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Illinois Divorce: Surviving a spouse who has narcissistic personality traits

Surviving a marriage with a spouse who has narcissistic personality traits can be incredibly challenging. Many of my cases through the years have involved the opposing spouse with traits of NPD, or BPD, or traits of comorbidity of both. Here are some strategies to help navigate this difficult situation:

1. Educate Yourself

  • Understanding Narcissism: Learn about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) to understand the behaviors and traits associated with it.
  • Recognize Patterns: Identify common behaviors such as manipulation, lack of empathy, need for admiration, and controlling tendencies.
  • From my colleague at, Rando Kreger:You may have someone with narcissistic personality disorder in your life if:
    • They do or say mean things to you in a careless or vengeful way if they’re mad
    • They only talk about themselves
    • They have a never ending need for admiration and attention
    • They have no empathy
    • They’re arrogant, entitled, and think they’re superior
    • They’re the victim and everything is someone else’s fault


2. Set Boundaries

  • Establish Limits: Clearly define what behaviors are unacceptable and stick to these boundaries.
  • Consistent Enforcement: Consistently enforce these boundaries to protect your emotional well-being.

3. Focus on Self-Care

  • Emotional Health: Engage in activities that nurture your emotional well-being, such as therapy, hobbies, and socializing with supportive friends and family.
  • Physical Health: Maintain a healthy lifestyle through regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep.

4. Develop a Support System

  • Seek Professional Help: Consider therapy or counseling for yourself to gain perspective and coping strategies.
  • Support Groups: Join support groups for partners of narcissists to share experiences and gain support.

5. Effective Communication

  • Assertive Communication: Communicate your needs and boundaries assertively and calmly.
  • Avoid Triggers: Recognize topics or behaviors that trigger negative responses and try to avoid them when possible.

6. Manage Expectations

  • Realistic Expectations: Accept that you may not be able to change your spouse’s behavior and focus on managing your reactions and expectations.
  • Celebrate Small Wins: Recognize and appreciate small improvements or positive interactions.

7. Plan for Safety

  • Safety Plan: If the relationship becomes abusive or unsafe, have a plan in place to leave the situation quickly and safely.
  • Legal Advice: Consult with an NPD-experienced legal professional (as is our Firm) to understand your rights and options if you decide to leave the marriage.

8. Consider Long-Term Decisions

  • Evaluate the Relationship: Regularly assess the health and viability of the marriage.
  • Contingency Planning: Have a plan for financial independence and living arrangements if you decide to end the marriage.

Additional Tips

  • Gray Rock Method: Respond in a bland, non-reactive way to minimize drama and conflict.
  • Limit Contact: If possible, reduce the amount of time spent in confrontational situations.
  • Document Incidents: Keep a record of abusive or manipulative behaviors for your own reference or potential legal use.

It’s essential to prioritize your mental and emotional health. If the situation becomes too damaging, seeking a safe way out of the marriage may be the best option for your well-being.


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