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Divorcing a Covert Narcissist: What to Look Out For

Reviewed by Karis A. Williams, MSMHC, LPC

You have finally realized that you can no longer live with or be married to your covert narcissist.  But, based on your history with this person, you know things are not going to be easy.  You are in for the fight of your life.  So, when divorcing a covert narcissist, what do you need to look out for?

When divorcing a covert narcissist, look out for them to stack the odds against you.  They will lie, cheat, and steal their way through the divorce exactly the way they did things while married to you.  But they will do it in the sneakiest ways that many people won’t catch on to.  Fortunately, the vast majority of people who will be involved  in  your divorce have seen it before and will easily recognize it once they are acquainted with your case. 

Let’s take a closer look at what the details of divorcing a covert narcissist look like.

Leaving A Covert Narcissist

While the covert narcissist may be demure and calm in public, they certainly aren’t in the home.  It doesn’t take much to unleash their anger on you.  And often, you have no idea what will set them off.  But when you decide it’s time to leave the narcissist, you WILL make him angry.

You may want to decide to tell him that you are going to leave in a public setting or with other people for the sake of your own safety.  I was fortunate in my case.  My church clearly saw what was going on, including outright abuse in front of them.  Because of this, they brought us in to inform my ex of our separation.

I actually thought they were just providing me a safe place to do it myself.  But they ended up informing him themselves, along with informing him that even if I had not gone to them about it, they were ready to insist on the separation anyway for the safety of our family.  It did not go over well and I was more glad than you can know for the support.

Side note:  If you want to know the signs your husband wants a divorce and how you can prevent it, click here.  On the flip side, if you want to know the signs your wife wants a divorce and how to prevent it, click here!

Communicating With a Covert Narcissist

You will need to keep communication at a minimum.  Remember, the whole reason they are called covert narcissists is because they do things covertly.  Whatever you tell them in private will come out very differently in public.  And they will use even the most innocent of statements to totally incriminate you.  That is how they get the focus off their bad behavior and onto you.

Narcissists often accuse you of the exact things they do.  And covert narcissists are most adept at this.  It is something they have been doing since they were children, so they have crafted it to perfection.

Keep as much communication as you can in writing.  Emails and texts are fine.  There are certain text apps that you can use that are admissible in court, although my texts on their own were admissible, maybe because he just turned in huge blocks of texts that he didn’t even look at to see what they proved.  And most of them proved my case and not his.  While covert narcissists are always crafty and wily, they are not always intelligent!

For more information on obtaining text records for court, go to Decipher Tools.  It works for both iPhones and Androids.

How You Can Outsmart a Covert Narcissist

There are ways to outsmart a covert narcissist.  Most of it is based on the fact that the less ammunition you give a covert narcissist, the more effective you will be in conquering his attacks.  Once you recognize their pretty small bag of tricks, you will be able to outsmart them pretty easily, whether it is in court or wherever they are waging their battles against you.

The first and best thing you can do is avoid them as much as possible.  If you aren’t spending any time with them, there is no interaction for them to later turn against you.  They can make up whatever they want, but if you can prove you weren’t even around them, they’ve got nothing.

Next, if they start playing games with you in a public setting where they are banking on you reacting to what they say under their breath or do when nobody is looking, react to them with empathy and respect.  But at the same time, don’t be a doormat.  Call them out on their abuse, but in ways that are kind and respectful.  This is a tall order when you want to unleash all sorts of crap back at them.  But I promise you, responding in an emotionally mature way will catch them off guard and make people see you in an appropriate manner.  It could also make them go off the rails because they are angry that their attack didn’t succeed.  If people saw that, it would show who the real bully is.

Take responsibility for the wrong things you have done that may have contributed to the demise of the marriage.  You will be much more believable if you are real about your own issues.  Even more helpful is letting people know how you have healed and what that journey looked like.  You will gain more respect and traction over the narcissists attacks with this than with just about any other thing you do.

Make sure to set and keep healthy boundaries.  This step really prevents them from being able to get at you from any angle.  But it doesn’t happen overnight.  First, you must learn the best boundaries to set.  Then you must set them and communicate them clearly to your covert narcissist.  Finally, you must enforce them.  Don’t let him trample over them and you.

I was able to do this over time with the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  If you have struggled with a covert narcissist forcing you to be a doormat for some time now, this book will be life-changing for you.  Check it out now!!!

How Does a Covert Narcissist React to Divorce

When a covert narcissist first realizes that you are leaving them and/or planning to divorce them, they go into panic mode.  You have been their number one source of supply for a good amount of time now–years for sure, possibly decades.  And now they risk losing it all in an instant.

So, as soon as panic mode hits, they are ready to go into fight mode. They will start talking to those who they know will be their personal echo chamber and tell them what they want to hear based on their one-sided, very un-factual stories.  And they will begin to build a case against you.

