Divorce is always hard, even with the nicest of people involved. Ron Deal, from Smart Stepfamilies, says that if you couldn’t get your spouse to behave well during the marriage, you sure aren’t going to get them to behave during the divorce and after. If you are married to a narcissist and think your marriage was difficult, buckle up. The divorce is going to be the fight of your life.
So, realizing that you are going to need to be on your toes when divorcing your narcissist, it is imperative you know the crazy games narcissists play during divorce. As a general rule, they will punish you by sabotaging the things most important to you, smear your name to make themselves look like the victim, and try to take away everything they can from you. While the narcissistic behavior looks almost the same as normal, the name of the game is upping the ante to ridiculously high levels. The divorcing narcissist is determined to make your life unbearable.
Read on for many of the most typical games narcissists play during divorce.
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Narcissists Will Try to Take Away Your Most Valuable Things
For the entire duration of my marriage, my ex was throwing stuff away that belonged to my children and me. I lost much of my childhood treasures. My children did as well. But the most ironic incident of items being thrown away is my ex’s new wife’s fabric that came up missing. And my ex was brazen enough to set me up to take the fall for it!
I don’t know what happened on their end but I do know that one day my ex showed up at my door in the most bizarre way. He had folded about 5 or 6 baby blankets lengthwise to about 3 feet long and draped them over his arms. When I answered the door, I was shocked to see him there with his hands extended, blankets draped weirdly over them. He said, “Here, I thought you would like these heirloom blankets.” First, they weren’t heirloom. They were my youngest son’s. Second, the whole scene was weird and I told several people that immediately.
Sure enough, the next day my ex wrote me that he thought there was fabric mixed in with the blankets. And that’s when I realized he had most likely thrown away his new wife’s valued possession and thought it would be a perfect idea to set me up as the bad guy. I wonder how long it will be before she figures out it wasn’t and that he has been doing this stuff to her from pretty much the beginning.
Narcissists Will Smear Your Name to Make Themselves Look Like a Victim
This is bad enough already, but add the fact that the narcissist will do it using the kindest nicest words and it makes this game narcissists play one of the most evil.
Narcissists use their words very carefully. They make sure that the appropriate meanings go to their intended victims the way they need to. To the abused victim, it is an insult or a threat. To the flying monkey, it is the most caring of comments, meant for them to see what a loving person the narcissist is.
Here are some examples of what this doublespeak looks like:
- Will you please pray for ____? She’s having a really hard time right now.
- I’m really concerned about ___. I’m not sure how to help, but I know she definitely needs some sort of help.
- I’m worried that ____ is really struggling right now.
All of these comments are ones that sincere people will use in appropriate ways. But they are also words the narcissist uses that if someone calls him out he can fall back on how he really just cares and wasn’t trying to trick people into believing something that isn’t true.
This scenario actually happens in the movie, Gaslight. Charles Boyer, who plays Gregory, is narcissistically abusing his wife, Paula, played by Ingrid Bergman. At one point in the movie, Gregory tells the house staff that he is really worried for Paula and hopes he can help her get better. And then he warns them to leave her alone so she can rest. The real reason is to isolate her so he can continue to abuse her while convincing everyone that something is actually wrong with her.
You can learn more about Gaslight here:
Narcissists Will Sabotage Things That are Important to You
If a narcissist knows something is important to you, whether it is time with friends, going to a certain place, hobbies, or literally anything, they will sabotage it behind your back to make it very difficult for you. They will hide details of events you are interested in attending. Then, when people ask you why you missed the event, you then realize the emails informing you of the details mysteriously disappeared.
I loved my gardens and had several favorite places. My ex would drive his truck through my flower beds and tell me he had no choice. Even though there was 10 feet of clearance. Or he would chop down my favorite peony and gardenia bushes and laugh, telling the kids “not to tell Mom.” He knew they would.
Toward the end of the marriage, I found a list that my ex had strategically placed in my sight. On it was a bulleted list named, “Things that are important to Marie.” There were about 10 things on it. And all of them were things that he made very difficult for me to enjoy.
But yet if I told our counselors or church leadership that he was sabotaging them, he would deny it to the end and say he just loved me and couldn’t believe anyone would think he would try to do any harm to me. Fortunately, over time and as the pattern emerged, nobody involved in our situation believed his lies. Just the people that wanted to believe he was the most amazing Christian man.
