Now you are a little wiser than you were on your wedding day. You have learned the definition of words such as “love bombing,” “gaslighting,” “boundaries,” and “minimizing.” You are starting to recognize manipulation in real-time, which is empowering and wonderful.
When you married, you probably didn’t realize you were promising yourself to a narcissist; “narcissism” may not have even been part of your vocabulary. It has likely been a journey with significant challenges from that day to this. If you are living with a narcissist who is unwilling to make important changes for the sake of the relationship, you may be considering divorce.
You might be just waking up to concepts involved with narcissism, but you don’t want a divorce lawyer who is as clueless as you used to be. If your life is legally tied to a narcissist, and if you are ready to disentangle your life from this person, then you need a lawyer who won’t fall for the same narcissist tricks that you once did.
Interview several lawyers before choosing one. Most reputable law firms offer no-cost consultations for prospective clients. Even if you are only considering the idea of divorce, consulting with an experienced lawyer will help you know what to expect, what records you need, and how to deliver the news to your partner.
You should also make sure that the divorce lawyer you choose understands narcissism. Here’s why:
1- Narcissists can appear charming to outsiders.
Your divorce lawyer needs to recognize emotional manipulation for what it is, and not get drawn in. Narcissistic spouses can appear normal, even charismatic. They are master manipulators, by definition.
Ask prospective attorneys what experience they have working with spouses with personality disorders or clients who have been affected by them. Ask for examples of how the attorney handled an adversarial or manipulative spouse. You want an attorney who understands the basics of narcissistic manipulation.
The last thing you need is a lawyer who unknowingly copies some of your partner’s mind tricks. For example, you don’t want a lawyer who asks, “Are you sure it’s really that bad?” or “He seems like such a regular guy.” You want a lawyer who says, “Think of a specific example,” or “The next time this happens, jot it down.”
It’s hard if your friends and neighbors think you are divorcing a nice guy for no good reason. It’s not your job to explain personality disorders to the world. Yet, if your lawyer sees your “normal” spouse and thinks you are exaggerating or over-reactive, you will feel needlessly alone.
You’ve likely read countless articles and books and spoken with professional therapists. You’ve invested time in educating yourself. You want a lawyer who has already done similar legwork, not a lawyer who has to start from scratch. At best, you will pay for extra legal hours as the lawyer gets caught up to speed. At worst, your lawyer will remain in the dark, and start minimizing your problems, unconsciously allying her/himself with your narcissistic spouse.
Narcissists sometimes use children as pawns. Because a narcissist appears normal to outsiders, the narcissist may try to turn your children against you in order to gain an advantage in a custody battle. Your lawyer needs to be experienced and prepared for the narcissist to make you out as the villain, particularly if you are the one initiating the divorce.
2- Narcissists feel entitled to win. Your lawyer needs to feel comfortable going to litigation.
Your divorce lawyer needs to be prepared to deal with an adversarial situation. Narcissists feel entitled to win. Their personality disorder makes it very difficult for them to see reality from anyone else’s perspective other than their own. Narcissism involves a distinct lack of empathy for another’s worldview.
Narcissists do not compromise easily. They see conflict from a win-lose frame, and they take it as a foregone conclusion that they will win. Negotiation outside of court is the ideal scenario for most divorcing couples. If you decide to divorce, we hope that your case will be settled out of court, as well. However, because narcissists are married to their own view of reality more than they ever were married to you, negotiations might break down. A high conflict divorce that cannot be settled in negotiation may need to be settled by a judge. The process of having a judge or jury decide a case is called “litigation.”
Just because a family lawyer has passed the bar does not automatically mean that he or she feels comfortable taking a difficult case to litigation. Most divorce cases are negotiated out of court, and some divorce lawyers haven’t litigated in years.
If the narcissist in your life is unwilling to negotiate, holding you (and possibly your children) as emotional hostages in order to get a settlement that feels more like a win, you don’t want a lawyer who capitulates to the pressure. You want a lawyer you will work for settlement as a first option, but who won’t hesitate to litigate if your partner is attempting to take advantage.
During an initial consultation, ask the lawyer to describe an experience working with an adversarial spouse. They should be able to give specific examples that will help you know whether they will understand your situation.
Narcissists often become adversarial in divorce negotiations. If your attorney is familiar with narcissistic manipulation tactics, he or she will not be surprised or swayed when a narcissist comes on strong, digs in, or tries to hold everyone emotionally hostage until his or her expectations are met.
3- Your lawyer needs to know how and when to disengage from the circular logic of a narcissist.
Your divorce lawyer needs to understand the power of disengaging. Walking away can be a crucial strategy for avoiding manipulation. As you probably know from first-hand experience, narcissists need the other person to engage. They need a chance to give excuses, empty promises, and take you for a spin around the circular logic of why problems are really your fault, not theirs.
You want a lawyer who will keep a cool head, in case this behavior plays out in divorce proceedings. You don’t want a lawyer who will give into manipulation and sell you short (as discussed in the previous section), but you also don’t want a lawyer who is going to engage with the narcissist’s mind games, pushing back, trying to force apologies or admissions of illogical behavior.
Dealing with a narcissist can be a lot like dealing with a child throwing a tantrum: giving positive attention will prolong the negative behaviors just as much as giving negative attention. Trying to reason with a tantrumming child is ineffective.
For a lawyer dealing with a narcissist spouse, an analogous response might include calmly restating demands and refusing to engage with unprofessional behavior. A divorce lawyer with experience in dealing with narcissists will increase your chances of recovery and success.