Divorcing a Narcissist?


Episode #2: Divorcing a Narcissist

In Episode 2 we cover what is Narcissistic Personality Disorder, what to expect from a narcissistic partner, what to expect when divorcing a narcissist, and tips for how to move forward.



[00:05] Erin Birt: Hello, everybody. My name is Erin Birt. I'm an attorney and mediator.

[00:09] Tyler Birt: My name is Tyler Birt. I am a paralegal.

[00:12] Erin Birt: And today we wanted to talk about a popular topic, divorcing a narcissist. And we had a team member send us an article from Better Health written by to mental health professionals about tips from a therapist about how to handle divorcing a narcissist. And I think in our own practice dealing with high stress situations and allegations of narcissism, or at least descriptions of what could be categorized as narcissistic personality traits, I think we've learned over the years how to help clients manage their divorce process if they are divorcing a narcissist.

And so I thought this article was really helpful because it comes from a therapist point of view with some tips that are helpful for our legal and mediation clients. It's a great way to highlight that if you are divorcing a narcissist or you suspect they're a narcissist, it's important to know that your divorce process is going to be different than other people's divorce process. And by learning about narcissism, it will help explain why.

[01:35] Tyler Birt: Yes.

[01:36] Erin Birt: So Tyler, do you think you've ever worked with a narcissist?

[01:40] Tyler Birt: No, I have not. Based off of the definition of narcissistic personality disorder, I think I know people who are selfish, who think mainly of themselves. However, I don't think it rises to the level of the narcissistic personality disorder that is described in this article after reading it. I think a lot of people think people are, however, it is a fairly serious disorder that can cause a lot of harm. And being in a relationship with somebody who displays these characteristics or has been diagnosed, I can only imagine it's a life altering relationship to be in and to get out of. It probably seems impossible. But no, the short answer to your question is no, I don't think so.

[02:56] Erin Birt: I bring that up because I'm not quite sure I've, in 20 years, actually had it come across my desk that this person has been formally diagnosed as a narcissist. However, we have dealt with a lot of controlling spouses, spouses that maybe lack empathy, spouses that behave in a controlling manner, whether it's parenting wise or relationship wise, or giving their documents financially, financially manipulative as well. So I think that there's been many cases where we have some narcissistic personality traits or what could be described as that. And clearly, if somebody was formally diagnosed with that, it would take your divorce process to a much different level of complexity. Still, though, just the personality traits alone of possible narcissism makes a divorce process rather complicated.

[04:06] Tyler Birt: Yeah, for sure.

[04:08] Erin Birt: And so I think that it's important for us to learn about it today. So why don't we talk a little bit about what is narcissistic personality disorder? We're not here, again, as a disclaimer, we're not here to diagnose anybody. We are just highlighting what the therapists in this article described as narcissistic personality disorder, so that we can help those that might feel that they're involved in this type of relationship with somebody that might have some of these characteristics.

[04:41] Tyler Birt: Who are the authors?

[04:43] Erin Birt: Oh, I apologize. So this comes from BetterHelp and the mental health professionals that wrote this article are Nicole Artz and Meera Patel, and we have this article, excuse me, posted on our social media accounts, Twitter, right now. So everybody knows we're migrating those posts over to Facebook. So it might also be on our firm's Facebook page. But definitely it's going to be up this week on Twitter. And so if you want to pull that article and read it, it's a great article. We're not going to cover all of the ten tips that are listed in this great article, but we are going to highlight some of the information provided so that our listeners and our clients can be educated not only about what truly narcissistic personality disorder is but so that they can also take some tips about how to approach their divorce process and how to understand why their divorce process is either complex or taking longer than normal or needs extra attention. Right?

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Okay, so the DSM Five, the diagnostic tool, DSM Five states that narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by grandiose behaviors. And some illustrations would be that people think they're special and entitled to certain privileges. It also includes a lack of or limited empathy. They might find other people's emotions burdensome, and then it's also characterized by an obsessive need for admiration. So that means someone with this disorder might seek continuous reinforcement from other people. They might seek professional achievements, but they have to have validation. So being involved in a relationship with somebody displaying these signs or symptoms or characteristics or even the actual diagnosis has to be extremely challenging.

[06:51] Tyler Birt: Oh, yeah.

