When the Obstacle to Settling Your Divorce is a Narcissist

How to handle a high-conflict personality and stay in control

Many divorcing couples view their situation as high-conflict because of the inevitable stress and confrontation involved. There’s a reason many consider the pain of divorce on the same scale as the grief of a death of a loved one. However, in reality, most divorces never hit high-conflict. Anyone can respond negatively to constant stress; high-conflict personalities want to win at all costs.

When engaged in a high-conflict divorce, the normal “rules” for an amicable split go out the window. While therapists are trained to provide corrective therapy to give their patients’ confidence and a voice, licensed marriage and family therapist Virginia Gilbert, MFT, explains that this type of growth can be disastrous when divorcing a high-conflict personality.

“Instead of encouraging people to be authentic, they need to counsel people to be strategic,” she writes. “Expressing one’s true feelings, admitting vulnerability, and apologizing for one’s missteps can bury a person who is trying to dissolve a marriage with a narcissist – especially when children are involved.”

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3 tips for divorcing a high-conflict personality

1. No takebacks

Once they can see you are actually leaving, high-conflict personalities will usually change their game. They’ll substitute their abusive tactics for flowers, gifts and hollow promises to change.

But, Psychology Today writes, “restructuring a personality takes years. While people with borderline personality can get better, narcissists seldom do.” To stay in control, keep a notebook of all the reasons you want to leave, including ways you’ve tried to change things and the results.

2. Maintain little to no contact

Don’t initiate contact or respond to it. Psychology Today explains that high-conflict personalities crave drama. Their agenda is to maintain your relationship by any means necessary: gossiping and mudslinging to anyone who will listen (even to your children) cyber-bullying, hostile phone calls and any other tactic to keep you under their thumb.

There’s no reasoning with a narcissist. Although you’ll want to defend yourself, a high-conflict personality can turn almost anything against you. Keep any necessary correspondence short, sweet and to the point. Avoid face-to-face contact and arrange neutral meeting places, like school, when exchanging children.

3. Give up the win-win

A narcissist’s counterpart is the spouse who works for equality in relationships. According to licensed psychologist Dr. Kathy J. Marshak, while controlling people thrive off of battle, this person is often very nurturing and has a strong sense of justice. She writes that “while the egalitarian person keeps empathizing with the controlling person in an effort to create a win-win solution, the controlling person views this behavior as weak and an opportunity to conquer.”

Your desire to be reasonable and fair, while your spouse is looking out for number one, gives them control. When you’re dealing with a high-conflict personality whose goal is a win-lose, it’s time to let your Columbus high asset divorce attorney take the reins.

FINAL_JayVictims of high-conflict personalities need to accept that it isn’t wise to try for the win-win split. Strategic, limited communication and solid boundaries are the first steps to managing a controlling ex. If you’re facing a high-conflict divorce, learn more about how Jay Babbitt can help your case. Contact your team at Babbitt and Dahlberg today to schedule  a consultation. 

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