Why a Narcissist Won’t Divorce You? (25+ Reasons Why)

From a narcissist’s perspective, divorce is often not an option. But what would be the reason behind this?

Is it because they’re so focused on themselves that they cannot see what’s best for anyone else? Or maybe it’s to maintain control over those around them?

According to experts, here are the reasons why your narcissistic partner won’t divorce you.

Christy Piper

Christy Piper

Coach and Speaker | Author, “Girl, You Deserve More

They’ve already tested you out and trained you

Once a narcissist vets someone out for marriage, they don’t want to let that person go. When they marry you, they see you as an ideal supply. They’ve already tested you out and trained you how they want.

Related: 25+ Signs You Are in a Narcissistic Relationship

Once they have you figured out, why go through the effort to start over again and train someone else? A narcissist’s spouse serves a particular purpose: Just because a narcissist marries you doesn’t mean they don’t want other people.

But just because narcissists cheat doesn’t mean they want to replace you. They choose the different people in their life to serve a purpose. A narcissist’s spouse is the ultimate punching bag. They take all the hits.

They are using you for emotional supply

When narcissists have a terrible day, they take it out on their spouses. They are using you for emotional supply when they treat you badly. This gives them a temporary hit of relief by putting their negative energy on another person.

It takes a lot of time for a narcissist to find a nice person like you

It takes a lot of time for a narcissist to find a nice person like you who will take their crap. They are also likely using you for your money resources or using money to control you if they are the breadwinner.

They already have this dynamic down with you. So they don’t want to break what is working for them. The divorce needs to be their idea: Narcissists don’t like to give you what you want.

They feel like you are rejecting them

If the divorce was your idea, they will make it as long, hard, and drawn out as possible, so you don’t get what you want. They also hate rejection. If divorce is your idea, they feel like you are rejecting them.

Related: How Does a Narcissist Handle Rejection and No Contact

A narcissist knows it’s their last chance to control you

This is a massive trigger for a narcissist. It will upset them, and they will make you suffer for this. The last hurrah: A narcissist knows it’s their last chance to control you. Because once the divorce is granted, they have no legal ties to you anymore.

So during this time, they will do whatever it takes to make your life miserable. A narcissist will not go for this if you have a simple win-win settlement that you think is fair and easier for both of you. They would rather prolong it and not make the deal.

They will do everything to hurt you, even if it hurts them more, even if it’s a worse financial decision. When they don’t get what they want, a narcissist will ruin themselves for just a chance to hurt someone else.

They may pretend to be cooperative in the beginning

They’ll say they will settle it fairly, and you don’t need a lawyer. Don’t fall for this. They are just trying to get the advantage, so you are ill-prepared.

They are throwing you off guard, so they can get what they want more accessible. They don’t want anyone helping you. They don’t want you to get what you deserve.

They do not like what’s fair, no matter what they tell you. They also want to wear you out, so you give up. Then they get the excellent terms they want.

Hire a good lawyer and be prepared

The best way to get a divorce from a narcissist is to be prepared. Hire a good lawyer, get a coach specializing in narcissistic abuse, have good financial reserves, and be ready for the long haul. You will eventually get what you want if you persevere. Stay strong.

Dr. Cali Estes, PhD, MCAP, MAC, ICADC

Cali Estes

Psychologist | Cognitive Behavioral Therapist | Founder, The Addictions Coach

A narcissist has several personality quirks and objectives that make it very difficult to divorce.

Their experience is authentic no matter how out of touch with reality

The first one is that their experience is authentic no matter how out of touch with reality. That means they don’t think that anyone would actually divorce them, nor would they even sign the paperwork because, in their mind, it’s not something that could possibly happen.

They don’t believe that other people have free will

They don’t generally believe that other people have free will and can come and go as they please; they think their reality is everyone’s reality.