[06:53] Erin Birt: It would influence your relationship as a spouse. It would influence your relationship as a parent if you are in a parenting relationship with this person. And I think it also influences whether or not you know when or how to leave that relationship. So working with this group of people is going to be especially challenging. But you can still be an overcomer. You can still manage to move on from this. And you don't have to have these personality traits stop you from perhaps doing what's in the best interest of your family, if that is to end your relationship.

[07:40] Tyler Birt: Best interest in you and your family.

[07:43] Erin Birt: Right.

[07:45] Tyler Birt: Whether or not, it's always more challenging when children are involved. But I think that it's important that our clients, the individual in that relationship, that the self care of leaving a relationship regardless of the family situation is important because like a lot of things, if you can't keep yourself healthy, it's hard to keep the family healthy. Right?

[08:21] Erin Birt: Right.

[08:21] Tyler Birt: In this case, I use that more for the children, obviously not the spouse who has the personality.

[08:31] Erin Birt: Well, and for us, we tend to work with clients. We have clients that either have adult children or no children, but we do tend to work with families that are dual income families with young children. And so I can understand tying this into how does it affect children, because that's who our firm primarily works with.

What to Expect from a Narcissist

And for other things that I found interesting in this article is just they highlight some things to expect. And so I picked out three things of what to expect when you are either involved with somebody with Narcissism or going through the divorce process. The three things that I picked out that I found interesting is to expect that your spouse may love bomb you, they may say they've changed or convince you they've changed, that they'll never hurt you again. But at the same time, they want to control the process. So if you're still in the divorce process, they might try to game the system, is what the article says. And I've seen that in divorces where I have a spouse that controls a lot of the finances or the decision making responsibilities. And then the other thing to expect if you are divorcing a Narcissist is that they won't quit. There's a perception of they're not going to stop. They don't want to feel like they lost. That ties into that validation, that ties into the control and lack of empathy. And so they won't quit. They want to control the other person, the other parent. They want to control the finances. They want to control the process. They want to control the children.

[10:32] Tyler Birt: So that one really stuck out to me as well, but they won't quit. What it says. I think you come across these situations a lot where in all facets of life, but, oh boy, this person just won't quit. They just won't quit. And that's what we say. We say that a lot, and it's like, okay, well, why did you get we see that with children, right? Well, I just let Tommy have the candy bar because he just wouldn't stop asking. He wouldn't quit. However, that small little phrase for a Narcissist, like you said, tying in with the lack of empathy and the need for validation, the not quitting will be taken to another level. And so much so to control, to get the spouse to say, okay, so that really stuck out to me, just that that's a hard thing to get past, I imagine, because it happens all the time, where people just break down because they can't take it anymore. And you expect that whoever you're dealing with has empathy. I think it's not the feeling bad or remorseful, right. But the empathy of understanding and lack of that, I think, really drives people to do certain things. So it took out to me, yeah.

What to Expect in Your Divorce Process When Divorcing a Narcissist

[12:31] Erin Birt: Well, and I think going over what to expect with a divorce process or at least what to expect being in a high stress relationship with somebody that's a narcissist. The other side of it is to what to expect in your divorce process because these are things that we can overcome. It's a bit more challenging, but we can still overcome this.

The person is not going to continue to control you if you have representation that is familiar with narcissism, because you've got representation that's on your side, that's in your corner, and that person can only manipulate the system for so long. And what to expect, I suggest what to expect during the actual divorce process is that you have to anticipate these things. You have to anticipate the control will still be there, the lack of empathy will still be there. They might try to game the system. But what we then can control is how we cut through that. And we cut through that with factual information.

We wait out the lies, we wait out the grandiose behavior. And when I say wait out, we don't wait out for a long time, but we know what's going to happen. But we focus on the facts, we're prepared, we trace accounts, we trace assets, we focus on factual information about your parenting schedule, your parenting time, whether or not the children are in harm's way by being involved with this person displaying or having narcissism.

And so we do our research, we do our homework, and we present facts to the judge if we're in court, the mediator, if the case is being mediated to the opposing counsel. And that's where our strength is. I think the best way to manage a divorce with a narcissist is to be prepared. Know what you're in for. Don't rely on just emotion. Rely on the facts and rely on that: We know how they're going to behave and so we have to rely on the facts.

