Communicating with a Narcissist during a divorce is incredibly difficult and frustrating. I understand the concept of “no contact” with a narcissist, and I REALLY wish I could do that, but when there are young children involved, I’ve found it simply is not possible.
However, because of their narcissism, it seems like the simple act of communicating is next to impossible. They may play games with you via email or text, or may not respond to your text at all. If you meet to discuss an issue about the kids, they can hijack the meeting and turn it into an opportunity to blame and accuse you. Or a simple request to take a child to a ballet rehearsal sometimes turns into a full-blown argument.
During (and after) my divorce, many of the communications with my abusive spouse felt “crazy making” because of the way he twisted reality. That’s a nice way of saying he lied. A lot. But there was usually a grain of truth in his communication to make it more confusing when I tried to explain to others what was really going on. This is a common tactic of narcissists and abusive people.
A Child Custody Evaluation or Social Study is a tough thing to go through when you have already been harassed, abused and beaten down by a narcissist or abusive person. It’s also a little scary not to know what to expect. I searched the internet and didn’t find much info. So I’m sharing my 9 month experience of going through a Child Custody Evaluation with a narcissist.
First, a Child Custody Evaluation is a process in which a mental health professional evaluates you, your children, and your co-parent to make a recommendation to the judge regarding custody and visitation. The most common reasons for bringing about an Evaluation is if co-parents cannot come to an agreement on the details of their custody agreement, or if a co-parent believes that their current custody agreement is not meeting the needs of their child. In both cases, a judge must order the Evaluation.
Next, they take a loooong time. First, I had to go to court to ask the judge to order a Forensic Child Custody Evaluation, which includes a psychological evaluation. Note that it took a while just to get a court date to ask for the Evaluation. Then it took several weeks to get the first appointment scheduled with the appointed Evaluator. Some Evaluators are booked up for months. After that, the Evaluator conducts evaluations and interviews, which took us about 5 months. It’s just a very long process. I’ve heard most Evaluations take 6-12 months, but I’ve also heard if you don’t use a private evaluator (which costs more money) then it can take over 12 months. Know that it takes patience and endurance to go through this process.
This is a journey I didn’t want to be on. I didn’t want to get a divorce. I didn’t want to be the Christian woman sitting alone in church who’s divorced. I didn’t want this for myself, and I especially did not want this for my children.
But yet here I am….
Soooo……some days I’m a little bitter about it all. Or sad. But then I’m reminded how overwhelmingly grateful I am for the women that God has brought into my life to walk this road with me. The depth of friendship, the caring, the concern, the prayers, and the love that these women show is such a blessing. Not just one friend, but a tableful of friends who have come alongside and who are on this journey with me.
I didn’t know friendship like this before my divorce.We had good friends that we socialized with, and I had a few good friends from my hometown, but I didn’t have this depth of friendship. Nothing like these women who cry with me, pray with me, are vulnerable and open with me, who I can share my heart with, and who find ways to laugh and cry with me. Amazing.
There is something particularly crazy-making when your spouse or your X rewrites history. That’s a nice way of saying they are lying. Or twisting the facts to the point that it doesn’t even resemble the truth anymore. I found it incredibly maddening when there was just enough truth involved that I found myself painstakingly explaining how it “wasn’t exactly true” to counselors or lawyers or friends.
Narcissists are especially skilled at twisting the truth and rewriting history. They have no problem saying what they WANT TO BE TRUE is true. Even if it’s not. They have no conscience that prevents them from lying about you. It’s hard to understand; a normal person’s feelings of guilt prevent them from continuing to lie over and over again. Not the narcissist. This is what they do. They will make things up to create more drama. They will lie to make you look bad. They will project things onto you that have no semblance to the truth. The sooner you come to understand and accept this, the better.