If you were to try to divorce a narcissist, they would blame you for everything that went wrong in the relationship. They would:

  • try to empty the bank account
  • take the house
  • get full custody of the kids
  • ruin you and your career
  • make everybody in the town think that you cheated
  • look like you were a drug addict
  • make everyone believe you did something horrendous to the family

Because in their reality, they can’t be wrong, so they will completely destroy you when you try to exit.

They want everyone to know that it was your fault by punishing your family

This leads to the second reason, including the punishment factor from the first.

The narcissist will bully not only the spouse but the children, the family of the spouse, and even if that spouse finds a new significant other down the line, whether it’s one year or ten years later, they will even try to bully the spouse’s boyfriend, girlfriend, or new significant other.

They will continue to torment the spouse and the entire family around them as long as they see fit, even if they remarry and find someone else. The idea of punishment will be lifelong, and this will be because you left them, and they want everyone to still know that it was your fault.

They always feel that they must win and be right

A narcissist must win. They not only must win, but they must also be right. And we all know you cannot always win and be right at the same time.

If they feel they will lose, they will put insurmountable pressure on everyone around them to ensure they win, and they will stop at nothing until they do so.

This may include hiring a private investigator to track the spouse trying to divorce them and planting evidence to show that they are cheating, using drugs, or have mental health issues.

They may go as far as to videotape arguments with their spouse and make them public to ensure everyone knows they’ve been wronged.

They do not want to give up control over their spouse

Once a narcissist feels like they’re giving up control, they will try to convince everyone around them that the person divorcing them has mental health issues and should be put in a mental health institution or incarcerated.

They may file fake police reports after they have injured themselves and blame it on the person filing for divorce. They will do everything they can to discredit the person divorcing them, from ruining their career to home life, with reckless abandon.

If you try to divorce a narcissist, you will have to think of changing your name and moving clear across the country so they cannot find you; even after you do that, they may still find you.

Carrie Mead, LCPC

Carrie Mead

Psychotherapist, Maryland Therapy by Carrie

In my experience as a mental health therapist, I rarely work with someone who has narcissistic traits because, as the saying goes, narcissists don’t come to therapy! However, we can make some assumptions about why they don’t initiate divorces.

Narcissists are overwhelmingly male-identified

Firstly, narcissists are overwhelmingly male-identified, and women initiate divorce on average 2/3 of the time. This combination of statistics gives us some idea about why a narcissist won’t initiate divorce.

Narcissists enjoy conflict and feelings of superiority

Beyond this, narcissists enjoy conflict, strife, negative attention, and feelings of superiority. When a marriage is in crisis, all of those elements exist, and therefore, a narcissist is in their comfort zone.

Furthermore, when the narcissist feels they have control of you — physically, emotionally, or financially — they have achieved the perfect scenario for his ego, so why would they let that go?

Narcissists thrive in conditions most of us seek to avoid at all costs.

Due to the narcissists’ inflated ego

Lastly, due to the narcissists’ inflated ego and their innate misperception that they are unique, they are acutely unaware that a divorce is a tempting option for their partner.

The narcissist simply cannot imagine why you would want to leave them, nor, of course, do they think you would be able to do so.

Narcissists are simply preoccupied with their own needs

For all of these reasons, narcissists do not initiate divorce. They are simply preoccupied with their own needs, and as a result, they completely ignore the state of the marriage or their partner’s needs.

Narcissists feel so entitled and too special

They feel so entitled and too special to imagine that someone would ever want to leave them (after all, they are perfect), and they do not believe you can maneuver past their tricks and lies.

James Miller

James Miller

Licensed Psychotherapist, James Miller Lifeology | Host & Executive Producer, “LIFEOLOGY®” Radio

Narcissists are labeled to be entitled or dramatic

Most individuals familiar with narcissists can often become overwhelmed or struggle to self-advocate as they become overly frustrated with the narcissist.

Every narcissist will present differently. In the DSM-V, a narcissist is part of three clusters of personality disorders. They are categorized in the B Cluster.

In this cluster, you will find Borderline, Antisocial, and Histrionic personality disorders. This cluster is often labeled entitled or dramatic.

