A narcissist’s biggest source of narcissistic supply is his wife (if you are a male victim of a female narcissist, adjust the pronouns to work for your situation). Often, he can keep her guessing and trying to make things work for years or even decades. I lasted for 35 years. And when a wife decides she can’t do it anymore and wants a divorce, the typical narcissist reaction to divorce is going to be earth shattering.
So, what is the typical narcissist reaction to divorce? He won’t play fair, will intimidate you, will fight for things he doesn’t even want, will play the victim, blame the divorce on you, become violently angry, will continue to abuse you from a distance, will convince everyone he can that it’s your fault. And the icing on the cake: he will likely have his next spouse waiting in the wings.
One of the speakers in the Divorce Care program that I lead says that you couldn’t get your spouse to play well during the marriage, so there is no reason to think he will be nicer or better in the divorce. That is so incredibly true. So, in this article, I would like to share with you the typical narcissist reaction to divorce so you can head them off in healthy ways and protect yourself well as you begin your new life.
Narcissist Reaction to Divorce #1: He Won’t Play Fair
Nothing was fair from the start. As you met him and got to know him, he was merely studying you to get to know what buttons to push and how to control you. He will lie to you, about you, and about everything he is doing. He will cheat, not just with other women, but in how he plays his games with you. This is not about playing a good game. It is about winning at all costs and protecting the shame that he hides so deeply inside.
You can know that it is absolutely appropriate that you feel sorry for your narcissist because of how he became a narcissist (see more about that in my article). But it is not okay for you to let him continue to beat you down and control you (or your children). So, when you read about all of the things he will do in reaction to the divorce, don’t think about retaliation as much as finally living an emotionally healthy life. You can choose that for yourself. But you can’t choose it for him.
And with that, realize that for as much as he doesn’t play fair, you will be able to document and prove what is really going on. Make sure that all communication is in writing or in front of witnesses. Do not meet him anywhere that you will be alone. That way, he can’t play tricks on you that you can’t prove.
But you also must realize that often the narcissist can abuse and play games with you in front of people that you will understand and they won’t. He can do things to you that will go right over others’ heads. A look, his body language, a glance at something that he knows you value and he can destroy…there are tons of these little passive aggressive things he can do to you. And he knows that if you try to tell someone, you will sound petty and trifling. Don’t engage. he can’t fight if you don’t react.
Narcissist Reaction to Divorce #2: He Will Intimidate You
I think that the majority of narcissists are not physically abusive. They are much more crafty in the way they choose to abuse. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be intimidating. Or that they won’t posture against you physically.
First of all, you must protect yourself and your family physically. If you think you could be in any physical danger, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Or you can visit online at thehotline.org.
In my case, my narcissist husband knew better than to physically abuse me. But he also knew that all the other methods of abuse that he used wouldn’t leave marks. And he knew that he kept a stellar public reputation as a Christian and a productive member of society. But I was lucky that he wasn’t as good at keeping his life compartmentalized as he wanted to be.
As he turned me in to pastors and counselors to make me a more obedient wife, his narcissistic mask began to slip. People started to see the temper under the incredibly kind, amazing Christian. And as his separate world began to collide, he totally unravelled. As he unravelled, he became angry. And he had one heck of a hard time keeping the anger under control.
He began to posture over me (he is 6’1″, I am 5’4″) whenever he became angry. I didn’t think he would hit me or otherwise injure me because he would be in a whole lot of trouble. His job, church life, everything would be at risk. But I also feared that he would go over the edge and not be able to control himself when he was getting so close physically to that edge. My pastor and counselors could see that. And they all sat me down to help me be ready if I had to get out fast.
All this is to say, that as the narcissist feels more trapped and more out of control, he will possibly lash out physically to some degree. It is the number one way he can intimidate you. Other methods of intimidation are legal threats or threats to take your children, home, or other valuables. And honestly, he may make good on some of those threats just to intimidate you even more.
Narcissist Reaction to Divorce #3: He Will Fight for Things He Doesn’t Even Want
One of the biggest things a narcissist will fight for is custody of the kids, even when he has little to no relationship with them. The reason for this is simple: he is trying to destroy you and he knows that he can do that with the court system and forcing the kids to spend time with him instead of you.
I know I already mentioned this above, but I do want to specifically mention that this tactic is also used by narcissistic women who want to take a good father’s relationship with his kids away. Again, make the pronouns work for your specific case.
