After 15 years of marriage to her narcissistic husband, Jane finally asked for a divorce. They had been growing apart for the last 10 years and neither of them could have a simple conversation without it escalating into verbal assaults. Since her husband had mentioned divorce several times, Jane thought the process would be simple. But it wasn’t.

The further the divorce progressed, the more insane things became. Jane had witnessed her husband transform from yelling at her in the car on the way to a party to becoming the most charming person in the room at the party. During the marriage, she was used to his radical changes in personality depending on who was or wasn’t in the room.

But she severely underestimated this conversion after the divorce papers were filed. In front of family he was the victim, alone he was personally threatening, then he was amazingly charismatic, and alone again he was begging. Jane felt puzzled, numb, scared, disorganized, and responsible.

Divorce is difficult. But divorcing a narcissist can feel impossible. The surprise abusive attacks followed by the desperate pleas to remain together create confusion, frustration, and anxiety.  Worse yet, the narcissistic spouse charms friends, lawyers, and even judges into believing that they are the victims leaving the real spousal victim without support. Here are a few of their tactics.

  1. Bait and switch. To lure a person into their way of perceiving the world, a narcissist will dangle attractive bait like money, success, power, or influence. Then when the victim least expects it, the bait is used against the victim in an attacking fashion. “You only married me for the money, you are such a whore.”
    1. Accusations = secrets. In this case, the narcissist accuses their spouse of improper behavior such as adultery. Most likely this is the defense mechanism of projection, where the narcissist is the with the adultery secret, not the spouse.
    2. Blowups = diversion. When a narcissist rants for no real reason during a divorce, this is frequently a diversion from something that is really is the problem. Think of it as complaining about a lite candle when the house is burning down.
    3. Gifting = attention. There is no such thing as a free gift from a narcissist. Usually this is done to gain attention or favor from others. The gift is usually expensive and unnecessarily extravagant to increase the responsiveness.
    4. Innocent delays = guilty actions. Narcissists are famous for excessive motions, delaying hearings, and dragging out meditations. These tactics are done to cover up their guilty actions and cause the spouse to give in prematurely.
  2. Scare tactics. In order to get their way, narcissists use abusive scare tactics. Think of them as the bully on a playground who is trying to intimidate the other kids into giving up their lunch money. They threaten harm to get what they want, regardless of how it hurts others.
    1. One of the easiest ways to get a spouse to comply is to alienate them from friends and family. When the spouse feels alone and abandoned, they are more likely to give into the demands of the narcissist.
    2. Silent treatment. Another simple tactic of intimidation is to refuse to speak at all. By giving their spouse the silent treatment, the spouse will eventually cave into the demands just to break the tension. He, who speaks first, loses.
    3. This is a more advanced method where the narcissist recreates personal historical events so they look like the sane one while the spouse looks insane. Usually the narcissist mixes a bit of truth with a lot of fiction so the spouse believes their perception is the inaccurate version.
    4. Verbal assaults. When all else fails, the narcissist will resort to making subtle verbal threats designed to terrorize. Unfortunately, most narcissists are clever enough to not put it in writing so they go undetected by others.
  3. Rollercoaster ride. The ups, downs, twists, turns, and surprises of a rollercoaster ride happen when divorcing a narcissist. By generating an air of uncertainty, the narcissist is able to remain in control. And it is all about control for the narcissist.
    1. I love you. / I hate you. This twist is done to appeal to the emotional side of the spouse. By reminding the spouse of their love at one time, the narcissist is generating feelings of nostalgia. The “I hate you” is an intentionally hurtful slam.
    2. You can have it all. / You can have nothing. In a desperate plea to play the victim, the narcissist will claim that the spouse can have everything. But secretly to their attorney, they say they won’t give a dime.
    3. I want this to be over. / It’s never going to be over. To the attorney, mediator, judge, and friends, the narcissist claims they want this to be over. But in reality, even after divorce, the narcissist finds ways to keep some measure of control over their spouse.
    4. You will never see me again. / You are always going to be mine. The threat of abandonment is done to get the spouse to say that they want the narcissist in their life. As soon as that is communicated, the narcissist begins to say that even after divorce their spouse will always be theirs.
  4. Child’s play. The saddest part of divorcing a narcissist is the impact that it can have on the children. When the parents are together, there is one parent constantly available to provide attachment and empathy. However, the child then grows up to believe that the narcissistic behavior is acceptable. Apart, things become muddy for the child.
    1. Disney parenting. The first tactic a narcissistic parent tries after the custody is settled is to become the Disney parent. This is the fun, exciting, never a dull moment, “I will get you whatever you want,” and rules can be broken method of luring the child away from the other parent and towards the narcissist.
    2. Parental alienation. Next, the narcissist begins to alienate the child from the opposite parent by pointing out the flaws, inconsistencies, over discipline, and hurt the narcissist has felt at the hands of the other parent. This causes the child to shy away from one parent in favor of the narcissist.
    3. Picking favorites. When one child does not conform, the narcissist will single out that child as disrespectful, ungrateful, irresponsible, and rebellious. Then they shower the other child(ren) with gifts, praises, and attention. This creates conflict within the sibling group.
    4. Custody threat. Whenever the spouse does not agree with the narcissist or their parenting, there are threats of changing the custody arrangement. This threat is sometimes carried out, not because the narcissist wants more time with the child, but because they are trying to hurt their ex-spouse.

Once Jane became aware of these tactics, she was no longer shocked by her ex’s behavior. This allowed her to think more clearly and make solid decisions for her and her children’s future.