firm. Stay tough. Don’t let them run over you. It’s not easy but don’t react to their demands regardless if you feel they are not fair.
- You have a voice and rights. It’s easy to just agree to get it done but if you feel like you are giving too much it’s ok to say no.
Negotiations with the Narcissist:
There were many times I thought I could make my ex see what he was doing, how he was hurting my threefold, and what I felt we could do to resolve the problems. I was so wrong. I would basically beg for settlement and plead for him to do what was in the best interest of the kids. I couldn’t have seemed more pathetic or more weak in those moments. I gave him the power every time and gave him the control over the trajectory of the process. I postponed trial dates, filing for support, and all court involvement. Why did I do this? I didn’t want to go to court! I didn’t have any doubt I would win. I just didn’t want to put my threefold through the stress and anxiety of court. By this time my threefold were all living with me full time. He was inconsistent with visitation and had stopped all attempts to help financially. I would call him and ask if he was planning to see the girls. I would call him and ask for help. I would call him and tell him how he was affecting the kids. I would cry and try to find some part of him that still felt something anything so he would close this chapter of our lives. I tried to bridge the growing gaps in his relationships with my threefold. I would think I was making progress and that I had gotten through to him. I would go to my lawyer and draw up a settlement for him to review. Each time I would give him everything he asked for, but the only thing I couldn’t budge on was my vehicle. I needed that vehicle to get to work, get the kids to and from everywhere, it was the one thing I couldn’t give in on. I was still giving him the power I made three offers over three months and received no response or refusals each time. I was getting no where. I was getting played. I was getting the run around. He was stalling and I didn’t realize it. I was just buying time and wasting the retainer money I had paid my lawyer. I didn’t realize it until I decided to set boundaries for myself and my threefold.
- Don’t negotiate with the narcissist
- Don’t assume they care
- Set trial dates and file for support after mediation.
- Don’t use your retainer to negotiate more settlements.
- Make them come to you and meet you where you are.
- Don’t contact them, beg, plead or try to find solutions.
- Don’t let them control the process.
- Communication should be limited and don’t give more information than they ask for.
- Document everything.
Boundary Setting Bad Assery:
I had finally reached my limit of trying to work with and coparent with an inconsistent and low level person. I was done being the person who always bent over backwards. I would no longer be complicit in the abuse of myself or my threefold. We deserved more. It was about time I demanded to be treated with respect and that I be given the common courtesy of communication without attacks. I didn’t want to be the bad guy, but I was tired of being the one that rolled over and gave in. I finally was ready to stand my ground and I wasn’t going to back down. I filed for a support hearing. I then contacted him letting him know that he could have two scheduled calls per week and my availability. I told him communication was to go through me and not the girls. I told him I need 72 hour notice of his intention to have parenting time so we could schedule that with the girls. I told him requests would be denied if he did not submit the request in the required time frame. I refused the implementation of a schedule he requested and told him if he wanted consistency he needed to submit a settlement to his lawyer. I told him he could no longer expect my compliance with his schedule as I had three kids and my own schedule to adhere to. I was done with him calling the shots. I didn’t want to hurt anyone but I was hurting the kids more by allowing him to decide on a whim and leave them wondering when they would see him or if he would be calling. I was tired of being the beck and call girl. He pushed back on my boundaries and I just continued to resend them to him highlighting the specific boundary he was crossing and what actions he would need to take for me to be able to honor his request. Each time I held my ground he got more irritated and saw the balance of power was shifting.
- Set boundaries early and hold them
- Allow the boundaries to remain enforced in order to pressure the narcissist to settle or negotiate.
- Do not violate rights of the other parent when setting boundaries. Make sure you are giving them access to any and all information about the children.
- Make them accountable to a schedule that works for you and the children.
- Your responsibility is to your children not to your ex. Focus on being consistent.
- Setting boundaries is allowed even if you aren’t used to it.
- Be prepared for the narcissist to want to talk to you and to have seemingly sincere apologies. They are manipulating you, don’t fall for it.
