Being married to a narcissist can present challenges. Getting divorced from one? That raises
things up to an even higher level!
Spouses with Narcissism or Borderline Personality Disorder can drag the divorce process out
and increase the challenges for the professionals and parties involved. Everyone in the case
must be vigilant about not allowing these issues to stall the proceedings. If you or someone
you’re close to is dealing with a Narcissist, this information can help.
We interviewed Dr. Sue Cornbluth, a national psychology expert, who has a long career of
helping families overcome the effect of high-conflict personalities. Dr. Cornbluth is best known for serving as a lead expert in the Jerry Sandusky trial and now speaks to groups around the country.
She offers the following research about Narcissists, and how to handle them in divorce
How Does a Narcissist Think?
A Narcissist wants to feel superior. They often did not have their needs met growing up, and try to correct this as adults by being demanding and trying to make themselves the most important person in the room.
How Do You Communicate with a Narcissist?
You have to change how you react—don’t fight or bully them (they will just raise the ante). The harder you push, the harder they will push back—it is their natural instinct. Avoid the urge to feed into their drama, and instead, learn to offer them empathy. It sounds counterintuitive, but empathy actually can lead to better results.
Here are some of Dr. Cornbluth’s specific strategies:
1. Validate them. Make them feel seen and heard. Often Narcissists (or similar types) actually have very low self-esteem. They just want to feel important/special.
You can say: I hear what you’re saying. I understand what you’re saying, so let’s work together to get on the same page.
2. Acknowledge them. Make them feel important in the process. They like being flattered—it satisfies their need as a narcissist to be the center of attention.
You can say: That was a great point. I see what you’re saying. That’s a great idea.
3. Show Empathy. Accept where the other person is coming from, meet them where they are, and offer them empathy. Ask open-ended questions.
You can say: I understand, you’re going through a lot. This is really hard. You’re such a strong person, and you are doing what you need to do right now to move forward (e.g., selling a house etc.).
4. Set Boundaries: Set boundaries with them, but also with yourself. Validation, acknowledgment, and empathy can move things forward, but they can also cause an imbalance if you aren’t careful. Boundaries are key.
Set boundaries with yourself. You can say:
I will not accept abuse/be abused by this person.
I will not be bullied or yelled at by this person.
Set boundaries with the other person: Don’t feed into their need for drama. Do not fight or escalate conversations. Offer to take a break and come back later to finish the discussion. You can say:
I’m asking you to calm down, so we can meet in the middle to work together.
Let me explain this to you, and when I’m done, you can ask questions, etc.
5. Breathe. When in doubt, breathe! Get grounded, take a breath, and remember, it’s not personal—it’s who they are!
Narcissism can make marriage AND divorce more challenging. By exploring these solutions,
you might be able to navigate these rocky waters a little more smoothly.