Divorce is difficult enough without the added stress of an emotionally abusive spouse. Discover strategies to protect spouses and keep the children out of the middle.
In the beginning, married life with a narcissist may seem relatively normal. After a few months or years, life can become chaotic and full of lies, with unpredictable rage. There is a skewed sense of reality when married to a narcissist.
Partners of narcissists begin to feel emotionally battered and exhausted. Once in the middle of a divorce, the emotional abuse gets worse as the narcissistic spouse tries to “win” the divorce. Couples still need to communicate during a divorce, especially if there are children. There are steps to take, however, to minimize opportunities for an abusive spouse to lie, spew rage, and distort reality.
Emotional Abuse During Divorce
Behavior a narcissist exhibited during the marriage will intensify during the divorce as he or she fears looking bad or at fault. The narcissist may blatantly lie to his or her partner, to lawyers, and to the court. He or she may place blame for the failure of the marriage or for bad parenting on his or her partner. Abusive spouses may accuse partners of behaviors they are guilty of. Lawyers will tell abused partners to take the high road and not to engage with their abusive spouses.
Intellectually, this advice makes sense. Emotionally, this advice can be incredibly difficult to follow when a person is already emotionally battered. Abused spouses may be trying to sort the truth from the lies and discovering the reality they thought they knew never existed. Narcissistic spouses will do anything to make their spouses look bad. They need to “win”.
The first and best thing an abused spouse can do is seek support. It’s not easy to go through a divorce and it’s even more difficult when a spouse chooses to be emotionally abusive. A therapist or support group can help abused spouses sort out their partner’s bad behavior and help them develop the strength needed to maintain boundaries against abuse.
Protection Strategies During an Abusive Divorce
Face-to-face communication and phone communication is not necessary, even if children are involved. With the advent of new technologies, there is a myriad of ways to communicate. Removal from situations where abuse can occur will greatly reduce an abused spouse’s stress and consequently, the children’s stress. Chances are, a narcissistic spouse won’t like it if his or her spouse chooses not to communicate in person, but standing firm is necessary.
Email is one of the best methods to use to communicate with an abusive spouse. Keep correspondence brief and factual. It gives each party time to think before responding. If the abusive spouse agrees to something, it’s in writing. If a spouse chooses to insult, threaten, or otherwise abuse a partner, it’s in writing. Using email may eliminate some of a narcissist’s abusive behavior because he or she may not want any concrete evidence of abuse that could be used in court.
Cell phone texting is another good way to communicate without face-to-face interaction. It’s good for immediate information about children’s pickup times, illnesses, or other factual information. Again, it’s in writing. Forward text messages to an email account so there is a record of the communication.
If speaking directly to an abusive spouse is absolutely necessary, purchase a digital recorder to record conversations. Check state laws for notification laws. Generally, it is not advisable to tell an abusive spouse that conversations are recorded. He or she may become more enraged. What recording achieves is a record of the conversations for an abused spouse’s own sanity. It may also help abused spouses not lose their cool when the narcissistic spouse is baiting them.
Keeping Children Out of the Middle During Divorce
Child visitation exchanges can be another opportunity for abuse to occur. If it feels unsafe making exchanges at home, couples can meet at a neutral site. Unless the children are very young, couples need not get out of the car. Children will appreciate any effort to reduce conflict or stress between parents, even if it feels awkward to everyone.
Safe exchange sites, where trained individuals facilitate exchanges, are available in many communities. At these sites, estranged couples never come face to face. A narcissistic spouse may not agree to a safe site, however, most courts will order the use of one if one party requests it. If a safe site is unavailable, abused spouses can choose to have a trusted family member or friend accompany them for exchanges. In some cases, it may be best to have this person simply meet the abusive spouse for exchanges without the abused parent.
The most important thing to remember is that spouses cannot change their abusive partner’s behavior. Set up boundaries that make his or her behavior less hurtful and controlling. In the case of a narcissistic or abusive partner, the best course of action is to simply avoid situations where abuse may occur.