So that's why it makes it a bit more costly and a bit more expensive and a bit more time consuming. Because we need to go through the cycles of narcissism, not react emotionally, but react factually. And that means heightened review and tracing of assets, heightened review and analysis of the best interest of the children, parental decision making responsibilities, and appropriate parenting time. So there are ways to overcome it. But this divorce is not like the Amicable family down the road that did not have narcissism present in their marriage, right?

Tips for How to Move Forward When Divorcing a Narcissist?

And so back to this article, this great article, they come up with some tips for how to move forward. And I'll just summarize it. You can pull this from the article, but I really think it's helpful. Individual therapy, I always promote that even if you're not married to a narcissist or divorcing a narcissist, I think therapy is going to help you through the stressful process. There are support groups out there for being married to or divorcing a narcissist and there's tons of books. This article, if you pull it from our twitter account, they have a link to Narcissism book list. So I think that's something great to educate yourself even further. And they also have some other top ten divorcing Narcissist tips. Did anything draw your attention, Tyler, about some of these tips or things that you would suggest our clients or anybody contemplating a divorce look at?

[16:32] Tyler Birt: I think that some of the tips are pretty straightforward. I think in all divorce cases. However, when dealing with somebody with this personality, a couple that really stuck out to me was and this is where planning for the divorce comes in, right? Because one of the tips is organized and plan ahead, right? But keeping copies of everything, that's tip number two, that can be difficult to do and may take some time. However, that is probably one of the I may consider one of the most important things, at least from a legal perspective, because we know that lies could be coming. They're not showing all documents, the controlling of the situation, but over the time as you're planning these things out, keeping copies of everything. And so, you know, as an individual, what is going on will help, definitely help you in the process of getting divorced.

[17:50] Erin Birt: Yeah, I highlighted that one too, keeping copies of everything. And you know what also is a good tip from the legal side of things is to keep copies of everything before you file for divorce, before perhaps you maybe even disclose to the Narcissist that you're dealing with a divorce attorney. Because it is a lot easier to collect financial information or collect other supporting documents before the Narcissist knows that you are preparing a divorce plan to exit the relationship. And so if you are thinking of divorcing a Narcissist, be organized before you blurt out I want a divorce, if you can. Sometimes that timing doesn't always work.

[18:46] Tyler Birt: And I would say that in this day and age, keeping copies of everything is probably easier than it's ever been. Besides things being most documents are all electronic anyways. However, you still get paper copies and you have the ability with phones to take pictures. Yes, but however, you can make PDF documents just as easily as taking a picture and being able to not have to have the physical copy of something, whether that be a bank statement or a mortgage statement, things of that nature. With today's technology, having the electronic copy is easier than ever to do when I say that, technologically speaking, but it's still very important, right?

Set Boundaries When Divorcing a Narcissist

[19:43] Erin Birt: I agree there are other things here about boundaries, whether it's communication boundaries or taking care of yourself. But I do think, and I can't stress enough, that part of your planning and being organized that can encompass a lot of these boundary issues that you might experience with a Narcissist is building a supportive team. And it sounds expensive, but in the long term, having a supportive social team and a supportive divorce team will help you efficiently navigate divorcing a Narcissist. And when I mean a team, when I say social support team, I hope that you can rely on your family and friends. If not, or if you need additional help, I think that you need a strong lawyer. I think that you need a divorce coach, and maybe you only need to go to a divorce coach a couple of times, but they can help you again learn what you're facing dealing with a narcissist. And I think a financial professional, and we're blessed to have you at the firm, being a financial professional and a paralegal. And we also network with CPAs that can help as well with that sometimes burdensome disclosure process when you're handling a case and a narcissist is involved. But I think that that last prioritizing self care and support really encompasses a lot of the organization and boundary setting that's necessary to have a successful divorce process when you're divorcing a narcissist.

[21:41] Tyler Birt: I agree.

[21:43] Erin Birt: If you'd like any more information on how best to handle Divorcing a Narcissist, please seek us out at birtlaw.com or send us an email message through our website. We'd be happy to talk with you about how we handle cases when Narcissism or Narcissistic Personality disorder is present. We wish you all a good week, and we'll be back for episode three.

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  • Erin Birt

    Since 2003, Erin N. Birt, J.D., CADC has focused her practice on pa...

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    Since 2007, Tyler Birt has been a legal assistant and bookkeeper fo...


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