How To Communicate With Your Narcissist Ex
If you’ve been married to a narcissist, or other high conflict personality type, deciding to leave can feel like an enormous weight lifted. And it’s a huge step, one you should be proud of. But you don’t need me to tell you that it’s not all over yet.
You will still have to be in touch with your soon-to-be-ex throughout the divorce process. And if you have children you’ll need to manage your relationship as divorcees into the long term as well. So here’s everything you need to know about how to communicate with your Narcissist Ex.
What are narcissistic traits?
First of all, I don’t want you to get hung up on psychological diagnoses. Only around 1% of the population in the UK is diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. Yet many more people than that regularly display the characteristics of a narcissistic personality type. The important thing right now is the impact it has on you, your life, and your divorce.
Common narcissistic traits:
- Control: narcissists can’t cope with things not going their way. You’ll find all manner of blame and threats thrown at you to ensure you do as they want. Over time you’ll start to lose the ability to make decisions as your narcissistic spouse grinds you down.
- Isolating you from others: narcissists often demand your attention all for themselves. They’ll sabotage your attempts to keep up with friends and family. But here’s the catch – in public they can be charm itself. So everyone thinks you’ve got the perfect match when you’re soul-witheringly lonely.
- Manipulation: if you argue with a narcissist you’ll never win. They’ll manipulate your words, make themselves out as the victim, and have you doubting what you said last week, or even ten minutes ago. And you know there’ll be consequences if you don’t do what they want.
- Competitiveness: narcissists see the world as something to be conquered. A place inhabited by winners and losers – and of course, they are winners. They’ll stand on anyone to ensure that’s the case.
- Gaslighting: They never said that. You never said that. You’re just being paranoid. If you feel like reality is slipping away it’s because they’re gaslighting you.
- Lack of empathy: Ask a narcissist how they think someone else is feeling and they’ll either not care or just not be able to tell you. Other people’s feelings or life situations just don’t figure in their reality. It’s all about them.
If you’re not sure whether you’re married to a narcissist or not, you can read more about it here.
When you decide to leave
If you made the decision to leave, you’ve made a brave and important move. And you can expect narcissistic behaviours to skyrocket. Be prepared. If you’ve not told your narcissist spouse yet, take some time to get ready first.
Get as much paperwork (digital as well as paper) together as possible, in case they try to obstruct you. Let close friends and family know because it’s highly likely your soon-to-be-ex will have their own spin machine going very soon. Decide who your trusted circle will be and let them know you’ll be turning to them if things get rocky.
Tell your spouse as calmly and clearly as possible. Don’t leave space for negotiation – they’ll force it anyway, but close it down as quickly as possible. You aren’t opening a discussion. You are stating a fact. Your marriage is over. At this point don’t get into the blame game. Keep it simple.
Narcissists are famous for being erratic, and for putting on the ritz when they want to. Many women found themselves wooed with all sorts of extravagant attention while they were dating, and as soon as they married it all fell away. The narcissist had what they wanted and the show was over. Now you’ve said you’re going maybe your narcissist will respond with extravagant love bombing again. Don’t be fooled. Have an exit strategy and stick to it.
Maybe your narcissist will respond in fury. After all, they’re not getting what they want – which is you under their control. Again, it’s important to be prepared. Have a place and people you can turn to.
Keep communication cool
As we’ve seen, narcissists are masters at manipulation. This is why the strategies to keep divorce as amicable as possible simply won’t work, and could result in you getting very hurt – financially or otherwise. A collaborative approach using mediation is a great idea for standard divorce. It usually keeps both the costs and the emotional heat down.
But with a narcissist, mediation and collaboration leave you wide open to manipulation. And not just you. Many legal professionals aren’t trained in dealing with high conflict personality types so won’t be able to represent you in the way you need. Make sure to ask about high conflict experience when you seek out legal support.
So if collaboration won’t work, what do you need to do? You need to set clear and firm boundaries. And you need to stick to them. What does that look like?
What does ‘setting boundaries’ mean?
It means keeping things in writing.
It means sticking to the times and deadlines you’ve agreed, and firmly letting your soon-to-be-ex know they need to as well. You may need your legal team and the court to enforce your boundaries if needed.
It means keeping communication short and to the point. No niceties. No extra information. Certainly, no responding to insults or baiting.
It means staying in your own lane. Your narcissist ex might be engaged in a full-throttle smear campaign against you. Your job is to focus on you. Have the people around you who matter. Don’t engage in power plays – that fuels the narcissist’s fire.
Some people find the ‘grey rock’ analogy useful. Make yourself uninteresting to your soon-to-be-ex. Give them nothing to play with so they get bored. They thrive on drama so reduce the amount of drama they can squeeze out of you.
Call in the support you need
Divorcing a narcissist is not a time to go it alone. It’s a time to get the support of two types of people:
1. Specialists in high conflict divorces and
2. People who you trust implicitly.
If you find people who are in both camps (like me!), all the better.
I am the only UK Divorce Coach trained in high conflict resolution. I know the strategies that will work and the ones that will leave you open to abuse. With my help you get a plan in place for divorcing and communicating with your narcissistic ex.
Whether you need a plan for how to break the news, how to proceed with the divorce so it’s as smooth as possible, or how to maintain cool communication in the long term, we can work on it together.
I offer personalised strategy sessions so you can navigate divorce with a specialist at your side, whether its’ for a one-off planning session or over a series of months. Just book in a chat to see how I can best help you.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com
Blimey, I thought this was going to be a positive article until I realised it was another assumption based on gender stereotypes. Why it has genderise the abuser is beyond me. As a man, I’ve been the subject of extreme NPD behaviours and it’s put me close to suicide and my youngest child is subject to child protection due to my ex. This type of article does nothing to sort the general issue out in relation to this type of behaviour. In fact, it distracts from the fact that both men and women can be the victims or perpetrators. Not recognising and addressing this allows the narcissist women to undermine genuine female cases. Having assisted several fathers, I have seen various cases of this type of behaviour from women, who are willing to use their children as will and rely in the very stereotypes you are using.