They disprove what the other person says

One of the significant attributes of a narcissist is to push another’s buttons or disprove what the other person says or any value that the other person may have.

It’s continually being right or focusing on something that was not up to par, even if what the other person has said is true. It’s well known they will minimize or present that they are doing the other person a favor by being in their presence.

There is a significant power differential in a relationship

When a narcissist is in a relationship with someone, there is a significant power differential. Most partners of a narcissist will often display symptoms of an anxious attachment.

Related: The 4 Different Types of Attachment Styles

The more the narcissist pulls away, the more the anxious partner will be triggered to fix the relationship or “do better.” Unfortunately, this creates a very toxic relationship.

They will belittle to such a degree that the person may stay in the relationship

When a partner has decided to leave, their attempt will often be thwarted as the narcissist will berate and belittle to such a degree that the person may cave and stay in the relationship.

They are experiencing Narcissistic Injury

The person does not realize that the narcissist is experiencing a Narcissistic Injury. This injury is blatant proof that the partner in some way is better than or could do better with another or that there is a form of weakness/deficit in the narcissist.

Narcissistic Injuries are the leading cause for many narcissists not divorcing. If they can make life miserable for the person who wants to leave them, they are disproving any deficit inflicted or implied about the narcissist; what was said about them or what they did was incorrect.

They will never forget what was done and will wait to eradicate the person

If a person were to injure the narcissist in this way, it could backfire, as that narcissist will never forget what was done and will wait until they can eradicate the person who crossed them.

This is why many people wanting to divorce a narcissist are unsuccessful in either leaving or having the narcissist sign the divorce decree.

If a person were to leave the narcissist, the best approach is to minimize the narcissistic injury by taking the “blame” for the relationship not working and allowing the narcissist to exit gracefully.

Dr. Sanam Hafeez

Sanam Hafeez

Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Comprehend The Mind

Narcissists are self-centered, egotistical, manipulative people who crave control with years of manipulation, emotional abuse, and sometimes even physical abuse — many wonders why narcissists will not divorce their partners.

Narcissists don’t want to lose control of the person

Simply put, narcissists don’t want to lose control of the person they believe they already do. Narcissists disregard other people’s interests and only care about what makes them feel content.

It fuels narcissists’ ego knowing their partner is triggered by them

They also thrive off drama. It fuels a narcissist’s ego knowing their partner gets triggered by their actions. A narcissist will create chaos via extensive amounts of legal documents, fake “emergency” hearings, and other manipulative tactics to emotionally abuse their partner.

Related: Warning Signs of a Manipulative Partner

Sharing is not caring when it comes to a narcissist. Have you ever witnessed a child fighting to take the last piece of cake and not eat it once it’s theirs?

We can compare a narcissist to that child. They would much rather spend copious amounts of money on a lawyer than bear the thought of splitting anything with their spouse.

Narcissists don’t want to see their partners move on

Revenge is another focal point of why a narcissist won’t divorce you. Even if a narcissist has moved on, they don’t want to see their partner move on. By starting a new chapter, the narcissist takes it as the closing to their book.

A perfect image is essential in their playbook

The world stops spinning around the narcissist. A perfect image is essential in a narcissist’s playbook, and going through a divorce is a sour spot. To defend their so-called “perfect image,” a narcissist stalls out the divorce and blames their partner for everything.

Dr. Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.

Laurie Hollman

Psychoanalyst, Choosing Therapy | Author, “Are You Living with a Narcissist?

They prided themselves on admiration and greed

A narcissist who prided themselves on admiration and greed would never allow divorce proceedings that humiliated them and led to sharing their assets.

They would disparage any attacks against themselves, only believing they were the supreme authority on marriage, despite the cruel words they rendered in their relationship.

Underlying fears of emptiness would not allow them to cut ties with their anchoring spouse. Spurious arguments would persist in denying any fault of their own diminishing their overbearing self-regard.