When you are faced with the narcissist rewriting the facts so they don’t resemble reality, I’ve found it helpful to pause. PAUSE. Calm myself down. Take a deep breath. Ask for God’s guidance. Call a trusted friend. Whatever I need to do to settle myself. We cannot fight every battle AND keep our sanity. Sometimes there are 2-3 mistruths in each email. Sometimes the lies are incredibly hurtful or shocking. The pause helps me respond instead of react. That’s really important.
I asked myself that question many, many times as my heart was twisting and turning with indecision and fear. A friend told me, “Keep praying for God to show you His will and then give you the strength to do it. He will make it clear when it’s time to leave.” Hummmm…. I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant. Honestly, I prefer more clear-cut answers. That seemed way too vague.
But, as she urged, I kept asking God for clarity and wisdom. Finally, I have to say, God make it perfectly, crystal clear. What I mean by that, is that I felt a strong inner prompting that it was time. And I had a total peace about it. (Before, I felt only fear and confusion when I considered leaving my marriage.) I thanked Him for giving me clarity. I sanity-checked it with a couple of trusted friends and family. There was total agreement that it was indeed time to leave the toxic, abusive situation I was in. Not one person argued that I needed to stay, try harder, or do anything else to try to reconcile.
That was my path to knowing it was time. Frankly, it was a long journey for me to get to that point. But the peace and courage I had when I decided to leave was comforting and motivating. I was still anxious about how my husband would react, but I had courage and strength because I really believed it was the right thing to do. I didn’t feel indecision and fear that I might be doing the wrong thing, like I had felt previously.
For a non-faith perspective on when it’s time to leave a destructive marriage, I really like Lundy Bancroft’s thoughts from his book Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That?:
When you go through a divorce with an abusive spouse or Narcissist, there are a lot of things they will do that are unfair and unjust. They will lie, berate, manipulate, demand, create chaos and confusion, and tell others that you are the crazy, mean one. It’s just what they do…because they are Narcissists. Of course, I’m NOT saying it’s right – I believe it’s absolutely wrong. None of that is good, true, just, or fair. None if it goes along with the Christian principles that you may have been trying so hard to hold on to. Your spouse or Xspouse mistreats you because they are a narcissist, pure and simple, and they do not care about you or your response. No matter what you say or do.
I got really angry at the injustice and unfairness of it all. And sometimes I didn’t know what to do with that anger.
I didn’t want to walk around an “angry person”. I also was unwilling to shove the anger down and pretend everything was perfect. As a woman, I wan’t fully comfortable showing my anger for fear of appearing to be a “bitch”. But if and when I did finally show my rage, my XNarc used my anger against me to prove what an irrational person I was. And he also used Scriptures as a bully stick to point out how terrible and un-submissive I was. So WHAT does one do with all that?!?!
Going to family court against a Narcissist is tough. Brace yourself. Narcissists fight hard and they don’t fight fair. A narcissist sees no need to compromise; they need to win. And they doesn’t just want to win; they want you to lose. Plus, they want to punish you for not doing everything their way.
Going to court is emotionally and mentally draining. It takes a lot of preparation. But sometimes it’s necessary to go to court. The likelihood is that you’ve ended up in court because of his or her refusal to discuss terms on any reasonable basis. Sometimes you have no other choice. I’m so sorry. If you are preparing to go in front of a Judge, here are some things I learned from my multiple trips to the Courthouse:
It’s hard to explain. Hard to explain to friends, to family, and especially to your church. People do not understand how your “charming” spouse could be so difficult that you would separate or divorce. He seems so likable! She volunteers teaching kiddos in Sunday School! He’s such a fun guy!
