Divorcing a Narcissist: Beware of the Red Flags

As many of you know, I am in the process of writing a book.  I pull it out every few days and jot down bits and pieces of my story.  I recently bought a voice recorder for those rare opportunities of ‘alone time’ when I am driving.  I’ve had to dig deep and remember a lot of things about the beginning stages of dating.  The questions that I hear most often from well-meaning people are: what were the red flags?  Were there any?  How could a smart, confident woman fall prey to this man?

I want to show people how it happened and that no one is immune from these con artists.  I want to educate people on these emotional vampires who can turn one’s life upside down.  I want to detail my journey, my battle and the light at the end of the tunnel.  I want to inspire a woman who is feeling the same way that I did just three short years ago.  It isn’t an easy road to travel but being on the other side and in control is the most empowering thing in the world.  Being informed and knowledgeable about Narcissistic Personality Disorder is essential to healing and to moving forward.

Looking back, there were so many red flags.  Obviously I am older and wiser now.  Narcissists are charming and manipulative.  Every person, regardless of their upbringing has a weakness.  Narcissists are skilled at finding that weak spot and sinking their teeth in.  They are skilled at making you doubt yourself.

My biggest red flag came just after a year of dating.  I caught him in a huge string of lies and after weeks of not speaking, he gave me a card that said the following:

“You are a beautiful person inside and out.  I’m not.  I’m devious, manipulative and dishonest.  If you need to leave me, I understand.  I deserve it.  I don’t deserve you but I can change. You are absolutely beautiful.  You have more beauty in so many ways that I can’t handle my emotions when your beauty is put on a pedestal for others to see.  You are sexy in the way you move, innocent as your smile lights up a room.  You’re playful yet shy.  Your heart and mind are not tainted with cynicism, distrust or spite.  You have a heart of gold.” 

Even with a huge string of lies on the table and a card that spoke the truest words to ever leave his mouth, I stayed.  I still wanted to believe the fairytale that he had handed me.  I wanted to believe that he could change.

He knew how to play the game: he knew how to play me.

What were the red flags that you saw while dating?


One Mom’s Battle: Our mission at One Mom’s Battle is to increase awareness of Cluster B personality disorders (Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder) and their impact upon shared parenting and the Family Court System which includes Judges, CPS workers, Guardian ad Litems (GAL), Parenting Coordinators (PC), Custody Evaluators, therapists and attorneys. Education on Cluster B disorders will allow these professionals to truly act in the best interest of the children.

History of One Mom’s Battle: In 2009, One Mom’s Battle began with one mother, (Tina Swithin), navigating the choppy waters of a high-conflict divorce in the Family Court System. Since then, it has turned into a grassroots movement reaching the far corners of the Earth. Tina’s battle spanned from 2009 – 2014 during which time she acted as her own attorney. Ultimately, Tina was successful in protecting her daughters and her family has enjoyed complete peace since October 2014 when a Family Court commissioner called her ex-husband a “sociopath” and revoked his parenting time in a final custody order.

Tina Swithin: Divorcing a narcissist? Tina Swithin’s books are available online at Amazon (print, Kindle or audio format). Each year, Tina offers life-changing weekends of camaraderie and healing at the Lemonade Power Retreat.  Tina also offers one-on-one coaching services and a private, secure forum called, The Lemonade Club, for those enduring high-conflict custody battles.




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  1. Katie

    My N used to wink at me a lot, as if in saying “I approve.” Sounds petty, and winking is normal…but because of this experience with him, it now causes the hair on my neck to rise when I see a cocky man with a big smile winking at people as if his sh** doesn’t stink. N would often say “…and I plan on making a lot of money. A LOT of money.” And then he’d wink at me with a big smile. Yuck.

  2. Tina

    Ugh. The visual image just creeped ME out!

