Charles thought that divorcing his narcissistic wife would end his frustrations. But it did not. Not too long after the divorce was finalized, his wife began acting like they were still married. Added to the confusion, she got intensely angry when he began dating and even undermined his prospects by contacting them. She claimed that she was only trying, “to make sure she was good enough for him and the kids,” but it created awkward conversations that ended to prospective relationships.
Annoyed and outraged by her behavior, Charles sought help for how to deal with her. Clearly, what he did in the marriage would not work now so he needed some new strategies. These are the things he reminded himself of daily until they became habitual.
- Realize they won’t change. Just because there was a divorce, it doesn’t mean the narcissist will gain any insight or claim responsibility. Instead things will be more of the same if not worse in some instances. They didn’t change in marriage and they won’t in divorce.
- Remember a divorce happened. Some narcissists like to think of their ex-spouses as still theirs. The idea of “sister wives” is very appealing to them because they get to remain the center of attention in two relationships. As such, many narcissists like to continue a sexual or an inappropriately familiar relationship with their ex-spouses.
- Schedule responses. Even after a divorce, narcissists expect immediate responses to their text, phone, or email messages. Any delay is likely to escalate in some type of verbal assault. Begin by waiting 15 minutes to respond and then work up to a 12-24 hour response time. This sets more appropriate expectations. But don’t go longer than 24 hours.
- Answer only what is asked. Again, a divorce happened. There is no need for continual explanations for expenses, whereabouts, and other relationships as if the marriage was alive. Instead answer only the question that is asked with the least possible verbiage.
- Don’t tolerate any abusive behavior. One of the reasons for the divorce was likely the narcissist’s abusive behavior. There is no reason to tolerate it any further. Walk away, hang up the phone, block them if needed, and/or call the police. Move the tolerance level to a more comfortable place instead of where it was during the marriage.
- Appreciate the silence. Narcissists will go silent or absent after a divorce when someone else is captivated by them and is supplying their insatiable need for attention. This is a good time to breathe and regather strength. Eventually when the relationship sours, the narcissist will double up their focus on their ex-spouse.
- Use hamburger method when something is needed. The hamburger method is a way of communicating that makes receiving a criticism easier. The ingredients are: compliment, confront, compliment. Think of as “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Because the narcissistic ego needs regular stroking, this works nearly every time.
- Limit interactions. As best as possible, try to reduce the amount of face-to-face interactions. If they are needed, do this with another person present or in a neutral environment such as a coffee shop. The more engagement with a narcissist the more they want and this defeats the purpose of a divorce.
- Ignore threats. When the narcissist feels like they are losing in some way, they will make threatening statements. Sometimes these are benign and nothing comes from the threat. Other times, there is a full attack. Past behavior in marriage is the best judge of this in divorce.
- Avoid any embarrassment. The best way to ignite a narcissist is to publicly embarrass them. Unless a full war is desired, this is not recommended. Take the high road instead. That way, when the narcissist tries to humiliate, they will look petty to others and the narcissistic characteristics will be revealed.
While these strategies did not stop Charles’ ex-spouse from acting inappropriately, it did help to keep his own emotions in check. That way, he was able to better handle whatever surprise she tossed his way.