These people have NOOOO idea…
A spouse with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) or an emotional/verbal abuser is a chameleon. They are experts at putting up a false self or image to others. And they are a terror behind closed doors. The contempt, manipulation, gas-lighting, dishonesty, name calling, criticism, lack of empathy and abuse is destructive to your heart and soul. But when you are in the middle of it, with your brain in a fog from all the confusion and lies, and your heart in shreds from being torn apart so many times by your partner’s cruel side, it’s hard to articulate clearly. It’s also easy to be in denial. Because it’s that bad.Continue reading →
I’m grateful to be going through the Al Anon steps with a sponsor. I’ve gone to Al Anon on and off for a couple of years, and usually get something meaningful from the meetings. I’ve learned a lot from the wisdom of the group and from the Al Anon book, Courage to Change. But working with a sponsor is different. WOW. We are digging into truth that is brutal. We’re looking at my peace, or lack of it. Looking at my obsessive thinking, my selfishness, my fear, my desire to control.
I think everyone should go through a 12 step recovery program like Al Anon or Celebrate Recovery or Codependents Anonymous. We are all quite broken; but most of us are not awake enough to notice.
Before our divorce was final, my spouse pushed for reconciliation. Andhe used the Scriptures as the bully stick to put intense pressure on me. I heard things like “You need to forgive me. You are sinning against me and God by not reconciling with me.” Note that I only heard him apologize in general terms. I was not seeing any fruit of repentance – not even a grape. I didn’t hear a humble confession of how he had sinned against me. I wasn’t told how he would make amends. There was no evidence that he saw himself as the problem; in fact, he was still telling others the opposite.
Patrick Doyle in the video below explains reconciliation, and he outlines four things needed for it to work. This is the best information I have heard on the topic from a Christian perspective. If you are wondering if you should reconcile with an abusive person, this will CLEARLY explain when reconciliation is appropriate and when it is not. He also goes into boundaries, and why you need to be willing to put your relationship on the alter, or the person will continue to harm you. This may seem opposite of what we sometimes hear from the church, which seems to be ‘preserve the marriage at ALL COSTS’. However, that is not loving the abusive spouse or yourself well.
Narcissists and abusive spouses don’t like boundaries. If you set a boundary, they will usually cross the boundary on purpose, to prove that you cannot control them. It’s like a challenge to them. Then, they will tell you how selfish or unreasonable YOU are. It’s crazy making, I know.
To help me set boundaries, I got specific language and ideas from books or my counselor. I gained confidence by “sanity checking” it with another person and confirming that my boundary was wise and healthy. When my boundary was crossed and tested, which it always was, I was prepared to stick to my consequence. Sometimes that meant walking away, or hanging up the phone, or not responding, or saying “never mind”.
One of the first boundaries I set was a physical one. I needed to feel safe in my own home. When my XNarc came to my door, I practiced that I could either answer or NOT ANSWER my door. I could choose to engage or not engage. If I answered the door, I decided I was not going to invite him inside. If we talked on the doorstep and the conversation didn’t go well, then I would ask him to leave. If he didn’t leave, I was prepared to tell him I was calling the police, and close the door. Then I was prepared to go and call the police. All of those steps may seem simple to some, but because my boundaries had been stepped on SO MANY TIMES prior, and I had been told how selfish and self-centered I was, it took me some time to work through those boundaries and have the confidence that they were healthy and normal and necessary.
There will be a day when I will say “It is well with my soul”and mean it.
After divorcing an abusive man or narcissist there is a season of healing. It takes work. Gut-wrenching work. Giving up resentments. Seeing our own fears and selfishness. Developing boundaries. Learning what love really is. Figuring out how we got here. Deciding where we want to go.
This is a journey. So I’m not keeping myself so busy that I don’t have time to think about it. And I’m not numbing myself with shopping or wine. (OK, maybe numbing a little with chocolate.) This quote by Henri Nouwen seems to describe well what we tend to do:
Listening to this song by Kristine DiMarco, I know I want to be well. Not just pretend that I’m well; not just say “Oh, I’m fine” with a weak, fake smile when people ask how things are going. I want to really have a deep-down joy and a peace about my life and the journey I’m on. Not because I like it or it’s easy, but because I’m starting to see it’s an upside-down blessing, and I really want to trust that He can redeem it. I want to stop feeling like a victim. Start focusing on the “new me” that I want to be. Warm. Vulnerable. Fun. Empathetic. Broken. Real.