They would fear being alone as an outcast

Unconsciously, they would fear being alone as an outcast, removed from the grandeur of their imagination. Due to fear of madness, they would unleash rage their partner accused them of gaslighting their spouse’s self-concept.

Carla Corelli

Carla Corelli

Narcissistic Abuse Survivor | Mental Health Blogger

The narcissist’s reaction to divorce depends on whose idea it was in the first place. If the narcissist initiated the process, it means they already have some new victim waiting in the wings, ready to take your place.

If it is you who decided to pull the plug on the relationship, then the narcissist will use every manipulation tactic in their playbook to try and convince you to stay.

Related: Things Narcissists Say to Get You Back

There are a few key reasons why a narcissist won’t let go of someone even if the relationship is over:

Narcissists see divorce as an affront to their ego

Narcissists need constant validation and approval from others. They will do whatever it takes to avoid the perception that they are somehow flawed or deficient.

Narcissists view divorce as a competition

They are determined to come out on top, even if it means destroying you. This is why they are often so vicious and vindictive during divorce proceedings.

They want to make sure that they come out looking like the better person, even if it means dragging their ex-spouse through the mud and hurting their children.

Narcissists need to keep you to maintain their supply of narcissism

This is the emotional fuel they need to prop up their fragile egos. Without you, they would have to face the painful reality of their own inadequacies. This is why they often try to delay the divorce process or drag it out as long as possible.

AJ Silberman-Moffitt

AJ Silberman-Moffitt

Senior Editor, Tandem

Though I am happily married now, I have been married before. That marriage ended in divorce, which was quick and easy for my ex-husband and me.

For others, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the narcissist in your relationship doesn’t want to divorce you. If you are unhappy in the relationship, why would a narcissist want to prolong this?

Narcissists are self-involved

People with narcissistic tendencies are very self-involved. They believe that the world revolves around them. They can’t find fault with themselves, which often means they won’t see the same problems in a marriage that their spouse sees.

Narcissists need love and admiration

Due to narcissists’ need for love and affection, they may decline to get a divorce as they equate marriage with love. They won’t see marital problems for what they are; instead, they may mistakenly think that this is how all marriages work.

Narcissists feel entitled

Someone who feels as entitled as a narcissist might think it’s their right to be married. It won’t matter to them how their spouse feels, because to them, it’s only about them, their feelings, and what they think is rightfully theirs.

Instead of thinking of you as an equal partner, they may think of you as a possession.

Narcissists have an inflated ego

Because the ego of a narcissist is so inflated, they will likely think that they are perfect (or close to it) and, for this reason, their marriage must be perfect as well.

If you are married to a narcissist but want to get a divorce, there is still hope. Depending on the state you live in, many have no-fault divorces. This means you can cite irreconcilable differences as the reason for wanting to divorce.

Additionally, even if your spouse refuses to sign divorce paperwork, that doesn’t mean divorce isn’t possible. Contact an attorney for proper legal advice on how you can get a divorce.

Most importantly, if you are being abused — physically, mentally, or in any way — you need to remove yourself from an abusive situation.

If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website.

Dr. Brenda Wade

Brenda Wade

Clinical Psychologist | Relationship Advisor, Online For Love

Narcissists never want to admit any form of failure

In a nutshell, a narcissist never wants to admit any form of failure. Narcissists want to have the world believe (and themselves) that their world is perfect and they are in charge of it; they are in control of it.

Narcissists want to look good and feel powerful

Narcissists, above all, want to look good to everyone and feel powerful. They want to show that they are in control, they have the power, and everyone should look up to them.

Narcissists don’t want to feel like something didn’t work

A divorce means a loss of power. It also represents that something didn’t work, and narcissists don’t want to feel like something didn’t work. If their partner is the one to leave them, then the thought that they could have done something wrong is a narcissist’s worst nightmare.

Alena Scigliano, M.S.Ed., LPC

Alena Scigliano

Licensed Psychotherapist | Founder, Coastal Light Counseling & Psychotherapy

Narcissists’ dysfunctional behaviors are controlled by fear

Narcissists operate within the realm of fear. All of their dysfunctional behaviors are initiated by and controlled by fear.

