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The Do’s and Don’ts of Divorcing a Narcissist

 Posted on April 24,2024 in Uncategorized


Even the most amicable of divorces can be stressful. When a soon-to-be-former spouse is a narcissist, divorce can become a high-wire balancing act. The good news is that with planning and preparation, the process can be smoother.

Understanding Narcissists

While everyone is different, narcissists tend to have similar patterns of behavior. Knowing these patterns and how narcissists often have low self-esteem under the bravado can provide a guide for navigating your divorce.

Narcissists are unending holes of need: They need to be the best. They need attention and adulation. They need to always be the winner. Divorcing doesn't fit with this narrative, which often means they seek ways to punish or blame a former spouse.

For narcissists, relationships are often more about use than love. They tend to follow a cycle:

  • Idealize
  • Devalue
  • Discard

Idealizing usually comes in the form of love bombing. A type of seduction, love bombing can feel heady for the target and may make them feel like they've met their soulmate.

Once a narcissist has ‘hooked' someone, the next step is devaluation. They want their significant other to feel unworthy, and will often criticize, dismiss, or even abuse their significant other.

In some cases, a narcissist may switch between love bombing and devaluation. This can be a way to keep someone engaged in a relationship but on uncertain ground.

The final step is discarding a person once they no longer serve a purpose. In some cases, narcissists don't simply walk away from a relationship: They want to destroy the other person and make sure that they, not their former spouse, is the victor. This can be especially true when the narcissist isn't the one who ends the relationship.

Understanding this cycle might help a divorcing spouse make sense of the relationship and how they went from meeting their perfect person to divorce. The next step is to know how to deal with a narcissist going forward.

Do: The Gray Rock Method

The gray rock method is one of the most effective ways to deal with a narcissist. In general, narcissists like drama, gaslighting, and pulling people into emotional situations. Gray rocking denies them that pleasure. As the name suggests, you act like a boring rock.

With gray rocking, you don't ignore a narcissist. You simply give the bare minimum of communication and don't engage.

Gray rocking sounds easy but isn't. It means not responding emotionally and taking the high road. In response, narcissists may increase their antics in hopes of getting a response, such as by spreading rumors and doubling down on a claim or action to try and get a response from you.

Psychology Today recommends the following tactics when using the gray rock method:

  • Disengage
  • Distract yourself
  • Keep it brief
  • Don't tell your spouse you're using this method

This process can be difficult, especially when a narcissist lies about you to your children or other family members, or uses other third parties to do their dirty work. The goal is to be boring to the point that the narcissist loses interest in you and finds a new target.

Don't: What Not to Do When Divorcing a Narcissist

As suggested by the gray rock method, the biggest Don't when divorcing a narcissist is engaging with them or letting them drag you into emotional fights. Your former spouse wants drama. Don't give it to them.

To that end, ten things not to do when divorcing a narcissist:

  • Don't give them ammunition
  • Don't take them at face value (Remember: narcissists have a flexible relationship with the truth, and they will lie to look better or gain the upper hand)
  • Don't try to explain or justify yourself
  • Don't minimize their outrageous behavior
  • Don't expect them to assume any blame for your marriage failing
  • Don't try and beat them at their game
  • Don't expect loyalty
  • Don't take what they do personally
  • Don't expect empathy
  • Don't assume previous happy times or the love you had matter now

As the old saying goes: Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.

Take the High Road

It's important to keep in mind that your goal in divorcing a narcissist is to leave behind a toxic relationship. For some former spouses, the relationship will continue due to children or other commitments that extend beyond the marriage.

What occurs during a divorce can set the tone for your post-marriage relationship with a narcissist. Anne O'Connell can help you manage your divorce in a way that's an extension of the gray rock method.

Anne O'Connell assists individuals in Cook and Lake Counties with navigating the divorce process. I know the area and have deep connections with the legal community in the Chicago suburbs. Contact us online or at 847-859-6222.

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