  3. Dawn

    I think the first major one was when we had to postpone our wedding. He and his mother gave me basically the same verbatim speech, a day apart. THEY told me what was going to happen … I was given no say so, choice or even a voice. And probably the (first)big one that led to me “losing myself” and so seemingly innocent, was a “request” not to tell his father we were going to Arby’s for a meal because his father would “pitch a fit”. All sorts of secret intrigues, little requests accommodated …but strangely, nobody really bothered to accommodate me … but then again, “me” was disappearing and being replaced by a script written and directed by him and some of his relatives.

  4. The first thing that should have warned me was when I found out his last relationship was with a married woman–he was not married. You do the math.

    But he convinced me that he was not breaking any vows; that I should not write him off because someone else was not keeping her vows.

    The second thing that should have stuck out to me was how he treated & spoke of his mother. At first that was something we had in common, as I was emotionally abused as a child.

    But unlike the typical narc, I can actually concretely point to things–like telling a 5 year old that “God hates you”. My parents (mental health professionals) refusing to consent to diagnostic testing or treatment of major clinical depression with a sprinkling of hallucinations for 6 years because of “not my daughter syndrome”.

    The reason this should have caught my attention is that my Ex never would get concrete on exactly what ‘horrible’ childhood trauma he had experienced. Later in our relationship, he started acknowledging ‘he didn’t know’ what the childhood trauma was.

    Apparently, in his twisted mind, history can be re-written just by saying so. This is why Borderlines scare me (my Ex included) so much more than Narcs. All the fun of narcs, with the bonus of psychosis.

    Third flag: He was very vague, made these grandiose statements that sounded good but said little. When you tried to pin down exactly what he was saying, he’d get upset. How dare you question him? It’s not his fault no one else is intelligent enough to keep up.

    The fourth red flag should have been his determination to make me understand how lucky I was. Constantly bragging about his prior g/f, comparing me to them–usually to my detriment after the 2nd year of marriage. I was so sick of hearing about “the one” in the context of his ex’s by the time our daughter came along–four years into the marriage. And he couldn’t even keep track of which of his Exs was the one from one week to the next– keep swinging back & forth between Jess & Cheryl.

    The Fifth Red Flag: His interest in my hobbies and interests was pretty much non existent. He’d let me go on about a book or a movie for about 3 or 4 mins, but beyond that–nada. No concern for my writing, nothing for the sports I follow (Equestrian), no interest or support of a *very* cheap hobby–cross stitching (have you seen how cheap the cross stitching floss is? 3 skeins for $2!).

    The Sixth Red Flag: No interest in how his behavior affected other people. Didn’t care about how badly he screwed over his boss if he couldn’t get into work; didn’t care how his walking out on a job affected our health insurance, and consequently my health.

    You want to know how a man / woman will treat you 3 years into a relationship? Pay attention to how they treat someone they perceive as an inferior (waitress, stewardess, etc) when they are trying to make a good impression. If they turn on the *charm* and lie through their teeth, in 3 years they will be doing that to you when there is an audience around as well. If they scream bloody murder and throw huge adult tantrums, in 3 years they will be doing that to you as well. And they will be every bit as concerned about the impact on you as they are the impact on the life of that waitress or that hostess–which is, none.

    The Seventh Red Flag: Pedestal-ing me. I was great. I was awesome. I was so sweet. I was such a lady. I deserved so much more than that. He was going to make sure I never had to deal with that again. He was going to take care of me. He’d take care of that guy. I wouldn’t have to worry about it. It wouldn’t be an issue. He’d knock some heads up & call up some old friends if he had to but, it wouldn’t have an impact on me ever again. Etc Etc Etc.

    This is probably more than you were looking for, but this is really just the items that immediately jumped to mind.

    As you can tell, I was seriously, very nearly terminally naive. Only my second relationship of my life, and the first serious relationship.

    Meanwhile, my mother is already after me for why I’m not over it already—divorced less than 7 weeks now.

    Good times.

