If you are in a relationship with a coercive, controlling or narcissistic personality then be aware that it is not going to be easy to leave or divorce them. They will, in all likelihood, try to make it as difficult, expensive and drawn out as possible. After all, you’re withdrawing the narcissistic supply they’ve been relying on for all these years.
At times it is probably going to get crazy, horrible and the abuse is likely to ramp up quite a bit so you need to be prepared.
At times it is probably going to get crazy, horrible and the abuse is likely to ramp up quite a bit so you need to be prepared. It’s going to challenge your self-esteem and your beliefs and your abusive partner will want to make you sorry you ever asked.
BUT being aware of this means you can prepare so that you feel more in the driving seat. If I had known what I know now before I asked for my own divorce I could have saved myself time, money and a lot of stress. I would have been wiser and more prepared. So knowing that, I’d like to share that knowledge so that you can avoid the same mistakes as me.
There are many don’ts but first what should you DO before you even ask for a divorce and set the crazy ball rolling?
1. Protect yourself financially
Take copies of all relevant joint paperwork, bank statements, mortgage statements, savings account, shares etc. You can only do this with paperwork that you legally have access to. If you copy your spouse’s paperwork without their permission then it would not be admissible in court. If you have joint bank or credit card accounts contact them and request that no funds can be withdrawn without join signatures.
This is important – this is your future comfort you are talking about.
Change your will so that your spouse is no longer a beneficiary.
Change passwords for online banking. Do this on another device if your spouse is very controlling or narcissistic and you suspect they are tracking your online activity (easier to do and more common than you think – see Protect yourself from tech abuse below).
2. Staying in the joint home or leaving
Should you stay or should you go?
You may have to share a home with someone you no longer love or even like. The urge to move out could be enormous but just bear in mind the following:
- If you move out, it can be extremely difficult to move back in
- It could take many months or even years for financial matters to be resolved (mine took nearly 4 years)
- If you move into rented accommodation you may be spending money you can’t really afford for a period of time which will probably be longer than you anticipated.
- Don’t move out with the children if you see yourself as their primary carer.
- Take legal advice if the house is not in your name or if you feel your spouse should be removed from the home (very difficult to do btw).
If you have to stay then see my blog post How to stay sane when you have to live with your spouse while you’re divorcing.
Think of this as part of mental damage limitation.
Limit communication as much as possible. The narcissist will use anything and everything they can against you or to make you feel weak, bad or guilty. Whenever you can, put it in writing. Don’t fall for any ‘amicable agreements’. If you are in an abusive relationship there is no such thing. And especially if your partner has narcissistic traits, they will lie to get the upper hand. You may also find that you are subject to accusatory rants, and attempts to draw you into horrendous arguments, as you seek to defend yourself. You may find yourself saying things in anger that could be used against you in divorce proceedings. So cut out as much communication as possible and limit the potential damage.
Practice the ‘grey rock’ technique.
If you are living separately, block the phone number if possible or if you can’t, as children are involved, then try to reduce the contact by phone and use email as much as possible. Turn off read receipts though and make sure you keep copies of all correspondence. Be aware that if you use Whatsapp your ex can see when you are online. Download and save all messages.
4. Protect yourself from tech abuse
This is a real thing. You may suspect your emails, messages and phone calls are being watched and you no longer feel safe sending anything online. You have the right to privacy and this is abuse. Even if you are not tech savvy you can do the following or ask a friend to help you. As a minimum:
Set up a completely new email account for divorce correspondence with an entirely different password to any you have used before.
Change passwords to email accounts that your spouse may know – do this on a different device if you can.
Find out about the latest methods of bugging through phones and computers and install the latest phone updates to lower the chances of this happening.
Make sure that all important paperwork and documents are safe, preferably under lock and key or out of the house if you have to share a house with your partner.
5. Protect yourself emotionally
If you are in a narcissistic relationship then find a therapist or counsellor who understands narcissistic abuse. Be very wary of those who do not specifically understand it, as they may unintentionally and unwittingly gas light you.They don’t mean to do it but it isn’t helpful for you.
