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Custody Mediation with a Narcissist Spouse

A narcissist is so caught up in themselves that they fail to think about others. They lack empathy and do whatever it takes to get what they want. For these reasons, mediation with a narcissist may seem impossible. After all, the goal of custody mediation is to work together to reach a compromise that benefits your child — not either of you. However, with tensions already high, a less aggressive form of resolution might be what it takes to escape a narcissist’s mind games.

Getting a narcissist to participate in mediation

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is rare and can only be diagnosed by a licensed professional. Some may have narcissistic traits (e.g., compulsive lying, selfishness, inflated ego), but that doesn’t mean they have NPD. If you find yourself among the unfortunate few who are divorcing a narcissist, the hardest part is often getting them to the mediation table.

Narcissists are very protective of their image and feel the need to project that they are flawless or better than others. Remind them that mediation is confidential and that family cases often happen in open court. You could even hire an attorney to communicate with them to drive your point. The invasiveness of the court process may push your ex towards mediation.

Also, an experienced lawyer can give you an idea of how the case is likely to go. Encourage your soon-to-be ex to consult with one. They may come to see that they have a better chance of getting a favorable outcome in mediation.

Preparing for mediation with a narcissist

  1. Choose a mediator. You and your ex will need to agree on the mediator you hire. A specialized mediator who has experience dealing with clients with personality disorders will know how to handle a narcissist’s tricks and behaviors.
  1. Consider only handling some issues in mediation. If there are some things you don’t think the narcissist will compromise on, you can decide to take those issues to court.
  • Familiarize yourself with your state’s laws on the child’s best interest, property and any other matter in your case. You can use this as leverage in negotiations. If you hire a lawyer, they should key you in on some aspects of the law.
  • Collect records (emails, texts, photos, etc.). Narcissists may show a different side of themselves when around other people than they do when they are around you. It’s common for them to try to convince others that you are in the wrong or overreacting. Showing them reminders of what they’ve said or how things have gone in the past may help them quit the act..
  • Figure out what you’re willing to settle for. You shouldn’t expect to get everything you want. This doesn’t mean going along with whatever your ex wants. If your ex is unwilling to meet you halfway, it might be time to walk away. In mediation, everyone has an equal voice, and the mediator must be impartial. The narcissist won’t have a choice but to listen to your opinion.

A different way to mediate: Shuttle mediation

Traditional mediation with both parents and the mediator in one room may not work if you’re divorcing a narcissist.

In shuttle mediation, parents communicate through the mediator instead of interacting face-to-face. The mediator “shuttles” between two rooms, each of which is reserved for a parent, often with their lawyer.

The mediator hears the proposal of one parent, then leaves to explain it to the other parent. The other parent may present their own proposal, which the mediator takes back to the first parent. This continues until there’s an agreement or it becomes clear parents cannot reach one.

Shuttle mediation makes it more difficult for the narcissist to start arguments and undermine you and make you question yourself. Plus, you won’t have to hear the other parent’s lies, and they won’t be able to twist your words.

Tips for going to mediation with a narcissist

  • Focus on your own goals, not the narcissist’s intentions. Dealing with a narcissist could leave you feeling paranoid about what they’ll do next to spite you. Preoccupying yourself with what they may or may not do only feeds into their desire to be at the center of everything. Instead, zero in on what’s best for you and your children.
  • Don’t engage in mudslinging. This just gives them the opportunity to twist the situation to make it seem like you’re the culprit of every argument. They may try to drag you down to make themselves look better.
  • Only communicate with your ex in mediation. You don’t want to give them opportunities to coerce you into giving them what they want. They might also try to incite you to back out of mediation by acting terribly until you get so upset you go to court to “punish” them.
  • Don’t give up. The narcissist will do what they can to wear you out to get what they want. Don’t fall for their tactics. If you do, you give them more power and might end up with an unfair arrangement. If the agreement was made while you were under duress, it could be contested in court. Follow tips for co-parenting with a narcissist for guidance on how to handle things after you get an agreement.

Zarira Love

In her three years of researching and writing for Custody X Change, Zarira Love has distilled the topics of child custody and parenting to make vital information accessible to all parents. She earned a BA in Creative Writing from SUNY Purchase College and currently resides in New York City. MORE

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