If your spouse is a narcissist, you may need to set boundaries, even if you’re already going through the divorce process.
“That’s Your Decision”
People who are suffering from narcissistic personality disorder love giving ultimatums: “If you do this, I’m leaving you,” “If you do that, I’m not coming over,” “If you do this, I’m gonna cause problems.” They do this to put you under pressure. People with narcissistic personality disorder are generally very good at reading people. They’re superficially charming, and they generally know how to get people to reveal their true desires. Once they know what a person wants, they’re able to leverage it to their advantage: “If you go out with your friends, I’ll leave you.” Responding with, “that’s your decision” can be effective for two reasons. First, it shows the person with narcissistic traits that they are the ones choosing the consequences. Second, it shows them that you are okay with whatever those consequences are, because that person doesn’t have any real power over you. You’re going to do what you want to do, not something that their ultimatums are forcing you to do.
“I Will Be Unavailable during This Time.”
If you don’t live with a person who’s suffering from NPD, but you have a person who’s suffering from NPD in your life, you probably know that they need constant texting, calling, and messaging. Sometimes, the pressure to reply can seem overwhelming, and you may be dreaming of just turning off your phone and forgetting it all. And you probably should do just that. Pick a handful of times that you’re willing to converse with the person that is causing you stress and let them know that you will be unavailable at other times. Here’s an example: “My bed time is 9:00 pm, so if you call or text past that time, I won’t be able to respond until 8:00 am the next morning.” Remember, nobody is entitled to your time or timely responses—especially when you don’t work for them! Outline your boundaries and stick to them.
“I Am Going to Hang up Now.”
Got a person with NPD screaming at you on the other end of the phone? If so, it can be frustrating to keep your cool, especially if the person with NPD knows how to get a reaction out of you—and chances are, they do. Whatever you do, it’s important to stay calm. A person with NPD wants you to lose your cool. They feed off of getting a reaction out of you, if they can make you lose your cool, that’s great for them. Whether they’re pushing, or prodding, or flying off the handle, letting them know the conversation is over, then ending it, can save you a world of trouble. Eventually they’ll stop behaving badly over the phone because your boundaries will have taught them that doing so ends the conversation. Alternatives to “I am going to hang up the phone now” include: “I have to go now. I will talk to you again soon,” and “If you continue to act this way, I am going to hang up the phone.”
“I Am Not Going to Discuss this with You.”
Those with NPD have a habit of pursuing forbidden topics, and beating long-dead horses. Letting them know that you’re not willing to have this conversation with them can serve as a warning. Imagine the nosy mother-in-law who can’t stop pestering her daughter’s husband about children: “The clock really is ticking, though. Shouldn’t you be thinking about children or IVF?” Instead of gently reminding your mother-in-law for the ten billionth time that you and your wife are infertile, reminding her instead that you’d rather not discuss it may be a better way to ensure it doesn’t come up another two billion times. Other polite but firm ways to say it include: “The conversation is off-limits,” and “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“That Isn’t Going to Work for Me.”
Nothing is a bigger power-flex than getting people to do whatever the person with NPD wants. Can you lend me $1,000? Can you go pick up the kids from school every day? Can I borrow your car for the next six months? They’re often shameless when it comes to asking for favors and the favors are usually pretty large. Letting them know upfront and in no uncertain terms that their proposed arrangements don’t work for you can help prevent you from getting pushed around. However, if you do want to help out, but can’t meet their terms, you can offer an alternative solution. For example: “I can’t pick the kids up everyday, but I can pick them up on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.”
When You’re Ending Your Marriage
If you’re ready to file for divorce, CoilLaw is here for you. Contact us today to get started with your initial consultation.