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My Narcissistic Ex-Husband

Reflections on loving and living with a Narcissist.  Let our experts guide you toward the healing power of moving on and allowing yourself some time in the spotlight.  Get advice on healing from his behavior and finding yourself again.

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There is conflict in every relationship.  In even the most like-minded and egalitarian households there will be disagreement about things.  You let them jump on the furniture, he doesn’t.  He believes in paying allowance for chores, you don’t think your kids should get paid for contributing to the household.  Whether big issues or small, there is always something.  In a healthy relationship there is discussion, compromise, and eventually agreement.  When you’re dealing with a person who is a narcissist, every issue is a big issue, and the solution is their way or the highway.

Narcissism stems from a deep lack of self-esteem and it is valid to worry that your narcissistic partner will trample his children’s confidence, just like he has trampled yours.  Everything a narcissist does is, in their eyes, a reflection of themselves.  It is no different with their children.  Narcissistic parents do not view their children as individual people, but as a way to feed their own egos.  The child’s success is the parent’s success.  The child’s failure is the parent’s failure.  This is a huge pressure on the child.  Not only will the narcissistic parent push the child to succeed, but if the child becomes too successful, the narcissistic parent can view that child’s success as a blow to his own fragile ego.

Manage Your Expectations

When dealing with a high-conflict personality such as a narcissistic partner, you may fear that your ex is trying to turn your kids against you.  You may also worry that your children are picking up some pretty bad character traits.  Those are valid concerns.  Narcissists see their families as a source of narcissistic supply.  When that source of narcissistic supply goes away - whether it is as a result of divorce or just the natural movement of growth - the narcissist will fight back.   Just knowing what you’re dealing with can help you maintain your composure and limit escalation.   Recognize that the narcissist in your life won’t accept blame for anything.  Chances are, the narcissist will shift the blame onto anyone and everyone, rather than take it on himself.

Model Good Behavior

If you’re dealing with children, the conflict that a narcissistic partner causes can be very damaging to them.  Children need role models who exhibit healthy behavior.  If your kids see you giving in to your ex whenever he throws a tantrum - well, is that a lesson you want them to learn?  Showing your children by example how to communicate with their high-conflict parent will come in handy when they grow older and start to have dealings with him themselves.  Even in the best of circumstances, children learn behavior from watching their parents.  Showing your kids that you can maintain your control when dealing with your ex, that you won’t back down in the face of threats and manipulation, will help them thrive and excel when they go out in the world and have to deal with their narcissistic boss or co-workers, or to recognize those characteristics in their potential mates.

Limit Confrontation

Don’t speak ill of your ex in front of or to your kids.  Kids repeat things, as I found out once when talking to a friend about my ex in front of my, then, three-year-old daughter.  Later on, she repeated what I said about my ex to my husband as if I said it about him.  So if you don’t want things to blow up when you’re not expecting them to, remember that grandma taught you not to say anything unless you can say something nice or, in this case, neutral at the worst.

In many cases limiting communications to email can be helpful.  It gives you time to respond without emotion and doesn’t afford an opportunity for conflict.  Tools like Our Family Wizard can be helpful in this respect.  If seeing your ex’s name in your inbox makes you itch, enlist a level-headed friend to help you read them.  Often times an objective set of eyes can read through the BS and aid in forming a cogent response.  If you need to, wait 24 hours before hitting the send button so you can carefully review what you’ve written.  

When you do respond, do so courteously and appropriately.  Do not respond to accusations and vitriol.  Be assertive, but not aggressive.  There is a difference.  Being assertive means setting appropriate, realistic personal boundaries and maintaining those boundaries.  Being aggressive will only create more conflict.  Remember, your narcissistic ex thrives on conflict.  Where there is none, he will create some.  If you try to reason with him, he will twist your words and your actions and use them against you.  He is not above using your children as weapons in his arsenal.  Whatever he lobs at you, do your best not to return it.  It is important to maintain emotional distance.  In many cases, simply not engaging is the best strategy.  Not engaging conveys that you will not allow yourself or your children to be bullied.

Image Courtesy of FlexibleDreams.com

Enlist Help

It’s important to know, whether your STB-ex is a narcissist or not, that you’re not alone.  There is absolutely strength in numbers.  There are support groups and 12-step groups such as Codependents Anonymous that can provide support and link you with other people who’ve been through and are going through what you are going through.  

There is also strength within your own family unit, minus your ex.  Nurture that strength.  Make sure your children have the same types of support that you need for yourself.  Find them a therapy group, if you feel it’s necessary.  Sometimes children can’t discuss their parents with their parents and putting them in a room with an objective trusted adult can help them work through their more private issues.  Validate their feelings.  You know exactly how they feel, so why not show them that you’re all united?  Show that you’re interested in them as people and that they are not merely extensions of you.  Help them develop their passions and strengths.  Teach them to be compassionate and respectful individuals.  These traits will carry them far and help them form healthy relationships.

