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Can you mediate with a narcissist?

I get asked all the time if it is possible to go through mediation if your spouse is a narcissist. I am not a therapist and can’t diagnose anyone as having narcissistic personality disorder. However, I have experienced narcissistic abuse myself and have extensively researched the personality characteristics and behavior patterns of a narcissist.

A large percentage of my clients will say that they are in an emotionally abusive relationship, and typically both spouses will say they feel under attack, invalidated, screamed at, and/or unheard. When your marriage is ending, the communication patterns become so toxic that you most certainly are experiencing emotional abuse. This is the reality of an ending marriage. And nothing changes unless one of you decides you will no longer accept this toxic situation. (It’s rarely a mutual decision, see my blog on Reluctant Spouses for more info about that).

Recognizing that toxic and abusive communication is the hallmark of many disintegrating relationships, is just one reason why Family Transitions is unique. We understand the importance of transforming these communication patterns, to discover successful outcomes with mediation, instead of hiring lawyers.

Here are the secrets to finding success with mediation despite narcissistic behavior:

  • Become very aware of the underlying reasons for the behavior. Typically, this is because someone is being perceived as a failure or “less than” someone else. Does your spouse always have to be right?

  • Know that your spouse will always defend their position and don’t bring up the past! A successful mediation requires everyone to focus on the future. There is no reason to rehash the past. This is very important to avoid fighting that automatically happens when someone feels their spouse is saying the divorce is “their fault.” It is human nature to resist blame, go on the defense, deflect blame, and throw anything we can at a situation so we aren’t perceived as failing.

  • Resist the temptation to defend yourself in the moments that your spouse goes on the attack. If you are dealing with a spouse with anger management issues, be prepared for these moments. During times of stress or fear (which can’t completely be avoided during divorce), some people will lash out with abusive tirades. With Family Transitions you will be coached on how to weather this inevitable storm. If you don’t engage, react calmly, and show compassion, the storm will pass and we can proceed normally. If you think of this process as a rollercoaster, you know the drop will level out if you don’t spin out of control by lashing out yourself. It’s easier to resist the temptation of fighting back when you remember that you are simply delaying progress toward your goal.

  • Remember that, if your spouse is a true narcissist, they want the world to think they are wonderful. True narcissists will behave on their best behavior during a mediation session, as long as they don't feel attacked. You can make progress faster than you would expect given the toxic communication at home. Someone rarely reneges on something they agreed to during a session.

  • Become confident that you have all of the information you need to make educated and fair decisions. Many mediators will refer you to a lawyer as soon use the word “abuse" and prompt you to ask for what you want. But how do you know what you want if you don’t know all of the possibilities for your divorce? And how can you ask when you are used to angry and aggressive responses from your spouse?

The key to success when mediating with a narcissist, is to ensure you have the education you need to make sound decisions in the best interest of you and your family. Family Transitions is unique in that our mediation program provides both spouses with:

  • The information needed to make decisions

  • Safe channels for open communication

  • Access to weekly support for emotional and logistical questions along the way

The playing field is leveled because everyone has the same information and access to the same support. When you have accurate information, you don’t waste your time fighting over things that aren’t worth fighting over, and will be more empowered to find creative and comprehensive agreements tailored to you!

Contact Family Transitions today to learn more!

If your spouse is physically abusive, mediation is typically not the right path, and you would need immediate action in emergency court proceedings. If this is your situation, you should consult a lawyer in your jurisdiction.

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