Expect the Unexpected:
After setting boundaries the time between phone calls was longer and requests for visitation were nearly never but always last minute. I had expected the boundaries to pressure him to make a move to negotiate or make a plan with his lawyer. I did not think asking for what I felt was more than reasonable of 72 hours for visitation requests would be his reasoning to stop seeing the girls all together. His attempts became few and far between. Days turned into weeks, then into months and our hearing was due to come up soon. Out of no where I get a text from the ex asking to speak with the girls. I obliged. He said he needed to speak to me first. He said he was going to admit himself to a treatment facility to get help. He managed to hurt the kids with his handling of delivering the news. All three girls needed emergency therapy in the days following that call. Then, get this, he didn’t go. He put them through the ringer and hurt them for him not to follow through, again. They were angry, hurt, disappointed and everything between. I had to cut off communication all together at that point. I felt he was only inflicting more damage.
It was time for the support hearing and I had prepared my case. Unfortunately, I had been waiting for word for the whole week beforehand to get word of if he had been admitted to a treatment facility or not. I was forced to contact him as I had no other way to get information on what to plan for. I had finally given up and did the prep work. I didn’t know what would happen. I knew there was no hope of receiving support, just wanted it on the record. He was in a losing situation. He had positioned himself to lose. I knew that I would not need anything but to be honest about what had been happening since day 1. I was just waiting for confirmation from my lawyer that we were proceeding as planned. My phone rang with a call from my lawyer. I was told he was granted a continuance as he claimed he did not have the mental capacity or stability to move forward. He could control the situation and keep me begging for help if he played the mental health card. With the knowledge of how seriously I take mental health he found a way to exploit me. I was completely shocked. I was angry and wanted nothing more than to tell him how pathetic I felt he was for pulling that card in the midst of the true crisis I had been forced to manage as a single parent of my threefold. I didn’t retaliate I simply rescheduled and have been no contact since that time with him.
The Never-Ending Saga
It’s been well over a year that we have been separated. It’s been over a year since divorce was filed. I have moved on with my life as much as I can. I’ve been through hell so far this year. My threefold has been through even more than I have. We’ve been trying to find our way forward and trying to heal from the abuse and trauma we have endured. It’s been hard when someone is trying to continue holding you hostage in the past. It’s been a crazy and rough year. We have had multiple hours of therapy, psychiatric treatment, trauma intervention, crisis management, hospitalization and have come to terms with mental illness. I’ve learned a lot and have worked hard to be the best mom I can and give my kids every ounce of myself. In the midst of this year we have gotten closer and gotten stronger.
My Final Piece of Advice…For Now:
Lastly I can’t stress this enough, the court doesn’t care about you. It’s all about the kids. Do not play the role of the victim. Don’t assume that the court will acknowledge your personal pain or the abuse you have endured. It has to be about how the other person’s behaviors have negatively impacted your children. How the decisions made have been against the best interest of the children. If you are looking to get some sort of peace from speaking out about how you have suffered or that you will gain some sympathy, you won’t. Do not let him or the court have any reason to question if you are mentally able to raise your children. As soon as you victimize yourself you only set yourself up for more evaluation, questions, oversight, and allow your mental health to be a concern and a topic of discussion. Do not give them the ammo to use against you. The next part is even if you truly believe whole heartedly that you are dealing with a narcissist do not accuse the other parent of being a narcissist in court. This will only give cause to the court to ask for psychological evaluations and leave you open to being accused of parental alienation. Narcissists are known for being able to play a part when needed. They will never get a diagnosis based on a single evaluation. It takes time to uncover these traits.
We’ve been through the most devastating lows and some incredible highs. I’ve found that I am stronger and incredibly resilient. I’ve been inspired by my threefold and their ability to over come every single obstacle that has been placed in their way. I’ve discovered the true definition of narcissism. I’ve named our trauma as abuse, a word considered dirty and not allowed in the past. I’ve learned more lessons than I can count. I’ve found support from unexpected places. I’ve made it a mission of mine to help others struggling with mental illness, to give people hope, and make sure that others know that they are not alone. My intentions are to offer support to others that don’t have someone who understands the real life challenges of dealing with trauma, abuse, mental illness, divorce, coparenting, or a narcissistic personality. We share to spread awareness and erase the stigma that these issues have surrounding them.
This is only the first part of our story. It’s not close to conclusion. Let my mistakes and my errors in dealing with my divorce guide you to a better way forward in yours. I haven’t been more empowered and more defeated in my life. Divorce is hard and draining. It’s not the “easy” option. Proceed with caution and remember document everything. Good luck! My part 2 should be interesting. ☮️❤️😊~M