Narcissistic men are notoriously abusive during the divorce process – and often extremely convincing pre-separation that they are not like those other abusers. They convince victims that they would never try to take the children, the money, spread lies and rumors, or make life difficult for the victim.
And they’re lying.
Regardless of where you are in your journey to safety, at BTR, we strive to provide you with the information that you need to be prepared for every scenario.
Prepare To Divorce Your Narcissist: Get A Handle On Finances
Narcissistic abusers use financial abuse to control victims.
Financial abuse takes many forms, such as:
- Controlling the money and giving the partner an “allowance”
- Discouraging or refusing to allow the victim to hold a job
- Taking out loans or going into debt with or without telling the victim
- Hiding or compartmentalizing money from the victim
- Shaming or guilting the victim for spending
- Taking money from the children
- Refusing to work
- Using pornography at work
- Putting credit accounts in the victims name and debit/savings account in the abuser’s name
- Using financial resources to pay for drugs, sex, pornography, or anything else that the victim does not know about and/or approve of
- Withholding financial resources as a tool to control the victim (i.e., sexual coercion)
For Tina, her abusive ex-husband kept her completely in the dark about their finances, which was severely detrimental to her during the divorce process:
I truly had no concept of where the money was, what was happening, and for that reason I started my new life and my new chapter with less than $200 to my name. Financial abuse was a huge piece of the abuse I had suffered, although during the marriage I didn’t know that was financial abuse.Tina Swithin, One Mom’s Battle
Prepare To Divorce Your Narcissist By Documenting His Abusive Behaviors
Keep a careful record of any and all abusive, harmful, and negligent behaviors that your husband exhibits toward your children.
While this may feel daunting and overwhelming, trust your instincts and put the time in to carefully document his interactions with them.
I would have documented the things that were damaging to my children: the abuse, the emotional abuse, the short temper, things where my children were obviously affected by his behaviors.Tina Swithin, One Mom’s Battle
Choose Your Battles Wisely As You Prepare To Divorce Your Narcissist
The narcissist will invite you to so many different battles and when you engage in every one of them it muddies the water for the family court system so then you end up both looking like you’re both high conflict when that typically isn’t the case.Tina Swithin, One Mom’s Battle
Narcissists know how to push buttons. They know how to keep victims swallowed up in their destructive vortex of abuse. But victims can choose to set boundaries and live in such a way that the impact of the narcissist’s immature and deplorable behaviors are minimized.
Choosing your battles carefully will help you stay grounded and centered within yourself and help you in the family court system.
BTR Can Help You As You Prepare To Divorce Your Narcissist
At BTR, we understand the fear, devastation, frustration, and terror that comes with divorcing a narcissist.
Coach Debra is a powerful resource for women preparing for divorce.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is always available to you as a place to process your trauma, ask questions, and share your worries and triumphs. Join today and find the support that you need as you begin your journey to healing.
Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery. This is Anne.
I have Tina Swithin from One Mom’s Battle on today’s episode. It’s so exciting. But before I get to that, so many of you are in this place where you’re not sure exactly what’s going on and you need a lot of support. Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is the only online group that has multiple sessions a day in every single time zone. It is extremely accessible and totally understands what you’re going through.
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Tina Swithin: Founder Of One Mom’s Battle
I am so honored to have Tina Swithin on today’s episode. Tina survived a Category Five divorce hurricane while acting as her own attorney in a high conflict custody battle that turned her family’s life upside down for 10 years. Tina quickly learned that a divorce involving a narcissist takes the term high conflict to a level that few can comprehend. To articulate what was happening, she took shelter from the storm by chronicling her journey in her now internationally recognized blog, One Mom’s Battle. With all odds against her, Tina’s battle came to an end on August 30, 2019, when she successfully terminated her ex-husband’s parental rights. Tina Swithin is the author of Divorcing a Narcissist and founder of The High Conflict Divorce Coach certification program. Tina continues to champion children’s rights through her family court advocacy. She is working to raise awareness of the issues in the family court system and to educate the general public on post-separation abuse and narcissistic abuse. Tina is remarried and resides in San Luis Obispo, California with her husband and two daughters. Welcome, Tina.
Tina: Thank you so much for having me. I’m absolutely honored to be here.
“Is My Husband A Narcissist?”
Anne: I love your stuff, read it all, heard so many interviews. I’m so impressed with you. I’m so sorry for what you had to go through, of course. Our audience is of women who all are going through this similar situation so we’re all in this together.
So, women who listen to this podcast are generally at the beginning of their journey of recognizing the abuse. So for example, they may have found porn on a computer. They may suspect their husband’s having an affair or something like that, something kind of more tangible than I would say narcissism. Maybe they find porn, which is different than maybe thinking is my husband a narcissist. Maybe they find out about a lie and they’re not really thinking of divorce yet. At this point they’re thinking, well, maybe we need to go to therapy. Or what’s wrong with him? Maybe if I can figure out if he has a personality disorder.