Dealing with your narcissistic ex isn’t always going to be pretty or easy.  In fact, likely it will be the opposite.  But if you can choose your battles, maintain your composure, surround yourself with a good support network, and remember that ,no matter what he says, you’re not the one at fault, you will be able to swim in the shark-infested waters safely.

Being connected to a narcissist in any way can be difficult, but you’re not alone.  Click here to join a loyal and caring community of women who understand exactly what you're going through.

*lead image courtesy of Lily Atherton

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15 comments

  • Comment Link SuperWoman Wednesday, 08 June 2016 19:44 posted by SuperWoman

    Really appreciate this article. I have known for a long time that my ex is a narcissist...sometimes that doesn't give me enough comfort. I will start by saying, this is not gender specific. Both men and women have these tendencies, they are human flaws not gender specific flaws.

    For myself, my children needed to see there mommy wouldn't put up with how their father would talk to me and treat me. When we were in the relationship he would insult me, call me names, demean me. He was controlling to boot. Going thru my phone, my emails, standing next to me while I talk to my family members. Questioning every little thing I said. Would never let me go out and if I did, he would be sure to punish me for it. After 14 years, I finally found my courage to leave him. I knew he would be awful, but he was ALREADY awful so I told myself that I had to. My ex has tried to do nothing but knock me down. I used feed into his crap, blowing up each others texts, feeding the drama. I tried very hard not to, but he would show up at my new apartment (which is on the first floor) and harass me, pound on my windows, threatening to take my children and disappear if I didn't respond to him. He would threaten me if I tried to take him to court for child support as he doesn't believe in it. He is a master manipulator and all he see's is himself and his problems. We have been separated for 2 years and he has yet to pay child support. I go back to court next week to try to get full custody. He truly believes he is a stand up guy, a GREAT father, a wonderful person who deserves my respect (in which he DEMANDS) and my compassion for his ever pathetic life. He has been jobless for a year, while I work 3 jobs. I got myself promoted and he says now I should pay him! He refuses to watch the kids on non-school days, even though he's not working. He is a walking nightmare. I have tried to reason with him, I try to give him breaks (which I know I shouldn't and I curse myself EVERY time for having a glimpse of hope that he has decency in him). All he does is try to take more, change the schedule, show up hours late when dropping off the kids. He doesn't bathe them regularly, he doesn't do anything but "fun" stuff....which he can afford because he borrowed money from his brother after he cashed out his huge 401K after getting let go last year. He also had un-employment for 6 months, meanwhile telling me he doesn't want to get a job....I have spent the best part of my years trying to cope with this man and I am done. Today I set an appt. with my attorney to take him down. He says it's all about money and that I'm a greedy bitch and I'm looking for a lottery ticket. I laugh because I worked my way up at my job, got a great promotion to management, I work at the mall twice a month and in the summer I do face painting, teach and art class and sell my keepsakes online. He has NO idea that this has nothing to do with money but sanity and consistency. He will call me all the time, tells me I must provide him compassion cause he has ALWAYS supported me! I feel like a crazy person talking to him, there is no reasoning with him, there's no rational talk. His sole purpose his himself, his needs, his feelings. Him Him Him. As far as the kids go....I know he loves them as much as he can. But he's deeply troubled and I do worry about how my 2 boys will treat women...if they will refer to all women as "bitches" and "whores" like their father does. My ex says he respects women, what a joke. NOTHING a narcissist says matches their actions. I should have noticed this sooner about him in the relationship. What I am more upset about is that I waited so long to leave him. I have had a few relationships and dating experiences since my ex and I was amazed! I blew the first relationship because I was like a kicked puppy after my ex. I was so in awe that my new boyfriend was so nice to me~! Thank for not calling me names, or allowing me to have an opinion that you don't try to manipulate into what you want me to do. Thank you for not endlessly following me around the house harassing me until I give in. How sad. I can honestly say, I will hate that man, the father of my children for the rest of my life. I just have to let that pain he caused go. Some days are easier than others. Leaving him was hard, he made sure of it. But I came out the other side stronger, happier, healthier and I'm thriving in my life. I realize that I still have a lot of wounds that are unresolved and I am working on them. Being away from him was the first step in my healing process. To anyone, MAN OR WOMAN dealing with a person that puts you down, demeans you, calls you names, controlling issues, they DO NOT love you. That is NOT love. The problem is with them and it's deep. YOU cannot fix it. Staying with a person that behaves that way is crippling to you long term. For a very long time all I heard in my inner voice was my ex....telling me I couldn't or I wasn't any good. Please stand up, be assertive, not aggressive. Boundaries and honestly....little to no contact with that sick person and you will be so much happier!