  5. M.

    Hi Tina,
    I was not as confident when I met my X and I was less confident after our 16 years together. My X is gorgeous, so getting the attention from a good looking man was flattering and I, average looking, was influenced by that. He was NPD from the beginning, the distortions, the exaggerations, the drama, the lies, he always was a total road rager, which bothered me a lot, but I would blame the other driver, rather than seeing him for the angry bitter abusive controlling man I know that he is and always was(even before we met). I just made excuses or thought he was the best I could get-I don’t know what I thought. He would insult me regularly and consistently and pass them off as jokes or say he was “just kidding.” If anyone he knew ever said anything bad about me, he let them and laugh hysterically(overkill) or not saying a thing to defend against another person defaming or just being mean. He did not do that to just me, he does it to everyone, including our daughters. He told me he loved me first early on-it was quick, in a foreign language, so I believed that lie right from the jumpstart. When someone tells you that and when you are looking for it, in need of it in some way-hindsight, that is when you need to stop yourself and tell yourself wait a minute and look for the red flags(Lovefraud)-but with a sociopath they are so convincing and believable, even when the lies have been exposed or you know things are moving too fast. Lots and lots of uncertainty the entire time with him, but I stayed. Eventhough I know he is NPD, I still get caught up in doubt wondering about some of things he says. I was so far in when I realized he was NPD(2009 and 2 children later) and we met in 1993. That has been my problem with the court and convincing the court about his true pathologically Narcissistic nature-if he was so bad do you have police reports and why did you have kids with him, right?-Anyway, he would tell me stories of his abusive upbringing, but he was often vague and still is about everything, that I do believe he was abused, but to what extent I do not know, but he used it to capture sympathy most definitely and draw on my emotions that way as a way to control and manipulate me. One time he even told me it was about him and often almost daily he would tell me, show me how worthless and useless he thought I was. Love making was never anything special, eventhough I hear it can be very intense with NPD. He would always make me feel used which as you know, is no big surprise of course unless you don’t know you are dealing with NPD partner. He would, just like with everything else draw from me a need to do better, he was highly critical of others and especially denigrating towards women. He would often come home from work and brag about all of the women who hit on him in any given week and bring home gifts and notes from other women and be dismissive about how insensitive he was and of how I was “overreacting” or “jealous”. I do not know how many affairs he had, I know of 2 for certain. Why I thought I was special, eventhough he was constantly battering me with the message that I clearly was not, at least to him anyway, makes me wonder about my own mental state sometimes, but that stuff is for my counselor/friends and sometimes you:)sorry. Anyway, I have post traumatic stress moments, not as often as I used to, but if I think of anything else, I will chime back in-Sorry, if this is TMI, but I hope it helps. Happy writing!

  6. M.

    I remembered something else, he used to tell me “he owned me.”

  7. Carly

    One of the biggest and disgusting lies was also his first to me. He told me and my
    family that he was a marine and shared all sorts of stories about his time in the service. He even shared stories with my grandfather – who was in the service. It of course was not until after I was pregnant that I found out the truth. That was the biggest red flag and I still kick myself for being fooled.

  8. Yve

    During our marriage, he’d break down, sobbing, during arguments, saying “I’m not a bad person”, even though we were arguing about other people or an incident and when he was the one who was loud and insulting. I would then tell him that no, he wasn’t a bad person & that nobody was saying he was. Then because I knew he had low self esteem deep inside (which other people would never guess), I’d try to reassure him that he was a “good person”. I knew how dysfunctional his childhood was & I tried to understand that this was an echo of what he went through growing up. Little did I know that “a bad person” was how he really saw himself deep down & he was, in a way, giving me a hint of what kind of person he truly was.

  9. Janine

    I have many. First of all, I was married when I fell in love with him. We were talking a lot, I wanted out of my marriage and he was swwet, kind. loving, couldn’t believe how my husband treated me, which in comparison to him turned out it wasn’t so bad even though it really was bad. Anyway, nothing happened between us until I told my husband I fell in love wth someone and I wanted a divorce. So not a shining moment for me, but I really felt I met my soulmate (ugh). After we started dating, he told me his last girlfriend left her husband for him. While with her he cheated with another married woman who left her husband. Finally when I was having issues with someone at work (we worked together), turns out he cheated on that same girlfriend with yet another married woman…who was married to his supervisor! She is the only on who is still married but I do think she came clean to her husband. My husbands excuse was that he was treated poorly sp he “got him back”, He wonders why he is out of a job now…hmmmmm. Knowledge of those events were several times a red flag went up, also his bigotry which we would fight over all the time. So many flags….