Safety Means Thinking Long-Term
The reason why I wanted to interview you is that I want women to be thinking long-term. That regardless of whether they’ve decided to divorce, right now, or they’re kind of considering it or thinking about it or sort of mulling it over or perhaps trying to avoid it the best way they can. What are some things that they need to consider so that they can be prepared long term? It’s sort of like having a savings account. You know you never want to lose your job, but you have a savings account just in case you do. Can we start there with some things that you wish you would have known years before you even recognized that your husband was a narcissist?
Betrayal, Financial Abuse, & Gaslighting
Tina: Absolutely. And first I want to say, because I relate to the foundation of your program so much, and in my situation, it wasn’t porn, but it was similar infidelity of sorts. I discovered that he had a mistress and the finances. And when I had my awakening that something was really off was when I found out that we were in debt over a million dollars, and he had done that behind my back. Even with that, I still to this day, with all of the information I have, I can’t grasp that amount of money. How someone can go into debt to that degree. So, for me, you know I had my entire world pulled out from under me, but the gaslighting was so intense that I ended up on a therapist’s couch desperate to understand what my role was.
“This Is Either Your Life, Or You Leave”
I was still trying to take ownership of issues and understand what I could do to fix him. I still remember, I had never heard the term narcissistic personality disorder. When my therapist gave me those three words and had me read the description I was so relieved because I thought, oh my gosh! If I know what we’re dealing with… If there’s a label, if there’s a diagnosis, even though she couldn’t diagnose him… but she was saying, “I think you’re a victim of narcissistic abuse.” In my mind, because back then I was a fixer, I was so excited to have something to work with. I remember I went home and I told him, “She said you’re a narcissist.” And we looked it up and six months later was when I really understood the message she was trying to give me. There is no fixing this. This is either your life or you leave. It took me a while to really grasp that.
Preparing To Divorce A Narcissist: Finances
So I would have had time to plan, but back then there were really no resources out there for this type of situation. That’s why I’m really thankful for the work you’re doing, and so many others because it does give people information on how to prepare for something like this. I don’t know if you can ever fully be prepared. But things that I wish I would have done differently, really getting a full financial picture of our situation. He had kept me in the dark with finances, to the point where I had no idea how much money we had.
Get A Handle On Your Finances Now
We lived in a gated community, a very nice home. If I wanted a car, we went and got me a new car. I lived a life to where I had no insight. Grocery money was put in my checking account. But he kept me very much in the dark. So, when our divorce and child custody battles started, I didn’t know what to put on that paperwork. I truly had no concept of where the money was, what was happening, and for that reason, you know, I started my new life and my new chapter with less than $200 to my name. Financial abuse was a huge piece of the abuse I had suffered, although during the marriage I didn’t know that was financial abuse. I just thought he took care of everything, and when we ended up in the family court system, he was able to hire an attorney, I was not. I stood in court, like a deer in headlights with no knowledge of the system. I had never been in court. I am very conflict-avoidant by nature, and so it was a very uneven playing field. It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove, and so I wasn’t able to prove that we could both hire an attorney or whatnot. I was at a huge disadvantage.
Prepare to Divorce Your Narcissist By “Documenting Along The Way”
I would have also been documenting along the way the issues directly related to my children, how he affected them. So, I look back and I just want to hug myself 12 years ago because in my naive mind he had never participated in our daughter’s lives. He had never changed a diaper, he had never cared to be involved. So I was just under the assumption that I would continue parenting and he would have limited to no involvement. Well, that’s not what happens when you divorce a narcissist. He knew that the children were my number one trigger point, and that was all I cared about. So, you can imagine that’s exactly where he went. But I had no proof of all of those things. And the reality is, you know a lot of it doesn’t matter if somebody stands up in the family court system and says, “Hey, I’ve never been a parent, but I’m here. Put me in coach.” They’re going to give them the opportunity. But I would have documented the things that were damaging to my children: the abuse, the emotional abuse, the short temper, things where my children were obviously affected by his behaviors.
Anne: After your epiphany with the therapist that he’s a narcissist where she “diagnosed” him for you, kind of a thing. How long was it from that time to when you actually decided to divorce?
“We’re Married, But I’ve Never Felt More Alone In My Life.”
