Divorcing a Narcissist (or Any Other Really Difficult Person)

Goranson Bain Ausley - difficult divorce

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.

Labeling someone as personality disordered is not as important as is identifying the warning signs that indicate a spouse may be very challenging or difficult. Also important is creating a strategy for interacting with this person in a divorce.

A spouse may be difficult to work with in a divorce if he/she tends to escalate conflict, prevent solutions, react emotionally to any criticism, blame everyone else for his/her problems, manipulate others, compete in all life situations, think only of self, and fail to see any other points of view. Compounding the difficulty of dealing with this person is that he/she can be intelligent, attractive, charming, and personable, often is very successful in business or politics and is accustomed to “getting away” with this behavior.

One of the leading experts on high-conflict individuals is Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD. Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist and mediator. He is the President of High Conflict Institute, which provides training and consultation for dealing with high-conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books on high-conflict personalities and has developed methods for managing high-conflict people in any situation. ** 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 his or her 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).

Goranson Bain Ausley - tipsWhen dealing with a difficult spouse, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Do not mirror or engage in the same behavior of the difficult spouse.
  2. Fight the urge to 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.
  3. Do not share your diagnosis of this person with him or her (for the same reasons stated in number 2).
  4. Emphasize how specific outcomes may make him/her look good to the public or co-workers, friends or family. This high conflict personality is motivated more by how a decision makes him/her look than what benefits his/her spouse or the family.
  5. Find a good therapist that can assist with feedback and tools for communicating productively with a difficult spouse.

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.

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

This post was written by Kristen A. Algert.

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