  10. Zaira

    “What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine.”
    And right before our ceremony, as we were taking wedding pictures, he said,
    “Well, if it doesn’t work, we can always get divorced.”

  11. A

    1. He withheld sex while dating and blissfully in love. (He is a covert, passive aggressive narc.) He couldn’t develop a physically, intimate relationship in all of our years together. I believe he is asexual, as does the therapist. Never once, did we have “ravenous” sex.
    2. He told me his motto about all people was “He/She is not to be trusted.”
    3. He didn’t buy me a Christmas present (one month after our engagement) until Christmas Eve while on the way to my parents house, a visit which would involve gift opening. I picked it out and wore the bracelet immediately. He never wrapped it. When I expressed dismay that he hadn’t chosen a small gift on his own, he accused me of being ungrateful. This was the start of not properly remembering me on special occasions. It got much worse, once married.
    4. He didn’t serve the army in his home country as mandated by law. He immigrated to the US to avoid the service. (He wasn’t going to be controlled and is above the law.) He was illegal in his home country until he received a US green card through his job. His mother lied to authorities about his whereabouts.
    5. He relationship with his mother is love/hate and guilt-ridden. I now know from our marriage therapist who I see alone at present, that he was a victim of emotional incest. This was the injury whereby the NPD developed.
    6. He didn’t have any real connections to people, no real friendships. He was very suspicious of everyone. (This is because HE is a liar.)
    7. Slowly, slowly, our entire lives became all about him, his career, and his wishes. I sacrificed myself all the time to try to make him happy and it still wasn’t enough.
    8. The stinginess. Oh my… Even my children suffer from this now.
    9. I have never seen him( 17 years and legally separated) have a good, hard laugh. He doesn’t laugh at jokes and everyday humor the way a normal person would.
    10. He insisted on separate bank accounts from the beginning and had his statements sent to his work prior to electronic statements. I never knew his net worth. (He is about to be held in contempt for not supplying the statements in our divorce proceedings.)
    11. He speaks very softly to others as an attempt to appear shy and meek, the kind of man who wouldn’t harm a flea. Speaking softly is a form of control. (Just think about how intensely you have to listen and how often you have to ask them to speak up.)
    12. Not into any kind of game, whether it be contact or no contact sports or a simple board game. Cards were the only thing he would play since he could use his intellect to make predictions of outcomes and get an edge.
    13. The last one I can think of now is the common one – the whirlwind romance. We decided to get married within 2 months of dating. By the time of the wedding, the red flags had just started showing up, but I was too busy wedding planning to give them due justice.

  12. Colleen

    I have finally found my people. I thought I was alone. For the first time in 10 years I feel like I have found other women who understand what I have been through. Now, what do you do when they won’t sign the divorce papers?

  13. Janine

    Wow A, #’s 2, 5, 6, 7, 10 and 13 in common. I did not and still do not know his net worth, he is not turning it over for equitable distribution and only gave me a brief summary (no paperwork) before marriage (red flag anyone?), suspicious of everyone-including his mother, has love/hate with her, eveyrone is out to screw him, everyone wants to steal his “stuff” (which is probably a bunch of garbage but I don’t know since it was packed in boxes for all 3.5 years of our marriage). Ugh, makes me ill to think back to it but I still find myself wishing he was normal. I am still not quite sure why that is…I don’t want to start over? I m still physically attracted to him? It was the best thing I never really had but enjoyed it while it was there? I don’t know.

