One of the toughest personalities to be married to, or to divorce, is the person who exhibits narcissist qualities. The word narcissist is in the news a lot lately with people frequently using the word loosely to describe anyone who is boastful, arrogant, manipulative, or seems to let emotions control their actions and reactions. Someone with a narcissistic personality disorder may indeed exhibit these characteristics. However, other individuals may share these same qualities, not have a personality disorder, but still be really, really difficult to interact with, especially in the divorce context.

Proceeding with a collaborative divorce when a spouse has a difficult personality—narcissist qualities or something else—can be quite challenging. Proceeding collaboratively might also be the best route to go depending on your assessment of the following factors.


1. Experience and knowledge of the professionals. When interviewing potential divorce lawyers, find out how many cases they have handled in which a narcissist or other high conflict personality has been involved. To increase the chance of success with a collaborative divorce, it is important to have strong, experienced professionals involved. If there is a weak link, the high conflict personality spouse will find it and exploit it.

2. Adherence to the collaborative process structure. The collaborative process is more likely to be successful if everyone adheres to the structure—neutrality of allied professionals, joint meetings with agendas and summaries, everyone completing assigned tasks. High conflict spouses will try to hijack the collaborative process to suit his or her own needs and motives.

3. Patience. Any divorce—collaborative or otherwise—likely will take longer than a divorce that does not involve a high conflict individual. The harder you push this individual, the harder they push-back so it requires patience and skill to keep the case moving forward toward a settlement. Setting a hearing or trial date is not an option in a collaborative divorce and in some instances, a hearing or trial date is the only way to move a high conflict spouse to the finish.

4. Trust. You must trust your lawyer. Your willingness to take your lawyer’s advice and recommendations is directly related to the level of trust you have in your lawyer. Sometimes the advice you receive will run counter to your instincts, but your instincts have not always served you well in your relationship with this difficult spouse. Trust between the involved professionals is also important. If the professionals do not have some level of trust in each other’s integrity and motivations, the high conflict spouse will try to capitalize on any fractures he or she senses in the professional relationships.

If you choose to move forward with a collaborative divorce, then find a good therapist and/or support group that can assist with feedback and tools for communicating productively with a difficult spouse.

The narcissist or difficult spouse often makes settlement decisions based more on how good he or she will look to his friends, family and co-workers rather than on what the family needs. Collaborative professionals know and understand this and will make room in the collaborative process for your difficult spouse to look really good.

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. In an all-out war, no one wins least of all your children.

Kristen A. Algert

“I help clients look to the future, not the past, approach issues with a solution-oriented mind, and be proactive in order to move forward with confidence.”  — Kristen A. Algert