Marriage counseling with an abusive or narcissistic spouse is not a good idea. I tried it. You may have, too. It doesn’t work. It simply gives the abuser another venue to blame, abuse, and project.
I dreaded going to marriage counseling. But thought I needed to go. I went prior to filing for divorce. I went after filing for divorce. I hoped the therapist would be able to do or say something to change him. That never happened. That was my fantasy thinking. I also went because I wanted to “prove” to my church and our friends that I was doing everything I could to try to make the marriage work. That wasn’t worth the pain I had to endure.
“When there is no safety and no sanity, joint counseling is ineffective and often dangerous. If he can’t see his part or take responsibility for his own wrong thinking, beliefs or attitudes, everything ends up being the wife’s fault and her responsibility.” Leslie Vernick, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage
“The abusive man’s problem with anger is almost the opposite of what is commonly believed. The reality is:
YOUR ABUSIVE PARTNER DOESN’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HIS ANGER; HE HAS A PROBLEM WITH YOUR ANGER.
One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you – as will happen to any abused woman from time to time- he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are. Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed. You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.
Why does your partner react so strongly to your anger? One reason may be that he considers himself above reproach. The second is that on some level he senses- though not necessarily consciously – that there is power in your anger. If you have space to feel and express your rage, you will be better able to hold on to your identity and to resist his suffocation of you. He tries to take your anger away in order to snuff out your capacity to resist his will. Finally, he perceives your anger as a challenge to his authority, to which he responds by overpowering you with anger that is greater than your own. In this way he ensures that he retains the exclusive right to be the one who shows his anger.”
I love Leslie Vernick’s books and blog and have listed them on my HELPFUL RESOURCES page. She is a counselor, author and a wise Christian. She speaks with boldness and truth, and I like how she supports her views with scripture. Here is a post from her blog with excellent advice on divorcing a narcissist. She echoes a lot of what I’ve said here previously; I think you will find it helpful to hear it again in her words.
Today’s Question: My husband walked out of our marriage the day our last son graduated high school. In the course of this separation, God revealed to me that there was another woman. I found them together in their favorite restaurant and even recorded them and confronted them at their table.
We still meet with our Parenting Coordinator (PC). I find ours is fairly helpful. Here are a few ways I think this role can help in a high-conflict divorce:
She has us use a tool called “Our Family Wizard” (OFW) for all non-urgent communication. I was getting 10+ emails and texts a day, even after the divorce. (Before the divorce was final, I counted 33 one day.) While rude, contentious and intimidating, the emails and texts were never enough to go to court over to get a restraining order or other protection. But they were stealing my peace. So the PC ordered us to sign up and use OFW. Except for urgent matters, all communication goes through OFW. I check it once a day. We post all our emails, kids logistics, and requests for reimbursement on this online tool. The PC monitors our emails and coaches us individually on better ways of communicating. When there is an issue I need help with, I forward the email to the PC and ask her for help responding. It has dramatically cut down on the disruptions to my day. I also think my XNarc watches his words more carefully knowing that someone else is reading the emails. It is bringing things out of the darkness and into the light. Very helpful.
She meets occasionally with both of us in the same room to work through issues. Since I will not meet with my XNarc alone, and our emails tend to become circular and contentious, the PC is an excellent third party to meet with and try to work through problems. Because she is appointed by the court and can testify, if needed, her advice seems to be given more weight by the High Conflict Personality.
