How Do You Tell a Narcissist You Want a Divorce?

Elise Buie, Esq.
4 min readSep 10, 2020


Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

So you’re married to someone you suspect is a narcissist and hope to leave them. Unfortunately, divorcing a narcissist isn’t usually quite as simple as saying, “I want a divorce.”

Narcissists have a different thought process than those who don’t exhibit the behaviors of this often undiagnosed personality disorder. The result? You need to think about your next move and every move after it so you can stay one step ahead and out of their way as much as possible.

The first step in divorcing a narcissist is deciding if your spouse demonstrates characteristics typical of a narcissist. Something to understand is that narcissism exists on a spectrum. We are all at least a little bit narcissistic. However, some people are more narcissistic than others, with pathological narcissists lying on the spectrum’s far end.

Pathological narcissists have a sense of grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and an excessive need for admiration. Individuals with pathological narcissistic traits, clinically diagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (“NPD”), may come off as selfish, arrogant, and manipulative. However, only a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist can diagnose an individual with NPD. If you suspect your spouse is a narcissist, you should proceed with caution anyway.

Narcissists have trouble forming healthy relationships with others, including romantic relationships, making marriages with them — and divorces from them — difficult. Narcissists tend to view themselves as superior to others, and do not take well to criticism, perceived or otherwise. A narcissist may construe a request for divorce as a blow to their self-esteem, and while narcissists act like they have high self-esteem, they are deeply insecure inside.

These characteristics, coupled with a lack of empathy — the ability to hurt others without feeling bad about it — can make a spouse vulnerable. Therefore, you need to tread lightly and take the necessary precautions before informing your spouse about your plans. Before you tell a narcissist you want a divorce, be sure to have the following details in order.

Your finances

If your spouse controls the finances, your spouse could use money as leverage to keep you from leaving by threatening to cut you off financially. A narcissist, especially one who wants to stay married, could also ruin your credit by misappropriating marital funds, incurring debts in your name, and not paying household bills.

The narcissist will not feel bad about ruining your life financially, either. Their power position only functions to keep up their appearance of importance in your life, feeding them further. The gratification they receive is known as narcissistic supply, which you want to limit.

Before telling your spouse that you want a divorce, set some money aside for yourself, which the narcissist cannot touch. If you’re not in immediate danger, it may mean delaying your plans to leave until you can get your finances in order. Doing so can provide you with added security later in the divorce process.

It can also be useful to make alternative plans for somewhere to live, as the narcissist may refuse to leave the house, especially if the house or lease is in both your names or theirs alone. You may end up being the one who has to move from the residence since, by the narcissist’s logic, you’re the one who wants the divorce.

Consider asking a friend or family member to stay with them or set aside additional money to get a place to live on your own.


Narcissists’ lack of empathy, coupled with their desire to triumph over you, means they will be unrelenting in their attacks. Whatever you do or say is fair game for them, which means you want to give them as little ammunition as possible.

Nothing is off-limits, from your grocery list to what you post on social media. Pretend your soon-to-be-ex is always looking over your shoulder because they are.

A good lawyer

Narcissists tend to see divorce as a game and adopt the mindset that they will try and win rather than reach an amicable agreement where both parties walk away as equals. It means, especially if they have a lot of leverage and money, that the divorce could end up in court, being decided by a judge, which can also mean higher legal expenses for both of you.

It’s why you need to get ahead of the narcissist when starting your divorce proceedings. Find a lawyer who understands how to deal with narcissists and negotiate with them.

You took the necessary precautions. Now what?

Now it’s time to tell the narcissist you want a divorce. Make sure you can do so safely, without risk of emotional or physical harm. Inform your spouse through your lawyer or a trusted friend or relative. If you choose to notify them of your intentions in person, do it in a public place.

Divorcing a narcissist won’t be easy. Or pleasant. But by planning your exit strategy, you can make the transition easier, which is how your life will be once you start your new one without them in it.



Elise Buie, Esq.

Elise Buie is a Seattle-based family and divorce lawyer and founder of the ​Elise Buie Family Law Group​.