What fresh hell is this?
This was a recurring question I asked myself after filing for divorce from the man I had loved, devoted my life to, had children with, and who was also a diagnosed Narcissist.
Looking back on my own experience, which was a brutal process that left me emotionally and financially battered, there were certain mistakes I made that could easily have been prevented had I known any better. To be clear, divorcing a Narcissist is like going to war, and there are certain aspects to it that if you are aware of and wise to can make all the difference as to how you’ll come out on the other side.
Here is the advice that I wish I had had when going through it. Trust me when I say it could save yourself a lot of heartache, headaches, and potentially tens of thousands of dollars since Narcissists aren’t just out to win the war, they’re out to annihilate to whatever degree they can.
For all of you preparing for that battle, or in the trenches of it, here are some tips that I would have given myself all those years ago and which would have made all the difference:
#1. Find a fan-fucking-tastic attorney who is knowledgeable about abusers and personality disorders [warning: many lawyers ARE Narcissists themselves].
Many attorneys are in this for the money, and if you don’t have a good one, they will have no problem charging you for their services while the Narcissist purposely creates situations that cost you money. Make sure you and your attorney are both on the same page and never underestimate how a Narcissist will lie, cheat, and steal in order to “win” the divorce. The more an attorney understands the below-the-belt tactics of a Narcissist, the better she/he can protect you during the process.
#2. Get rid of any and all illusions that your soon-to-be-ex is going to play nice or care about your well-being and best interests during the divorce or after.
This is where women can get into deep trouble (see: poster girl Suzanna) while divorcing a Narcissist. We want so badly to believe that our ex would never do anything on purpose to hurt us (especially if we are the mother of their children). Unfortunately, this illusion will cost untold thousands of dollars in attorney fees because Narcissists will mask their cruelty within the paperwork and hide their true intentions behind their lawyer (making it seem as if the lawyer was the one at fault). Narcissists will do absolutely anything necessary to “win,” especially if you are the one who left them. They are punishers, and you can be sure that you’ll be the target of their punishment.
#3. Stop being nice.
Another mistake that women often make in the divorce process is trying to be nice and playing fair. The problem is that while you are a good person and just trying to be considerate for the sake of everyone involved, a Narcissist has no emotional attachment to your well-being and thus will have zero problem in taking everything he can from you (they are known to be particularly brutal during a divorce and step up their efforts to smear your name and drag you through the mud). Though it may be difficult to step outside of your comfort zone and enter the icky world of a Narcissist’s playbook, it’s imperative that you take your emotions out of the divorce process itself (the paperwork, the compromising, the wheeling and dealing) and look at it like a business deal, one that your future relies on. What’s “fair” in your eyes is not going to be even close to what a Narcissist thinks is fair, because you’re relying on what’s fair to both of you, while a Narcissist is only thinking what’s fair to him/her.
#4. Navigate the divorce process as though your life depends on it…because it does.
One of the (many) mistakes I made when I divorced my ex was not demanding what I deserved regarding our finances. I had been a stay-at-home-and-work mom during much of our marriage (meaning that while raising our three children, I also helped manage our businesses, took care of our personal finances, went back to school for a Master’s degree, taught dance fitness classes, and built my practice as a board-certified holistic health coach) and was at my husband’s beck and call at all times. The fact was, he could not have achieved any of our success without my valuable contribution (and likewise my success was dependent on our mutual participation in our joint ventures). But at the time of the divorce, since I was emotionally and physically depleted after years of abuse, I neglected to stand up for my role in our financial success and therefore came out on the losing end (plus I also had an attorney who neglected to stand up for my rights as co-contributor in the marriage). This is why it’s crucial to demand to receive what you’re worth and recognize that worth (such as raising your kids or helping build a business) even if you don’t have paycheck stubs to show for all that work. Again, if you concentrate on being your definition of fair and nice, you’ll end up with far less since a Narcissist is anything but fair or nice. This will require you to step up, make demands, and not be run over by the other party, which may be contrary to your very nature, but your future — especially your financial future — depends on every single decision you make during the divorce process. So give yourself one decision less to regret later.
#5. Don’t let the Narcissist wear you down.
This is a tough one because by nature we victims of Narcissistic abuse are empaths to our core. We are sensitive and caring beings. We are thoughtful, compassionate, and believe in the essential goodness of others. Add to that our fragile emotional state at the time of divorce, and we are no better off than the target of an opportunistic wolf that is successful only through a tactic of relentlessly pursuing and wearing down their prey of choice. A Narcissist will doggedly harass, annoy, bother, and frustrate you in the hope that you’ll throw your hands up in the air and give them what they want. Don’t let them be successful because you will regret it later once you get your strength back and have recovered.
