Tips for Surviving a Malignant Divorce

malignant divorce

Divorces are never easy; lives are torn asunder, feelings are trampled and insecurities raised, and both parties are left with a great sense of loss and often failure.  Some divorces turn ugly, with both partners lashing out at each other, trying desperately to hold onto the children, home, or things from the marriage.  Yet others hide a quiet malignancy, one partner using manipulative tactics to attempt to undermine and discredit  the other.  This is the divorce with which I am familiar.  (How it Began)

How to Diagnose a Malignant Divorce

If you are facing a malignant divorce from a spouse who seems to feel no empathy and will seemingly stop at nothing to transfer blame, you will not have an easy road ahead.  You will find that those around you mostly likely believe that it takes two to make a marriage fail, and they will be all too quick to accept your ex’s explanations as to your part in the demise of the union, even if they are complete fabrications.  The truth is that many people do not know how to recognize these pathological narcissists, so they try to fit the divorce into the only mental model they have.  All of this can leave you feeling even more alone and scared as you set out to defend yourself against the one you vowed to cherish.

Help! I’m Divorcing a Narcissist

These are some tips if you find yourself in the position of facing off against a malignant ex that will help you maintain your sanity and limit the damage done through the process.

Understand the System

The system is not designed to deal with this type of dishonesty, nor is it designed to protect marital victims.  This was my hardest and most painful lesson.  I expected there to be more accountability for him, but the reality is that someone, especially a gifted liar, can skate through relatively unscathed.  Not fair, but true.  In my case, the decree ordered that he make all kinds of restitution and work to absolve my name.  Not. One. Thing. Happened.  And there was nothing I could do other than waste time and money on another civil action.  It sucks.  It’s not fair.  But that is the way it is.  Let go of wanting your ex to face appropriate legal sanctions, as it may never happen.  You need to find a way to be okay regardless.

Marital Treason

Gather Evidence

This is critical when your ex will spin outrageous lies; you need to have anything and everything at your disposal to be able to refute his or her claims.  My ex took all of the financial and computer records with him, so I had to stretch to find any evidence.  Those little scraps of data were enough to have him arrested for bigamy, however.  Collect everything, even if think you do not need it.  This evidence can be used to back up your story and also build your credibility.  The officer that arrested my ex was treated to some believable stories by my ex (my favorite- he and I divorced in 2006 and I was remarried to a chiropractor named Mark (Marc?) Mercer and living in the next community over), but he very quickly came to trust my side as I emailed and faxed him one document after another.  I felt utter relief as the first non-family member saw through the lies.

Reality Anchor

Find something, some place, or someone that is your anchor to reality.  The world of the pathological liar is a crazy one and you have been brought along for the ride.  There will be times when you begin to doubt yourself, begin to feel as though nothing is as it seems.  This is when you need to turn to your anchor to remind yourself of what is real and what is smoke and mirrors.  My anchor was his mug shot and an associated newspaper article from when he was arrested for felony bigamy.  I carried that picture in my purse for almost a year.  Every time I would open another claim from his attorney or have to face someone in an official position, I would pull out that crinkled print-out and find my sanity again.

When is a Phone More Than a Phone?

Choose Your Battles

It can be so hard to listen to your ex’s inflated claims and not try to defend each one.  You will find that it is not even possible; he/she is adept at turning up the speed of the malicious game, distracting you with one lie while volleying two more.  Choose your battles.  Select the lies to tackle based on the impact they will have in the divorce.  Let the little ones go.  Some of the lies that made me the angriest were regarding the intimacy in our marriage.  I could have tried to refute those, but it would have been wasted energy and a difficult truth to prove.  I had to learn to believe in the truth, even when he was spewing lies.

A Letter to the IRS


Make no mistake; you are in a war.  It is critical that you take breaks between the battles to rest and care for yourself.  Spend time with friends that you know believe you and believe in you.  Go for a massage, tender comforting touch can help the soul heal.  Make sure to exercise, it can be a great tool for alleviating anxiety or reducing anger.  Try meditation when you are able.  You will need to stay healthy; don’t give your ex the power to take that away from you.

