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What Happens When You Divorce a Covert Narcissist?

Couple going through divorce signing papers

A covert narcissist uses subtle manipulation, a lack of empathy, and deceptively introverted behaviors to exert control over others while trying to look as if they are the ones who have been manipulated. It is an understatement to say that divorcing a covert narcissist can present a unique set of challenges that diverge significantly from other divorce cases.

If you are thinking of divorcing your spouse who is a covert narcissist or was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), you should brace yourself for a series of hurdles that are likely to surface. Before the ink is dry on your divorce papers, expect to navigate a labyrinth of manipulation tactics and legal battles aimed at swaying the situation in their favor. Unfortunately, the complexities probably won’t end once the divorce does; after the divorce is finalized, you could face ongoing challenges related to co-parenting, property division, and more, each compounded by the covert narcissist's relentless pursuit of control and vindication.

Increase in Manipulation Tactics Before Divorce

The likelihood of an increase in manipulation tactics from a covert narcissist both before the divorce is finalized and after the divorce papers are filed stems from several core characteristics of narcissism and the narcissist's reaction to the perceived threat of losing control. Covert narcissists, who are particularly adept at subtle and underhanded forms of manipulation, may intensify these behaviors in response to the changing dynamics of the divorce process.

Before the divorce is finalized, a covert narcissist might escalate their use of manipulation tactics as a means to maintain control over their spouse and the situation. They might do things like gaslight, guilt-trip, and play the victim to elicit sympathy or confuse their spouse. The period leading up to the finalization of divorce is uncertain by default, which can trigger the narcissist's fears of exposure, abandonment, and loss of control. In response, they may use even more manipulative strategies to destabilize their spouse's resolve or to gain the upper hand in legal negotiations.

After the divorce papers are filed, the increase in manipulative behaviors can also be attributed to the narcissist's need to find a new source of narcissistic supply and to retaliate against their spouse for initiating the divorce. Filing for divorce can be seen as a significant blow to the narcissist's ego, prompting them to engage in smear campaigns, financial manipulation, and using children as pawns in custody battles as a way to assert control and inflict pain on their spouse.

Furthermore, during and after the divorce process, covert narcissists might strategically use emotional manipulation tactics to portray themselves as the aggrieved party to mutual acquaintances or within legal contexts, aiming to isolate their spouse and garner support for themselves. This behavior serves both to satisfy their need for admiration and to continue exerting influence over their ex-spouse's life even after divorce.

Legal Battles During Divorce

Legal skirmishes can seem inevitable when divorcing a covert narcissist due to their paradoxical stance toward conflict. They often engage in contradictory behavior, fighting vehemently against their spouse's propositions even when they secretly or openly agree with them. This paradox is not rooted in a genuine disagreement over specifics but in a complex interplay of psychological needs: the need to assert dominance, the fear of appearing weak, and the desire to inflict emotional distress as a form of retribution or control.

The inclination to draw out legal proceedings, even over seemingly trivial matters, serves multiple purposes for a covert narcissist. It provides them with a platform to continue exerting control over their spouse, allows them to garner attention and sympathy by playing the victim, and feeds their ego with the illusion of engaging in a “righteous” battle. Additionally, a divorce lawsuit offers a public stage where they can attempt to discredit their spouse. This desire to "win" at all costs, combined with a penchant for manipulation and deceit, often leads to aggressive and unpredictable legal strategies, which makes it more important than ever to consult with a divorce attorney for guidance and representation.

Challenges After Divorce

Divorcing a covert narcissist presents unique challenges that often extend beyond the finalization of the divorce itself. Co-parenting with a covert narcissist can be exceptionally challenging. Despite clear and specific child custody rules set by the court, covert narcissists may struggle with empathy and find it difficult to prioritize their children's needs over their own emotional responses or desire to maintain control. Ongoing conflicts may occur because they might use parenting time as an opportunity to manipulate the children as a way to undermine the other parent or to irritate the other parent by failing to strictly follow the child custody requirements. The manipulative behaviors that were present during the marriage and divorce process, such as gaslighting and playing the victim, can also manifest in co-parenting, making effective communication and cooperation feel nearly impossible.

Regarding property division, covert narcissists often exhibit a strong aversion to losing anything they perceive as theirs, regardless of the fairness or legalities involved. This clingy or greedy behavior stems from their exaggerated sense of self-importance and entitlement. Even after a divorce is finalized, a covert narcissist may continue to fight over marital property, refuse to comply with agreed-upon terms, or engage in financial manipulation to retain assets. The reluctance to "give up" any marital property without a fuss is a manifestation of their need to win and maintain control, leading to prolonged disputes and potential legal battles even after the divorce decree is issued.

Overcome Divorce Challenges with Our Help

If you're facing the frustrating challenge of divorcing a covert narcissist in Orange County, California, reach out to Gill Law Group, PC today. With our focus intentionally placed on divorce and family law cases involving narcissistic spouses, our attorneys are skilled at sidestepping the complex manipulative tactics they try to use against our clients. We are here to protect your best interests and emotional well-being while also progressing your case with professionalism and compassion.

Make Gill Law Group, PC your legal ally when divorcing a covert narcissist. Call (949) 681-9952 to arrange a free initial consultation.