  14. A

    Yes, I know this feeling of wanting them to be normal. Your love for him is real, however it can not be returned to form a healthy, loving, intimate relationship. You mourn what you wish the relationship could have been, not what it was. The hardest part is to accept that you existed only to further his cause, not because he truly loved you. And if you have children as I do, you know in time that he will treat them the same way. They will come to know the pain we feel.

  15. A

    Add this one:
    14. Hypochondriac. He wakes up everyday of his life with some little pain here and there – the kind most of us ignore and go on with our day. He would use sickness as an excuse anytime it was convenient. He might have wanted attention, to create a diversion from some other issue on the table, or to avoid doing something I requested of him. Me, me, me and more me!

  16. Janine

    We do have a son who is 3 and has little time with him for now, I am sure that will change though. He always boasted about never being sick until I was, then he was always sicker than me, even after my c-section and laproscopic surgery. He had more pain or less sleep etc. I can’t stand the continued roller coaster which I feel is in my control. My feelings go up and down, strong and weak, missing him and hating him. I know time will help (it’s been 14 monthd) but sometimes I want to call and tell him I miss him. I then try to focus on the bad to give myself a sharp reality check.

  17. Janine

    Wait. I am 9 months in and he can take up to 2 years. He is trying to get, and winning so far, spousal support since he lost his job after I left. It is their control issue that makes them not sign. I don’t know your laws where you are but where I am, I can try to get the 2 year timeline at the date I left since I signed a lease and that is proof we lived apart. However, since we did try to reconcile, I may not be able to do it. The law kind of implies if you had sex, you were back together. It would be a he said/she said issue so not sure how it would work and if they really delve into such personal matters.

  18. A

    Yes, I miss my N too sometimes. Usually I resort to reading old journals that remind me of the pain he caused me for so many years. I remember how worthless he made me feel and how uncaring he was after my c sections and other health issues. I remember how he told our therapist in 2007 that he shouldn’t have to say he loves me. “I shouldn’t have to say words that I don’t mean!” I remember how he laughed at me when I needed him sexually. I remember the birthdays left unacknowledged. I remember winning a big award three times and he wasn’t present to support me. I remember how he made unilateral decisions regarding his work and time away from our family. I remember him being critical of me in the kitchen every day.

    And then I don’t miss him anymore.

  19. I know right?

    I was finally starting to think I had figured out just how low he could go, how awful he could get.

    Just starting to relax and think I can finally figure out what the new normal is.

    And he steals $600+ out of a joint account on the grounds that the bank did not remove his name when they said they would. 100% of the money was deposited by me.

    I swear, we should start assigning names to the flavor of crazy: oh, you had chocolate? I had cookie dough. It could be a thing, like the 12 steps.

    Hi, my name is Heather, and I had fudge ripple. And everyone would immediately know the flavor of crazy you lived with.

    I swear, if I can’t find the fun in dysfunctional, there’s no fun to be found.

    Which is probably a good thing, because we all know our PD partner is only interested in how they can toy with our minds & hearts.

    We might as well utilize what humor we can find in their rants and psychoses.

  20. M.

    In my case the judge entered the judgement without my signature(bad attorneys-long story)the divorce was final that day, even though I did not agree to the terms, I had valid reasons, the judge showed me great favor, thank you Lord. I am divorced, but the battle is not over, as long as he can afford to pay his greedy attorney.

  21. Janine

    You made me laugh Heather, thank you! I like you flavor idea!

  22. Tina

    Omgosh, Heather! This cracks me up!!! I wish that comments had a “Like/Love” button!!!

  23. Tina

    Hi Colleen! I haven’t had experience with him “not” signing divorce papers. I’m sure that every state is different so I don’t know the answer.

    I would assume that the judge would enter the judgement after a certain time period or schedule a trial if there are lots of issues to be decided?

