Divorcing the Psychopath

(I wrote this article for a fantastic website, X2X Community, that helps people navigate divorce and all that goes along with it.) 

 

Going through a divorce can be heartbreaking, frustrating and flat-out devastating. Going through a divorce with a psychopath or narcissist can be all of the above plus a whole other level of hell because you are dealing with a completely unpredictable human being who experiences zero remorse, zero empathy and has zero conscience. But it doesn’t have to be. I learned very quickly while divorcing my own psychopath that certain techniques can make all the difference.
 
You see, while a “normal” person understands the life altering ramifications of a divorce (on finances, lifestyle, his children’s lives, etc.) a psychopath only sees the divorce as one thing: a game. A game that he wants to win. Because it’s fun for him. That’s all. He doesn’t actually care about the money, the 401Ks, the kids, the properties. He only wants to win this game and/or make you miserable in the process.
 
The psychopath has an extremely limited emotional range but he is an expert at causing emotional and financial devastation. Once you can wrap your mind around this concept, that the psychopath has no true emotional investment in the process (other than to win), you can start to carefully play him at his own game.  Here are some techniques and behaviors that I learned worked first hand. 
 
Don’t engage…except to stroke his ego
What?? Stroke his ego?? The man who tried to destroy every facet of your life? The man who threw you away like yesterday’s trash? Yes, that’s correct. You’re dealing with some messed up shit when you’re dealing with a psychopath and accordingly my first piece of advice is a bit messed up.
 
I read every article I could find on divorcing psychopaths and narcissists and they all said to not engage, to not feed into drama, to let things roll off your back as much as possible, but not one gave this little tidbit of advice: once in awhile, throw him an ego bone, make him feel he’s in control. This is what he wants, to feel in control and to revel in your anguish, and so in the name of getting rid of the psychopath as quickly and painlessly as possible, give him what he wants.
 
I am talking very small scale gestures. Let me use an example from my own divorce. My psychopath and I got married and lived in New York, but when his “mask” came off and my reality crumbled, right after the birth of our daughter, I fled to Maine to be near family. I was told by my lawyer right away that if I could establish residency in Maine (i.e. live in Maine for six months), the divorce could take place in Maine which would be extremely beneficial for me and my daughter. Divorcing in NYC is a lengthy and arduous process and getting full custody of my daughter would be much more likely in a Maine court. 

My lawyer’s advice: "Keep things calm for six months...maintain the status quo." A huge challenge considering how unstable everything felt at the time and the unpredictable nature of my ex-husband. The physical distance from him was helpful and I followed the "Do not engage" as much as possible, but once in awhile, if things were too quiet on my end, his ego would flare up out of nowhere. Suddenly, I would receive a barrage of nonsensical, aggressive texts. I found that the only way to placate him was to stroke his ego in some way, such as a text that hinted at how badly I was doing, i.e. let him think he’s winning. We made it through the six months and I was able to file in Maine.
 
Document EVERYTHING
We live in a time where almost all communication is transmitted via text, email, snapchat, viber, etc. so take advantage and screenshot anything that could prove important in court. This means if you can show that his words do not match up with his actions or vice versa, screenshot it. If he blatantly lies, screenshot it. If he threatens you in any way, screenshot it. If he shows unsavory character/behavior, screenshot it. You get the point.
 
I was armed with 15 pages of printouts that clearly showed pathological lying, emotional/verbal abuse, and physical threats. Luckily, my lawyer never had to present them in court because I was granted full custody based on abandonment but the bailiff read them all and did not allow me in the courtroom with my ex (which was a huge relief).
 
Because the psychopath is extremely charming and believable in person and thrives on the drama of a courtroom, having these printouts could end up being crucial in showing the judge what your ex partner really is. Notice I said “showing” instead of “telling.” The more you can show a lack of empathy/conscience/moral character and the less you use words like “psychopath” “narcissist” or “sociopath,” the better. I was frustrated when I received this advice, but I now understand that judges hear these words thrown out by divorcing partners a lot. Sometimes it’s merited, but sometimes it’s not so let the evidence speak for itself. 
 
Be boring
This is similar to “don’t engage” but it deserves to be elaborated on because it is a crucial component to not only getting through this divorce but also to your future happiness. He will send you dramatic texts. He will provoke you out of nowhere. If he is running low on narcissist supply, he will push your emotional buttons in the hopes of stirring up some drama. He feeds on drama, rage and causing you emotional pain. You need to starve him out so that he will move on to another supply. 
This goes deeper than just not responding (except, once again, to let him think he’s in control once in awhile). This means be boring in all facets of life for the time being. Do not post on social media, do not fraternize or gossip with mutual friends. Tell your close friends and family also to be boring and not engage him in anyway. 

Yes, I know this advice sucks and it’s not right considering everything he’s already put you through, but you are dealing with a freaking psychopath. He is unpredictable and he will never react in the way you expect (i.e. the way you expect a normal human being with emotions to react).
 
During this time period, find your support system of family and close friends and lean on them. Get a lawyer who understands and/or has dealt with these disordered individuals. 
 
Most importantly, breathe in and out and know that you will get through this and you will find happiness, unlike the psychopath who never will.