10 Steps to Take Before Filing for Divorce from a Narcissist

Writing-Pen-PaperDivorcing a narcissist is the fight of your life. While going through a divorce is not easy for anyone, when the person you are divorcing is a narcissist, it can be an absolute nightmare. The day you file the paperwork, it’s “game on”.

Forbes article by Jeff Landers on divorcing a narcissist accurately describes what to expect.  “Do not expect a narcissist spouse to be cooperative or go away quietly. During a divorce, narcissists can be manipulative and exploitive, feeling neurotically entitled to get whatever they want. Narcissists blame everyone else for their problems, and because they are so self-centered, even while bullying their spouses they often perceive themselves to be the victims.

True narcissists believe they are above the law and feel that the rules do not apply to them, making them notoriously difficult to deal with. It is common during a divorce for narcissists to:

  • refuse to provide financial information and documents
  • refuse to negotiate
  • refuse to listen to their own lawyer
  • defy court orders
  • use the children as pawns

Because they are so competitive, narcissists love the adversarial nature of the legal system and excel at manipulating it to their advantage.”

SOOO, dear ones, before you fight this battle, get your ducks in order, do all you can, and be ready before you announce you want a separation or divorce. Educate yourself and come up with a plan that suits your unique situation. Every case is different, but I’m sharing 10 things that I did to prepare myself before I asked for a separation and then filed for divorce:

1) I talked to my church.  I decided to take this step because I didn’t want to ask my husband for a separation and then have him go to my church and turn the church against me, just when I needed the church the most. I also wanted to feel like I had done EVERYTHING I could do to try to reconcile and save my marriage. So I went to my church and told them I couldn’t do it anymore, and I was hanging on by my fingernails. I shared some specifics of the anger, contempt and lack of love that I was experiencing. I was assigned a female church staff person to meet with once a week, and she and I worked through the details. I shared what was happening; she shared ideas on what to try to show my husband love and respect. I would report back, and when nothing she suggested worked, we met again with the church to discuss next steps. My husband was VERY angry when he found out I had met with a person at our church, but at that point I didn’t care. I told HIM that I was hanging on by my fingernails and was hoping the church could help.

I know that every church is not going to be helpful or give good advice. So maybe this step isn’t for you. I’ve heard stories of friends who are told to “submit” to their emotionally abusive husband or to try harder. I absolutely believe this advice is uninformed and unwise. To submit to an emotionally abusive husband is to allow him to continue to sin, which is NOT loving him well, nor safe for you. I think Leslie Vernick’s website  is excellent in helping women work through the early stages of dealing with an abusive spouse. My sweet church staff member gave me one of Vernick’s books, and it gave me some tools to speak up, stand up, and then step back and create distance. Do NOT let your church tell you that you need to stay in an unsafe, emotionally abusive situation. You don’t.

2) I got a counselor. I knew that my friends would get tired of the sob stories.  And I needed someone experienced to advise me how to respond to the angry and manipulative emails/texts that I was receiving daily.  Remember, the narc will have no empathy for you, or for the children. They will be vindictive and hurtful and intimidating, and they will thrive on it.  A counselor will help you stay sane through this process.  They will help you see what part you need to “own” and what part is simply the terrible reality of being with an abusive spouse or narcissist.

3) I started documenting.  I documented examples, including dates and specifics, of his rage, contempt, mocking, lying, drinking, manipulation, blocking my way, gaslighting, and demeaning me in front of the kids. I was so beat down that I did not trust my intuition and memory. So  when he actually claimed “I’m not mean to you”, I wanted to remind myself and my church counselor that he was indeed mean to me, and be able to provide examples. Narcs often make up false allegations against you, so it helps to have encounters documented.

4) I found a lawyer. I interviewed several different lawyers that were confidentially recommended by people I trust. I wanted to understand the process of divorce in my state, and I also wanted to be able to call someone if I had questions. I needed to be sure that the lawyer I hired could handle a narcissist.

5) I read the book Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder by Bill Eddy. This book helped me understand the games that the narc plays during a divorce. It prepared me mentally for what was coming and helped me feel more prepared/less surprised.

5) I secured my personal information: I got a secure email account (in addition to the one that I regularly used), put a password on my phone, and changed the password on my computer. I wanted an email account that I knew my X2B would not know about and absolutely not know the password to. When you hire a lawyer, they will typically ask you for an email address that is private and secure.

7) I developed a safety plan.  Here are a few thoughts. (There are other good resources on the web for more in-depth safety plans if you need it.) I personally packed a bag with essentials like a change of clothes, toiletries, medicines, as well as a change of clothes for my kids, and kept it at a friends home. If my X2B was raging, I wanted to be able to walk straight out the door and get into my car with no pausing to get clothes or medicine.  I had several trusted friends I had contacted in advance to ask if we would come stay a night at their home if needed. I had some cash on hand for emergencies. I had a code word established with a friend, so if I called her with the code word, it meant I was in trouble and needed help.  Bottom line: When I felt threatened, I wanted to know that I could leave the house quickly (or not return to the house), and have a safe place to go for the night with my kids. So think through all those details and talk through it with a trusted friend.

8) I got my own bank account, credit card, and put money into it.   Be prepared for the narc to move money or spend money from your joint account and claim there is no money left. You want money that you can access either in case of emergency or to pay for the divorce. And since you will need a credit card in your own name in the future, it’s a good idea to get it started now. Every time I went to the grocery or hardware store, I either got some cash or bought a gift card so that I could start saving money without him knowing about it.

9) I copied financial records and other important documents, including my birth certificate and passport, income tax returns, copies of all bank accounts, copies of our brokerage statements, copies of his and my IRA statements (I copied the statements from the month before we got married, and then the most recent statements) titles to cars, etc. Give yourself time to find all this information and copy it. Don’t keep it at home. I stored it at a friend’s house and in a safe deposit box to keep it safe and not arouse suspicion. Copying this information is important because a narc will be resistant and try to thwart you at every turn. Mine did not provide information we requested prior to mediation and even falsely claimed how much of his IRA was personal property prior to marriage. Without the statements I had copied, I would not have known the difference.

10) I prayed.  I prayed with friends.  I prayed some more.  I had a few friends that I could really trust not to spread gossip or tell their husbands what was happening, and we prayed. A lot. I am grateful for you all.

I was financially and emotionally prepared before I filed for divorce and had a realistic view of how negatively my narcissistic X2B would respond. Every case is different. Educate yourself. Think through what you need to do and be prepared BEFORE you mention the word “separation” or  “divorce” to your spouse.

What things did YOU find to be helpful before you separated or filed for divorce from a narcissist or emotionally abusive spouse? I would love you to share your top steps with our readers in the comments  section below.