How to divorce a narcissist or other high conflict personality

If you’re married to someone with narcissistic or other high conflict personality traits navigating separation and divorce can feel even more overwhelming.

But it’s important to remember that with the right strategies in place, it is possible to divorce on your terms and there is light at the end of the tunnel. The two most important factors are awareness and planning.

Are you married to a narcissist?

Let’s tackle awareness first. Diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder is difficult, as sufferers are unlikely to recognise it themselves. In the UK, current estimates are that less than 1% of the population have the disorder. But that doesn’t mean narcissistic traits are that rare – not all high conflict personalities have a diagnosed disorder. People with narcissistic characteristics tend to display behaviours such as:

  • Aggressive behaviour when criticised – narcissists are likely to flare up in the face of criticism, or become hostile in a passive-aggressive way, such as through sulking
  • Lying and exaggerating, for example by overinflating their expertise or experience
  • Manipulating and micro-managing others, often resulting in the partner feeling lower in confidence and competence
  • Having delusions of grandeur and projecting a successful life, however shaky the reality
  • Exploiting others without feeling any guilt, no feelings of empathy
  • Competitiveness, dividing the world into winners and losers, and needing to win all the time.

These patterns of behaviour mean typical low-conflict, collaborative approaches to divorce are not going to be successful. You need a different strategy.

Making a plan

It’s important to know exactly where you stand, legally and financially, without relying on your partner for information. Here’s how to get clear so you can divorce with as little drama as possible:

1. Understand your finances

Knowing what your assets and liabilities, both jointly and individually is essential to being able to navigate the practical sides of life during and after divorce, especially as you can’t depend on your soon-to-be-ex to ‘play fair’. You can read more about getting financially prepared for divorce in this blogpost.

2. Get the right support

All practicing lawyers will be qualified to offer you legal advice (recommendations on how to proceed within the jurisdiction of the UK legal system) but they certainly won’t all be trained in dealing with high conflict personalities. Many firms offer a free initial consultation – make sure you explain your circumstances and ask the solicitor to share any knowledge or experience they have of representing someone who is divorcing a narcissist or other high conflict personality type. Shop around if you need to.

And remember, divorce lawyers are primarily concerned with the legal process, not your emotional wellbeing. Seek other support through a therapist or coach to help you with decision-making and gaining clarity on your own wants and needs.

3. Set and maintain boundaries

As narcissists have no regard for other people’s feelings, you might feel like the ground is shifting all the time. Your soon-to-be-ex may contact you all hours of the day, or at the other extreme, drop contact without any notice. Be clear on what you need and expect, and get legal support in establishing boundaries if required. Don’t get drawn into any tit-for-tat behaviour as this will just escalate the drama.

4. Accept your reality

It’s not fair that some people get to have a relatively straightforward divorce, and yours feels like a nightmare. I get it. But it is the situation you’re in, and you need to look it in the eye. Your ex is not going to change.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – let your friends and family support you practically and emotionally as much as they can. And get support from professionals to help you navigate your way through this hugely testing time. I am the only high conflict divorce specialist in the UK and I want to help as many women as possible. I’m creating tailored support just for you at the moment. To be the first to hear about it, sign up here.

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The Divorce Alchemist

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is 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 practising 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. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com