Narcissists Will Increase the Gaslighting to Unprecedented Levels
Your narcissist has been gaslighting you from the beginning. Tiny things that you probably didn’t even notice were said or done to make you feel like you misunderstood or that he misunderstood but would eventually come around. Things that happened that made you scratch your head in confusion. And over the years, it just gets worse. But during a divorce, the narcissist MUST convince everyone else that you are crazy. So he gaslights you until you start to believe you are. Then you start behaving or reacting in ways that begin to convince everyone else that you are.
This is one crazy game narcissists play during divorce that you will be able to get past easily. Making sure that he is not able to operate behind closed doors with you will prevent him from saying and doing things that cannot be verified by others around you or some sort of written/texted proof. The more the narcissist cannot operate by isolating everyone, the less he can get away with. And the more the court and those involved with divorce proceedings will be able to see exactly what is going on. For more information about this, see my article on how to expose a narcissist in court.
Narcissists Will be Incredibly Passive Aggressive to you in Court
One of the crazy games narcissists play during divorce is incredibly passive aggressive behavior that you will see loud and clear but others may not have a clue about. Here are some examples of that:
- Narcissists will say something on the stand that sounds incredibly sympathetic and caring, yet because you know the backstory behind it, you know they are either lying, alluding to something they know you will remember and be triggered by, or both.
- Your narcissist may be answering questions in the courtroom ever so politely, but with eyes that shoot looks of death over your way for split seconds. Or they may even stare you down, hoping that nobody else sees the sideways glances they are shooting your way. Luckily, most officials in the courtroom see it and identify it for what it is.
- Your narcissist may purposely leave out critical details in their testimony to the court. You and your lawyer will need to be on your toes to make sure you set all of those incidents straight.
- One final game your narcissist may play with you in court is to delay any paperwork or other necessary steps in the process. Or, on the flip side, he may try to rush things through so you cannot research and respond to them adequately. Your lawyer should be able to help you with either one of these scenarios.
Regardless of what games your narcissist play in court, realize that most judges, lawyers, and other officials have pretty much seen it all. And most of them understand what is going on. The games of the narcissist are tired and often uncreative. So they can be easy to detect in those who are experienced in dealing with them.
They Will Blame You for Everything Having to do With the Divorce
Just like everything seemed to be your fault (or your kids’ fault) during the marriage, so the narcissist will blame you for everything having to do with the divorce. Even if you find some way to prove it isn’t your fault, but something they did, they will then still turn it around on you.
They will tell you they wouldn’t have done the thing that caused it to be their fault if you hadn’t driven them to it. There is really no way for you to directly win this game that narcissists play during divorce. But you don’t have to directly win it. You just have to know the real truth.
You and everyone else who is familiar with his narcissistic behavior will be able to see it clearly by now. And you will have the comfort of knowing that once you are diovrced, he will be very limited in what he can do with that anymore.
Narcissists Will Break all the Rules During a Divorce
One of the nine criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 is an unreasonable expectation of special treatment because they think they are more special than anyone else around them. In the case of religious or spiritual narcissism, the narcissist actually believes he or she is on par with God Himself!
The thing about a narcissist breaking the rules, though, is that they do it in a way that makes sure you see they don’t think they have to abide by them, while appearing to those in charge as though they absolutely following the rules to the letter. It becomes infuriating over time because they get away with a whole lot of that behavior over the course of many years.
Narcissists Will Lie in Court to the End of Time
Narcissists have to be seen as the authority. There is almost nowhere this is more true than in the courtroom. They have to be seen as large and in charge, or the most authoritative. And if they have to lie in order to make it all work out, it is well worth it.
One day, I caught my ex in a lie, actually a rare occasion. When I asked him why he had lied about the issue, he replied that it was because that was what he wanted to believe about the situation. That was one of the most honest and eye-opening conversations I ever had with him. And honestly, it made me feel bad that he had to go to such lengths to make himself feel like he looked good enough to the rest of the world.
One other thing a narcissist will lie about in court to the end is anything crazy about you that he can make up and make just believable enough to tilt the judge in his favor. Sometimes it will work, but more often it does not. Just keep your composure and you will be just fine! If you have a good lawyer, they will help you with that.