The most common human response to fear (anxiety) is trying to take control, which is precisely what pathological narcissists do in their relationships. They do their best to feel in control so that they can experience as little fear as possible.

Related: How to Make a Narcissist Fear You

Narcissists fear feeling shame

The surface fear might be that of looking bad in front of others — being judged by others — or not having their partner around to make them feel good about themselves (i.e., providing a narcissistic supply).

The underlying fear, though, is that of feeling shame. Because narcissists do not have self-awareness or insight into the inner workings of their minds, they won’t be aware that the above is what they will be thinking or feeling.

They will experience a stress response that perceives the idea of divorce as a threat to themselves. It catalyzes an instinctual reaction — likely of trying to take control, usually by denying their partner the option to divorce them.

Keresse Thompson, LCSW

Keresse Thompson

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Therapeutic Healing by Reese | Podcast, “Diary of An Empath” Host

Because narcissists need supplies

They will get them from someone else if they aren’t getting them from you. And most of the time, they have multiple sources of supply. They need to manipulate and control to gain the supply that they need. Narcissistic traits can 100% fall on a spectrum.

But true narcissists always show the same patterns of behaviors:

  • Narcissists don’t have empathy, although the scary thing is that they can come off like they do if it benefits them somehow.
  • Narcissists view relationships like a phone; when they need it, they pick it up; when they are done, they put it down; when it breaks, they get a new one.

Relationships are just a utility to serve their needs. Do they truly love? No. But most have deeply routed trauma and are deeply insecure. Most never seek out therapy unless forced.

Mel Williams

Mel Williams

Relationship Expert | Lifestyle Coach, Healing Is Sexy

They know how they need a supply source to feed into their ego

Every narcissist needs a supply, someone willing to stick around and put up with their behavior on the good and especially their worst days. They typically won’t suggest breaking up or divorcing because they know how badly they need a supply source to feed into their ego.

Whether it’s putting you down, exercising manipulative control over you, or just being able to say “I’ve got someone at home who puts up with me” to their buddies, it’s never about you when it comes to a narcissist. Only about whatever need your presence in their life is supplying.

A common tell-tale sign of a narcissist is love bombing and rushing towards commitment because they will idolize you initially. But it won’t be long before they project the same harsh internal criticism they subject themselves to on you.

It gives them a quick escape or excuse for their behavior

Narcissists know there’s something “not normal” about how they move through life, but they blame all of that on others. Staying married to a spouse gives them a quick escape or excuse for their behavior when things go south.

A spouse who tries to appease the narcissist will only make the trauma bonding much more vital, and this is where trying to leave the narcissist can become dangerous.

Alan Ahdoot

Alan Ahdoot

Legal Specialist, Adamson Ahdoot LLP

They’re unconcerned with the happiness of others

Narcissists are only concerned with their own happiness. They’re completely unconcerned with the happiness of others. In fact, in their minds, other people’s happiness gets in the way of their own pursuit of happiness.

So, therefore, they will do whatever is in their power to disrupt someone else’s happiness. That includes an estranged spouse.

In theory, a divorce frees someone to move on following a failed marriage. If your path is more straightforward than the narcissist you’ve married, then the narcissist will do all they can to prevent you from moving on — even if that means not granting a divorce.

It’s about jealousy and spite

This may be an extreme case, but narcissists are prone to extreme behavior. Their behavior is the most extreme toward those who have rejected them. That’s how a bitter divorce often feels — like a painstaking rejection.

Don’t expect a narcissist to react appropriately in that situation.

Michelle Devani

Michelle Devani

Founder, Love Devani

They hate being rejected and are more hyper-sensitive

In my experience as a relationship expert, narcissists by their lack intimacy with others and a deep interest in themselves. A narcissist appears to be overly intimate, which is why they easily and swiftly transition from dating to marriage.

