Do any of these sound familiar to you?

When I married my wife a decade ago, it never occurred to me that she would become this person that I equally dislike and am terrified of today. When I met her–and during the first few months of our relationship–she was warm, outgoing, and understanding of my needs.Today, she’s a completely different person! She is inconsistent in our relationship–one minute she’s intensely caring to me and my son and the next she’s destroying everything in her path. She’s also threatening that she’ll spread the word at my workplace that I’m abusing our son if I file for divorce and leave. Should I see a family law attorney asap?

My family, coworkers, and close friends have been encouraging me to end my marriage for almost two years now. I still care about my husband, but I just can’t take his emotional abuse any longer. I’ve always felt bad for him because he had a difficult childhood and teenage years. Should I leave him or should we try to make this work? I’ve talked to him about the possibility of splitting up in the past and he warned me that he’ll do everything in his power to take the kids away from me and leave me penniless.

At our Maryland family law practice, we’ve noticed a pattern about difficult divorces. By and large, it almost always has to do with a partner who may have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

What You Truly Need to Know When Divorcing a Narcissist

Man looking at himself in phone

Often a contentious, high-drama divorce has little to do with legal issues or the process itself, but rather one of the parties’ personality and attitude toward the process. The unfortunate news is that not all family law attorneys recognize that they’re dealing with a narcissist.

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look into what to expect if your relationship is ending and your partner has an exaggerated sense of self importance. You’ll learn different ways to gracefully ride out the frightening, turbulent waves of divorce with people who have NPD.

The more prepared and knowledgeable you are about what to expect, the less likely you’ll be to get caught up in a dramatic, drawn out, and costly separation in Maryland.

Understanding People with Narcissistic Tendencies: Is My Spouse One of Them?

Woman with a crown looking at mirror

First of all, the narcissism that will be talked about in this article is quite different from the word “narcissist” that is often used to describe millennials and their increasing social media usage and selfie obsession.

As clinical psychologist Craig Malkin explains, the indiscriminate use of the term narcissist for all types of self-absorption (even the minor ones such as posting multiple selfies in a day or speaking too loudly, allowing everyone to hear) trivializes the struggle and pain of people with partners exhibiting traits of pathological narcissism. As the term itself has gone mainstream, it’s no surprise that it has strayed from its true meaning.

With that said, here’s the official definition of NPD according to The DSM-5 Criteria for Personality Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people, or institutions.
  • Requires excessive admiration.
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
  • Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantages of others to achieves his or her own ends.
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

The standard way of diagnosing NPD involves filling out a series of questionnaires and surveys, and participating in interviews where the DSM-5 diagnostic guidelines, such as the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), is used.

The NPI is a 40-item survey that measures “normal” or “subclinical” (borderline) narcissism. There are no laboratory tests to diagnose NPD but certain laboratory procedures may be done to rule out physical health issues as the cause.

In addition to the inventory, many psychologists are increasingly discovering that the clinical symptoms of NPD may be exhibited by a majority of the general population.

For this reason, like other psychological disorders, personality disorder experts are proposing that NPD exists on a spectrum and may manifest as subtypes. It’s no wonder that no two narcissistic individuals are the same.

In the context of divorce and dispute resolution, a narcissist may have a hard time negotiating and settling the many complex issues involved in a separation because they view compromise as losing, and they perceive themselves as superior to the other party.

Signs that Your Spouse May be a Narcissist

Man and women hugging - woman looking at phone

When you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, it’s not uncommon to find them charming, attractive, and highly-desirable at first glance. You’re also likely to see them as successful, competitive, and a perpetual achiever. In short, they look perfect on paper.

Over time, however, many partners realize that the narcissistic spouse is exceedingly self-righteous, highly reactive to criticism, quick to anger, enjoys belittling others, and lacks the empathy to compromise.

At our Maryland family law practice our clients, when contemplating a divorce or split from their partner, frequently voice comments such as, “He/she is a real charmer with strangers but becomes an entirely different person at home!”

In the book Book Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the authors describe narcissistic people as persuasive blamers.

Family law attorney William A. Eddy describes persuasive blamers as people with highly effective skills of short-term emotional persuasion, including charm, heightened emotions, and the ability to persuade others that they are victims–even when they are the perpetrators.

Finally, narcissists thrive on drama and can be vengeful when they feel that they are “wronged”. For a narcissist, asking for a divorce is an insult to their self-worth.

What to Expect When Splitting Up with a Narcissist

Narcissist signs - myself, only me, poor me, dear me, ego, not you

Splitting up with a narcissistic partner won’t be easy.

When someone with NPD feels excluded from an elite group or fired from a job, they are often caught by surprise and may try to persuade others that they have been victimized. The same holds true when their partner asks for a divorce.

A narcissistic partner may see divorce as the ultimate opportunity to showcase their role as the victim. They can be extreme when they’re attempting to win disputes and also when they’re defending themselves against the claims of a partner who they feel is less worthy. Finally, they may employ a “scorched earth” strategy to punish the other party, even though such a contentious approach is financially and emotionally devastating to them, their spouse, any children they may have, and to their extended families.

As persuasive blamers, they will consider it a “win” if the the divorce process is taking longer than it should. The more time-consuming and expensive it is, the more they feel victorious. In some cases a narcissist will fire their divorce attorney if the attorney disagrees with the narcissistic client’s view of the case and offers a more reasonable path forward.

During mediation, expect your narcissistic partner to say no to reasonable compromises–or even a generous settlement–in an attempt to prolong your agony. To a narcissist, the idea of winning may mean making your life as miserable as possible, or driving you to the point of caving or giving in to their demands, only because you’re exhausted and just want to end the dispute.

Finally, some narcissists have a tendency to recycle partners. Their pattern is to leave and come back, cycling through the same set of significant others. They storm out, and then come knocking at your door insisting they want to make things work; once more you may be drawn into this emotional rollercoaster of a relationship, involving a lot of drama and persuasive blaming.

Three Important Points to Remember When Divorcing a Narcissistic Spouse

  1. Document events on an organized timeline as much as possible. This will help to prove their lies, threats, and insults later on in the divorce process.
  2. Narcissists are pros when it comes to getting emotional reactions through insults or love bombs. A reaction–good or bad–feeds their need for attention. Act, don’t react. If you’re finding it difficult to control your emotions, talk to a trusted friend or therapist. Don’t lose your cool in public or go crazy in front of family members.
  3. Take care of yourself. Remember that the separation process may take longer than it should, and it is very possible that it will take a toll on you physically and emotionally. Adopt a healthier lifestyle by eating right, engaging in sports or physical activity, and getting enough sleep. Above all, be kind to yourself.

Building Your Support Team During a High-Conflict Divorce in Maryland

Hands on top of each other in a team cheer

You need all the support you can get when divorcing a narcissist in Maryland. You may rely on family and friends, but your support team should also include competent mental health professionals and experienced legal counsel.

At Wise Family Law Division, we have spent decades cultivating relationships with top professionals in their respective fields to assist you when dealing with a narcissistic spouse in a divorce. These professionals include child therapists, financial planners, and appraisers/business valuators.

Think of Brian Wise and his team as your calm in the storm when ending a relationship with a narcissist. Our goal is to help you thrive, not just survive, during and after the divorce process.

Get in touch with us today or visit our offices in Rockville and Frederick. We will provide you with a solid plan on how to move forward.