How to Negotiate Divorce Terms with a Narcissist

Mental health terms have made their way into our everyday vocabulary. We readily call people in the news and our lives “OCD,” “bipolar,” and “schizo.” Over the past few years, in particular, we’ve batted about the term “narcissist.” 

But narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is an official clinical diagnosis and relatively rare. While people we see and know may have tendencies associated with narcissism, they may or may not be considered clinical narcissists.

That being said, negotiating divorce terms with a spouse with these tendencies can be grueling whether they’re officially a “narcissist” or not. How can you negotiate and move through your divorce process with someone who is controlling, manipulative, and reluctant to cooperate with you?

Personality traits that can make divorce negotiation hard

Divorce is never the optimal time to negotiate with anyone, especially someone with a lack of empathy and compassion. But the terms of your divorce will set the stage for your future, including where you’ll live, how you’ll divide your property, whether you’ll be awarded spousal support, and how you’ll co-parent your kids. 

Unfortunately, you can’t expect much cooperation from a narcissistic spouse during a divorce negotiation. 

They think they deserve anything they want

They may come to the table with a broad sense of entitlement and self-importance. Fortunately for you, they’ll have to work within the framework of the law. But you’ll need to be prepared for the long haul and patiently stand up for yourself every step of the way. You can fully expect that they won’t make it easy.

They fail to take your feelings or point of view into consideration

You may already be used to this. Your spouse never respected you and your feelings, so why should they start now? Don’t expect them to consider your feelings for a moment during your divorce negotiations. Instead, try to emotionally remove yourself from their behavior. When this is over, you’ll finally be free from their disrespect.

They have delusions of grandeur about the future

They’ve always had a problem with reality and now is no different. They may perceive that they’re “giving you” things in your divorce settlement that you’re fully entitled to. They may believe you won’t be able to exist without them. (You will! And happily!) They’re already masters of pushing your buttons. Keep your comments to them neutral, and walk away when you need to. 

They blame you

Narcissists take no personal responsibility for anything. They’re always right, and you’re always wrong. This is the way they’ll present it, and nothing you say will change that, so hold your tongue. Don’t allow yourself to get caught in their anger-baiting trap. 

They lash out at you 

You have likely been your spouse’s emotional punching bag for a long time now. Expect this to continue through your divorce. They are bound to remember every slight, everything “wrong” that transpired over the course of your marriage. And, of course, they perceive it all as your fault. 

They thrive on conflict

The narcissistic temperament loves drama and conflict, so a high-conflict divorce is not unnatural to them. And they’ll keep the conflict going, especially if they think it’s getting under your skin. Keep your emotions and behaviors in check. Reacting to their drama is not only a waste of your emotional energy, but it can also be costly. 

If you share kids, be on the lookout for parental alienation behaviors. A narcissist ex may try to turn their children against their other parent. This is emotional abuse against the child and harmful to everyone.

How to negotiate your divorce terms with this difficult person

You may have lived with your spouse’s narcissistic behavior for most or all of your marriage._Infographic - How to Negotiate Divorce Terms with a Narcissist

But now, it’s time to gain control of the situation without fueling their need for conflict. Your spouse may have delighted in gaslighting and manipulating their way through your marriage, but now, you need to take care of yourself with a clear head and purpose.

Develop a clear strategy

Prepare for your future, and come from a place of strength. Do your homework. Know the divorce laws in your state and what you’re entitled to. Patience, perseverance, and an unruffled demeanor are your best friends. 

Keep impeccable records

So much of a divorce is he said/she said. Keep all supportive records and statements, and write down everything you and your spouse have discussed with the corresponding date and time. Keep copies of texts and emails. Take a friend along to help corroborate discussions. 

The more information you have to back up your version of things, the better off you are if you go to litigation.

Establish your boundaries early on

Manipulation and control may have always been your spouse’s go-to behaviors. A divorce will only amp this up. When they try to goad you emotionally, don’t respond immediately. Take your time to think through a response. When you do respond, keep your tone cool, friendly, and patient. 

You deserve to be respected, but be ready to walk away before you become embroiled. If you get angry or emotional, the narcissist feels like they won.

Use their motivators to your advantage

Calmly turn the narrative around to make it look like your spouse is getting the better deal. For example, if they’re motivated by status, let them have the status symbols. If they get the fancy car, that translates to less car payment for you. If they get the big house, that’s less for you to take care of. If they only want something because you do, don’t show interest. Know what you’re willing to give up before you go in, and use these items as bargaining chips. 

Focus on problem-solving

Your spouse may flip-flop, change their mind, and try anything to rile and destabilize you. Be firm, focused, and unemotional. When faced with blame and insults, ask questions to bring the conversation back to problem-solving. Try, “What do you suggest we do?” or, “How can we handle that, then?” 

Prepare for a marathon

If a friendly divorce is a sprint, divorcing someone who dishes out regular narcissistic abuse is a marathon. Keep perspective and focus, no matter how long it takes. When this is over, you won’t have to deal with this manipulation anymore. It’s worth every calculated minute of effort. In the meantime, you’re building those self-esteem muscles that will serve you well in the future. 

Get some professional help

Narcissists are masters at drawing out a divorce and driving up costs. Go in with your own armaments. 

Suggest to your spouse that the two of you use a divorce mediator. A mediator doesn’t legally “represent” either of you but helps keep you on task and come to terms that work for both of you. Although mediation is usually geared toward spouses who can cooperate and want to work through a settlement together, some mediators are experienced with high-conflict spouses and use techniques that can keep conflict to a minimum. 

Hello Divorce can help

Divorce is never easy, especially when you’re dealing with a high-conflict spouse. Chances are, the conflict will follow you right through your divorce. But getting the help of a divorce mediator or divorce coach can help you understand your options and what you’re entitled to. What’s more, they can help keep your head in the right place. 

 Have questions? Give us a call

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Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.