This happened in my case. But because my lawyer, the guardian-ad-litem, and most others involved in our case were attuned to narcissism, they saw through his act. The judge was able to see that in the past my ex spent very little time with the kids. He had been removed from our home for abusive, narcissistic behavior. And because he was quite abusive with the kids as well as me, they were more than willing to testify.
I had so many people willing to testify to the narcissism and abuse that I didn’t have to worry about not being believed. Honestly, my biggest concern was that if the judge was a narcissist (yes, that happens sometimes) he would side with my ex. That did not happen. And my kids got mostly what they needed for support from the court.
It has been very difficult for me to see people in my divorce support group still have to share custody with a narcissistic ex. While the court system has come a long way in recognizing these subtle but insidious forms of abuse, there is still a ways to go.
Some other ways this narcissist reaction to divorce will play out are:
- Taking the home
- Throwing away your possessions
- Fighting for family pets that he may not really care about
I am sure you can fill in some of your own here. Feel free to share some in the comments below!
Narcissist Reaction to Divorce #4: He Will Play the Victim
This narcissist reaction to divorce was a difficult one for me. While it is normal for a narcissist to play the victim, in this case, he was a victim of sorts. He did not choose to be a narcissist. But he did choose to treat his family the way he did.
I have no doubt that when we were separated and divorcing, he felt grief and sadness. He certainly felt loss, maybe even more than a normal person because he was losing his main narcissist supply. And that is what makes this so much different than normal victimhood. He isn’t feeling the loss of a relationship. He is feeling the loss of owning you as property.
For this reason, you must understand that giving sympathy to his victimhood is allowing him to continue to play you. Don’t get emotionally involved at this point if there is no future to the relationship.
Here is an example of how my ex played the victim. He would spend time at my oldest daughter’s house when he had visitation time with the kids early in the separation. My daughter wasn’t especially comfortable with it. But she allowed it for the sake of her siblings. And actually, by that time, it was just my youngest hanging out with her oldest child because they were close in age. When my ex brought him over, it allowed him to just hang out while the kids played. He didn’t have to interact. What he did do, though, was play a major victim.
He would talk about how he still had three more hours of visitation and didn’t know how he was going to fill the time. Except he wasn’t spending time with the kids anyway! Then one day, he told my daughter that he was going to go home and have frozen pizza for Thanksgiving. Absolutely ridiculous stuff that he didn’t have to do. But it made it sound worse than it was.
I could go on and on with more examples, but I bet you could too!
Narcissist Reaction to Divorce #5: He Will Blame the Divorce on You
The next narcissist reaction to divorce is that he will blame the divorce on you. Just like he blamed everything else on you throughout the marriage. Blame shifting is a mainstay of narcissistic behavior (for more on this, check out my article on 45 examples of narcissistic behavior).
So then, how does the narcissist blame the divorce on you? First, if you filed, then of course it is your fault!
Next, the narcissist can tell you that if you were a better spouse, then they wouldn’t be divorcing you. He can even tell you all of your shortcomings and failures. Some narcissists will even drag the kids into this blame game. How horrific that they would allow a child to think they had anything to do with a divorce!
The narcissist cannot take any blame for the divorce or even for shortcomings in the marriage. That would indicate that he is less than perfect. It would be devastating for him to see people realize that he isn’t the perfect person he advertises himself to be.
Narcissist Reaction to Divorce #6: He Can Become Violently Angry
This narcissist reaction to divorce sort of piggybacks off point #2 above. In order to intimidate, the narcissist has to be angry or triggered. The narcissist is angry for many different reasons. Here are some of them:
- He is angry that you are taking away the control that he always had over you.
- Anger that he is losing his home as he knew it (and likely the physical home itself).
- Embarrassment and anger that people are going to find out his world is not perfect.
- Anger that he feels he has to fight to win, likely in court.
- If you are the one filing for divorce, the narcissist will be angry that you are now controlling the narrative.
- The narcissist will be angry because they feel that they have failed–an unbearable feeling for them.
Narcissists already have anger issues. But when you start heaping on multiple triggers, especially in a highly emotional, highly contentious divorce, you are essentially poking the bear. And he will make sure that you realize you have overstepped.
