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Specialty tag(s): High Conflict Divorce, Divorce

Divorcing a Narcissist (or Any Other Really Difficult Person)

Kristen A. Algert | December 30, 2017

Experts estimate that up to 5% of people have narcissistic personality disorder, one of ten disorders recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  One of the toughest personalities to be married to, or to divorce, is the person who exhibits narcissist qualities–boastful, arrogant, manipulative, controlling, highly critical, dismissive, need for admiration, lacking understanding and consideration for other’s feelings and needs, or seems to let emotions control their actions and reactions. These same qualities may exist in others who do not have a personality disorder but are still challenging to divorce. Labeling someone as personality disordered is not as important as is identifying the warning signs that indicate a spouse may be difficult to work with in a divorce. This impacts the option you choose for moving forward with a divorce.

 

Warning Signs that Your Spouse May be Difficult

In a typical divorce, a couple must decide how to take what was one household and turn it into two households. This means dividing assets and liabilities as well as time with any minor children of the marriage. If one spouse is incapable or unwilling to consider the needs of the other spouse or of the children, tends to escalate conflict, and fails to see any other points of view, this complicates divorce negotiations. Creating a strategy for interacting and negotiating with this person is critical.

One of the leading experts on high-conflict individuals is Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD. Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, mediator and President of the High Conflict Institute.** He describes a high-conflict person as having some or all of the following 10 characteristics:

  1. Is rigid and uncompromising.
  2. Repeats failed strategies.
  3. Unable to accept and heal loss.
  4. Makes everything personal.
  5. Has emotions that dominate thinking.
  6. Is unable to reflect on his or her own behavior.
  7. Avoids responsibility for the problem or solution.
  8. Is preoccupied with blaming others.
  9. Draws others into the disputes.
  10. Can look really good for periods of time (intelligent, attractive, charming, persuasive).

Compounding the difficulty of dealing with these people is they may be accustomed to “getting away” with this behavior.

 

Creating a Strategy for Moving Forward

If contemplating divorce, keep in mind the following:

  1. Find a good therapist that can assist with feedback and tools for communicating productively with a difficult spouse. If you are one of the few whose spouse recognizes their difficult personality and wants to change, you cannot fix them; instead, recommend that they seek therapy to get more insight into their behavior and needed changes.
  2. Fight the urge to control, criticize or to call-out the bad behavior of the difficult spouse. This person will take the criticism personally, cannot and will not recognize their difficult qualities, and likely will retaliate. Remember, they are likely incapable of seeing your point of view so quit trying to make them see your perspective.
  3. Do not share your conclusion of “high conflict” person with your spouse for the same reasons stated in number 2.
  4. Set clear boundaries.
  5. Make clear, concise requests in the calmest way possible. Sometimes, emphasizing how specific outcomes might reflect well on the individual is productive.

With the right knowledge, awareness, and advice, it is possible to divorce a very difficult spouse without the divorce turning into an all-out war. Please contact me at gbafamilylaw.com if you would like more information on constructive strategies for divorcing a difficult spouse.

**(To learn more about Bill Eddy’s books, and videos, visit www.HighConflictInstitute.com.)

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