Tina: Well, the irony is I actually wasn’t the one that filed for divorce. I would say even two years before I ended up on that therapist’s couch I had emotionally checked out. I knew that things were really wrong. I remember sitting down with him one day and saying, “I feel that if someone even gave me a hug right now, I would have an affair with them and that is not who I am.” I’ve never cheated on anyone in my life, but I was trying to describe to him how lonely I felt. I said, “We’re married, but I’ve never felt more alone in my life.” Even when I was single, I have not felt this isolated and alone.
Prepare For Your Narcissist To Reach A “Breaking Point”
It was around that time that I ended up in the therapist’s office, and he refused to go. So, when she gave me those three little words that started my journey to enlightenment, on the topic and I went home. You know, he actually listened to what I had to say and he said, that doesn’t sound like me that sounds like my dad. In my mind I’m kind of laughing going well, he and his dad are the same people. But at that point, he knew that I was ready to leave. So he agreed to go to therapy with me. But here’s the funny part: he insisted that it be a man, and he be a PhD. So, we find this psychologist and we spend about six months in what could be described as marital therapy. It was at about the six-month mark where we had really unpacked everything, and it was all out there, and the therapist said, I really think that you should do a psychological evaluation. I think that there could be a personality disorder or something deeper that I’m not qualified to diagnose. That was the day that my ex-husband basically called our marriage over.
Prepare For Your Narcissist To End The Marriage Abruptly
I remember he called me. We had driven there in separate cars. He called me afterward and he said, “You know, I just called the psychologist, and I told him that we’re done with marriage therapy and that it’s over because you have successfully manipulated him.” I just remember feeling like I’ve been punched in the gut, and oh, the gaslighting. I’m thinking, did I manipulate him that I was just sharing our truth? It was interesting because during the marriage therapy I remember the therapist originally wanted to meet with me privately, and then him privately, and then us both together. But his lies were so thick, and I was constantly saying, “But that’s not what happened. This is what happened.” To the point where the therapist said, “I don’t feel comfortable meeting with him alone because I can’t trust anything that he says. I need Tina here to verify and validate the truth.”
Anne: By the way, that is so remarkable. In so many of the cases that I hear about the therapist believes him. So it’s amazing that he took this step back and was like, that he’s not telling the truth. That is a very good therapist right there.
Understand That He Will Probably Terrorize You During The Divorce Process
Tina: Absolutely. And I’m so grateful not only for the one who originally planted the seed but for that one as well because, for me, it was validation and most people don’t get that. Even in the world of therapy, there are so many therapists and psychologists who are not trained in narcissistic abuse or the psychological end of things, to where I wouldn’t have received that validation from most mental health professionals. So, I’m incredibly grateful but that was really the end of our marriage.
I wish it was just him going in and filling. It was actually him absolutely terrorizing me before he filed for divorce. I had gone to my sister’s house for the weekend, and he basically had moving vans ready. The second I pulled out of the driveway, he took everything I owned – completely stripped my house bare. It was the most bizarre, chilling scene to walk back into. He had redecorated my bedroom to look like that of a toddler’s. It’s hard to even describe to this day and then the next day he went and filed for divorce. Cleared my house of every material possession that I owned, so that he could go in and say that all happened during our marriage, and we have no assets. Very very, actually sociopathic, is what a lot of professionals have pointed out to me.
Prepare To Choose Your Battles Wisely
Anne: You talked about two things, there may be more if you think of more, but you talked about two things you wish you would have known. So, the first was to be more aware of the finances, and the second one was to document the damage that he had done to your children. Let’s talk about the divorce process itself and how an abuser can use the actual divorce process just as an extension of the abuse to continue abusing.
Tina: Right, right. And before we do that I want to add, you know, the third one that I think in reflection in hindsight that I would really emphasize is choosing your battles wisely. The narcissist will invite you to so many different battles, and when you engage in every one of them, it muddies the water for the family court system so then you end up both looking like you’re both high conflict when that typically isn’t the case. So, I guess that would be the third one that I would add to that. In addition to the financial picture and documentation is really choosing your battles wisely and being aware of what the court cares about and what they don’t.
Prepare For Post-Separation Abuse
Then, to answer your question, I refer to it as post-separation abuse. Everything that happens from the day of your separation and sometimes even leading up to the day of separation. The calculating and the manipulation that goes on behind the scenes, but one of the things that I often share is that the post-separation abuse that I experienced was by far worse than the abuse I suffered during our marriage. You know, there’s a variety of aspects to post-separation abuse. It can be the smear campaigns.
Prepare For Your Narcissist To Go On A “Smear Campaign” Against You
We live in a very small town, a small community, and we were both very active in the business community. He went on an absolute smear campaign in an effort to further isolate me and make sure that I had no friends or resources. I mean, he was telling people that I had had all of these affairs, that was not true. He was concerned about my mental health around the children, that was not true, but when people know both of us as this golden couple in the community and someone is saying something like this, you know, why would someone make that up? I think that’s what a lot of people are left with unless there was truth to it. Using my children as pawns, as weapons during the custody battle. That was another really difficult thing for me to grasp because during the marriage I had been able to protect my kids. I sheltered them. I really went to great lengths to ensure that they were away from him whenever he was in a mood or whatnot. Then your children are now in the care of this person, and you have no control. That was really hard for me and he knew the kids were the way to hurt me.