Narcissist Reaction to Divorce #7: He Will Continue to Abuse You From a Distance
Narcissist Reaction to Divorce #8: He Will Make Everyone Else Think it is Your Fault
The worst part of this narcissist reaction to divorce is that he will blame you with such kind-hearted words that nobody will realize what he is doing. They will just feel sorry for him and wish that you had been a better person. And you will rarely ever find out who thinks that about you because they won’t be talking to you about all the horrible things they heard about you. They just feel sorry for the narcissist who said they were so concerned for you and don’t understand what is happening. Let’s break this down a little more.
Your narcissist will feign great concern for you and bewilderment that your life could be in such upheaval. He will add that he is praying intently for you because there is nothing he can do to help, but God can. And then he will say he just loves you so much and doesn’t understand. By this time, those who are not wise to his narcissism will be in such sympathy for him. And they will wonder why you could treat such a nice person so poorly.
There are actually a couple of ways for you to know who those people are. And the only reason you want to know is so that you can avoid giving them any kind of information or ammunition to take back to your narcissist. It is best to just disengage. Those two ways are as follows:
- How they react to you when you run into them. It can be anywhere from being too busy to engage with you to dirty looks, to outright disdain and unkind words to you as they support the person they think you are destroying. In this case, walking the other way is just fine for you to do. You don’t need his flying monkeys to abuse you by proxy.
- The second way is when you have mutual friends on social media. You will see when they overtly like all of his posts while ignoring yours. Do not get bogged down with this! When you realize that they have chosen who they want to support. That is theirs to do. And it is a perfect cue for you to step out of the way and into a circle of more healthy people. Once you realize what is going on, don’t “stalk” them or continue to engage online. Remove them from your social media and concentrate on those who are truly supportive and emotionally wise.
Narcissist Reaction to Divorce #9: He Will Have His Next Spouse Waiting in the Wings
We hear all the time about people who leave one spouse and jump right into the next relationship/marriage. But those are people that you talk about. You never expect it to be the case in your life. But in the narcissist’s world, it is a common occurrence. The biggest reason is because they can’t be without their narcissistic supply. As soon as they realize they’ve lost you, they will start looking for the next person.
I find this fact kind of laughable because before I got separated but at the point we realized it was inevitable, I told my then husband that he was going to immediately start looking for someone else. At that point, he declared his undying love for me and said he would never be with anyone else even if I left him. Just a few months later, the kids found out he was seeing someone because she tried to friend them on social media, clueless to the mess she had stepped into. They were married a mere six days after we received our divorce papers.
Just know that once your ex realizes it’s really over and he can’t hoover his way back to you, the very next thought is he has to find someone else. And it won’t be long before he does. Unfortunately, there are so many people out there who are not emotionally healthy enough to see the red flags of a narcissist.
Why the Narcissist Doesn’t Want a Divorce
The biggest reason your narcissist will be so angry about the divorce and react so badly is because his shame level is unbearably breached and he is losing his biggest source of supply that could help make him feel better. All at the same time. It feels like a crushing blow. And honestly, it is a crushing blow for a narcissist. His time is up. He can’t get away with the games anymore. At least not with you to the same extent he has been abusing you all these years.
It would be easier for him to say whatever he has to in order to get you back. And he will keep trying until he realizes it isn’t going to happen. And then all the craziness will increase exponentially.
Understand that the narcissist often does not want divorce because they want the control they have had for years. He will be grieving the loss of the marriage as much as you, at least initially. But not for the same reasons. You will be grieving the loss of a life together, hope of companionship and growing old in a loving relationship. He will be mourning the loss of something he owned that brought him much pleasure. And that is why you will be so quickly and easily replaced.
You need to make sure you know what you are getting into at this point, be prepared and protect yourself. And realize that what you will be gaining in health, freedom, and a good life will be far better than hanging on to the mayhem and destruction that were your marriage to a narcissist.
I have a free 57-page guide to divorcing your narcissist that will be an amazing help to you as you navigate the coming chaos. It will help you to understand and implement the healthiest choices for you going forward. It will give you a checklist of everything you need to do before, during, and after your divorce so you won’t feel lost in the process. And it will make you start to feel like you are emerging from the fog you have been in for so long! Check it out here:
How are you feeling wherever you are in this process? What things have helped you as you are progressing on your journey? What would you tell others who are going through the same thing? Feel free to comment below!
If you found this article valuable, I think you will also love the following articles:
- How Narcissists Use Religion to Control and Manipulate You - December 26, 2023
- Do Flying Monkeys Ever See the Truth? - December 16, 2023
- Flying Monkeys Spying: Understanding and Dealing With It - September 21, 2023