Divorce is not a new concept in American society. Blended families are staple components of American culture. Nearly every aspect of divorce and remarriage, as well as co-parenting and single parenting has been examined by experts in almost every profession. However, there is one topic that is often ignored in the discussion of family dynamics.
Narcissism is an ancient disorder which wreaks havoc on relationships and the people in them. Yet, it is often ignored as a disorder in realms of divorce. Narcissistic abuse is incredibly damaging, but it is rarely considered by the family court system as relevant pathology. This leaves many families stuck in a disastrous co-parenting situation which must be weathered by all members.
For years (or even centuries), narcissistic abuse (along with other cluster B disorders) has attracted very little discussion in terms of finding solutions or even coping skills for those affected. Only recently, and with the advancement of social media has the topic surfaced among families affected by the disorder. Blogs and support groups have surfaced all over the internet in recent years providing support to the families affected by narcissism and cluster B disorders.
This combination of factors leaves blended families with few resources for handling such a stressful dynamic. Second marriages currently have a 60% rate of divorce against all odds. When a narcissist ex-spouse or co-parent enters the scene, things can get ugly.
One brave survivor has gone as far as to write a book on the topic of divorce and narcissism, in the hopes that she might educate the family court system about the impacts of the disorder on the families and children. Tina Swithin, author of Divorcing a Narcissist, says that she was compelled to write the book because she looked for educational material about her situation and found nothing available. Tina puts her incredible insight and wisdom into both her book and her blog, One Mom’s Battle which has been described as a life line to thousands of parents dealing with the same issue. When I asked her to provide some helpful tips for Examiner readers dealing with narcissism, she was more than happy to oblige.
1. What are the potential conflicts that might arise in a blended family dynamic when one (or both) partners are dealing with a narcissist ex as a co-parent?
Dealing with a narcissistic ex-husband definitely takes a toll on a relationship. I am getting re-married in April of this year and thankfully I have been blessed with a very supportive and understanding partner. The constant stress and anxiety of pending court battles and paperwork preparation not to mention the emotional toll brought on by email attacks can wear on a relationship. I know that in the days preceding our scheduled court appearances, I am generally found buried knee deep in paperwork and pulling late night sessions on the computer. I think that education on this disorder is equally important for the new spouse. My soon-to-be husband has taken the time to understand the disorder and is extremely supportive of the path that I am on to protect my daughters and to educate the masses on the damage inflicted by narcissists in the Family Court System.
2. What are some strategies that you have found successful in preventing the high conflict ex from impacting the new marriage?
Communication is the key to everything. My soon-to-be husband is the father to three amazing young adults and I have two very young daughters. Merging those two dynamics alone require a great deal of thought, consideration and communication. Throw an ex-spouse with a personality disorder into the mix and it’s a recipe for failure if your relationship lacks communication. This is the first time in my life that I have experienced such an open and honest relationship and I really feel that has been the key to our success over the past 3.5 years.
3. What advice would you give parents and step-parents who are building blended families while co-parenting with a narcissist?
You need to act as a team in everything that you face and that is especially true when dealing with an ex-spouse with any type of personality disorder. In the beginning stages of our relationship, it was difficult for Glenn to understand what I was dealing with. My ex-husband’s behavior defied logic and it can be difficult to grasp if you don’t understand the disorder. Education is as important as communication because it allows you to expect the unexpected and to remain two steps ahead of the narcissist at all times. As with most battles, this experience has made us closer as a couple because we are a team. I have a deep level of admiration for my current partner because he’s endured a lot through this battle.
4. What strategies do you recommend for children in this type of blended family dynamic?
I think that modeling healthy behavior and relationships is so important to children who have a parent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I work with my children on using their voice and establishing boundaries because I feel those are tools that are imperative in the real world but even more so when in contact with an individual who has no boundaries or regard for the thoughts or feelings of others. We are extremely careful never to speak poorly about my daughters’ father because regardless of how I feel about him, he is still their father. By modeling a healthy relationship, my daughters are able to see the dysfunction as it relates to their father on their own.
Narcissists are far less effective in their efforts of destruction when these tips are implemented. Blended family bliss is not out of reach for the survivor of narcissist abuse. The balance between healthy boundaries and communication (which were likely absent in the first marriage to the narcissist) are practical and available tools in the second marriage. The healthy family that is produced by these efforts goes a long way in countering the effects of narcissism on the children who are stuck in the dynamic.
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