Note from Jeanne: Divorcing a narcissistic spouse can be difficult, an issue that requires special awareness from your attorney. One of my clients offered her perspective and story to help others who may be facing this challenge.
Jeanne Coleman was my second attorney when I divorced my husband. I tried to warn my first attorney of the problems my husband would cause. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with,” I said. All I got in response was, “It will be fine.”
It was never fine. After eight months, my first attorney was getting nowhere. Finally, I searched online for an attorney who knew how to handle narcissists. That’s when I found Jeanne.
My now ex-husband suffers from narcissism, a cluster of traits that can destroy the narcissist’s partner. Dealing with a narcissist is very difficult. It’s hard on a marriage and even harder when trying to divorce.
I tell people if they don’t understand narcissism, to read a book about it. There are plenty of books about narcissism, probably because of the damage that narcissists cause in relationships. Narcissists can be charismatic, which means they can fool people. They are good at gaslighting. As a narcissist’s partner, you’re likely to believe that you’re to blame for everything that goes wrong. A narcissist will work hard to convince you of this. Narcissists lie easily and are manipulative. They lack empathy and portray themselves as victims, even when they have done outrageous, hurtful things.
I had been married for years before I sought therapy. The gift of therapy showed me I wasn’t the sole problem. I started to see my husband’s role more clearly and looked for the truth about what he had told me for so long. In my digging, I discovered massive credit card debt, hidden money, and infidelity. I already knew of his drug abuse, but not the extent of his lies about it.
I realized that I wanted a divorce to regain my life.
Overcoming the attacks and delays
From the beginning, the legal proceedings dragged on. At first, my husband wouldn’t respond to needed paperwork and wasn’t around our children for nearly a year. When I sought 100 percent custody, he suddenly wanted them. On the verge of defaulting in court, he hired a lawyer at the last minute. Then the attacks began, to tarnish my reputation. His mission, he said, was to bankrupt me. He had his attorney write outrageous letters and file ridiculous motions. He would make agreements, only to change his mind a week later. Hearings were postponed and another spot on the court docket wouldn’t be available for weeks.
After realizing my first attorney couldn’t deal with my husband, I googled “lawyers who work with difficult personalities” and discovered Jeanne’s blog posts about this issue. In my first consultation, she said, “I know exactly what you’re dealing with.” In her more than 30 years as a divorce lawyer, she’d had clients who were divorcing narcissists — and other clients who were narcissists themselves.
In a long conversation, Jeanne told me that when you have kids, there is no “winning” in divorce. I liked that about her. Divorce is all about what’s good for the children, she said, and the children are really her true clients. As we moved through the divorce process, I saw how my kids became her focal point. Her concern most often was for them. Instead of my seeking 100 percent custody – which could really prolong the divorce – she recommended 50-50 custody with strict provisions about any drug use by my husband.
Jeanne advised me to tell her about any skeletons in my background, so she wouldn’t be blindsided. I told her about my therapy, just in case my husband tried to use that against me. She asked me about safety and what I would do if my husband showed up at my house. When I was distraught about anything as the process moved on, I could call her. She would say, “OK, breathe. Let’s talk about it.” Whenever we went to court, she reminded me to keep a straight face throughout the proceeding. Narcissists thrive on their ability to provoke an emotional reaction.
I realized that I needed to rely on Jeanne to be my “rational, logical mind.” Going through a divorce is emotional and it’s hard to think straight. My divorce was a roller-coaster, for sure. As a narcissist, my husband had a tremendous need for control. He sought to portray himself as a victim and his narcissistic charisma made him look good in court.
To move my husband along, under Jeanne’s guidance, I would agree on items that looked like a “win” for him but weren’t really crucial to me. With any agreement, we knew it was important to move quickly before he changed his mind.
Seeing it through
My advice for anyone divorcing a narcissist is that you have to see it through. Once I decided to divorce my husband, there was no going back. A narcissist will try to get you back (mine did, right up till the final court hearing) but things will be a hundred times worse if you do. Narcissists want to win at all costs, and they don’t compromise. The deceit and manipulation won’t stop. It’s all about control and you take away control when you start a divorce.
When divorcing a narcissist, get everything in writing. And be prepared to discover really awful things that your narcissist spouse may have been hiding.
Probably most importantly, find an attorney who is familiar with narcissism and knows how to proceed effectively when a narcissist attempts to control and manipulate.
A support network will help you get through it. I talked with my sister every day and recommend staying in touch with friends, family, or a good therapist. For me, working with Jeanne helped tremendously. Her goal is for her clients to come through divorce to a place where they can thrive in a happier, new life. The other two people in her office, Andrea and Chris, are very kind and positive, too. And she has that bird in her office! (Theo, the office cockatiel).
Two years after I filed for divorce, I made it to the finish line. The divorce was final. I can say that I’m really happy now. My parents and siblings say they’ve never seen me smile and laugh so much, not since before the 12 years I was married. I feel that I’m back to the real me, the woman who I was before marrying a narcissist.
Jeanne Coleman has practiced family law for more than 30 years. Her firm’s motto – Respect, Resolution and Rebirth – epitomizes her approach to helping clients achieve a divorce that positions them for a new life. For a free 20-minute consultation, call the Jeanne Coleman law office at 813-253-8734. Please note that a consultation does not establish an attorney-client relationship.