Even though they frequently fall out of love, they still want their partner to long for them. They inform their partner that the lack of intimacy is their responsibility, so the spouse attempts to perform all these things, only to learn that they have fallen short.

They don’t want a divorce because they hate being rejected and are more hyper-sensitive with themselves and not thinking about others.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does a narcissist regret a breakup?

A narcissist may feel a range of emotions after a breakup, but whether they feel regret depends on the person and the circumstances of the breakup. Narcissists tend to lack empathy and have an inflated sense of self-worth, making it difficult to acknowledge or regret their actions. 

However, they may feel a sense of loss, especially if the relationship provided them with validation, attention, or control. In such cases, regret may relate to their own needs and desires rather than genuine concern for the other person’s well-being.

Can a narcissistic spouse ever change and agree to a divorce?

While it’s possible for anyone to change, it’s important to remember that narcissistic personality disorder is a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior that is unlikely to change quickly or easily.

However, with therapy and a willingness to develop personally, it’s possible for some narcissistic people to develop more empathy and awareness of their impact on others. That being said, it’s important to prioritize your own safety and well-being and not wait for your ex-partner to change before seeking a divorce.

Is there anything I can do to help my narcissistic ex-spouse change their behavior?

Ultimately, it’s up to your ex-spouse to change their behavior, and you cannot control or force them to do so. However, you can model healthy communication and boundaries and encourage them to seek therapy or other professional help if they’re open to it. It’s important that you prioritize your own well-being and safety and don’t allow or tolerate abusive or harmful behavior.

How do I deal with manipulation tactics used by my partner?

Recognizing manipulative tendencies within conversations is important—try reminding yourself why certain situations are happening in order to keep track of the underlying issue. Additionally, understanding boundaries and self-respecting one’s limitations serves as a great building block for navigating relationships without feeling manipulated.

How can I protect myself during a divorce from a narcissistic spouse?

Dealing with a narcissistic spouse during a divorce can be very challenging, but there are some steps you can take to protect yourself:

• Seeking out a therapist or counselor to help you deal with the emotional aftermath of divorce
• Hiring a competent divorce attorney who has experience dealing with high-conflict divorces and narcissistic personalities
• Avoiding engaging in arguments or power struggles with your ex-partner
• Setting firm boundaries and sticking to them, for example, by not responding to abusive emails or text messages
• Documenting all communications and interactions with your ex-partner in case you need evidence in court
• Focusing on your self-care and well-being by getting enough rest, eating healthy, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.

How can I navigate co-parenting with a narcissistic ex-spouse?

Co-parenting with a narcissistic ex-spouse can be particularly challenging, but there are some strategies that can help ease the situation for you, including:

• Setting clear boundaries and expectations for communication and behavior
• Communicating through a neutral third party, such as a parenting coordinator or mediator
• Documenting all communication and interaction for possible use in court
• Focusing on the needs and well-being of your children rather than your own feelings or desires
• Encouraging your children to have a positive relationship with the other parent while setting appropriate boundaries and safeguards for their safety and emotional health.

Can a narcissistic spouse be successfully co-parented with?

While it may be difficult, it’s possible to co-parent successfully with a narcissistic ex-spouse if both parties are willing to work together and put the best interests of their children first. It’s important to set clear boundaries and expectations for communication and behavior and to seek the support of a therapist or mediator if needed. 

However, if your ex-partner’s narcissism makes effective co-parenting impossible, it may be necessary to seek sole custody or limit contact with your children.

How can I move on after divorcing a narcissistic spouse?

Divorcing a narcissistic spouse can be a long and difficult process, but there are ways to move on and heal. Some strategies you can consider are:

• Engaging in therapy or counseling to help you process your feelings and build your resilience
• Seeking support from friends, family, or a support group for survivors of narcissistic abuse
• Focusing on self-care and activities that bring you joy and fulfillment
• Letting go of any feelings of guilt or shame you have about the divorce
• Rebuilding your sense of self-worth and autonomy
• Avoid any contact with your ex-partner that isn’t necessary for co-parenting or legal matters.

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