Why I Run

No Contact

In many divorces, the partners spend hours discussing the end of the relationship, its repercussions, and plans for the future. With a manipulative ex, there is nothing to be gained from contact, as they cannot be trusted.  See if you can get a no-contact clause in your separation.  Also, you may need to consider your physical safety.  My ex had never struck me, but I found myself physically afraid of this man who had become a stranger, set to destroy me.  I was unable to obtain a protective order due to a lack of history of abuse, but I did notify the police of the situation and they were able to do regular drive-bys.  Remove yourself from your ex.  He/she is not what you thought and contact will only serve to delay that realization. If you have children together, you will obviously have to have some communication but you can limit the type and frequency.

If You’re Going to Get Married Illegally, Be Sure to Pay the Band

Focus on Your Future

It is important throughout that you remember what is really important: you and your future.  You will not win all the battles, especially when your ex doesn’t play by the rules.  But, if you remember that your ultimate goal is to get out and get on, you will be okay.

Goal Post

Thank you for sharing!

14 thoughts on “Tips for Surviving a Malignant Divorce

  1. lynette – Working my way through the transitions that come with midlife, learning to march to my own true rhythm, and searching for peace, love, connection, and happiness.
    lynette says:

    thank you for this post — it came along on just the right day. you are so right — no one gets it, how hard this is. today he told me he needs to start thinking of himself and his needs — as if that wasn’t what he ALWAYS did. i am being factual — he always did. no empathy at all. no ability to feel compassion. my court date is may 1st. i wish i could never ever see him again. but we have two kids. so that won’t be happening.

    i am sorry for all you have been through — your journey is amazing and inspiring, and i thank you for putting it out there.

    1. The whole thing can be so crazy-making, where the words and the actions/intent are in such opposition. Stay strong over these next few weeks and I hope that court can bring you some resolution and peace.

  2. “especially when your ex doesn’t play by the rules.”……..I had to hire a female attorney who also was a court approved psych. examiner. None of what was happening made sense to me so I used her as my point of reference. Divorce, was I at fault, was I a failure or was it simply she no longer wanted to be married to me? In time I came to see it as a little of each and nothing I could have done would have made it any different. It takes two. My vision of marriage as a life long commitment was shattered and yet I don’t see my self as a victim of either marriage or divorce. However, I did manage to go off the deep end, eventually, for a while.

  3. Reality anchor…
    I guess I found mine this week. I had accidentally deleted a file folder on my computer, full of woodworking articles. I went to retrieve it from the recycle bin. I was shocked, angered, humiliated and hurt by the images I found in the recycling bin… Self-portraits of her (luckily one shows her face quite clearly), self portraits of others (ummm, not of their face, if you get my meaning) and a video of a male, let’s say, acting alone. These files all date back to long before she claims anything was going on. I have not addressed or confronted her with them yet but my lawyers knows about it all. Will it ultimately matter when things get decided? In Ontario family law, probably not but I will keep hidden copies until they are needed.

    I loathe her existence and aside from the affect it would have on our daughters, I care not whether she lives of dies. Her mental and emotional well being are none of my concern.

    My stomach is constantly in knots. My anxiety levels have hit consistent all-time highs and Ativan is quickly becoming my best friend.

    God I can’t wait for our first sit down with us and our lawyers. I want this over. I want her to suffer and, I want her humiliated and her reputation destroyed.

    1. I remember that anger so well. I had visions of my ex suffering horrible deaths (one was not enough). I wanted him vilified and strung up in the town center for all to throw stones. When he attempted suicide shortly after being released from prison, I was only upset that he did not succeed. The anger tore me up, preventing me from sleeping, eating, or even fully breathing as the anxiety gripped me from the gut.

      I remember how enraged I would get when other advised that I would be better served letting go of the anger. I was enflamed; that was my anger. I deserved it. He earned it. How could I not be angry?

      I will not suggest that you let go of the anger. It is justified anger and no one can take it from you. At some point, you may find that you choose to let it go.

  4. Eloquent, and srtaight to the heart of the matter. Run for your life if you can. I have 2 beautiful little girls and this is a living nightmare ALL THE TIME. There is no such thing as peaceful resolution when you sell your soul to the devil.

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