Before you divorce make sure that you are emotionally ready. It is a roller coaster and a crazy ride. If you have ever done white water rafting you’ll know what I mean. There will be times when you don’t know what is real or which way is up so you need to make sure you have the support in place that you are going to need. But don’t let this stop you. If you are in this type of relationship get out, run for the hills. It is never going to get any better.
If you are in this type of relationship get out, run for the hills. It is never going to get any better.
When you are stressed the thinking part of your brain shuts down a bit, making logic and thinking difficult. Not only are you are being manipulated but you have a solicitor asking you to make important decisions out your finances, future and children. So you need to reset your amygdala. And this is where learning to navigate and manage your emotions and regulate your responses can mean that you are in the best position mentally to make good decisions.
Line up a couple of supportive friends who understand and are good listeners.
You need someone who is comfortable with you having a rant or cry and who understands what an abusive relationship means. This may be really hard for you because your feelings may have been ridiculed, criticised, shamed or used against you in the past. But find people you can trust and ask them for help. Most likely your friends and/or family will be relieved you are now leaving, what they probably recognised as a very unhealthy relationship long before you, and will want to help.
Be wary of people who tell you ‘It takes two’ or similar, you did not deserve the abuse, this is gaslighting too.
Be wary of people who tell you ‘It takes two’ or similar, you did not deserve the abuse. Full stop. No one deserves it. You did not cause it, invite it or make it happen. Be patient with them and don’t expect the support you need from them -they may not be able to give it. This is gas lighting, although they do not realise it or intend to hurt you. Anything that denies the reality of your situation is not healthy for you.
Block your partner from your social media accounts such as Facebook etc. Two reason for this, you don’t want them communicating with you in this way by ‘liking’ your posts, or commenting. They may even try to win you back through this, and that is destabilising and confusing. Also you won’t be tempted to look them up, important as you are detoxing from trauma bonding and you need as little contact with them as possible.
If you do need to keep an eye on them for any reason, such as them spending a heap of money or they have a new baby then ask a friend to do this and only report what is relevant and helpful.
Learn the ‘grey rock’ technique.
Familiarise yourself with the ‘grey rock’ technique or ask your therapist for other resources to help protect you emotionally if you have to be around them much.
You’ll have a solicitor but venting to them about the latest abuse may not be the best use of your time and your money. But talking to a therapist, understanding your feelings and learning to manage them better can mean that you have more helpful, productive conversations with your solicitor, save time and money and make better decisions as a result.
Speak to them first to see if having this help is appropriate at this time. A good therapist will help you make this decision and would also advise you to delay accessing this type of help if they feel that talking about your experiences may intensify your symptoms.
6. Tell the children you intend to separate.
If your partner is narcissistic they will probably want to get in their first to tell their story and sully your reputation with the children. They may want to do this alone and first to get one up on you. If you think this might happen head this off perhaps by raising the issue when all the family are together without giving the narcissistic parent prior warning.
Stick to the facts, stay calm and don’t criticise the other parent. Remember the children probably love you both.
7. Take your wedding ring off.
This is another good way to signal to both the narcissist and the children that the relationship is really over. The narcissist is likely to delay doing this so that they can get sympathy from you and others. Don’t fall for this pity ploy. It’s just another way to get narcissistic supply and make you feel guilty.
Divorcing an abuser is a rough ride, but you can do it. It’s possible to get through this and keep your sanity but preparation and support is paramount. Prepare as much as you can and then trust yourself to cope with this. Because you will.
My divorce brought me to my knees at times and I was afraid it would break me. But I was lucky, I had my training behind me, many tools to use and a fantastic support network. I’m in a very good place now, more resilient and happier than I ever thought possible, but there are some things I wish I’d known beforehand that would have saved me heartache, stress, time and, very importantly, money. And I want to share my learnings and hindsight with you, to help you navigate your divorce or break up and recover as quickly and painlessly as possible. Please get in touch if you would like help to make sense of what you’re going through or have gone through so that you can move on and love your life.