Welcome to my narcissism advice column in which readers ask me questions and I do my best to answer them. Note that although I know a lot about narcissism personally and professionally, I am not a trained therapist.


I have to keep living with my narcissistic husband after I tell him I want a divorce until a parenting plan is established. How do I make it through this and what do I tell the kids (boys 8 and 9)?



Hi March:

First, you have my sympathy, and I’m not pulling punches about how hard this will be.

You need to be strategic before you tell him anything. It may sound strange, but think about how your narc husband would leave you, and use that calculatingly ruthless self-advocacy to protect you and your kids.

Seek legal counsel if you haven’t already. Try to document his abusive behavior as much as possible and try to get others who know you and him to vouch for you in writing. Be careful about who you approach for this kind of support, however, as most people do not understand narcissism and may dismiss much of what you tell them, especially if your husband is sneaky about hiding his true nature and looking like a great guy.

Seek support and advice from a therapist who is trained in dealing with narcissistic personality disorder. As I have said before, therapists unfamiliar with the complex and insidious realities of narcissism can do more harm than good.

Once you tell your husband he may do some or all of the following:

  1. Attempt to hoover you into staying with promises of self-rehabilitation. He might put on his best behavior or offer to go to counseling.
  2. Rage, punish, and threaten you, utilizing all he knows about your vulnerabilities to break you down and assert power in the situation. For example, if money is a worry, he will try to exploit that.
  3. He may try to turn the kids against you in various ways. He might, for example, tell them that mommy is destroying the family.
  4. He might lawyer up hard, string you through the courts blaming you for all the marital problems, attempt to take the kids away, and/or try to crush you financially. Often narcissists who aren’t particularly interested in their kids suddenly become super dad to “win” in court and hurt you. Since he is losing his number one source of supply—you—he will likely look more to the kids to serve that need, for a while.

As for living with your husband in the interim, probably your best approach is to go gray rock—not react to his promises or antagonisms, not argue, not fight, not reveal your true thoughts or emotions. The less leverage you give him to hurt you the better. Try to set up a schedule where you see each other as little as possible. And establish physical and emotional boundaries, documenting any ways in which he violates them.

What you tell your kids depends on their maturity levels, personalities, and relationships with you and your husband. They will need reassurance that you love them and that the situation isn’t their fault or responsibility. Since you are the stable safe parent in their lives, they may take you for granted and seek to placate your husband. Older kids may vent their deepest fears and worries with you.

I believe strongly in honesty with children, but you have to be careful about telling kids, especially at their  age, too much that could get back to your husband.

These articles may be helpful:

People leave narcissists all the time, and you will get through this. Kids are resilient, and having one good parent is a powerful thing. You are brave to leave. Watch your back.

NOTE: My narcissism advice is just that—advice—and should not take the place of professional help—legal, therapeutic, or otherwise.

Have a question for me? Email me at contact@julialhall.com.

Need to talk? I offer coaching services for people struggling with narcissism-related problems.

Julie L. Hall’s articles on narcissism regularly appear in The Huffington Post and PsychCentral. She is the author of a forthcoming memoir about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissistic family (read excerpts). 

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Image courtesy of PROJD Hancock, Creative Commons.