But they have to do it stealthily.  So they couch their attack on you in terms of, “I don’t know why she is doing this right now.  She must have misunderstood me.”  Or, “I have no idea what is going on in her mind.  Everything has always been perfect.  Please pray for her.  I feel something is really wrong with her.”

I was always amazed that he could sway people to his side by feigning concern for me while destroying me while nobody was looking.  Except that the counselors and church leaders involved in our case saw it clearly.  And when they let him know they could see what was going on, he just moved on to a church who would fall for his fake act.  And he disregards the counselor he is currently at while claiming that it is just for his son to learn how to deal with him.  Actually that part is true, but not in any way he will admit or work on productively and honestly.

In some cases, a covert narcissist will actually accuse you of terrible things that aren’t true with those who are in his closest circle that he knows will be complicit in any evil he sends your way.  Those could be fellow narcissists or people that for whatever reason are willing to believe his ridiculous lies about you.  This will just encourage him to continue the narcissistic abuse from afar and will contribute to the narcissistic supply that he is no longer getting from you.  Don’t worry about these people.  They never were or will be your friends or support.  And once you are out of your covert narcissist’s reach, they will be out of your sight as well.

Fun Fact:  Did you know that most narcissists regret divorcing?  Find out more about that here.

Battling a Covert Narcissist in Court

Everything I have already said about dealing with a covert narcissist in general life also applies to battling a narcissist in court.  The court is going to be watching both of your behavior.  They are expecting conflicting stories.  And they are going to use the behavior you use and statements you make to determine who is telling the truth.

Just answer the judge’s and lawyers’ questions honestly and succinctly.  The fewer words you use, the better.  Just answer the questions.  No need to elaborate unless they ask for more details.  That will help them to stay on track and keep them from getting confused with convoluted stories.

Don’t point fingers at the covert narcissist.  Just let him hang himself.  And he will if given enough time.  I was pretty fortunate in that my ex ran out of money to pay the lawyer (he was busy buying boats and cars, so he didn’t have money for the important stuff–poor money management is a hallmark of narcissism) so he became his own lawyer.  When it came time for him to question me and the kids that testified against him (yes, the narcissistic abuse was so bad that his own kids testified against him to oppose him getting joint custody of our youngest son), his narcissism came out on shining display for the judge to see.  And she did.

She blasted him for his religious abuse and anger issues.  And for the fact that he has no relationship with his kids.  Like when he got married 6 days after our divorce was final and didn’t even bother to tell the son he was fighting for custody of.  She didn’t give him joint custody.  And she didn’t even let him have Sundays or overnights because he displayed the abuse of his children right there in his courtroom behavior and words.

Side note:  Curious about whether the divorce rate for narcissists is higher?  Click here to find out more!

Don’t Make These Mistakes When Divorcing a Covert Narcissist!

There are several mistakes you can make when divorcing a covert narcissist.  He isn’t just playing mind games with you.  He is playing them with everyone and right now you are his biggest target.  Here are some things you need to avoid so you don’t end up on the downside of his attacks.

  • Don’t defend yourself from his attacks with the people he has confided in.  Keep the dialog strictly with the trustworthy friends you have confided in, counselors, church authorities or anyone else that is in a need-to-know position, and your lawyer.  Other than that, it doesn’t matter if they choose to believe him.  Let them.  It isn’t worth your energy to try to keep your reputation unscathed from people who are too willing to go along with the narcissist.  Realize that if he has painted you as crazy to these people and you react with great emotion, they will now have “evidence” to believe it.  Even though they have no idea what level of abuse caused you to react in that way.  Keep the reactions at a minimum!
  • Don’t have conversations alone or on the phone with the covert narcissist.  Because they twist and manipulate everything they say, you need to be careful that every time you speak with them, there is either text or written evidence or witnesses who can verify.  And remember, the less you talk with them, the better.  You can say the most innocent thing and they will use it as ammunition against you.
  • Don’t be dishonest with anything!  This is a huge one.  If you are seen as honest with everyone you deal with, you will not have any problems convincing lawyers or a judge when your future depends on it.  On the other hand, if you are found fudging numbers or trying to make the narcissist look worse than he already does in reality, the people working your case will likely end up just ruling things out based on both of you causing the end of the marriage.
  • If the covert narcissist suddenly says or does something really nice, watch out!  This is probably to get your guard down so they can pummel you with whatever attack they are planning to hit you with.  Realize that narcissists follow patterns that are pretty easy to pick up on once you know what is going on.  Find their pattern and get ahead of them.  I’m sure you can remember all the times they extended an olive branch when you were married and then hit you with some form of craziness that left you feeling confused and unbalanced.  Know that he is going to try to do that in court to make you lose your composure.  But also know that if you keep  your composure the court will see what he did to you and your emotionally mature response.  Most people in the court system will realize that.  And we will hope that you don’t get a judge who does not understand or who may be a narcissist himself–two of the issues that keep court cases up in the air when they should be a slam dunk.  Unfortunately, there are no guarantees of a right judgment in court.

