Divorcing someone with a pathological personality disorder is mind boggling. For instance, a Narcissist needs to "win" at all costs. You must guard your emotions and you may need to take some counter-intuitive steps to come out the other side with your dignity intact. With some careful planning and a little bit of strategy, you can come out the other side a stronger person with your sanity intact.
Below are the 8 essential steps for anyone divorcing someone with a personality disorder:
1. Limit contact:
This first point is the most important one. Giving someone with a personality disorder access to his prey is giving him power. Cut off the supply, and you put yourself in the power position.
If you are in a childless relationship, there should be no need for continued contact outside of the legal system. Cut off all contact - no texts, no e-mails, no phone calls, and especially no in-person meetings. If necessary, get a restraining order. Consider moving to a different town or state.
If (like me) you have children, there may, unfortunately, be a need for contact. The court systems today oftentimes favor "shared parenting" and it's hard to prove a personality disorder without a prior diagnosis. If you have to have continued contact with your ex, avoid in person or verbal contact wherever possible.
Given today's electronic environment, it's easy to do everything by text or e-mail. Ensure that your e-mails are factual and devoid of emotion. Avoid "reacting" to him, and try to proactively manage the relationship. Provide only the basic information you need to impart. Get a parenting coordinator involved and create a strong parenting plan. Co-parenting with him will be incredibly difficult, but with some strict rules, it can be a bit easier. Craft your custody/access schedule with these things in mind.
2. Ensure you have a proper support system:
When in this type of situation, it is important to have as much support as possible. Make your own support network. If your soon to be ex-spouse is dangerous, consider having a "buddy" who will check in on you at regular intervals to make sure you're ok.
If your ex has led to you cutting off contact with or alienating former friends/family, consider reaching out anyway. Chances are they already realize the situation you were in and won't hold it against you. If I had a nickel for every person who told me "I don't know why you stayed with him for so long", I probably could have paid for my divorce.
3. Get a good lawyer:
Hiring a lawyer is incredibly important. You'll want someone who has dealt with personality disorders before. The lawyer should be open to changing tactics if necessary - sometimes you'll need swift and harsh, but sometimes a more conciliatory tone will get you farther. You need someone who's able to take care of you and isn't in it just for the fees. Your ex's need to "win" will cause you to rack up a lot of unnecessary fees. Your lawyer will need to understand that for a someone like your ex, each victory for you needs to look like a victory for him.
4. Consider giving him everything he wants:
If you are in the position to do so, you may consider getting out of the marriage with only the shirt on your back. Sometimes just getting out of a terrible marriage is its own reward. (Yes, this is easier when no children are involved.)
5. Don't sweat the small stuff:
Remember - you're out of the marriage. That was your goal. Spending $400 in legal fees to fight over a $200 carpet doesn't make any sense. Given what you've been through, this may seem counterintuitive. After the hell you've been through, you'll want to fight. You need to control this urge. Starting a battle gives the narcissist what he needs - an opportunity to dictate and dominate. Remember that the stuff you left is just that - stuff. Pick your battles carefully and leave with some sense of dignity and self-respect.
6. Get off social media:
This step will be very difficult - especially in today's society where everyone is online. It is an essential step, though. Especially when divorcing a narcissist. Tell all your friends to keep you off Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. - no photos, no mentions - no nothing. Do not give provide the narcissist with fodder to stalk you or taunt you.
7. Carve out some "Me" time:
You need to take some time to figure out who you are and take back your power. It will take time to get over years of capitulation and sacrificing your own well-being because it was easier to give in than it was to fight.
Don't run headlong into another terrible relationship. Take some time to figure out who you are now - after your marriage. Acknowledge that in leaving, you've become a stronger person. Take a course. Do yoga. Join a social group. Create a bucket list and start knocking stuff off it. Get out of your comfort zone. Become comfortable with yourself again.
You need some. If only to figure out where you're at. Living with a narcissist is damaging to your general mental health - and especially your self-esteem. Many people are scared to start a new relationship after divorce. Some of us continue to relive the pattern. You need to figure out how the relationship happened in the first place, why you stayed as long as you did, how you can break the pattern. I don't mean by going as far in the opposite direction as you can next time. I mean you need to use what you've learned to figure out what you need in a relationship to get to a happy medium.
Divorcing someone with a pathological personality disorder is one of the worst experiences anyone can go through. But remember a journey of a thousand miles starts with just one step - and you've already started down the road. Keep going. I'm on the other side - and I can tell you that it's true: the grass is much greener over here.