She helps me set better boundaries. She has given me the encouragement to say “no” and given me the words to say. Once of my issues I’m working on is trying to be too helpful and not wanting to offend. And thinking my words and explanations will make a difference. And…and….OK, I have a lot of issues….. (That’s why I’m grateful for Jesus each day!) Some examples of things I might say now:
One learns a lot about acceptance and detachment from Al-Anon. I stink at it, though. I think something in me doesn’t want to accept or detach – it’s almost like I need to keep fighting, keep striving to make things work better with my XNarc. Because it’s soooo BAD I don’t know what else to do. But that makes me crazy, because nothing really works when it comes to trying to work better with a Narc, so I come back full circle to acceptance and detachment. Here is a quote that I’ve cut out and pasted into the front of my Bible.
“Practice acceptance: You need to accept the fact that you will never win in the mind of a narcissist. You will not be able to change their distorted thought process regardless of how many times you remind them of the real version of the story at hand. You need to accept that you are not dealing with a rational, healthy person because acceptance is the key to moving forward.” Tina Swithin
Seething from yet another contentious email from my XNarc, I stopped and read this quote to get some perspective and serenity:
OK. So I’m trying to remind myself that NO MATTER WHAT I DO, HE WILL CREATE MORE CONFLICT. I know this doesn’t make sense. I’m a logical person and I honestly cannot grasp this. I keep thinking that my explanations will make a difference. That he will “get it” if I am logical and explain the facts. Nope. He doesn’t. Or maybe if I do what he asks, he will be nicer. Nope. He’s not. He wants to fight. He gets some twisted unconscious energy from the conflict with me. Bummer. For. Me.
Let’s remember in the middle of a ridiculous or difficult conflict that the Narc is thriving on the conflict and find a way to stop playing the game, if at all possible. Possibly not respond to the email. Possibly set a boundary and say “I decline to discuss this topic further.” Possibly refer the issue to your lawyer and let them handle it. Just remember, it’s not you. You are not the crazy one. We know. We believe you.
“You love to take broken things and make them beautiful.” What a perfectly fitting song by Ellie Holcomb. Let’s listen and remember these words on our journey of divorcing and healing from narcissism or abuse.
“I know I don’t bring a lot to the table, just little pieces of a broken heart.”
“There’s healing in Your name.”
“You say that you’ll turn my weeping into dancing, remove my sadness and cover me with joy.”
“Mediation with a Narcissist” is the post that gets the most views on my website, hands-down. I find that interesting. Mediation with a Narc is sooo very, very difficult. Note the multiple times I use “very”. I could keep going.
Since this is clearly a topic that readers are searching for information on, here is a “Part II” with additional musings and thoughts:
HAVE LOW EXPECTATIONS:
Sorry to say that as the very first bullet point…but remember, narcissists do not negotiate well, if at all. They win. They have an all-or-nothing outlook and are too competitive and controlling to tolerate a fair outcome. They think they are smarter and more important than anyone else in the room, and they sure don’t want to be controlled by you, or your lawyer, or the mediator.
My lawyer said that the judges in our town want couples to try mediation first, so most people schedule one day. So, depending on your judge, you might need to try mediation even if you know its not going to go well.
A friend of mine who went through mediation had FIVE different days of mediation before they reached an agreement, and then they only came to agreement because the narc spouse had an compelling business reason for finalizing the divorce.
In my mediation, we got almost nothing done the first day. My lawyer said the main benefit of that day was that we got my XNarc’s financial information and understood the negotiating positions.
We got a little closer our second day of mediation, but mostly due to my agreeing on some custody provisions that have turned into a huge source of conflict. We did not reach a signed agreement that second day, even though I made an offer at the end of the day. Of course my XNarc said he needed more time to consider it. Due to Narcs excessively high need for control, I really think there was no way he was going to agree to something Ihad proposed in a mediation environment.
Because of this high need for control, their need to win, and psychopathically low empathy, I just haven’t heard of mediation going well with this personality disorder. They simply do not compromise well. They think they’ve done nothing wrong and it’s really all YOUR fault, so they are entitled to a better outcome than the other party.
In summary, be prepared with realistic expectations for your situation.