Coparenting with a Narcissist
A person with narcissistic personality disorder has a veneer of generosity and kindness, but after marrying him*, when you really get to know each other, you discover that’s not who he is at all.
A narcissist controls and manipulates his spouse. But at first, this behavior seems so at odds with the person you thought you knew, that you feel confused, convincing yourself it’s nothing. Once the convincing becomes harder to do, the anger settles in.
Day in and day out, he dismissed your truth in favor of the “truth” he made up for you. Then he blamed you for how your “truth” made him feel.
Even after treating you poorly, he was confused when you didn’t feel like putting on a smile and happily meeting his needs. And that was on a good day.
On a bad day, he had a temper when you didn’t do what he thought you should. He would emotionally attack, verbally abuse, and possibly even get physical with you if you weren’t behaving the way he expected.
And the time suck! Your Ex demanded your attention regardless of the space you needed or what plans you had. He wanted every minute of your time to be spent with him or on activities he approved of.
Living with your narcissistic Ex was hell. And divorcing a narcissist is never easy. But that’s over. Now you’re on your own.
Yet your Ex isn’t completely out of your life. You still need to interact with him because you have children together. But coparenting with a narcissist isn’t easy either.
But there is some good news . . .
Now that you’re divorced, you’re not with your Ex all the time. You have some space to breathe and think without the persistent and all-consuming fear of how he will react.
You can choose to use this separateness to your benefit. Maybe this breather can give you perspective, so you can work on making yourself strong and becoming realistic about how your Ex is going to continue to behave.
He isn’t going to change—unless he embarks on an arduous and lengthy journey of healing.
It’s important to keep in mind how his personality is affecting your children. When your kids spend time with their other parent, whom they yearn to love and be loved by, they’re stepping back onto a minefield.
Coparenting with a narcissist means that you have to be the calm, reasonable, and affectionate parent. Narcissism prevents your Ex from reliably being an empathetic and nurturing parent. Your Ex’s focus is on his own experience and not your children’s.
As you continue thinking about coparenting with a narcissist, you’ll find yourself asking some serious and important questions:
How do you coparent effectively knowing that your Ex is always out to discredit and blame you—even in front of your children?
The truth is coparenting with a narcissist isn’t possible in the truest sense of the term “coparenting.” A narcissist is incapable of the collaboration and respect required to successfully coparent. He will always be looking out for his own interests regardless of what your children need. And because he isn’t able to put the children first, a narcissist can’t coparent.
The only way to share parenting responsibilities with a narcissist is to let him do his own thing while you do yours.
You must also be ready to help your children deal with the confusion they will have after spending time with or even just talking to their other parent.
Which brings up another great question . . .
How do you talk about your Ex with your kids?
This may be challenging, but when you talk about your Ex with your kids, you need to keep your opinions and experiences out of it. Focus on empathetically listening to your children and allowing them the space to come to their own conclusions and guide them into having the healthiest relationship possible with their other parent.
You may need to remind your kids that you are always available if things get to be too tough with their other parent. And you’ll also need to be aware that children are very good at getting what they want. Be on the lookout for your children trying to use your concern for them inappropriately.
How do you model “taking the high road” for your kids?
There’s greater pressure when you’re “coparenting” with a narcissist than if your coparent didn’t have a personality disorder. Not only do you have to deal with a narcissist, but you must be the model parent, so your children can learn what it means to deal with difficulty—how to deal with their other parent, how to be resilient, and how to be a well-adjusted adult.
This means that you aren’t getting sucked into drama with your Ex. That’s not the easiest of tasks since he knows how to play you like a fiddle, but you can start by setting clear boundaries.
When you know what you will and won’t tolerate, you can communicate that to your Ex. Then, when he disrespects those boundaries (as you know he will), you can firmly, calmly, and dispassionately let him know his behavior is unacceptable and that you will now take the appropriate and necessary action to remedy the situation.
These are just some of the questions that will come up with you attempt the court-required coparenting with a narcissist. One of the governing ideas to keep in mind as you continue raising your children together-ish is that your children’s other parent is all about himself.
His behavior and what he says is all about gaining the advantage over you and your children. The more you disengage from him, the more he will struggle to maintain control. However, by persistence and refusing to rise to the bait, you can successfully “coparent” with a narcissist and raise amazing children despite your Ex.
Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the unexpected challenges they face navigating and recovering from divorce. Now, wherever you live, you can secure female-centered support, information, and next steps if you are thinking about/dealing with divorce or recreating your most meaningful life … post-divorce in our virtual divorce support groups for women. Visit here for more information on our group programs dedicated to supporting you through CHANGE.
*For the sake of simplicity, in this article, we will refer to your spouse as “him” or “he” even though we know same-sex marriages exist and your spouse may be a “she,” or you are a man reading this article and your spouse is a “she.”