Prepare For Your Narcissist To Try To Groom You
Anne: So many women that I talked to when they’re considering separation, they’ll say something like, oh, he would never do that. He’s told me it’s going to go okay. And I think to myself grooming, grooming, grooming, grooming. Just wait for a second, you will see a different side of him than you have ever seen before. When you’re partially under his control, when you haven’t separated yet, he has some modicum of control over you or power over you and that’s what they thrive on. So, post-separation, they’re just desperately trying to get control back and parts of them come out that you’ve never seen before, at times. So, what would you say to a woman who says that? Like, oh, he’ll never do that, he’s a good guy, you know, we’ve talked about it before I’ve been the primary caregiver, he wants to do the right thing. You know, someone who says something like that. What would you say to her?
Prepare For Your Narcissist To Fight Against Your Boundaries
Tina: I tell people to take the darkest example of who that person was during your relationship on his absolute worst day or his worst rage or worst day of abuse. That is who you are dealing with at a core level, and everything else is just a mess. When you are putting up boundaries, you know that the family court system to some degree allows you to start having boundaries, whether it be with communication or the parenting time schedule. They don’t like that. For me, I thought, during my marriage, a boundary was police tape that law enforcement put up. That’s the only thing I really knew about boundaries. I had none, and so for me to say, you know, you can call the kids between six o’clock and eight o’clock at night. That was a boundary that would spin the person. So you are truly dealing with someone who, in the court system, they can keep that mask on very tight because it’s a high for them to fool everybody in the court system, but that dark person, that rage that you saw at whatever point in your relationship. That is who you are dealing with outside of the court, and the children become their primary weapons. I don’t care what they said during the relationship. All of it is fair game in their eyes to keep control. They’re triggered by your boundaries, they’re triggered by you having a voice, becoming empowered, and they have to continue to try to exert control, and sometimes that’s extreme.
Choosing Your Safety Over An Abusive Marriage
Anne: So, for women who are listening to this and they’re considering divorce and they’re thinking, wait a minute. Tina just said it gets worse. Wait a minute, Tina just said the abuse is, and I would agree, it’s always going to get worse before it gets better. So, you can think Tina and Anne said this, and they’re like, why would I get divorced then? Why would I try to start setting these boundaries if my life’s going to get worse? What would you say to them?
Tina: That’s a great question. And the work that I do on any given day, I receive between 100-500 emails depending on what’s going on. The most heartbreaking heart-wrenching emails that I receive on any given day are from the moms who say, you know, 20 years ago we didn’t have this type of education. I was afraid to leave. Now my children have grown and they have carried on the cycle either as the abuser or as a victim of abuse. My daughter is now married to an exact replica of my husband, even though she knew growing up that her dad was not healthy.
Choose Your Safety For Yourself And Your Children
When that is your foundation, when you don’t have an opportunity to see what healthy looks like, you repeat patterns because it feels normal. So, my opinion is, even if I walk into that courtroom and get 50/50 custody. First of all, I don’t believe there’s anything permanent in family court. I am very much at the mindset that, okay, great if that’s my starting point I’m going to chip away at it until I can put my head on my pillow at night and know that my kids are safe. So, I use 50/50 as an example, and I know that triggers people, and they go oh my gosh, I can’t imagine not having my kids 50% of the time.
Teach Your Children About Red Flags
I will tell you that when your kids are growing up in a situation where they don’t have any area to see what healthy looks like it is more damaging, in my opinion. Even if I had my children 50% of the time to show them what healthy looks like, to show them what being empowered looks like, to be able to teach them about boundaries and listening to their gut and their instincts, and that their voice matters. I used to teach my kids at a very early age what red flags were. My daughter would come home from the playground and she’d say, “Mom, this girl did this and it was a red flag.” So, we don’t have the opportunity to teach our kids those things when we are living in red flags. When that is your life. When you have the ability to show them a solid healthy foundation and lead by example and be their role model. I feel that you have way more power to protect your kids over the long haul than you would in that relationship.
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Anne: I agree. I think it’s really important for women to think about the example that they set in setting that boundary and that that is going to say so much to their kids and they are offering their kids a safe place, even if it’s not all the time. At least they have a safe place to go to.
I’m going to pause the conversation with Tina right here. We are going to continue this next week. Stay tuned.
If this podcast has been helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.