#6. Never lose sight of your future (and your children’s future if you have them).
The most expensive mistake I made in my divorce, and the mistake that cost me not only tens of thousands of dollars but left me in enormous debt afterward, was that I didn’t look into my future and prepare for it. Considering my brain at the time was made up of four lobes of scrambled eggs, in addition to being plagued with stomachaches every time I saw my lawyer’s name pop up in my email or on my phone, I was not only easy prey for the wolf to devour, but afterward didn’t have the backup plan to put myself back together. Especially if you are financially well-off (as I was) in the marriage, plan your future during the divorce as though you were planning your retirement, meaning that you must figure out exactly what you’ll come away with after it’s final, where that will put you financially, and what your financial life will look like in the following years (Will you be buying a new house? Will you move? Will you be able to support yourself? Are you changing jobs? Are you getting back into the workforce after a significant period of time? Are your kids’ education/savings/etc. taken care of? Will you be going to school?) If you don’t have this foresight for yourself, you’re taking a huge gamble that everything will work out for the best. And if you’re divorcing a Narcissist, that’s a gamble you don’t want to take.
*Important reminder if ever you doubt going after the money you deserve in a divorce: It is a fact that the majority of women come out of divorce significantly worse off financially, while men (especially fathers) come out of divorce significantly richer. Think about it.
I realize this list sounds cynical and depressing. But trust me, you don’t want to learn the hard way like I did and which I’m still dealing with the fallout from nearly five years later. Case in point:
Before I filed for divorce, my then-husband promised over and over again that he would always take care of me and our children for the rest of our lives. He swore that I would always be his family and he would make sure I was set up financially so I’d never have to worry about money again, especially considering we would not have had the financial success we did without both of our participation. These promises of his only set me up for failure because I believed him, so when the shit hit the fan I could do nothing but stand there open-mouth and dumbfounded when he launched his full-scale attack. Believing him disarmed me, which was his intent. Had I known the destruction and lies a Narcissist was capable of, I am certain I would have fared so much better because I would have at least been prepared.
Instead, this is how I actually fared: Once I filed for divorce, the letters from his attorney started, as did the lies and the cheating and the deliberate attempt to strip me of everything we had worked so hard together to create. Flash forward to the present and my ex continues to live with his young imported Russian girlfriend in our 10,000 square foot house that we built together. He continues to profit from the businesses we started as a couple, and is reaping the rewards of an income that only increased once I was out of the picture.
I’m not a religious person, but I’ve seen the devil and what he’s capable of. There is no line a Narcissist won’t cross. There is no boundary a Narcissist won’t breach. There is nothing so low or unspeakable that a Narcissist won’t attempt if it means casting you as the terrible one and him/her as the victim. They will use their own children as collateral to get to you. And/or they will discard and/or punish their own children to get to you.
Because of this, it’s imperative that you prepare yourself for this war. And you can do this with the right attorney, with the right mindset (no illusions, remember?), and with the understanding that you are facing a brutal enemy who will sweet talk you to your face while smearing your name and cheating you out of what’s yours behind your back. And while you’re up at 2 a.m. worrying about all this…
A Narcissist will sleep well at night having no conscience or remorse to keep him awake.
The attorney that I used during my divorce once said to me, “There are no winners in a divorce, Suzanna.” This is total bullshit. The divorce process is a game to a Narcissist. And in my case, my ex won bigtime because he succeeded in his attempt to lie, cheat, and steal his way out of his obligations and responsibilities to me and our children.
This is why you have to stop playing nice and instead play as if your life depended on it. This doesn’t make you a terrible person. This doesn’t make you the Narcissist. What it does is make you stronger, wiser, and better off at the end when you can look back on your divorce experience and know that you handled it like a boss, like the person the Narcissist always knew you were but tried to convince you otherwise. You will come out of this experience with more than a few bumps and bruises, but at least you won’t be saddled with regret or put into a position of powerlessness that prevents you from diving into that great future waiting for you.
You’ve got this, baby. It will be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in life, but one of the best because you are owning your power and taking back control of your life from the one who controlled it for so long. This war, this game, isn’t pretty. It isn’t easy. And it certainly isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy. But if you are prepared and go into it with your eyes wide open and your armor on, you’ll have a much better chance of coming out of it with your spirit and soul intact.
And the best part of all? You’ll be finally free and leave the Narcissist in your dust as you drive forward into your fantastic future. And that, my love, is the biggest win of all.
Want a free copy of my new book, “You’re Still That Girl: Get Over Your Abusive Ex for Good”? Head over to my website to get yours today!
A version of this post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.
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