Narcissists Will do Everything They can to Catch You and the Whole Legal System Off Guard
Often, a narcissist will project his own wrongdoing, abuse, and lies onto you in the courtroom. This is one of the easiest games narcissists play during divorce to beat. He can’t run away from a proven pattern of behavior that is his and not yours. This is where your documentation will come into play. And where you will be able to put his accusations to rest very quickly.
It is also very important at this point (actually in the whole process of separation and divorce) to never seek revenge or to get back at your narcissist for the crappy things they have done to you. Those crappy things, in and of themselves, are a special gift for you to share with the court. They will prove who’s telling the truth and who’s lying. And the more you sit back and let your narcissistic ex behave badly, the more the courtroom will be able to see and rule accordingly.
I know that it hurts to see what they are doing to you through this process. My ex got away with a lot of his abuse, including taking the only home our 4 youngest children had ever known away from us in a very mean and illegal way. The courts were so backed up from Covid that they couldn’t hear our case before we would have defaulted. So I decided to leave. I knew I couldn’t keep it anyway.
It was just a terrible thing for our kids to endure in the middle of a divorce that had already rocked their world. But it made perfect fodder to show the court that my ex didn’t care a single bit about the kids he claimed he needed split custody of. He ended up with no overnight visits, no Sundays so he could abuse them with a cultish church presence, and only 18 hours of visitation a month, of which he only uses about 9-12 of on any given month.
Here are several articles that deal directly with divorce that you may find helpful (this article continues below this list):
Narcissists Will Hold You to all the Rules While Holding Themselves to None of the Rules
I mentioned above that one of the games narcissists play during divorce is that they are not required to abide by the rules. If they are challenged on any of those broken rules, they will surely have an excuse as to why they had to break them and why it is your fault.
At the same time he is excusing himself, he is holding you to the absolute last letter of the law. My ex to this day quotes the verbiage of the divorce decree back to me. And unfortunately, his mind is much sharper than mine in using the divorce decree in ways against me that I never saw coming. All I can say is that maybe one day he will pay attention to his current wife and leave us alone. Or maybe he will just get bored.
It is disheartening to see a narcissist get away with things in court that you don’t because you won’t stoop to his level and you do choose to play by the rules. I think the best way for me to think my way through it without being so angry was to realize that God has much more ability than I do to handle the situation rightly when the time comes.
Maybe my ex will at sometime turn away from the craziness and try to make things right. I would actually forgive him if he did. But I wouldn’t continue to stand in his way to receive more abuse. Forgive, but don’t forget what you have gone through and the patterns of behavior that destroyed your marriage.
Narcissists Will Study the Whole Legal System to Manipulate It
In this final point regarding the crazy games narcissists play during divorce, I actually indicated a component of it above. Just like the narcissist studied you intensely when you first met in order to know how to manipulate you and push your buttons, now the narcissist is going to study every aspect of the legal system they can so they can manipulate you right through the divorce.
It is absolutely imperative that you find the best lawyer you can–one that knows the legal system well and also knows how to deal with narcissists and has had plenty of experience with narcissists. If you do those two things and you have a good amount of documentation, you should do well in the courtroom and should be able to come to a somewhat fair divorce ruling.
At the end of the day, the courts are not set up to handle divorce and custody issues well. Most lawyers and judges are not looking to punish evil and reward good. They are looking to meet somewhere in the middle. Nobody gets what they really wanted. And in the end everyone, but especially the children suffer. It is terrible, but it is still better than a child being raised in a severely narcissistic home to face abuse and poor examples of parenting and family life that could get carried on into their own future family.
Before we finish this article, I wanted to show you this really awesome video I found on YouTube. In it, Rebecca Zung, a top 1% lawyer in America with an excellent track record of identifying and dealing with narcissists, talks about how narcissists tell on themselves with their own words and behavior and how they confess without actually meaning to. You can use this video to help you further identify what your narcissist is up to in trying to destroy you in court. Check it out right here:
These were some of the most prominent games narcissists play during divorce. Their arsenal of games and weapons can be huge. I am sure some of you have experienced them differently than I did, but probably also in many of the same ways. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!
Blessings and hugs,