Divorcing a Narcissist: What I Wish I Knew

February 1, 2024 O'Connor Family Law Divorce

As the owner of a divorce and custody firm, and somebody who has personally dealt with what a lot of our clients are going through, I want to some tips if you’re facing a divorce from someone who is manipulative and controlling to try to make it better:

1. You may want to have an amicable divorce and for things to be “normal” but please start working with a great therapist or coach as soon as you can because divorcing someone who is manipulative and controlling is never easy or normal. Coming to terms with that and working on changing your expectations to not allowing their high-conflict behaviors to effect you so negatively can make a huge difference, both for you personally but also for the result your lawyer can achieve.

2. Going hand-in-hand, be prepared for bouts of love bombing and attempts for you to take pity on them as well as for the gaslighting and blame they will inevitably try to place on you. It’s a rollercoaster where you cannot control their behavior, but you can minimize the way you react to it so they lose the control. Ask your lawyer what you can expect so you can prepare yourself for some of the ups and downs that often also go along with the divorce process (there can be a lot of action at times and then other times feel like nothing is happening that you should be prepared for).

3. Start using a co-parenting app like Our Family Wizard or AppClose (there are others as well) as soon as possible. This allows for ease of review by professionals, not allowing them to manipulate the messages or say they didn’t receive things you sent, as well as presenting messages into evidence.

4. They think they can win over anyone and often come across as charismatic so people who don’t live with them day in and day out don’t know what they’re really like. This also means you’re likely terrified everyone will believe them and think you’re the one in the wrong and turn against you. The more you focus on the fear though, the less control you have over your own situation and the more power you let them keep. Focus solely on you and how you can change your behavior and perceptions rather than worrying about what your ex is going to do. You’ll see a much better result when you are able to do this.

5. They will not apologize. They will not show remorse. And they will not provide you any sort of closure. (Unless doing so is calculated and part of their game.) If you need this from them or want to try to use the divorce to get them or others to see that they’re wrong, you are fighting an emotional battle instead of a legal one that will just add to the expense. Make sure you’re working with someone who knows how to keep this in check to ensure your case doesn’t start running down the wrong track.

6. They often refuse to negotiate fairly. It’s not uncommon to send proposals to this category of people and either never get a response or get the same response that might have already been turned down. We had a case once where our client just wanted the divorce and to walk away, but her husband refused to sign the paperwork. He forced us to go all the way to trial and ended up having to pay out significant funds as well as part of our attorney fees. It’s extremely frustrating, but no one can force the other side to settle. You may need to be prepared to push toward trial. Don’t give them any reason to think you wouldn’t if they’re going to force it because they will often try use that against you. Be prepared for their games and recognize them as such.

7. If you want to have the option of keeping the house, don’t make a decision to leave lightly. If there are kids, it’s easier to get at least 50% if not primary while in the house they’re used to living in. However, if it’s an unsafe situation, don’t just ignore that (you don’t want to complicate things if DCF also gets involved). Even if you might not meet the burden for a restraining order, talk to a lawyer about whether you might qualify for a Vacate Order through the divorce as the emotional abuse and other behavior that doesn’t always rise to the physical abuse definition can be taken into consideration. But make sure you’re thinking of long-term too. You don’t want to “win” the house if you can’t afford it after the fact. Take tax consequences into consideration (Not just with the house – with every financial decision).

8. Change all your passwords regularly. I’m always amazed when people don’t do this. If they know your passwords, they WILL sign into your accounts. Use a camera/bug detector in your house and car to make sure there’s nothing spying on you that you’re not aware of. (We have these for our clients to borrow in our offices so check with your attorney to see if they have something like this).

9. If you’re still together and haven’t filed yet, run both of your credit reports to make sure you’re aware of what’s out there. If you’re not involved in the finances, get involved. Figure out where bank accounts are. Get copies of taxes. Retirement accounts, investment plans, etc. If you have no idea and can’t direct your attorney on where to look, it can take a lot longer and feel like you’re shooting blind trying to find information the other side might avoid trying to give you. If you’re already separated, sign up for a service like credit karma and check it often to make sure your name and credit isn’t being used without your permission.

10. Put effort into your financial statement. No one likes financial statements because they’re extremely detailed and time consuming, but credibility is often determined based off of the financial statement. Don’t push this take off until the last minute. If alimony might be at play, you may want to include an extra sheet with expenses that were incurred during the marriage even if you can’t afford them right now. Lawyers often need these financial statements before they can even start negotiations, so just get it done. And be prepared because you will need to update your financial statement every time you go to court. Put the time in and do it right.

Financial Statement Bonus Tip: If you have a business, you will need to file a Schedule A even if you also pay yourself through a W-2. Talk to your lawyer about whether there might be additional value assigned to your business that needs to be disclosed. If you have any rental income coming in, you will need to file a Schedule B along with your financial statement as well.

Divorce is never fun. Divorcing someone who doesn’t understand the term fair outside of their own definition for it is worse. Wishing anyone going through these situations all the strength and inner peace to help you come out stronger. But just remember, it can get better.

About The Author

Attorney Heather O’Connor founded O’Connor Family Law after her own divorce based on the principle that, with the correct guidance, a person can come out of the divorce process in a better position than coming in, both legally and personally. Heather and the rest of our team provide a holistic legal approach because we understand there is so much more to a divorce and custody disputes than words on legal documents. 

Need a Massachusetts Family Lawyer? Give us a call at 774-703-3755 to see how we can help you write your next chapter in life.