toss the ring

3 Financial Planning Tips for Divorcing a Narcissist or Other High Conflict Personality

Most of us who have been through high-conflict relationships or marriages know that there is a certain predictable relationship cycle and shelf-life in these toxic relationships. People at the far right-end of the narcissistic spectrum or other Cluster-B psychopathology spectrum, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, suffer from a lack of object constancy or object permanence. This means that people suffering from a high degree of narcissism or other type of Cluster B personality disorder, cutoff from those who love them most easily and without warning. This is why these relationships are marred by long periods of push-pull or breakup/makeup cycles. Eventually, one of you will get sick of the toxic pattern and want out.

Deeply ingrained in their defense mechanisms is a sense of the world being unsafe and people untrustworthy, primarily formed from attachment traumas from caregivers at an early age. It is my own personal opinion that Ferberizing may be a reason there are so many more narcissists now. Ferberizing, a type of sleep-training developed for infants in my generation by Dr. Richard Ferber, recommended that parents let their babies soothe themselves to sleep, instead of waking up to soothe them. In any case, I could go on forever about these things (object constancy, permanence, and Ferberizing leading to attachment traumas), but I am writing this blog to give practical, financial tips for those of us with controlling, narcissistic spouses, and planning for divorce.

When meeting with clients that are contemplating divorce or dealing with a high-conflict personality threatening divorce, dealing with infidelity, abuse, etc., many will ask me how they can pay for a divorce when they’ve been left destitute or financially deprived. Even the strongest of us may slowly allow our significant others to take control of our finances, convince us to become financially dependent on them by quitting jobs to stay home and take care of the children and the needy narcissists, and some of us give in to the insidious, slow process of financial abuse because we don’t want to fight in front of our children. We also do not want to believe that someone we love(d) were capable of financially hurting us most. However, it has happened to many of us and many of my clients.

Unfortunately, the American Rule on attorney’s fees is that each side must pay for their own attorney’s fees, regardless of who wins and who was at fault. The American Rule also extends to the majority of family law cases because judges rarely award legal fees, even to the abused spouse, when going through divorce. That means, you’ll have to find a way to financially pay for your divorce, and for many of us, divorcing a high-conflict personality or divorcing a narcissist, involves steep litigation fees because of their all-or-nothing thinking (there is only one winner, if you lose, I win mentality – read more about object permanence here).

Chances are you’ve come to this blog because one or several of the following happened in your relationship:

  • You are the breadwinner and normal spouse (neurotypical, non-personality disordered) being financially controlled by your narcissist, borderline, anti-social or other type of high-conflict personality spouse. Your spouse doesn’t let you spend a dime without causing a lot of conflict, even though you are the only one making money. To avoid fighting in front of the children, and unnecessary drama, or to avoid being baited into all night conversations so that you can work the next morning, you just go with the flow until you have no control whatsoever on what you spend, having to account for every dollar. You accept their bad behaviors to avoid these consequences, and so you can’t spend a lot of money without inciting them. Remember, most narcissists have a sixth sense about people getting ready to leave them because of their unconscious fear of abandonment (attachment traumas), so the financial control seems to be part of the way they control inevitable abandonment (remember, they’re the ones that are “entitled” to do the leaving, not you, and they’re convinced you can’t do anything on your own because they controlled your finances).
  • You don’t have resources because your toxic ex convinced you to stay at home and take care of them, the children, the house, the shopping, cooking, etc. They take control over all the bank accounts, and you’re left with only the ability to buy necessities and food.
  • Your ex is too grandiose and special to pay bills, so she leaves them all for you to pay, and after spending money on her impulsive shopping, drinking, gambling, whatever, you’re left with little cash reserves.

Here are my three financial planning tips for divorcing a narcissist or divorcing someone with a high-conflict personality.

  1. Build a war chest or nest egg. You can use extra grocery money and save as you go along. Another great tip is for you to buy gift cards or grocery certificates with your check card while you’re grocery shopping. That way, when you need money, you can sell them or just use them for bills and for future groceries. Chances are your narcissistic spouse is too lazy to look at your grocery receipts and will instead look at bank transactions. It will be hard for him to spot a $25 or $50 gift certificate on a bank statement.
  1. Build credit for yourself now. As you will need to take out credit cards in the future, apply for them now while you still have his income or before he impulsively charges your cards for more “things” and ruins your debt-to-income ratio. Whether divorce lawyers’ fees are considered marital debts are a topic for another discussion. If you wait too long, and you haven’t been in the work force for quite some time, it may be virtually impossible to build a sufficient credit rating and history to qualify for credit that you’ll need to get you through this.
  1. Ask for loans from friends, family, or charity (churches, etc.). Just remember that you should be asking them for loans, and having them mark checks as such, or you should enter into promissory notes with them, so that your debts become credit owed (again, another discussion topic).

I write these blogs as part of my own healing and as part of my goal to help others understand that there is so much more happiness on the other side of divorce after a pathologically toxic relationship. My own personal experience as well as my professional experience have taught me that the cyclical nature of these relationships is a hallmark of a toxic relationship. A narcissist’s ego defense mechanisms prevent him from seeing an integrated version of anyone else as deep-rooted fears of intimacy, vulnerability, and trusting others preclude him from trusting others. This means that when a narcissist is highly triggered by any of life’s normal events, her narcissism prevents her from remembering good times when emotional dysregulation takes over her world view, also known as “splitting.”

Summary and Healing

When a narcissist has no viable intimate relationships in her horizon to fulfill her narcissistic supply tank, she may attempt to come back to you, and again, the honeymoon period is very short-lived. Know that the person you believe you fell in love with was more about you – what validation can you not give yourself? As soon as you stop looking for approval in your actions and you learn about the nature of toxic relationships, you will stop going back for more abuse. A healthy relationship takes time, and anyone who professes their love to you within days or weeks is most likely very emotionally damaged, but that person will never have the insight or honesty necessary to accept responsibility, and each relationship with another adult will end the same way for him/her.

Fairfax Family Law and Divorce Lawyer: An attorney with experience in divorcing a narcissist can help you redirect the blame to the narcissist, and help you understand that although people can fall out of love, it doesn’t happen so abruptly and silently, as it does in a marriage to a narcissist.

If you’re looking for an experienced Virginia family and divorce law attorney, contact Keithley Law, PLLC today by calling (703) 454-5147 and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office. We have decades of legal experience in high-conflict divorces.

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