  24. Colleen

    I am in Ontario Canada. We’ve been separated almost a year. The problem is we have a down’s syndrome child who is just about 2 yrs. Also a 4 yr old. The 2 yr old has alot of medical problems so, my full time job is taking him doctors, speech therapy, physical therapy, sick kid’s hospital. Lots of over night stays in the hospital. I can’t work and he doesn’t want to pay spousal support. (Or so he says, see Muddy The Waters). We have a “case confrence” scheduled for September 14 but that just means a judge reviews our case and makes a recommendation. At that point, he can still refuse. In the mean time, I am being forced to live in our house in an isolated rural community 2 hours from family and support. He is refusing to let me sell it. Because we have no formal agreement, he is also playing chicken with all the bills. Bouncing payments on the mortgage, my car insurance etc. I get calls every few weeks about whatever is behind. My hydro, water, phone etc have gotten to the point where they are scheduled for disconnection. He gives me $100 a week (at his discretion when he feels like it) for groceries and gas but, it doesn’t begin to cover the bills. I want to move closer to my family and to my son’s doctors. I want my other son registered to start in his new school for September. He won’t do anything that will help us and it seems like his lawyer, (a woman BTW), and the law enable him to continue to do this. No matter what he does and what proof I have, NOTHING happens to him and he is never held legally or morally accountable.

  25. Well, my ex is a sociopath, but they are all heavily narcisstics here you go:

    Red flag #1: stories about his past are conflicting…

    Red Flag #2: It is all about how HE feels. Nothing is ever said about how someone else may feel

    Red Flag #3: If you are inured, hurt, or sick he will not acknowledge the fact- disregards your needs

    Red flag #4: Buys few, if any, gifts for other people

    Red Flag #5: pay attention to how he treats his enemies… a persons real character is revealed during conflict

    Also, the “rule of 3’s” is a good standard. Three lies to your face is a major red flag

  26. Janine

    What if you just left? Can you go stay with family and get yourself set up? It doesn’t sound like he wants the kids, does he see them? Would he spend time in the hospital while you worked? Can you bring up the lack of spousal and child support at your hearing? Is he living there with you? I think you need to find a women’s advocacy group, especially if you don’t have a lawyer. Here in the states you can find some through the courts or shelters. Sometimes you can get them to come to court with you. If not for you, there should be someone who will represent your children at no cost. You have to get to a place where you have a better support system and I can’t imagine that you would be in the wrong being isolated with little money to feed your kids. You need to find a group that can inform you of the laws and what your rights are. Something does not seem right at all with your situation.

  27. Colleen

    He is living with his Mother an hour away. He sees the children every other weekend. I have to stay at the house because someone has to take care of it. I have no where to go and no money. I’ve tried applying for emergency welfare and they told me that there are families much worse off than me, that they couldn’t help me. I sometimes wish he had just punched me in the face. At least there would be a bruise that everyone can see. No one believes me, he is too charming. I do have a lawyer that my parents have been paying for. He says his hands are somewhat tied. Of course, his Mother has paid for his lawyer and is refusing to stop funding this nonsense. I have called the Ontario Women’s Justice League, (sounds impressive). But, I’m not being assaulted or raped so, I don’t seem to fit into the group of people they help. He is doing this on purpose, of course, in an attempt to control me. He is pulling the puppet strings on where I live, how much money I have and what I am able to do.

  28. Ji

    I could’ve written this. Same exact story to a T.

  29. Heartbroken,

    Welcome home.

    We are your people.

    I think those red flags are pretty much universal to all Personality Disorders, after they have dropped out of the suck you in honeymoon phase.

    But a sociopath? That’s a special kind of crazy.

    I just want to give you huggles.

  30. Colleen

    I am so happy to report to everyone that read my post and those who responded that I have found help!! There is a legal support agency in my area that helps abused women. They listened, they understood and they said they can help!!! They are going to help me navigate the Ontario Canada Family Court System and help me ask my lawyer for specific help. I am feeling hopeful and relieved for the first time in almost a year. Thank you.

  31. Tina

    YAY!!!!!! I am so happy for you, Colleen!

  32. Tina

    Thank you SO much to everyone who shared their red flags. Some of them sparked memories or red flags that I had forgotten. Some of them made me want to reach through the computer and hug each of you.


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