For more help with this, check out my article, Guarding Against the Narcissist’s Divorce Tactics.


When you are divorcing a narcissist, he will attack you with everything he’s got.  Because he has to win at any cost.  But when you are divorcing a covert narcissist, it can be hard to see where the attacks are coming from to head them off.

I had a lawyer that had been married to a narcissist when she was young.  So she knew all the tricks. And she understood how he was using the court system to control us and not to relate to us.  Plus she was an award winning lawyer!  This allowed us to easily show the judge what he was up to.  And everyone saw it, right down to other lawyers and a bailiff who came to tell me what a good job I am doing with my kids and in fighting the wrong that had happened to me.  One of the lawyers said that the judge was very impressed with my children.  I was grateful more than you can know for the recognition of what had really gone on behind closed doors, even though nobody was there to actually see it.

Besides the great support I got from everyone involved in the process, there was a book the helped me to know exactly what I needed to be doing to be prepared for the court battle and saving my family from further abuse and control.  It is called  Will I Ever be Free of You? by Karyl McBride.  In it, she talks about how to get yourself to safe ground and then how to fight a wise battle in court so you don’t continue to get dragged down by the narcissist.  It was an amazingly helpful book to me while I was going through my separation and divorce and can’t imagine how things would have turned out if I hadn’t had the information in it.

Are you worried about what God will think if you end up divorced?  I have some articles with Scriptures that can help you work through that.  Click on the titles to check them out:

Why Does God Hate Divorce?

Are There Biblical Grounds for Divorcing a Narcissist?

What has it been like for you?  Are you in the middle of a divorce from a covert narcissist?  Just beginning?  At the end, or maybe even over for some time?  I would love to hear your story.  Please feel free to comment below or  if you don’t feel safe commenting in a public forum, feel free to contact me here.


Blessings and hugs,

If you found this article valuable, I think you will also find the following articles valuable:

What is the Narcissist Divorce Rate?

Who Does a Narcissist Marry?

How Many Times Does a Narcissist Marry?

Narcissists and Marriage:  The Complete Picture

How Does a Narcissist Stay Married for so Long?

Does Narcissism Worsen With Age?

Does a Narcissist Realize What They’ve Lost?

Do Narcissists End up Alone?

Can a Narcissist be a Good Father?

Can a Narcissist be a Good Mother?

Will a Narcissist Hurt Their Child?

Can Narcissists be Good Parents?

Can Narcissists Love Their Children?

How Can You Tell if Someone is a Religious Narcissist?

Can Two Narcissists be in Relationship With Each Other?

Understanding the Tactics of a Religious Narcissistic Father 

Dealing With the Trauma of a Religious Narcissistic Mother

When Narcissism Becomes Pathological

Will God Punish a Narcissist?

What to do When Your Narcissist Threatens You

The Bible Used as a Weapon Against You:  You Can Overcome! 

What Does the Bible Say About Abusive Husbands?

The Link Between Spiritual Abuse and Narcissism

Why Narcissists Want to Apear Godly

What Healing From a Narcissist Looks Like

Why Narcissists Love Going to Church 

How Religious Narcissists Think

Are Narcissists Evil?

Narcissistic Behavior:  What to Look Out For

Praying for Your Narcissistic Husband

Are Spiritual Narcissists Overt or Covert? 

Religious Trauma Syndrome:  How to Preserve Your Spiritual Journey

How to Navigate Religious Narcissistic Parents

What Happens to the Soul of a Narcissist?

How to Heal From a Spiritual Narcissist

Can You Maintain a Relationship With a Spiritual Narcissist? 

Can Narcissists Have a Spiritual Awakening?

How Will God Judge a Narcissist?

When the Church Says to Move Back in With Your Narcissist

What Can we Say to a Christian Friend Who’s Divorcing?

Why Does God Hate Divorce? 

12 Ways the Church Helps Narcissists Abuse Their Victims

When Your Church Believes the Narcissist’s Lies

23 Reasons Why Narcissists are Drawn to the Church

What Does the Spiritual Narcissist do When You try to Leave?

When the Church Doesn’t Recognize Narcissistic Abuse

Will the Church Support Divorcing a Narcissist?

Are Narcissists Demon Possessed?

What Does the Bible say About Narcissism?

Can a Narcissist be a Christian?

Can a Spiritual Narcissist Heal?

What is Spiritual Narcissism?

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Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

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