Divorce is hard, both emotionally and financially, and often takes a toll on the whole family. However, divorcing a narcissist might test you in ways you were not prepared for. Therefore, if you want to be ready, it is crucial that you know what to expect when divorcing a narcissist and educate yourself on how to keep your cool during this stressful time.
Divorcing a narcissist will be extremely hard as they:
- Always believe they are right
- Exploit others and often manipulate them for personal gain
- Have an exaggerated feeling of self-worth, often exaggerating their accomplishments, skills, and abilities
- Often lie about themselves and others and can make someone buy into their fake reality with a smile on their face
- Want to be in control and create an illusion that they have a perfect life
Thus, it will be extremely important for you to understand the phases of divorce you will be going through and what your spouse might do in each one. Let’s explore the six emotional stages of divorce with a narcissist.
Stage 1 – Anger
Divorce for a narcissist means that they are going to be changing their “perfect” image, losing control of you, and being caught in their own web of lies. You will be threatening their feeling of self-worth and triggering their biggest fear – abandonment.
Narcissists have a huge fear of abandonment, as documented by many psychologists and talked about by Ross Rosenberg, author of The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us. When you tell a narcissist that you want a divorce, their first reaction will thus be anger and rage, as you will be doing the one thing they are most afraid of.
You will hear phrases like "why are you doing this to me" or "how can you leave me? I am perfect for you,” and even “if you leave me, I will do everything to destroy you and the kids.” Don’t let this trigger a response from you. Watch and observe, but do not react.
Make sure that before you ask for the divorce, you have:
- A safe place for you and your children to go to.
- A lot of support, such as family or friends.
- Some money set aside.
- All your paperwork is in order.
- Any evidence to show what you are saying about your spouse is true.
All these will help you survive divorcing a narcissist in a safer way.
Stage 2 – Blame
After the anger phase will come the accusations and the blame game. Because they have an overinflated feeling of self-worth and see themselves as perfect, narcissists blame others for any behavior that is not favorable to them. Obviously, they will come up with a way to make the divorce your fault.
A narcissist will react to divorce by being manipulative, rewriting the narrative of your life, and using their charming ways to spew lies about you and the situation to lawyers, family, and the community. They will never admit that their actions and behaviors led to the breakdown of your marriage or take the blame for minor mistakes.
Be careful here, and make sure you have a lawyer you can trust. Do not forget to warn them about your spouse from the get-go, as narcissists are very charming and can tell lies in a way that is believable to everyone around them. Your lawyer needs to understand that and be prepared to defend you. Be sure to collect evidence and witnesses that will help you align your story to the truth and discredit your spouse.
Stage 3 – Vengeance
To understand this next step, we should first look at the relationship cycle with a narcissist. It is a predictable cycle that is present in most narcissistic relationships and will continue over and over again until you finally have enough and ask for a divorce.
There are three stages of narcissism in a relationship cycle. These are idealization, devaluating, and discarding.
During the idealization phase, you will feel “love bombing.” Your partner will make you feel so intensely in love, it will feel like a fairytale. You will hear:
- You are an amazing spouse/parent
- I fell in love with you right away. We are definitively soulmates.
- I can't believe your ex let you go. They must be crazy.
This is the time when the narcissist will tell you their “lies” and make you fall in love with their ideal image of a perfect partner.
After some time, you will notice that there are red flags and things don't line up. This is when the narcissist will try to devalue you by using put-downs, gaslighting you, making you sound like the crazy one, and projecting their own feelings of insecurity onto you.
Finally, there will be the discarding phase, when the narcissist will suddenly turn off their feelings and go completely cold. They will leave you, not return your calls and just stop showing any affection. You will be confused and wonder what is happening as this will be sudden and during a time in your relationship when you actually think everything is going well. Then back to square one, where they love bomb you and get you hooked back in.
When going through a divorce, especially with a narcissist, it is vital that you remember that they will try any tactic to continue this abusive cycle to control you. Up until this point, you were helping the narcissist by fitting into their perfect story, and now that you have had enough, it is a massive blow to their ego. This time, the discarding phase will be done by you, which will throw the abuser off and cause them to react in a cruel way.
During this stage, the narcissist will threaten to take everything. They will intimidate you by telling you they will take the children, tell lies about you, and make you look like the abuser. They will remind you over and over again that “no one will believe you” and “everyone knows how great I am,” but don't buy into this and stay strong. This is just a tactic to get you to stop the divorce process from going forward.
Stage 4 – Bargaining
The bargaining stage can be a bit confusing, so hang in there and once again do not back down. It is important that you never trust a narcissist while going through a divorce. After the threats and the angry outburst of the vengeance phase, the narcissist will try one last time to make you come back.
When bargaining, the narcissist will promise you the world. They will try to control the situation by backing down and seaming open to negotiating. Maybe it will be them asking that you go to couple’s therapy, giving you more time with the children, or making another empty promise to change.
At this point, it is crucial that you treat the divorce like a business transaction. You will need to stay calm and work with your lawyer to make all the decisions about finances, children, investments, and so on as if you were running a business and focusing solely on the final outcome. Do not let the narcissist bargain with you. Instead, determine what you want to get out of the divorce and move towards this goal.
Stage 5 – Depression
Emotional phases of divorce are like a rollercoaster ride with none of the parts being fun. The whole process is extremely overwhelming and may cause you to sink into depression. It is common, and it is ok to be sad about the failed marriage, reflect on the abuse you endured, and be emotionally drained from it all. You might even wonder if, indeed, what the abuser said was true, but remember that it is not. This stage is not pleasant at all, but it will pass, and you will heal.
Depression during the divorce process is not a sign of weakness – it is your body’s way of asking for help. This is a good time to seek out professional support, take some time to yourself, spend time with family and friends, and plan your future without your spouse. You should be proud of yourself as you probably didn’t believe that you could get through a divorce from a narcissist, but you are almost there!!!
Stage 6 – Acceptance
The last stage is the most freeing of them all. You will accept what you went through, how you got there, and then find it in yourself to be happy again. The aftermath of divorcing a narcissist is one that no one wants to endure. You will feel like you fought a war, and you did, and you won!
Accepting that you were unhappy and needed to leave will open you to new beginnings. You will find that although sometimes you will still feel lost, it will be great to start reconnecting with family and friends and doing the things you have been wanting to do. You will accept that you are no longer the person you were but a stronger, wiser, and more confident version of yourself.