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Negotiate with a Narcissist

By: Rebecca Zung

Sweaty palms.  Heart racing.   Fear.   Can’t breathe.  Is it a horror film?  Close.   A divorce negotiation.  A huge element of divorce is negotiation.  Negotiation in general is a very highly honed and learned skill, and divorce negotiation is often the highest stakes form of persuasion we can encounter and the most uncomfortable.    I’ve often said there is a divorce paradox and that is that during the worst, most traumatic time of your life, you have to make the most critical decisions of your life about the things that mean the most to you; your children, your money, your business, or your home.

What is leverage? Leverage is what you need to incentivize the other person to settle.    This might be information, money, or anything that you know will cause the other side to want to resolve the case, and more importantly in a way that you want it to settle.  Leverage is key in any negotiation but especially so in divorce or family matters.  Getting to a fair settlement saves both parties time, money and stress.

So how do you get leverage?  First, you have to know the value of what you have that the other side might want.  This means the first step in your analysis, is determining what you think is driving the other side.  Just as your soon-to-be-ex knows what drives you, you probably also know what is driving him or her.

Negotiation with a Narcissist

Second, in gaining leverage is do your research and be prepared. Figure out the value of things – this means you might need to do appraisals, get valuations, or have legal research prepared and ready to present – bottom line, know your facts.   Make sure to figure out what the other side might argue on these issues, and then be prepared to meet that argument.

Third, determine your best case scenario and your worst case scenario, should you take the case to court. Remember that neither side is going to agree to their worst case scenario, which is your best case scenario. So figure out what your choke point is – what is the least you can live with, or what is the point at which you are willing to take your chances and let the judge decide.

One key point – don’t take anything personally in this process.   You and your spouse are in what feels like a game of survivor. This is especially true if you’re dealing with a spouse with a personality disorder or narcissistic tendencies. Those types of personalities just want to feel like they’ve beat you.  It often comes down to simple psychology – everyone wants to feel like they’ve gotten something.  Often that means that they want to feel like they got something you wanted. So the trick in this situation is to decide what you’re willing to live with ahead of time and then if you land there, you know it’s a win.  Then you can do your best Meryl Streep impression and act like you were robbed. Let it go as long as you go what you wanted and what’s fair.

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A key point in all of the above is to NOT to give away your leverage too early in the game.   Sometime this can be a bigger problem for women but not always.  Make sure to save your leverage for when you are going to need it.   This may not be (and usually isn’t) right at the beginning of the process.  Hold onto it until the time is right as the process unfolds as you are doing your research and all.    If your spouse ends up trying to nail you to the wall on another issue then you might decide you want that house after all.    Your spouse may be trying to figure out what is incentivizing you too so keep your aces in your sleeve until you need them.

Finally, have a really clear vision of what you want.  It is really critical to have a true understanding, as you move through the process of divorce, of what you must have and also what you’re willing to live without (yes, you have to come up with things you can live without).  You are not going to get everything you want – you can’t split things into two and end up with a whole.  But what should give you solace is that your soon-to-be-ex won’t either.  Also, prioritize your must-haves.

Creating the right leverage will allow you to get the fairest settlement, for the least amount of cost and in the least amount of time, so you can move on with getting to that new land, where you can begin to build your new beginning and new future.

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