Has Divorcing a Narcissist Become Even More Difficult Since the Pandemic Began?

People getting a divorce

Many years ago, a former partner of mine wrote about the difficulties of not only being married to a narcissistic spouse, but also the difficulties associated with divorcing that person. While clients tell me all the time that their spouse is a narcissist, it seems that since the pandemic began it has been happening in almost every case. Whether it is the additional stressors of life caused by Covid-19 or the narcissist is actually becoming worse (notably, the acrimony in cases since the pandemic commenced has seemingly elevated to another level whether due to financial concerns, custody and parenting time concerns, more frequent claims of domestic violence or whatever it may be depending on the given case), the impenetrable wall that a party often feels when divorcing a narcissist can feel even more so now.

We all believe that we know a narcissist (or several), but too often the term is casually used to describe difficult people or people with unwavering confidence in themselves without knowing its true meaning. What, then, is a narcissist? Psychology Today notes how narcissism is viewed on a spectrum with most people scoring in the middle of the testing range, and is described as follows:

"Narcissism does not necessarily represent a surplus of self-esteem or of insecurity; more accurately, it encompasses a hunger for appreciation or admiration, a desire to be the center of attention, and an expectation of special treatment reflecting perceived higher status. Interestingly, research finds, many highly narcissistic people often readily admit to an awareness that they are more self-centered."

Psychology Today goes on to describe narcissistic personality disorder (aka pathological narcissism), which only affects an estimated one (1) percent of the population, typically causes friction in relationships due to the narcissist’s lack of empathy, may manifest as antagonism (fueled by grandiosity and attention-seeking behavior), and involves one who, in seeing themselves as superior, views everyone else as inferior and “may be intolerant of disagreement or questioning.”

Now, I know some people who are reading this are thinking to themselves, “I know many people who fit that very description”. Only one (1) percent of the population, however, have NPD. While reality might differ from perception, for a person married to or going through a divorce with a narcissist it may definitively feel that the other person is not only a narcissist, but also is one of the rare individuals afflicted with the personality disorder.

Interestingly, the article further noted how narcissists can have increased mental toughness, perform well in high-pressure situations, did well educationally and professionally, may be more motivated/assertive than others and experience lower incidents of depression. Not surprisingly, divorcing someone with these traits may prove very difficult not only because of the way that spouse may approach/litigate a divorce matter, but also how any efforts to amicably resolve such a case with any sense of fairness may only be defined by what that spouse defines as fair and equitable (as opposed to the non-narcissist spouse or, the lawyers involved, a mediator or, perhaps most importantly, a judge).

One online article about how the pandemic has impacted narcissists concluded, “Individuals with narcissism may similarly have a negative response to the pandemic as it restricts their ability to exploit others within the social system.” Indeed, when equating that opinion to a divorce matter during this pandemic, the narcissist may be using the litigation itself to exploit the victimized spouse. Another online article suggested that based on a narcissist’s traits (as outlined above), he/she is less likely to be follow rules during the pandemic and will simply do what he/she wants, whether it applies to wearing masks, getting vaccinated, having the children abide by such guidelines or, for the purpose of this article, getting divorced with some sense of normalcy during a period of time in all of our lives that can hardly be deemed normal. With that impenetrable mindset, the opinions of another parent as to Covid-19, especially as to raising children in this environment, will likely be more easily dismissed as purely wrong. The level of belief in being right is always at an all-time high as the environment presents greater challenges, especially for a family going through a divorce.

With that in mind, how do you divorce a narcissist, especially while the pandemic continues to impact us daily?

Here are a few words of advice to help guide you through to the light at the end of the tunnel:

  • Be prepared for a long and costly divorce – When divorcing a narcissist, what you believe is fair, what a mediator believes is fair, what your lawyer believes is fair, and what a judge believes is fair are oftentimes far different from what the narcissistic spouse believes is fair. Worse, no matter how many times that person is told he/she is wrong, it does not stop them. As a result, the length of your divorce and the amount of money you spend on professionals could be substantially higher than if you were dealing with someone more reasonable and sensible. When adding to that equation an environment in which divorcing spouses are often at odds about whether their kids should go to school in person, obtain the vaccination, go away on vacation, and more, what seem like easily resolvable issues reach an unimaginable stalemate where even if the judge says the narcissist is wrong the story is far from over.

  • Tune out the disparagement if possible – Being married to a narcissist is extremely difficult. Parenting with a narcissist can be even more so. Divorcing and co-parenting with such a person can be a daunting task where you not only find yourself consumed by divorce litigation but also the relentless onslaught of disparagement and put-downs from an aggressive spouse. While you will likely have to at least try to parent with that person (this article does not also address such scenarios where there exists a restraining order stemming from domestic violence), do what you can – if even able under the circumstances – to not let the other person’s endless barrage of commentary impact your ability to function. I have seen it too many times – countless emails or text messages of endless length telling you what to do and how you are wrong. Motion papers attempt to paint you as a bad person or a bad parent (or both) simply because the narcissist does not know how to say or do anything different. A complete disregard for someone who can assist in these areas, such as a mediator or parenting coordinator. Ultimately, you have to stay true to who you are, do not give up, and remember that oftentimes you are doing this, first and foremost, for the children at the heart of a very acrimonious matter.

  • Document everything as you go – While it might sound ludicrous in certain respects, documenting everything that is happening with the narcissistic spouse could be critical in helping you procure a better outcome in your divorce. When it comes to communicating with each other, consider utilizing a central communication app, such as Our Family Wizard or DComply, where all communications can be tracked. When it comes to documenting what the other spouse is doing, write it down or, perhaps, prepare an audio or video recording (depending on the circumstances to ensure it is permissible) so that you can provide some actual proof to a judge that you are the victim of a narcissist’s behavior. Oftentimes I find clients who are fighting against someone like this feel helpless to the narcissist’s next move even when something in the litigation goes right. Being ready for that next move, steeling yourself for that next game or trick, will only better help you get through it.

  • Consider therapy for you and the children – Attempting to escape from under the thumb of a narcissist can not only prove very difficult for you but also your children. Having someone for you and the children to speak to, to confide in, and to trust beyond your divorce lawyer may prove pivotal in helping you get through what could prove a very tumultuous time. When faced with questions on how to deal with this kind of spouse during the pandemic, especially when still residing together in the same home, having someone to talk to and learn from will not only assist in the short-term but also long after the divorce is behind you.

  • Finally, do not despair - Even with what the world is still going through, making the move to end your marriage with a narcissist can only be a positive even with an unknown or uncertain future. The hardest part was likely realizing who you were married to. The next hardest part was deciding when to end the marriage. Carrying yourself through such an experience with the help of all of those around you, including, but not limited to, family, friends, and professionals will provide you and your children with benefits that you could never imagine.

If you are interested in filing for a divorce in Livingston or Hackensack, NJ, or within the surrounding areas, call Ziegler & Resnick at (973) 878-4373 or fill out our online contact form today to request an initial consultation.

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