  • Comment Link Manda Jones Saturday, 02 April 2016 07:55 posted by Manda Jones

    It has been 3 years now but my ex is still the victim. Still insisting he has a right to contact me whenever he wishes. Dragging our adult children into it when I refuse to reply or block him. He still calls me names on social media, in his native tongue which our children do not understand. He tells people I left him for another man, that I'm mentally ill, that I verbally and emotionally abused him. All lies but he is so charming and believable and I, stupidly, was too decent to put him down to friends and family and too embarrassed about the abuse I put up with for years to mention it. He is so sneaky about putting me down that our adult children don't even realise it, but they often open their mouths and their father pops out. I hate it because then I have to challenge those misconceptions. "Dad would've been so much better off if you hadn't taken him to the cleaners during the divorce!" Then I have to remind them that I left with a suitcase containing my clothes only and had to move interstate to get away from his harassment while he is still living in the same suburb and walked away with the houses, the cars and the contents of all of these. He even made me pay child support for a child that I later found out he had pushed out of home as soon as I left! Our youngest child was couch surfing and working at Maccas to support himself because my ex not only stopped buying food and literally starved him out, but also made it clear that he was just a burden to us. So he was too embarrassed to tell me he was homeless and had to drop out of school to support himself. THIS is what a narcicist looks like and what he does to his family. And no matter what he does, he is always the victim. The decent guy just trying to be reasonable and being taken for a ride by his kids and bitch of an ex. He always just calls me because of a concern with one of the kids. So what if I have told him never to contact me? So what if I now have 6 phone numbers and 4 emails blocked because he keeps getting new ones? So what if every discussion about the kids ends up with him asking personal questions about me, verbally abusing me or threatening me? Why have I not got a restraining order? Because that would put my kids in an unbelievably tough position because there would be no family weddings, baby showers or birthdays. All I can do is keep blocking him and ignoring him and teaching my kids boundaries.

  • Comment Link James Sunday, 27 March 2016 02:06 posted by James

    I really appreciate the men that have responded to this topic. Yes, the article is based on men being narcissistic but I can assure you that women can be the same. Most men are not as vocal about this and other subjects since we are supposed to be the stronger gender. The danger though is much greater as narcissistic women are supported by systems and society that incorrectly defines them allowing the psychological torment to continue. Most of all, the children loose!

  • Comment Link Lindsay mackay Saturday, 26 March 2016 16:23 posted by Lindsay mackay

    Wow,what I have just read perfectly descrbes my ex-partner!
    Thank you so much for those world's of wisdom.I knew when we separated the road was going to be long and arduous,so every piece of advice is fully appreciated.

  • Comment Link Beth weaver Wednesday, 16 March 2016 02:02 posted by Beth weaver

    I don't know how to respond. I ignore him. He ruined my kids. We only communicate thru email. He has the kids 8 days a month.
    Everytime he emails me he puts me down. I have to respond to him. I don't have a clue what to say.
    It is regarding my son missing school. I believe his anxiety is getting worse by the minute.
    I just want to respond with a simple statement.

  • Comment Link Beth weaver Wednesday, 16 March 2016 01:56 posted by Beth weaver

    I don't know how to respond. I ignore him. He ruined my kids.

  • Comment Link Rob Sunday, 20 December 2015 19:24 posted by Rob

    how do you have an ex husband, who already has a new wife and a 1 year old...

  • Comment Link Cara Sunday, 22 November 2015 21:30 posted by Cara

    Thank you for helping me understand how to deal with a narcissist ex. I am dealing with my ex-husband and his new wife (who is just like him) and trying not to have conflict in front of my children (3 and 1). Hopefully this will help me deal with the constant accusations and blame placing they do.

  • Comment Link jason Friday, 02 October 2015 13:15 posted by jason

    disappointing the article is gender based - I can assure you this is not the case - otherwise a worthy article

  • Comment Link robert f Wednesday, 15 July 2015 01:06 posted by robert f

    is it any different if the narcissist is the ex wife, not ex husband? the mother of my children...in spite of all of the advice and knowledge i have gained while researching the topic, there are still difficult days, and especially feelings of helplessness as my children are subject to the erratic and damaging behavior...help!!

  • Comment Link Shelley Saturday, 11 July 2015 04:17 posted by Shelley

    Great advice and very validating.

  • Comment Link lkp Wednesday, 18 February 2015 15:08 posted by lkp

    love that picture.... so appropriate. I'm thinking of using it as the cover letter for my divorce paperwork.

  • Comment Link Erica Friday, 23 January 2015 05:22 posted by Erica

    I'm going through a messy custody battle for my five month old son with my narcissistic ex. He's killing me, slowly.

    Thank you for posting this, it helped to read.

  • Comment Link Rose Wednesday, 08 October 2014 15:41 posted by Rose

    This article has helped me, I've been suffering through co-parenting with my ex which I just recently came to realize that yes he is a narcissist. Everything is so clear to me now it feels good to know that all these years I felt like I was going crazy. It just felt like I put up with his abuse while we were together and now that we're apart, he still feels the need to lie and purposely make things complicated and impossible to communicate with each other and abuse not only me but also the children.

  • Comment Link Angie Sunday, 22 June 2014 19:00 posted by Angie

    Your wed site isn't working tried many time to set up an account and it's not happening.