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Help! I think my spouse is a narcissist


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, also known as DSM-5, a guide to mental illness made available ty by the American Psychiatric Association to guide mental health providers and others in the U.S. identifies narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as a personality disorder that may be characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. You would probably not be surprised to hear that many spouses amid divorce or parenting time disputes may be inclined to think their spouses suffer from this malady, whether there has been any formal diagnosis by a qualified mental health professional. Does it impact your legal matter or your attorney’s approach if your spouse is a narcissist? Let’s discuss.

Of course, a spouse who becomes your adversary in a legal proceeding is likely to appear less than empathetic to your feelings while focusing on his or her own. This may feel quite jarring coming from someone who may have once pledged to love you forever and place your feelings first. Even the offending behavior does emanate from a narcissistic personality disorder, chances are you will not be able to compel your spouse to seek a diagnosis and treatment, and you and your attorney probably will not be able to use it in court.

As with many mental disorders, the degrees of impact of the disorder, if it can be called such, may vary widely. For example, sociopaths, too, lack empathy, but that lack of emotion may not necessarily be so debilitating that the sufferer cannot function in the real world, or will resort to antisocial or criminal behavior. In fact, the ability to disassociate from one’s feelings may make one more effective at one’s job or in coping with emotionally difficult situations. Consider the firefighter who must divorce him or herself from the emotion of fear to enter a burning building to save lives while risking his or her own. Or consider the CEO who must lay off employees to cut costs knowing families will suffer. These people may demonstrate aspects of narcissism or sociopathy, but it may not matter to the judge before whom they may appear.

Because Colorado is a no-fault divorce State, courts are unlikely to divide assets or debts less than equitably or apportion parenting time less than equally simply because one party is a narcissist. Could such a diagnosis impact parenting time? Arguably, not unless the narcissist’s behavior is endangering a child’s mental or physical well-being, and even then, the focus of the court would likely be on the behavior rather than the diagnosis. Could narcissism cause a party to be more difficult to work with in attempting to reach compromise or settlement? Certainly! However, keep in mind that we can all be difficult to work with when we are under stress, personality disorder or no, and domestic relations disputes tend to evoke more stress than most other situations in one’s life.

At The Harris Law Firm, we are used to dealing with people who are under tremendous stress, whether their symptoms derive from personality disorders. It helps to know as much as possible about the parties with whom we are dealing, so feel free to share with your attorney your knowledge of any disorders that may impact decision-making and negotiations while recognizing that you may not be able to assist, treat or cure the suffering of others, but you should be kind to yourself and understanding of others.

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